Lydia, The Fast-Growing Fintech Unicorn That Puts Users First
Lydia has joined France’s growing stable of unicorns, securing a $103 million investment round in December to reach the prized $1 billion threshold. Founded in 2013 as a revolutionary P2P payment method via an app, the Fintech leader has since grown to encompass a full spectrum of financial services, from micro loans to stock and
Cyril Chiche has no doubt about the secret to the success of Lydia, his breakthrough French Fintech firm: always think about the user first. It is a mantra born from the simple fact that both Chiche and his co-founder Antoine Porte fit the profile perfectly from Day One. “When Antoine and I had the idea for Lydia, the only experience we had in the finance and banking field was as users,” says Chiche, who serves as CEO. “This made our project very ambitious — because we had no resources and no clients — and this is also what made the difference.”
Becoming a French unicorn
Lydia is the 22nd French startup to reach unicorn status, following Swile (Fintech – digitized meal vouchers provider) and DentalMonitoring (Healthtech – AI-based dental treatment remote monitoring) and right before Exotec (Industrial tech – warehouse robotics) and Ankorstore (e-commerce – local B2B marketplace). With the recent mini boom of new billion-dollar valuations, the French startup world is already far ahead of schedule of President Emmanuel Macron’s target of 25 unicorns by 2025, out of just a total of some 1,000 unicorns in the world.
Chiche says reaching the billion-dollar valuation is an affirmation of their past efforts, and their future business potential. “It means world-class investors recognized our work, our business model, our products and saw Lydia could become a category-defining company,” he said. “Investors are not philanthropists: They put their money in what they see as the best companies on a global scale.”
In Lydia’s case, the company’s unique user-friendly offer and approach to money management convinced Chinese giant Tencent to invest for the first time in a French Fintech company. The multinational technology and entertainment conglomerate and holding company knows the niche well, as owner of WeChat Pay, a 1-billion-user financial superapp. “We felt honored. There is so much we can learn from them,” says Lydia’s CEO.
Freedom and simplicity
For Chiche, the many online banking services that had sprung to life in the late 1990s still worked too similarly to traditional banks, stripping users of their right to do what they wanted with their money. “They were all created by payments and electronic money experts, and they still used incomprehensible numbers and codes keeping the user disconnected from his or her own actions,” Chiche says.
What Lydia offers, instead, is total freedom and autonomy, through a simplified process. All you need is the app — which is free — the phone number or email address of the person you want to send money to (provided he or she has the app too) and the payment goes through in seconds, without additional fees. All the essential details about the transaction are there, easily readable and comprehensible.
One company, a multitude of services
Driven by this approach of always ensuring the best experience for its users, the company has extended its offer, with now more than 10 financial services: joint account, saving account, VISA card, cashback, micro-loans and even stock and crypto trading. For each one, Lydia has teamed up with technology experts able to mobilize intermediaries and master the complexity of the operations to make it intuitively accessible to the user.
The company’s latest product, Lydia Trading, developed with Austrian Bitpanda, allows the user to instantly trade stocks, cryptocurrencies, rare materials or Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) 24/7. Once sold back, the money is immediately credited on the user’s Lydia account. “You can own €10 of Amazon stock for a few hours and then convert them on-the-fly into cash on your Lydia balance to buy a burger at 1am, if you like,” says the CEO with a chuckle.
From French campuses to Europe
Lydia’s popularity in France has led some to use the expression “J’te fais un Lydia” (I Lydia you). “The first time I heard that, it was from two students in a Parisian university where I was invited to speak during a masterclass on entrepreneurship, back in 2015,” remembers Chiche. “That’s when I understood we had initiated a triple virtuous effect. First, with a product that was still imperfect at the time, we had managed to respond to an unspoken need, to the point that the product became the name of the solution. Second, it confirmed our idea that money was a network in itself and that it would grow on its own. And finally, it gave us the key to spreading it faster: among university students, where our app found its biggest audience.”
Since then, Lydia has also found success outside of university campuses, spreading across the French market and today counting 5.87 million users. With 99% of its apps used in France, the goal is now to expand thanks to its bundle of services. By 2025, Chiche says the company hopes to become the primary account for 10 million users across Europe — starting with Spain and Portugal where the Fintech company is currently opening new offices ahead of a launch by the second or third quarter of this year. Next after that will be Germany.
In these countries and beyond, Lydia’s CEO is convinced that there is still something in the company’s DNA that will set it apart: always think like the users.