Founder of the start-up Localisy specializing in web marketing, Guillaume Petta buys out its main competitor Produweb to create one of the largest digital agencies in Belgium.
This is the story of a 19-year-old “kid”. A law student who, in 2015, dared approach banks and investors to launch his start-up Localisy. The concept? A search engine dedicated to local businesses and which works on the principle of user geolocation. In the hushed decor of his meetings, the “kid” is not taken seriously. His project is certainly attractive, but he does not yet have any clients, nor really any experience, and the austere bankers kindly send him back to his law studies.
This is the story of a 19-year-old “kid”. A law student who, in 2015, dared approach banks and investors to launch his start-up Localisy. The concept? A search engine dedicated to local businesses and which works on the principle of user geolocation. In the hushed decor of his meetings, the “kid” is not taken seriously. His project is certainly attractive, but he does not yet have any clients, nor really any experience, and the austere bankers kindly send him back to his law studies. Guillaume Petta does not disassemble for all that. Coached by his big sister Pauline, the student from Liège redoubled his efforts, refined his concept and took his first steps in business thanks to the modest support of his close family. Unpublished in Belgium, Localisy ends up attracting the attention of digital professionals. A few months later, the young company is indeed selected among “the 50 Belgian start-ups in which to invest” at the heart of an eponymous file concocted by Trends-Tendances. Arrested, the Walloon Financing Company (Sowalfin) spotted the “kid” and acted as guarantor for a very first loan of a few tens of thousands of euros from the BNP Paribas Fortis bank. Boosted by this welcome credit, Guillaume Petta stopped his law studies to invest himself fully in Localisy. But competing with Google and Zalando in the field of e-commerce, even if it’s hyperlocal, is quite a gamble. “For two or three years, it was very hard, remembers the young entrepreneur. There were only three of us, we worked seven days a week and we had to make a lot of sacrifices to break through. Of course, we were trying to build our initial project, but we quickly realized that we had to expand our services to progress.” Alongside the market platform that Localisy is trying to develop, Guillaume Petta understands that the first businesses he seduces are above all looking for a real commercial strategy on the web through referencing, social networks and other digital tools that they do not master. Without giving up its local search engine, however, the start-up is therefore correcting the situation and developing a web marketing service for its customers. The sauce takes, orders flow in and Localisy takes off thanks to the profitability of this new activity. Six years after his first steps in entrepreneurship, the “kid” has become a man and a respected interlocutor in the business world. Last month, Localisy even bought out one of its competitors, Produweb, to now form one of the biggest web agencies in Wallonia. “It was David who absorbed Goliath, smiles Guillaume Petta, since our structure had only six employees and a few freelancers while Produweb has nearly 30 employees. Today, we are therefore a good thirty employees with a turnover which, for the two entities combined, is around 6 million euros.” But how could a “small” web marketing player absorb a larger entity specializing in website creation, video production and digital marketing? Here too, Sowalfin played an essential role since it once again acted as guarantor, this time with the CBC bank, which granted the loan to Localisy to buy Produweb. Its good results worked in its favour, but it was still necessary that the competitors agree to sell… the structure of Localisy. They received a few proposals, but it was finally that of Guillaume that was chosen because, in this file, the human aspect played a lot.” Formerly a very minority shareholder of Produweb (with some “parts of politeness ” as he says with a smile), Laurent Di Carlo has indeed defended the Localisy file and has even been maintained in his functions, given the “love at first sight” (sic) which took place between the two men. “The two companies are presented as competitors, but they are in fact very complementary, observes Guillaume Petta, since Localisy specializes in web marketing, while Produweb is more focused on site creation and video. Together, we can therefore offer a real 360° service, even if each brand will continue to exist, given their respective reputation.” Gathered in the more spacious offices of Produweb in Rocourt, the teams of each entity now work hand in hand, guided together by Laurent Di Carlo, CEO of Produweb, and Guillaume Petta, founder and CEO of Localisy who nevertheless keeps the hand. The Localisy company – owned by Guillaume and his sister Pauline – indeed owns 70% of the new group which oversees the whole, while Laurent Di Carlo took advantage of the recent acquisition to increase his “politeness shares” significantly: it now owns 30% of the new structure. Having become one of the main agencies in the Walloon digital landscape, the Localisy-Produweb duo today has great ambitions. “We will of course continue to offer our usual services more efficiently since the new configuration will allow us to work in continuity, confides Guillaume Petta, but our short-term objective is also to create software that will make life easier for small and medium-sized businesses. Our common mission is now to help SMEs to tackle the digital shift more easily and, in this logic, we will recruit more developers.” Among its clients, the agency already has good references such as Ethias, Trafic, Securex, Lampiris and the Ardent Group. But it is above all the smallest players in the Walloon economy – businesses, SMEs, the self-employed, etc. – which are today the core target of the “new” Localisy. At 26, Guillaume Petta has therefore succeeded in his bet and even promises to grow even further. With hindsight, he says today that he does not blame the first bankers he met on his path as an entrepreneur and who kindly showed him the way out when he applied for a loan. “I don’t blame anyone, concludes the young boss. I understand that at the time they did not have the audacity to trust me given my student status. But if it was again, I would however ask these people to at least have the courtesy to listen to me during my presentation rather than tapping on their mobile phones. I had the feeling that they were not even listening to me and I find that regrettable when you claim to want to support the local economy. Since then, I’ve grown in maturity, in experience too, and I’m being respected. I don’t think they would dare to take out their phones anymore and, in any case, I would oblige them put it away today.” Obviously, the “kid” is no longer one.