With PayFit, one of France’s unicorn startups, Firmin Zocchetto hopes to bring innovation to the payroll process of small and medium businesses (SMEs). We sat with him to talk about his ambitions regarding the PayFit solution and his vision of entrepreneurship, including what it means to him to have reached “unicorn” status (i.e. valued at over $1 billion).
When did you realise that entrepreneurship was the right choice for you?
It was never a choice but more of a vocation. I always knew I wanted to create my own company and have my own project in order to have an impact on society. I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My father, my grandfather and his father all had their own businesses. With Ghislain [de Fontenay, PayFit co-founder], we created our first company while we were high-school students: a social network for learning foreign languages. We eventually stopped working on it as it became too time-consuming. But in 2015, I decided to leave school to launch our next project. Through PayFit and digitalisation, I was convinced we could bring efficiency and fulfilment to European SMEs, and I figured I had to devote 100% of my time to it.
In 2015, I decided to leave school to launch our next project. Through PayFit and digitalisation, I was convinced we could bring efficiency and fulfilment to European SMEs, and I figured I had to devote 100% of my time to it.
How did you identify the need for a digital solution that streamlines payment and HR processes to start with?
We saw how simple payroll management was in the United States. They are quite advanced in terms of digitalisation. When we realised people in France still received paper payslips or managed their payroll on Excel, we were so shocked we decided to find a way to make payroll easier.
It was a huge challenge and an administrative brain teaser, but we decided to create a solution from scratch — we did not look at other software at the time. That’s how we created our own programming language, JetLang, which helped us to systematise the entire labour regulations and collective agreements in France, and then in different countries.
PayFit raised 254 million euros at the end of last year. How is that a game-changer for you and your company?
We are very happy with this new step. But we see it as it is: a step in our development, not our final objective. This new fundraising allows us to invest in our growth, hire people and develop our product. However, our goal remains the same: to make payroll and HR management easier for European SMEs. This fundraising gives us the key to achieving this faster.
When we realised people in France still received paper payslips or managed their payroll on Excel, we were so shocked we decided to find a way to make payroll easier.
That is an impressive achievement. You are now among the 120 unicorns from Europe and 26 from France. What would say have been the keys to this success?
Every company is different and has its own path. Some of us decide to raise money, others prefer not to. For us, I would say we found our product-market fit quickly: we knew we brought an added value to SMEs. Payroll has not been a ground for innovation for years, so PayFit was created to fill a void. Then, we decided to boost and accelerate our growth with fundraising to avoid losing time and to be the first ones to offer this new alternative to French and European SMEs.
Europe is working hard to position itself as a startup powerhouse, France especially. What are your thoughts on this?
The European and French ecosystems are very dynamic. The beginning of 2022 saw the recognition of three new French unicorns, which was quite crazy. First, it shows that French tech players have reached a level of maturity that allows them to have a say in Europe and beyond. But the real issue today is how these funds will enable these startups to have a positive impact on their customers and more widely. For us, concretely, it will be a successful round if it allows us to perfect our product so that HR teams can focus on what really matters: the human aspect of their job – rather than the administrative part of it.
French tech players have reached a level of maturity that allows them to have a say in Europe and beyond. But the real issue today is how these funds will enable these startups to have a positive impact on their customers and more widely.
You also raised these funds in the midst of a global pandemic. How has the pandemic impacted your business and the state of digitalisation in small to medium enterprises?
I would say the pandemic has had two major impacts on our business and our overall organisation. Regarding the work we do, we had to make partial employment part of the PayFit software and solution in under two weeks. Since then, more than 150 new Covid legislations have been implemented. This made work really intense for a lot of our teams. Another thing was that we noticed a huge impact of Covid restrictions on the digitalisation of SMEs: people had no choice but to turn to digital solutions. It helped us a lot in convincing people that digitalisation improves performance.
But Covid also had repercussions on our own organisation: with the lockdown, we realised people were as efficient working remotely as they are when they come into the office. We decided to apply a work-from-anywhere policy. It allows employees to work from the place of their choice, as long as it matches fiscal and legal limits.
What does the future of work look like for you and how will PayFit fit in?
I think the future of work will become more and more flexible. The pandemic has impacted employees and their relationships to work. They expect to have more flexibility and more autonomy. At PayFit, we try to answer candidates’ expectations as much as possible. The work-from-anywhere type of organisation answers their growing need for flexibility. But it comes with a lot of new policies. For instance, we train our managers to accompany their teams in this new way of doing: how to give more autonomy, how to manage your team when people work remotely, how to keep cohesion inside of our teams, etc. We have to make sure every employee and manager feels comfortable with this new configuration.