Transforming the reality of private schools in LATAM
(and why we invested in mattilda)
We, at DILA, have been advocates of the verticalization of financial services for a long time now. Our view is that every sector has different operational and financial needs. Because of that, we do not believe all industries should be served by the same financial institutions that provide a one-size-fits-all type of solution.
Looking into the future, we think it’s unlikely that traditional financial institutions will drive this process of verticalization. It is hard for us to believe that these types of firms could build specific back and front-office structures that allow for the necessary customization to effectively serve every single vertical in the market. Our belief is that they won’t be able to attract and create teams of account managers that can thoroughly understand the structure of the operating budget, the short-term liquidity needs, the asset performance, or the optimal capital structure, of every single stakeholder in every single sector (you name it: schools, hospitals, retailers, banks, utilities, etc.). That’s why the case for sector-specific financial companies is so compelling.
Naturally, the flip side of this approach is a reduced addressable market size. That’s why at DILA we are looking for companies that are developing sector-specific financial solutions within industries that are large enough to support venture capital returns.
We believe that there’s no one better to understand the complexities of a sector and effectively deploy this kind of approach than practitioners who suffered them firsthand.
mattilda fits right into this thesis: world-class operators and industry experts starting a company in a very large industry with clear pain points, which they (unfairly) understand from within.
With that said, let’s dig into each one of these fundamentals.
The Team & the Unfair Advantage
The team IS the unfair advantage. We believe that José Agote, Juan Pablo Bravo, Jesús Lanza, Adrián Garza, and Ileana Gómez are a stellar founding team. They bring the ideal backgrounds and experience to lead and scale this exact business model. They are experienced entrepreneurs and operators with relevant credentials in both the education and digital space.
What are experienced and relevant credentials for us? In their previous endeavor, three members of the founding team successfully managed Lottus Education, a university platform that has grown exponentially. It began as a search fund 7 years ago, when they acquired a small university group. Today, Lottus operates 5 brands with more than 80,000 students.
As private school owners and operators, they suffered trying to simultaneously manage the school, while charging students, filing paperwork, maintaining finances, and ultimately spending most of their time in non-pedagogical and non-revenue generating activities.
After successfully exiting Lottus, the founding team has decided to solve this pain they know better than anyone. The whole premise behind mattilda is that schools are best at offering education. Activities such as collections, payment reconciliations, and other administrative tasks are non-core and non-value-adding.
The unfair advantage extends to the commercial area as well. While most startups have to search for initial commercial introductions through several channels and look for ways to develop credibility in front of the potential customers, mattilda’s founding team already has a name within the industry and basically knows everyone in the space. Their time to market will be severely reduced by this relationship-based advantage.
Many times, we discussed whether same-sector founders can bring enough perspective to drive true innovation in a space they know so well. That remains to be seen. However, throughout the period they operated Lottus, the team managed to stay ahead of the innovation curve, and we are confident that they will be able to replicate it this time.
The Market & Timing
While the main risk of a sector-specific approach is reducing the addressable market size, that’s not the case for mattilda at all. There are currently 2,900 higher education private schools in Mexico and there are 33,500 basic, middle, and special needs education private schools in Mexico. Between these two categories of schools in Mexico, there are 4.8 million students.
Moreover, the average monthly tuition totals US$195 and US$300, respectively. This means that in the short term, and without considering potential geographic expansion to Spanish-speaking LATAM, mattilda would be targeting a market of approximately US$12.8B.
The timing component for mattilda is as relevant as the size: C-19 has strained private schools’ finances, and currently, ~40% of private schools in Mexico have shut down because of the global pandemic.
Nowadays, schools in Mexico constantly face financial distress from significant payment delinquency and default rates. They do not have the capabilities and resources to develop sophisticated administrative processes, like collections and billing. Specifically, an average school faces 30% delinquency and 7% default rates. Thus, schools run into complex budget planning processes and have limit ability to undergo CapEx investments to improve their facilities. Last but not least, schools end up with deteriorated relationships with parents due to collection disputes, which sometimes lead to student attrition.
On the parents’ side, they deal with inconvenient and outdated payment methods, cannot easily track payments and payables, and aren’t able to address any inquiries or concerns regarding their payments. All of these problems result in a bad experience for every stakeholder involved.
mattilda will manage the school’s receivables management, enabling tuition payments to be made digitally by various methods, such as debit cards, credit cards, or bank slips. The startup’s platform also includes an interface for communication with students’ families, through which it is possible to send pre-payment reminders and keep an open channel of communication with parents.
The current process is time-consuming, inefficient, and bank slips-based, which means spending a lot of time and energy, and providing a poor payment experience for their clients. By digitizing the entire tuition payment process for schools, employees will be able to reallocate time and resources to core and higher value-creating activities, as well as the schools being able to receive predictable and stable cash flows.
mattilda 1.0, as the Founders call it, is an all-in-one platform that simplifies school management. mattilda 2.0 is aiming to become the “Bank for Schools.” They want to offer financial services, growth consulting for schools, procurement marketplaces, and real estate advice, among other value-added services.
The vision is that once the Company is managing the schools’ billing, payments, and collections, they will have enough data and information to allow mattilda to become their financial and strategic partner. This opens an unimaginable amount of side businesses and cross-selling opportunities.
We cannot be more excited about joining this amazing team in their new journey, being a part of their board, and watching them transform the reality of private schools in Latin America. Thanks to the mattilda team for allowing us to be part of this round and their endeavor, we are eager to support mattilda’s team and see what they accomplish!