Case study: Gold mining in Malaga, Spanish Freepik acquired by EQT

Updated: Apr 9

- Hidden gem in a less known startup hub.

I was excited to learn about the acquisition of Malaga based company Freepik for completely other reasons than those you might think.

Yes, EQT Group happens to be a Swedish Private Equity firm (I'm Swedish) and it is a huge deal that the transaction value - if made public- (general assumption is EURO 250 million) would most certainly top the lists of most successful exits in Spain's startup ecosystem.

But my excitement is threefold:

  1. Real proof that there are hidden gems in less known startup hubs, like in Malaga, Valencia and Bilbao to name a few.

  2. Shows that it is possible to build the necessary trust and conduct the majority of negotiation meetings online and from home.

  3. All 3 founders continue to operate the company from Malaga, Andalusia and the HQ remains in Spain.

Gold to be found in startup hub Malaga

Barcelona and Madrid still continue to grab the attention from an international public, part from "just" LATAM, because they have been flirting with - in English -interested parties for many years already. Barcelona the longest time although Madrid is almost getting as much investor loving nowadays.

BUT, there are other startup hubs in Spain you should follow if you want to find those "hidden gems", "unpolished diamonds", "under the radar golden opportunities". One of those is surely Malaga with a growing community of international entrepreneurs seeking both a satisfaction in their business life as well as quality of life in general.

Cofounders Alejandro Sánchez, Pablo Blanes and CEO, Joaquin Cuenca Abela founded Freepik in 2010 in Malaga and is now supporting 32 million monthly users in 200 markets with 10 million graphic resources "under management" (pun intended).

After a 10 years journey, they have a turnover of €31+ million in 2019, and has a team of 233 employees, which of 20% joined in the middle of the pandemic.

No wonder they had 16 suitors..

The reason for their popularity, is articulated by the CEO in an interview with Spanish Xataka:

"Freepik is an atypical case because we could access all kinds of partners. For venture capital we were interesting because we grew so fast. For private-equity we were very interesting because we generated cash and made money."

Online negotiation meetings worked well from home

The whole process began in August 2019, which was the moment when Freepik partners decided to hire a consultant to support them in the search for buyer until the operation was completed. So the whole process lasted 9 months.

How did the pandemic affect the search for a buyer?

We have heard about many examples of investment being pulled or reduced in quantity because of the macro-economic factors pushed on the world as a result of the outbreak. Luckily, for Freepik the effects did not hurt so much. Says their CEO to Xataka:

"When confinement began it is true that some funds lowered their offer, they decided to withdraw to reserve their capital in case they had to inject it elsewhere but fortunately, other funds went ahead and the operation went ahead."

Everyone involved found oneself in a new and vulnerable situation, forced to build trust over screens from home, surrounded by kids and personal items instead of the normally more neutral atmosphere in a conference room or polished restaurant.

Without the "wining and dining", can trust and closeness be built? It turns out, Yes, it can.

Quoting Victor Englesson, involved partner at EQT, in Swedish media Breakit:

“It is fun to see how it is possible to do business of this size without meeting physically. It is interesting how personal it still becomes when sitting as we do now with a video conference and still become close by meeting in a home environment instead of the office."

An experience further confirmed by the CEO on their blog:

“ We met physically only once, before we were locked down in Spain, and they (EQT) adapted quickly to the situation, putting together an impressive array of expert advisors in no time."

Will the acquisition mean a move from Spain? Will the founders embark on a new venture?

As always happens when an acquisition by a foreign company is announced, social media explodes with both cheering and pride as well as with fear and sadness that a great company will possibly be leaving the region and country.

Joaquín Cuenca, gives some reassurance to Xataka:

"It is true that the operation has been a sale of the company and, therefore, there is a sum of money but that does not mean that we are going to leave Freepik to mount something else."

"Our goal is to take the company to the next level, we remain partners of the company, we are still the managers but now there is someone who has the majority of the company"

In closing, Carlos Santana, Head of EQT in Spain, also supports the HQ in Spain:

"The acquisition of Freepik demonstrates EQT's long-term commitment to Spain, even in tougher times, and the ambition to support local businesses in becoming global."

More reading: "European VC's increase presence in Spain looking for startup investments"

Crafted by Caroline Lagergren

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