When you shop or eat in Monaco with each use of the Carlo App, five percent of your bill is immediately reimbursed to your “virtual wallet” which can be used to pay for any other services in Monaco providing the business is part of the scheme.
Two percent goes to whoever referred you and three percent finances the start-up, which means seven percent of each purchase is re-injected into the local economy.
Currently 300 out of 900 businesses in Monaco participate in Carlo, a Monaco collaborative trading scheme and digital currency where literally everybody wins.
Founder and creator of Carlo App Antoine Bahri was born to Syrian parents. The family moved to Monaco so Antoine went to school here and because he comes from a family of pharmacists, he decided to pursue an education in the same field.
“I had a few friends who went on to study computer science but at that time even though I was really into it I considered computers as a hobby. Our teacher at FANB, Mr Orsini kindly offered us coding lessons in his free time during lunch breaks. At that time – this was in 2000, it was very advanced. I was 16 and part of a small group of enthusiasts who learned coding but I had no idea what my future workplace would look like and that this may actually play a pivotal role in it.”
Antoine had chosen a safe path at University in Lyon and very soon he realised he aspired for more, so for the last two years before he got his degree in pharmacy he also simultaneously studied engineering.
With two degrees in hand Antoine joined the family pharmaceutical business in Syria where he worked as a quality engineer. When the war started in 2011 the family stayed in Syria for another 18 months.
“At the beginning we experienced something they called ‘the weird war’ because we couldn’t really see it. But soon after it, we took the decision to come back to Monaco to wait it out. We thought it would be for three months or so. My dad also had a watch store in Monaco which he managed while working in the pharmaceutical company in Syria going backwards and forwards.”
The war persevered and Antoine had two options – either finding a job in the pharmaceutical industry or again, joining the family business: the Bahri Monaco watch store. He decided for the latter.
“The shop needed a major revamp and my sister and I took charge of that.” Antoine stayed in the shop for two years and really enjoyed it. Managing a small company together with his sister, looking at revenues and costs, creating a business that really worked.
“My sister was soon taking the lead and I realised I wanted to do something different and learn more. I decided to study for an MBA at IESE Business School in Barcelona.”
“It’s one of the most intensive MBA programme in the world. It lasts two years and it’s quite strict. It was not easy for me to go back to school, I was thirty at the time, but the experience was transformative. We had lots of international trips during the school time, I learned how people work and deal in India, I attended lessons in Shanghai, we went to Japan visiting various companies… and also I met three of my very good friends with whom I started a new company, a startup for payment application for restaurants.”
This was the first time Antoine had an experience in FinTech. He loved the experience and had a vision for the payment app but developing it was not without challenge.
“Commercially we were getting a tangible success. In fact, the same app that we were conceiving at that time was the same as today’s famous SUNDAY app launched by Big Mama’s team. Maybe we were too early too soon and technically we were not fit enough but we learned a great deal from this experience.”
Antoine finished his MBA studies in 2017 and decided to go back to Syria.
“The war was over by then but economically it was bad. There are sanctions on Syria that are affecting people and businesses, more than anything else. The country is now experiencing hyperinflation. I was very sad to leave Syria, however, I felt I would have more of an impact from the outside.”
After a first experience as an entrepreneur, Antoine knew he could make things happen quickly: “I had learned so much and I was more efficient in initiating projects, talking to potential partners, acquiring clients and I knew Monaco, I knew its potential hurdles regarding the local economy, I knew how merchants work and how traditional and defined their business model is.”
The idea of the payment app grew and from applying it only in restaurants, as he did in Barcelona, he came up with a combination that would also cover all of the brick and mortar shops, the whole retail sector in Monaco, the pilot city.
In 2018 Antoine Bahri won the JCEM’s Concours de Creation d’Entreprise which came with 40,000 euros cash support and a valuable opportunity of exposure for the project The Carlo App was launched in the Summer of 2019.
Covid restrictions and the lockdowns of 2020 could have made it irrelevant as shops had to close but Antoine’s enthusiasm and constant hunger for innovation and his hard working ethic plus an aim to restore the local economy fast, brought him a new partner:The Government of Monaco.
Carlo App started to sell gift cards to be used once businesses reopened and the Government backed this by applying an additional incentive of 10 percent. Things really changed and accelerated Carlo’s growth when the government started to pay employees gift cards via the Carlo App. This started with 60 students at the Princess Grace Hospital but soon it grew to the whole government sector, 9,000 employees.
The Monaco Government has recently announced that it will continue to support the local merchants in this scheme and it will keep the subsidy of 10 percent of the bill which started as support during Covid until 2022, which means the merchants don’t have to pay any money to be part of this scheme.
Carlo App now has more than 20,000 users with more than 12 million euros spent locally.
The numbers of employees also grew rapidly over the past six months from two to eight. All team members grew up in Monaco and have a good knowledge of the local business landscape. New projects are also launching right now. In fact, while you are reading this the Carlo App is processing its first transactions in Valladolid, the Spanish city north of Madrid with a population of almost 300,000.
The vision for the next five to ten years?
“We will consolidate in Monaco and try to engage our users and merchants as much as possible. We’ll continue to launch new payment features here while working on bringing the app to 5 cities in Europe by the end of 2022. For this, we’ll need to focus on automating our processes in order for us to scale rapidly.”
This fast pace doesn’t allow much free time but Antoine tries to spend time with his family and at the gym to work out.
“In fact, one of my best ideas came to me in the gym”, he says and then he laughs: “OK, not often do I not think of the business. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Below, the Carlo team