Funding strategy all the way up from to Seed to mega-rounds
Clément Buyse (PeopleDoc), Eric Larcheveque (Ledger), Ismael Ould (Wynd), Agathe Wautier (The Galion Project) gave this talk about the funding strategy from Seed to mega-rounds, at B2B Rocks Paris — the international conference for B2B & SaaS startups.
More info on https://b2brocks.co/paris/
Agathe Wautier: Hello everyone, I’m Agathe, the Co-Founder and CEO of The Galion Project. I’m very happy to be here with such French tech entrepreneurs, the stars and the most ambitious ones of the French tech. First maybe, who knows The Galion Project?
So basically, The Galion Project is the french think-tank for the entrepreneurs in hyper-growth. We are a peer-to-peer network. Entrepreneurs are sharing their experiences together so that they can grow faster. And we are also writing a lot of articles and tools. The entrepreneurs are writing them for the entrepreneurs in order to make them grow and learn from their success and their mistake as well.
So I would like to introduce you to Eric, Ismael, and Clement who raise the different theories and they all went from seed to mega-rounds because you are all in a Series B or C. Clement made an exit last year. I’ll let you introduce yourself, so your company, how much money did you raise and where are you in the process, Eric?
Eric Larcheveque: Hello, I’m Eric Larcheveque. I’m the Co-Founder and chairman of Ledger. So Ledger is doing security solutions for cryptocurrency. The company has been founded almost five years ago. We raised 73 million euros in three rounds. The first was a seed of 1.2M€, then there was Series A of 5M€. We also had some funds from BPI for 2M€. And then we raised a 61M€ Series B when it was the Bitcoin craze in 2017. We had a good sense of timing.
Now, we are about 200 people in the company. We do 98% of our revenues outside of France. We are quite a global company with offices in New York and Hong Kong. Our objective now is really to go from B2C. We are a very big consumer company. We try to go to B2B by selling solutions for enterprises.
Ismael Ould: Hello, I’m Ismael Ould, the CEO and the Founder of WYND. We are a SaaS solution. We provide for retailer cash in and fulfillment in the chain for unified commerce. Retail is facing to merge the online sales and physical sales and our solution is fair to the emblem for that. I have funded the company five years ago, and we are now 400 people. We have raised 112M€ from six VC funds. Now, we are in 10 countries, we serve a hundred customers.
Clement Buyse: Nice to be here. I’m really happy to share some pros, do’s and don’ts review. So, I’m a co-founder of a company named PeopleDoc, Paris-born and then expanded. It was actually a company that we pivoted in 2010. And it’s been a 10 years journey. So we pivoted after two rounds of failing for three years. It’s been really hard, really tough.
So raising money with nothing is going well. It is possible. It’s not great but you can do that too. We’re not just here to tell you about OK, everything is going well. It’s easy to raise money and so on. What’s behind is also important. So afterward, we’ve deployed a platform to basically digitalize human resources, the interaction between employees and employers really organically with the B2B, customer by customer and we managed to have eight million users, 2,000 B2B customers and a number we’re really proud of is the churn which is at zero. So we never lost any customers.
We did an exit last year which was, by the way, half cash, half stock and we spent two quarters being part of the Nasdaq listed companies. And another firm came and bought the whole group. So the valuation was 8 billion when we were required and they bought back from Nasdaq at nearly 12 billion after six months. So I hope that was the PeopleDoc effect. I don’t know.
It’s been a journey and from seed with bad fundraising context to growth. Yeah, it’s been quite a ride and we were having as deed investor, Accel Partners, and Eurazeo.
Agathe Wautier: If you go back from your seed and like pre-seed Series A, why did you needed to raise funds at the beginning? Because we are here speaking about funding strategy.
Ismael Ould: Yes. So the first question that every entrepreneur has to approve has to ask themselves when they start the process of fundraising is really why they need to raise. We had a clear vision of what product is needed by the retail industry to support this new channel transformation because it’s a big transformation for them.
So to build this product, we have spent like around 50M€ in CapEx because it’s a big platform and this platform had to be modular and had to be seamlessly integrated into the information system. So the issue for us was to say, OK, we need to convince investors to bet on us to build this platform, who will be the best to match every retailer's needs. It was the complexity of our challenge because every retailer can do is own platform, own development but to combine all of the issues, all of the technical architecture and all of the functional needs of the retailers in one single product, it was a big challenge.
So in our case, we didn’t have the choice to raise money o not because you can develop your product from the money of your client, it’s good but they will influence you to build the product that they need but just for them. So we don’t want to be in this kind of situation to develop the product for just one client. We want to be independent and to develop the product to fit with our vision. So the global vision is the reason why we were looking for the part or investor to finance that.
Agathe Wautier: So what was the first round? How did you do?
Ismael Ould: It was crazy people. I think that business angels are crazy people who believe in you when you just have started have kind of nothing, except a vision, expertise, and ambition. So it was business angles who gave us the first 1M€ and of course, the BPI. They helped us with the lending of 0.8M€, so we have raised 1.8M€, 12 months after the beginning of the project.
Agathe Wautier: And Eric, what’s your story at the beginning? Why did you need to go in a Seed round?
Eric Larcheveque: Well, in the Seed, I think it’s like any company, we needed money to develop the platform. We are in hardware engineering. It costs a lot and the journey, the merging, the merger of three startups. So we were eight co-founders and 20 in the beginning. So it was a lot of people to pay, so we had to raise. But the biggest question that we have been asked is why did we raise 60M€ when the company was really rocketing.
And in fact, we raised money because we didn’t have any real plan with the money. It was just a treasure chest. At the time when we raised, we were doing about 8M€ EBITDA per month, so it was really crazy. And so people asked, “Why do you use yourself?” Well, because you never know what can happen and we were very, let’s say lucky, to have been able to raise this amount because sometimes it goes up and sometimes the market goes down.
Agathe Wautier: So it was just before the crypto crashed?
Eric Larcheveque: Yeah. We closed the round approximately a few days before the crash. So we had a good sense of timing. And of course, the investor, we told them that it was going to happen. So it was not such a surprise but it was very important for us to be able to get this treasure chest to finance the company after. Because when everything goes well, sometimes you also have to think that it is not going to be not so well. So that’s why we did that.
Agathe Wautier: So that was a strategy in a way because you say, “I didn’t know” as you knew. You knew something was happening and you have to anticipate.
Eric Larcheveque: When you start to hire a lot of people, you know the cash bond of the company very quickly becomes crazy and so you have too much responsibility, you cannot just bet that the market is going always to be good because we knew it was crazy. So just to be sure, we raised a lot of money because we could. And so it was a good decision because now, we are sure for the next years of the company can continue to grow and develop in an environment which is not the same craziness as before.
Agathe Wautier: And Clement, what about you? Can you talk a bit about the beginning and maybe focus on Series B and why did you raise?
Clement Buyse: For the beginning, I think we’re all in the same situation. You know I would be like lying to say no. What happens is that you go to the market, you’re seeking money to validate the product-market fit. So you design your MVP and you say, OK, this is, like, maybe I need a million or less than that but I need some money for sure. Whether you got it or you need to steal it from in some pockets but at some point, this is what you need. Market practice is between 300K and maybe 1M€ the max was seed but some other companies are raising more. And then you start from there.
So there’s no real strategy behind that, I think it’s more raise. But it matters to me is to have some go/no-go. So do you find some go/no-gos? We didn’t do that well you know. We raise the seed because we are not believing the no-go’s they were there, the world was there but no, we are not listing to that.
And so if you have clear go/no-go’s, OK, I’m raising 300 to go there if I’m OK. And then maybe it’s not a good idea or maybe I need to switch strategy completely. So it’s also an amazing timing when you’re learning from one day to another. You can switch, you don’t have managers or employees during this bootstrap period.
A few years after that, we raised as many companies, to go international. So we decided to go to the US first. So from France to the US before opening the UK and all the Nordics and in Germany. We were two of us, so we decided to send Jonathan, the other co-founder, in the US. And there, we did an income of 1 million and with this ambitious business plan of making all revenue in one year. But the goal was just to try to understand the market.
And that was a good one, but we made a mistake because what happened is that the two of us went there, we did like 50 or 60 meetings in one week. And the very first two meetings, we met with two companies we happened to sell them the product to six months after that. And they were fast retailing the holding of Uniqlo, 80,000 employees. Boom! And then another which is Coach, the leather handbags company, boom! Oh, the US is easy. We understood the market.
So we go back to France, we raised 15 million with Accel. And here, we are making a mistake because we are selling it to high valuation and too high potential to Accel Partners and then it’s been a struggle for Series A to capture between B and C because we raise money but we were in the US and again trying to buy the market. So being too rich… Sorry to say that but that’s on point, it’s not value for your company.
We hired too many people, we scaled too fast. We try to buy the scaling instead of progressively doing what you do between your seed and your Series A. Meaning, OK, you have to spend your cash wisely. You have no other option. You have to be really careful you know when you hire one person. We just hired yesterday 39 people in my company. So this is the scaling. But we were too fast, going too fast to high valuation and then we put the company at risk. Luckily, two years after that, we managed to catch up for the Series A.
Agathe Wautier: Very interesting. Thank you. And what are the good signs? Because I think what is interesting is you’re all in the big rounds, what signs did you have to go for the Series B? Ismael, when did you decide to push the button and you say, OK, let’s go there, let’s raise some funds?
Ismael Ould: For Series B first, the “why” was really the timing. The timing, it was important because the transformation of the retail wasn’t going to last. So we need to catch the market.
So we need to catch this transformation as soon as possible. So after the seed round and Series A, we had our product-market fit. So our solution was to tell you ready, client happy and we continue to deploy with them. So the issue after that was to say, OK, how we will structure the company to involve more and more clients in France and internationally.
So it was really the purpose of the fundraising: how to accelerate. And at this moment, we started the fundraising process. Sodexo Ventures and Orange Digital Ventures following by Alven Capital was the investor for the first round, trusts us to give us the money to develop it. And it was an amazing opportunity for us because they gave us a commercial contract because this is an international company with big deployment and big landscape and also the money to develop commercially the company.
So it was really fast, the process and for us, it was the best opportunity because we have the commercial landscape and the money to support this cause.
Agathe Wautier: OK. And speaking a bit about the VC’s, Eric, can you tell us if you choose the one who will follow you, they get to choose you? And maybe, what can you expect from a VC because I’ve heard a lot that if you want to go to China, you have to have Chinese funds and if you want to go to the US, you need the US funds. So first, how do you choose them and what do you expect from them?
Eric Larcheveque: Well, at the beginning of Ledger, it was more like the VC’s who chose us because we were hardware and Bitcoin and crypto, it wasn’t popular at all. So we had to find a VC who just believe in the company and the people. So they took our bet and we are very happy to work with them. And with Series B, we were looking up to be able to choose because we had a lot of issues.
We had a few term sheets and so we were more like in a good position to choose. And to answer the question about “Do you need US funds to go in the US?” The answer is no. If you want to go to the US, you have to go to the US. This means the first thing that we decided when we launched Ledger was to open an office in San Francisco, so one of our co-founders went there with his family. So it was a big cost for the company. That was maybe the biggest cost of the company, the biggest investment because, for two years, it was just an investment which didn’t give any return.
Agathe Wautier: For two years?
Eric Larcheveque: Yes because it was just about business development, putting the brand, the Ledger brand in the US. But when the market, the Bitcoin market became very crazy, everything came back tenfold and more because…
Agathe Wautier: And you were settled over there?
Eric Larcheveque: Yes because the US, each time we went to fairs or trade shows, Ledger was there. So it helped build the brand and so it was a very, very big very interesting investment. And so today, Ledger does maybe 20 to 25% of turnover in the US and it’s not because we have had a US firm that it came to that, it’s because we went there and you have to be there and it’s an investment, it’s not free. But in my opinion, that’s the way to do it. You just have to go there, of course, you have to choose wisely the timing because you can quickly burn your money. But that’s what I will say.
For China, I think it’s more complicated. I think that you need really to have the right people to introduce you, et cetera. But for the US or other countries, I think it’s more about your own strategy to go there. And if you have VC friends, OK, maybe they can help you with networking and everything, but there is no magic. There is no magic into what they can do.
Ismael Ould: For me, this is not magic. But when you want to conquer a market, you need stakeholders, you need partners and it’s really important to understand that when you go to involve the customer in another culture because we are on B2B…
Eric Larcheveque: Yeah, we are more consumers, that’s why.
Ismael Ould: Exactly. On consumers, probably but on B2B, it’s network business and mone. So in our case, we are not in the US, but going in the USA without US investors and in fact, culturally, right now because you know America is going to be more and more productive. So it’s better to have an American brother in your equity to conquer the market. So in our case, all of the B2B companies that I know, all of them, they have to find American investors to help them to scale in the US.
Agathe Wautier: Good. Do that. All right.
Clement Buyse: So yeah, to come back on “Can you choose — should you choose?” Yeah, you should choose if you can, of course. But yeah, choose, take care, you need to have a real fit with, not the family but the partner will be sitting at your bob. Because at some point, in the journey of your company, of course, you know whether it’s an exec or it’s flea bottom or whatever, you’re going to have some tough decisions to be made. And we’re really happy we were having 11 by the way in Eurazeo and Accel and we were having an amazing bob and it’s been simple. And it’s been an asset to us and believe me, when you have spoken about an exit and some are like OK, but we should keep going another round, so.
I think a good brand, is good. Accel is an amazing brand, so this is putting some kind of a stamp on your company, so this is cool. But the stamp is also some pressure on the company too. So yes, so some brand awareness, network and so on but they’re not going to close deals for you, of course.
Agathe Wautier: I have so many more questions. Maybe just last one and after, I want to take some questions from the audience. I think I have five minutes for that. Just, did you use some fundraisers? No?
Clement Buyse: No.
Ismael Ould: No.
Eric Larcheveque: Just at the beginning for the seed and Series A but not for the Series B.