Scrunchie Is Back: Interview with the Founder, Marie Aragon

With the ambition to revolutionize the French hair accessory industry, Scrunchie Is Back is a brand of hair accessory created by Marie Aragon. The products are completely Made in France and not at all the old 90s product that our parents were wearing. While operating online she also opened the Scrunchie Room, a cute apartment studio in the heart of Paris where clients can meet and try on the different products. We got to visit her there and hear all about her entrepreneurial journey, from her career as an accountant to becoming a self-made Entrepreneur. (Transcript below)

“Hello my name is Marie Aragon, and I’m the Founder of a hair accessories brand called Scrunchie Is Back. At the end of High School, I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant because I thought it was the best way of being closer to the entrepreneurial world. I realized pretty fast that accounting studies and this job wasn’t made for me. I refocused my studies towards business and entrepreneurship.

It’s during these studies that I created my first e-commerce at the age of 20. During my Masters in Entrepreneurship, I was working part-time for a young clothing company who went bankrupt while I worked there. I ended up at the end of my studies with a single professional experience of a company’s failure. It wasn’t easy to start over after that. But I got the chance to cross path of “Réseau Entreprendre Paris”, and I learned so much being in contact with entrepreneurs that were ambitious and had so much potential for development.

What is Scrunchie Is Back?

Scrunchie Is Back’ ambition is to modernize the hair accessory industry. Today, the market is composed of two segments, we can either find products that are on the low end, Made in China, or high end products that are expensive, and made for hairdressing, not fashion. I want to step in between these two segments by creating a brand that has a many products, with accessible prices, made in France, and a distribution mode that is different.

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I recently created The Scrunchie Room, which I use as an office but also as a Sales Showroom. The objective was to be close to the customers to allow them to try and buy the accessories easily.

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Did you Meet any challenges?

The most important difficulty is to find the right equilibrium between my professional life and personal life. There can be a frustrating part because we want things to go fast so we put in a lot of energy. But we also need to take the time to appreciate the little things like seeing my friends and family.

We are drawn to an objective, a success and a goal but between that goal and the present there is a whole path. The most beautiful thing in entrepreneurship is to enjoy that path, to take the time to celebrate successes. Also being happy to go through hurdles, because it allows us to grow and discover new things.

Do you have any Advice for Entrepreneurs?

Surround yourself, either with organisms, NGOs or entrepreneurs who have experienced things before you did, for example Réseau Entreprendre or Beeleev. You can be coached or get advice from them.

I also find a lot of inspiration in Entrepreneur’s Books, once again in the same logic, to see that we can’t build a company in two days, and that even the founder of Zappos or Nike went through the worst nightmares and difficulties, it gives courage. I really liked the book written by the founder of Zappos, Delivering Happiness. I found it really well written, and his story is really inspiring. He managed to bounce back from situation to situation. The reason he held on and succeeded is that he never let go and he had wit. It’s a perfect recipe.

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Booking Local, Growing Global

Fredrik JanssonFredrik Jansson started HotelSpecials in 2003. Now this hotel-booking platform has grown to offer hotel deals and specials from more than 5000 hotels in 6 European countries (Norway, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark) How did Fredrik achieve success in this competitive and versatile industry for decades? What does the future has to hold for his highly localized business model?

The beginning of a decade long journey

Fredrik, 41 years old, is a Stockholm-based entrepreneur. “I was born in a family of entrepreneurs in the cold and snowy northern Sweden. Both my grandfather and father run their own small business. So, by the age of 20, I left my hometown for Gothenburg to participate in a training program for entrepreneurs. The people I met there inspired me to start something before getting too old with a nice and well-paid job.

HotelSpecials_logo-white-notldHotelSpecials was established in 2003 in The Netherlands by chance. My Dutch partner, Remco, was very good at manipulating Google search results before SEO practices became popular. Our first product was only a very simple homepage listing hotels. Then we started to get emails asking for bookings. One thing leads to another; a small booking engine was developed. The year 2007 marked a major change in our strategy: the site recorded over 1000 bookings per day. We realized HotelSpecials could be something big!

For a while, we have looked up to booking.com as the best company to learn from. They also started in The Netherlands, so, a big inspiration and competitor. However, while booking.com commoditizes hotel rooms and sell them to everyone on global scale, we focus on unit special offers on local level. For us, the purpose is not to have as many rooms at as many hotels but to list handpicked hotels with deeper offers like dinners, free upgrade or free kids. We always try to get extra discount for customers who are looking for package deals.”

Competing globally as local businesses

“In the beginning, driving traffic wasn’t an issue because we were at the top of the search game. However, as Google continuously upgrades its algorithm, we now rely more on our existing database of loyal customers and big online travel agencies like trivago, tripadvisor or skyscanner.

In fact, newsletter is currently our main source of sale leads despite many difficulties like aggressive spam filters or the possibility of pay-to-send newsletter to Gmail addresses. For us, those challenges can also be opportunities. If we are good enough to pass all filters, we will be the only one that can get to customers in the travel sector.

In the long term, branding is the top priority. We want to move away from the commodity market and be clearer about our focus on customers’ holiday experience instead of selling rooms. We want customers to see us as human with feelings instead of machines.

That is why we launch our websites with local domain for each country (hotelspecials.nl, hotelspecials.de, hotelspecials.be, hotelspecials.se, hotelspecials.dk, hotelspecials.no). Instead of an international corporation, we introduce ourselves as local experts – a bunch of local entrepreneurs who know the market and run a local website.

The difficulty is to be local on a large scale.

The difficulty is to be local on a large scale. It only takes 3 – 4 weeks to technically set up a new site with local domain. However, as all contents on our websites are in native language, deployment in a new country requires thorough analysis on the behavior patterns and interests of customers. Using AI to develop content can also be an interesting option in the future. For now, we chose to work with marketing or content partners before opening any new office with new international teams.”

“Germany is the most challenging country”

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HotelSpecials is available in 6 countries in Europe: The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany. All these 6 websites are run by international teams located in Sweden, Germany and The Netherlands. “Germany is the most challenging country for us. It’s a huge market, which is very traditional and strictly regulated. You need to be super local to convince customers. A hard-to-get trust signal like local certifications can immensely boost the conversion rate of your site. They trick is to embrace the rules and business practices there.”

“Sweden, on the other hand, is much easier. Swedish do value quality and durability, but also keen on new things. We are savvy internet users equipped with broadband connection, laptop and big phones. Startups do not really need formal trust signs to attract curious consumers. That’s why there are a lot of startups coming from Sweden.”

The future of the hotel industry

“Airbnb is truly a game changer. Yet I am personally not convinced about the success of this venture-founded firm. It is operating on a low profit margin and competing against the giant booking.com. Hotelspecials is not a direct competitor of Airbnb because we are not going to include private apartments in our portfolio. This is something we learn along the way: stop doing everything and be a great niche player. Hotelspecials will focus on our core business – hotels. We want to help people spend great time together by removing the hassle of booking for dinners and the like. Hotelspecials is the one-stop shop for people who want to get away with their daily life and enjoy a short vacation. This year, we plan to relaunch the platform with new features and more mobile friendly interface – our biggest investment in a long time!

I see a bright future for the hotel industry.

In general, I see a bright future for the hotel industry. We should expect the rise of self-service hotels with mobile check-in and smart locks, where you can have immediate access to your room and pay without receptionists. Many hotel chains have come a long way in enhancing customer experience, creating major challenges for small and independent hotels.”

In 2016, Fredrik co – founded timetomeet.se, a real-time conference room booking platform. “The meeting industry is developing in the same patterns with the hotel industry 15 years ago. It is digitized very fast. In 2 – 3 years, online bookings can completely replace phone calls and emails for conference rooms. The market is profitable because the need for meeting rooms will evolve the same way as which for hotel rooms, but with the absence of big, international suppliers. It is, however, harder to scale up because localization is more stressed. Rarely would anyone from Stockholm book a meeting room in Paris, for example.”

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Nicolas Hazard, Serial Social Entrepreneur

NH -3-42 PM 4182 1Voted “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum in 2015, Nicolas Hazard is the perfect example of a successful social entrepreneur. When he founded INCO, a global accelerator supporting social enterprises, back in 2010, he managed to bring together the financial sector around social actions. We got the chance to interview him and get his take on his journey as a French entrepreneur in Austin, USA.

 

Entrepreneurship: A Means to an End?

The creation of a business often arises from the Entrepreneurs’ observation of their surroundings, with the goal of solving a problem. This is what happened when Nicolas Hazard founded INCO. He went through difference professional experiences abroad and in the French public sector and saw that his need for doing good was not being fulfilled with traditional means, as he tells us, I quickly noticed how limited political actions were”.

What was his solutions? He turned to entrepreneurship: “I decided to turn toward the private sector, specifically the entrepreneurship part of it, to induce a much-needed difference in this world. I decided to become an entrepreneur so as to become an actor of change and ameliorate the situation”. He then narrowed his attention to the financial sector. As he tells us, the 2008 financial crisis trigged this choice. After 2008, the financial sector was characterized by mistrust and fraudulent behavior, as Hazard points out: “I see finance as a tool that needed to be re-anchored in reality, at the service of startups who make the world more inclusive and sustainable”. This tool, usually used for profit driven behaviors, turned into something useful for the startup community, following his beliefs of making the world a better place.

Social Entrepreneurship: A Distinct Way of Doing Business

We can already start to notice that Nicolas Hazard differs from most entrepreneurs. He looks for a better economy, to make a social change, and uses social enterprise as a mean to an end. Social businesses are organizations that use commercial means to maximize a social or environmental outcome.

After graduating from Science Po Paris and HEC Hazard could have followed the path everyone has, of the traditional financial industry jobs. But he didn’t, and ended up creating INCO after working in different jobs abroad and in the French Public Sector.

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INCO operates in more than 20 countries with the goal of “creating economic opportunities for ALL.”.

The choice to make his company a social business reflects his views, but not only that. He wanted to make it a holistic company that helped startups from start to end: “INCO invest in companies who combined both a financial viability and a positive social and environmental impact. Since we quickly noticed that the startups we financed also needed some support to fully mature their projects, we decided to make INCO an integrated accelerator, combining all the stages of development needed for these young companies”, these include investment funds, incubation programs, workforce development and media.

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Mr. Hazard is also the president of CALSO, a non-profit organization helping disadvantage individuals on their journey to success. His companies are not the only mean he uses to reach that social business potential. He organizes each year the Impact. event, dedicated to social entrepreneurship, which brings together 1,500 political and economic decision-makers from 50 countries every year in Paris.

Austin, an Exemplary Technological Hub

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Austin, capital of Texas, with a population of 970,870 individuals, is where Mr. Hazard chose to create one of his incubation programs. An entrepreneur may overview a city like Austin as a place to set up a business and go for more mainstream locations like Silicon Valley, however they may be wrong. Hazard’s reasons to set up in Austin his incubation program, Tarmac TX, was well thought through:

“By exemplarily adding technological, entrepreneurial and academic talents, the city of Austin became one of the major technological hub where big companies in the likes of 3M, IBM, Google or even Silicone Labs implanted themselves. Besides, the administration of Austin, especially City Hall, wanted to make the city an example of inclusiveness and durability, capable of rising to the social and environmental challenges inherent to large metropoles. Austin is also known today for its excellent quality of life, with a dynamic cultural and artistic scene. So many reasons that pushed us to prioritize the capital of Texas compared to other American cities.

Where the Tech industry tries to answer the ecological challenges and fight against inequalities, INCO would like, with its partners, to be present to contribute to this convergence. It is in this very fertile context that in January 2016 in Austin, our program of incubation, Tarmac TX, was born. An adventure made possible thanks to strategic partnership made with the enterprise 3M.”

The French Social Know How

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France is known for many thing, like its food or the beauty of the country, but the French Social Know How is also something to be pointed out. As Hazard tells us “I personally try to export the “Social Made in France”, and in particular the model of social enterprises that unites economic performance and general interest, by putting vulnerable individuals back to work”. As an entrepreneur, he tells us that “there is a lot to learn from other countries, especially in the United States, where all entrepreneurial dreams can be realized.” And that is why he travels so much and exposes himself to “as many entrepreneurial mindsets as possible”. He also notes that France doesn’t have to be “ashamed” of itself in comparison to other countries, and this Social Know How is a very valuable asset. He also tells us that paradoxically “this model works well in the U.S., a country where they value individuals who give themselves a chance to succeed, whatever path they have”.

“Every Entrepreneur has his own experience, his own path”.

We asked him if he had any advice to give to entrepreneurs:

What I learned and I appreciate the most from the United States is that to be successful you first need to fail. When raising money, you need to be able to show that you have learned from your setbacks and that you weren’t discouraged. More than money and partners, who always end up being found if the project is good, you first need to be tenacious and know how to admit what did not work the first time, so as to be able to start again.”

An Article by Syrah Ribourel

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Doing Business In Japan: Interview with Aurore Leauté (Video)

Interview of Aurore Chasseloup Leauté, Founder of Ohward and Aura Legal, about her experience of Doing Business in Japan as a French Entrepreneur. (Transcript below)

“Hello My name is Aurore and I am a Lawyer. I created my law firm specialized in corporate law, that I tried to build like a startup: flexible and innovative. I also have experience in the customers experience field. And I created a startup that was called Ohward, that had the aim of matching former CEOs with acting ones for an exchange of experiences.”

Doing Business in Japan: What are the difficulties?

“While working in customer’s experience, I was in charge of international business. I thus developed a subsidiary in Tokyo. The first the step was to find a team there. We wanted to find locals (Japanese) and not Europeans to develop the business in Japan. This was the first difficulty, finding a Japanese who was capable of developing a business from scratch, able to meet our international clients but especially someone who would accept to work in a small French entreprise.

Furthermore, the Labor Laws in Japan are very similar to the ones in France, meaning ithey come at a high cost. We finally found someone amazing and this first step cleared.

The second one was to adapt to the culture, and to how they run a business. Japanese have a lot of respect and even in business, they never say “no”. And if they don’t say no, we cannot assume they mean “yes”, because its is just their way to be polite. This can bring a certain amount of misunderstanding. And finally, their time management is different. For example the time required to sign a contract is very long. You can’t be impatient and rush, you need to learn to be patient.”

How to Succeed In Japan ?

“Its an incredible experience and very rewarding. My advice in a few points, is the following. First, is that a person needs to know how to take their time. A Japanese was telling me that a French company needs 7 years to gain the trust of Japanese companies and enter in partnership with them. Second, you need cash, as Japan is relatively expensive. Third you need to be open minded, you can’t impose your way of doing and thus accept the Japanese Culture. And last point you need to mix the companies on a local level, mix Japanese and Europeans together in both locations.”

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The Czech FinTech Company That is Taking Central Europe by Storm

We got to interview Michal Smida just several weeks after his Series A Round in October 2017. Our first impression: he’s a man of details who appreciates timely manners. His company, Twisto, proposes an alternative to traditional credit cards for online shoppers. Initially launched in June 2013, Twisto has successfully earned a steady base of more than 250,000 customers in Czech Republic. Michal enthusiastically started our conversation by explaining his expansion plan for next year, both in terms of product portfolio and market.

Twisto Payment and Where to Find It

The emergence of “Buy now – Pay later” services is a huge boost to e-commerce sales. While Klarna (a Swedish solution) is on the rise in Western Europe and PayID covers Eastern Europe well, Central or Mid-Europe is left vacant. That’s where Twisto stepped in. Taking off from Prague, Michal and his team plan to expand to Warsaw, Poland in 2018.

“Poland is a very competitive market. Its population is around 40 million, compared to only 10.5 million in Czechia. E-commerce there is growing at 20% per year, twice the rate  in Czechia, with a yearly turnover of €7.5 – 8 billion. That’s why we are working very actively with ING Bank, and investor in the Series A for the launching of our payment solution in Poland next year”.

What exactly are Twisto’s solutions?

“To make it simple, we are a credit card”, Michal explains. Twisto currently offers two services: Twisto Now and Twisto Account. Twisto Now is a payment method that can be integrated into e-shops. Twisto pays the merchants on behalf of customers after running a credit check. They then have a 14-day product trial before paying Twisto back. Twisto Account, on the other hand, is the follow-up product. With a Twisto Account, customers enjoy a full month of shopping on credit (extendable, can be paid in installments) and an online finance management platform (including the ability to pay utilities bills by uploading photos of the invoices).

“Recently – beginning of December – we have launched with a German bank the Wirecard Twisto card and payment bracelet, which will allow holders to pay anywhere in the world with a Twisto account.”

What makes Twisto different?

Michal spent 11 years abroad before setting up Twisto in Prague. “I lived in the US, then Moscow and went to King’s College in London. After working 3 years for Barclays Capital London, I decided to come back to my home country and start a business. The bank is a great start. Yet I just felt unfit with the culture and how banks are moving away from real customers.”

Michal and his team are on a mission towards a simple and fair financing for the online generation. “The market of consumer finance is dominated by banks, which often reject young students, freelancers and young families. The strict risk scoring models of banks opt for profiles with stable employment or certain level of education. Those ignored customers will be able to finance their daily purchases with Twisto instead of banks because we use alternative data sources and apply different statistical models to determine risks.”

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At Twisto, machine learning and neural network replace the simple logistic regression models used by traditional banks. Online transactions history becomes the major determinant of risk management. “Twisto simply offers a different approach to credit scoring. Without a banking license and its strict tag-along regulations, we can be more creative in determining the credit risk of clients and tackle new groups of customers.”

Twisto’s risk engine is named Nikita. “For now, Twisto services are only available to Czech citizens. But as we are going to Poland next year, Nikita will be adjusted to fit with local risk patterns.”

Why does it have to be Czech?

Mid 2013, Twisto took their first steps in Prague, Czech. However, Michal seemed a bit surprised when being asked about setting up a business in Czech Republic. “I mean, Czech is a great country, but a small market with only around 10.5 million people. Here you will find talents with good technical skills at a fraction of the cost in other European countries. Plus, big communities of investors increase your chance of getting funds at early stage. The thing is: Czech is good place to start. But if you want to raise money for your business, a global ambition is vital.”, Michal concluded.

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“Michel et Augustin”: The Story, as Told by Michel de Rovira

Michel de Rovira, one of the “two kooky cookies” from Michel et Augustin, took some time off his banana farm to tell us his fascinating adventure with artisan pastry.

CAP - 6When your taste buds feel the melty praline and toasted almond inside the crispy cookie mixing with the little chunks of chocolate and nut, you know you’ve found the one. That one cookie from Michel et Augustin which deserves a whole week of sugar-free diet! Michel de Rovira, together with his secondary school mate Augustin Paluel-Marmont, has created their own savory cookies (beside other amazing pastry products) and pleased dessert lovers in 20 countries since 2004. Michel, one of the “two kooky cookies”, took some time off his banana farm to tell us about his fascinating adventure with artisan pastry.

Once upon a time, there were two normal guys doing normal jobs…

Michel, currently 41 years old, founded Michel et Augustin with his secondary school mate, Augustin in 2004. By now, the duo has known each other for nearly 30 years. Back in the early 2000s, they were stills 2 normal guys doing office (might-be-boring) jobs: Michel was a banker and then a strategic consultant in New York, while Augustin worked for a tour company in Paris.

What happened when two French guys got bored? They quit their day job, wandered around Paris, tasted as many baguettes and cookies as possible and wrote a book about it! Their reviews on 1263 bakeries were then published as “Le Guides des Boulangeries de Paris”(The Paris Bakeries Guides) in 2003. That first project together played a significant role in the birth of Michel et Augustin. Michel did not only enjoy Augustin’s company in daily babble but also lifelong projects. The quirky duo took the name “two kooky cookies” and taught themselves how to make the best cookie ever!

C'est comme ça que TOUT a commencé, dans la petite cuisine du petit appartement d'Augustin
It all began in the kitchen of Augustin’s little apartment

“To make it simple, our idea was to be the French Ben and Jerry’s. Augustin loved their story, their ice-creams and their factory in the US. We wanted to build a similar brand in Europe, where Ben and Jerry’s was not really famous and understood. A brand that is all about taste and natural ingredients. A brand that tells a story: To be an entrepreneur in France is possible, to be passionate about food is possible, and to see life in a positive and lively light is possible.”

TRIBU_MARS_2017_LOGO_FRIt has been 13 years since the two bestfriends started their entrepreneurial journey. “We are lucky enough that the company has well developed from a few employees to about a hundred. We have banana farms (it’s how they call their offices) in Paris, Lyon and New York. Our product is available in Europe, the UAE, North America and Asia.”

No one expected more cookies on the market…

uk_portraitFlashback to 2005, the bakery and pastry market in France was almost saturated (the duo counted 1263 bakeries, just in Paris). “We faced enormous competition, no one expected more cookies than what they had already had in the market. Our mission was to be really different, be quicker, be faster.” They greeted the market with cookies in snack or to-go format and cheeky communications strategy: two funny, smiling French guys, distinguished by the amount of hairs remaining on the forehead (Michel is the less lucky one). “We wanted to attract customers who are willing quit consuming products from big company and switch to real, tasty products from people they know.”

Does that make their international success a hindrance? Now that their products are widely distributed, aren’t they the big guy now? “Yes, it’s true that we are no longer your friendly neighbors who make cookies. Apparently, we are based in Paris and sell in different countries”, Michel affirmed with a grin. “The thing is that we remain faithful to our promise with customers. We use the best natural ingredients. We never stop working on our recipe. No matter how big we grow, what’s always true is that we make the best tasting cookies.”

In France only, Michel et Augustin’s products are available in more than 3100 outlets. What they offer are not only cookies but also yogurt, dessert and fruit juice (all of which taste awesome, too). “Two kooky cookies” face the dilemma of quality and quantity. “There is artisan production and industrial production. When we talk about artisan products, it’s all about great ingredients with amazing taste but inconsistent quality. Industrial products, on the other hand, it’s the same every day, every month, every year or even every century yet the quality of ingredients is sacrificed. We want to have the best of both world.”

Their solution? “We source great ingredients like in artisan production, and never compromise with low quality product for cheaper and easier manufacturing process. It always has to be the best butter and eggs from free-range chickens. We are proud to say that we follow the most refined recipes, no matter how long or complicated they can be. After that, the precision of industrial production is added to ensure the same quality across batches. Honestly, it’s a pain in the neck in this industrial world, yet it’s vital for us to make the best tasting cookies.”

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The best tasting cookies!

Given their strict quality standards, 90% of Michel et Augustin’s production takes place in France. The remaining 10% of production scatters between Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands. “We can’t manage to make products of same quality just in France. Making cookies does not sound that hi-tech but it is! Some technologies we use in production are simply not available in France.”

And a global success…

Like many other French businesses, Michel et Augustin chose Belgium as their first international stop. “Part of the country shares our language. Plus, Brussel is even closer to Paris than Lyon or Marseille.”, Michel explained. “Our product is now available in 20 countries: China, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, the UAE, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, the UK, Germany,… I’m missing a few. We’ve also been in the US for 3 years and we’re taking our first steps in Canada. It’s been such a ride!”

Les 2 vraies vaches ;)

We asked Michel about his most memorable market experience. Delightfully, he replied: “The US market is an amazing story for us. We started making efforts way back in 2009. The whole operation was down in 2010. It didn’t work out because we chose the wrong wholesalers, who didn’t fit our culture and working methods. 5 years later, an unexpected opportunity with Starbucks came up! We had been trying to work with Starbucks for ages. Around 2004 – 2005, when Starbucks just came to Paris with very few units, we contacted them and stayed in touch. After 10 years, our persistence paid off. We got a request for samples from Starbucks headquarter in the US. Instead of just sending the cookies, our two representatives flied all the way from Paris to meet Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) in Seattle. We worked like crazy to make the deal work out. It was a unforgettable year with Starbucks!”

After Starbucks, Michel et Augustin continued to expand their business in the US. “The Starbucks experience gives us amazing references. It really is a significant step! We have the leverage to place our product in flights and big retailers like Whole Food.”

“Some startups become global very quickly. However, in the food industry, we have to go step by step because food cultures vary across nations. It takes great time and effort for each country.”, Michel summed up his global journey. “So for international development, make sure it works for one country before moving on to another. Take steps.”

Petits carrés à la queue-leu-leu
Michel et Augustin’s “Little Squares”, an appealing product for US market

Michel et Augustin adapts to culture variation by adjusting product packaging and applying selective product offerings for each market. For example, in the US, where dark chocolate is preferred, retailers are supplied with products featuring dark chocolate. Michel et Augustin’s “Petits carrés” (Little Square) is also appealing to US consumers who have a tooth for snack. However, “at some point, we’d like to develop specific recipes for each country”, Michel added.

A boost to international growth with DANONE

In June 2016, DANONE officially acquired 40% of Michel et Augustin. “We don’t consider ourselves as part of DANONE Group. DANONE is our new shareholder, who is like a big brother to us. We used to be part of the Pinault family, and now we are family with DANONE. This is an opportunity for us to be more ambitious. It takes a lot of time to develop a brand in the food industry. With the help of DANONE and their extended sales network around the world, we’ll be able to boost the global sales of Michel et Augustin products.”, Michel emphasized.

Certified Pastry Chefs at Michel et Augustin
Certified Pastry Chefs at Michel et Augustin

“We want to go global as a French know-how pastry brand. The reputation of French pastry chefs (both Michel and Augustin are certified chefs, Michel in pastry and Augustin in bakery) will give us leverage in big cities around the world, where we believe there are demands for Michel et Augustin products.”

DANONE won’t take over the sales distribution of Michel et Augustin. “Our focus is the brand, the recipe and our development in France but we will also be very involved in DANONE sales network. We can’t let DANONE do it themselves, because it’s us who truly understand Michel et Augustin’s core value.”

“We position as a more premium and luxury brand on international markets. Our products are priced at around 2 – 3 euros in France, making them little pleasures that anybody can afford. In Asia, for instance, we target elites who are willing to spend more on high quality French products. That’s why we only work with nice retailers who has premium stores at premium location in Hong Kong (City’Super) and China (Ole’ Supermarket).”

“My advice to other entrepreneurs, if I’m allowed to do that”

Avez-vous déjà vu 2 vaches sur un quai de métro
Two Cooky “Cookies”

Michel et Augustin enjoyed a revenue of over 40 million euros in 2016 (+35%). Their focus in the years to come will be on international development, with the help of DANONE. Despite all his accomplishments at Michel et Augustin, Michel remains a humble and enthusiastic cookie-guy: “My advice to other entrepreneurs, if I’m allowed to do that, is: Don’t find reasons to postpone your business. The idea is never perfect enough, so are the team and your business plan. To be an entrepreneur is to have an idea, and then work hard to develop it into a business. Stop procrastinating and do it now!”

“Also, keep in mind that entrepreneurship is a long journey. It might take you years, or even decades for your business to be visible. That’s why you need to pick an industry that you are passionate about and to work with people that you really like. Because it’s gonna be your whole life, make sure the passion is big enough for you to have enjoyable moments.”

An Interview by Linh To

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From Ski Slopes to Silicon Hills

AAEAAQAAAAAAAA3cAAAAJDNkNTVmYWUzLWE0OGEtNGViNS1iNjEyLTM5ZmRiZDllZjQyOQBring Silicon Valley to Latin America? Javier Ibáñez-Padilla did it! In 2010, he and his partners established Willdom, a platform that connects elite developers from Latin America and leading corporations in the US. How did he manage to bridge the physical distance and achieve satisfaction for both ends? 

“I was a ski instructor…”

“I entered the tech world by accident”, Javier recalled. “I was a ski instructor who gave lessons in Lake Tahoe, close to San Francisco every winter”.  Living in the Silicon Valley, Javier’s keen instinct and observation skills helped him identify a major opportunity: lots of risk capital was poured into start-ups that have continuous demand for engineering talents. Javier then came back to Argentina with his partners to develop a solution, which was eventually given the name Willdom.

Willdom offers companies in the US teams of “Silicon Valley standard” developers based all over Latin America. Javier emphasized: “We work in the same time zone with our clients through a virtual working platform. This information system allows us to closely collaborate throughout the software development process. We approach companies as a software development company, not as a group of freelancer. “

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Climbing the Hills…

“The hardest part is to get your idea validated. After that, it’s just the same old procedure of legal filing, recruitment and logistics”. How to know that your idea is realizable, and eventually, profitable? Simple answer: Put together a business plan and seek for feedback.

10383867_577085909070325_2906895646936284979_oJavier contacted all the companies he knew in San Francisco to evaluate the actual demand for his proposal.  The idea was presented to find the answer to three questions: What do you think? Will you buy this product? How much will you pay for it? His determination was paid off as the first client of Willdom was generated through this process, and then came the followers. “News travels fast in San Francisco. Thanks to its strong community of entrepreneurs, the best way to market your business is through word of mouth.”

 

“The principle of San Francisco is: Pay It Forward…”

Willdom was born and nurtured by the collaborative startup ecosystem of San Francisco. “If you are genuinely looking for help, help will come, especially in San Francisco. All the successful people here were at least once helped, so they are always willing to do the same. The principle of San Francisco is Pay It Forward. As you can rarely return a favor, try to help others instead.”

 

Apparently, this has also become a principle for Javier. “What I always want to tell other entrepreneurs is the importance of the value proposition. You must clearly identify your business offering before establishing any charter. And once it’s ready, review your determination: Are you willing to take this hard path? Because without 100% commitment, you are heading nowhere.”

“You’ll need help, too. So always build long-term partnership with people who are better than you. And with a strong team, try to focus on one thing and excel it. We learnt this the hard way”.

Willdom will continue to develop only in the North America market. “For us, North America represents 50% of the global demand, so there’re lots of rooms to grow. We did try to work simultaneously in different countries but it didn’t work out. This experience indeed taught us the importance of staying focus and excelling in your chosen path.”

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