Maximilian Bittner is the CEO of Vestiaire Collective which is a global marketplace enabling people to buy and sell luxury, pre-owned fashion products. The company has raised over $250 million from top tier investors such as Bpifrance, Idinvest Partners, Balderton Capital, Ventech, Vitruvian Partners, Eurazeo, Fidelity International, Korelya Capital, Conde Nast, Vaultier7, Cuir Invest, and Luxury Tech Fund to name a few. Prior to this, Maximilian cofounded Lazada which he sold to Alibaba for $4 billion.
In this episode you will learn:
- How to integrate teams with different DNA
- His top advice for new founders
- The key to creating a business that lasts decades
- The power of refusing to accept no for an answer
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About Maximilian Bittner:
Maximilian Bittner is a tech entrepreneur and CEO of Vestiaire Collective, the global leading community-driven platform for desirable pre-owned fashion. Encouraging consumers to join the circular economy as the sustainable alternative to fast-fashion, the platform is unique due to its interactive community features, unique desirable inventory, along with its authentication and quality control process.
Before joining Vestiaire Collective, Maximilian Bittner founded Lazada, the leading online shopping destination in Southeast Asia, in 2012. As CEO, Maximilian Bittner was the driving force behind the company, which quickly consolidated its position as the market leader in the region. Following its rapid growth, Alibaba group purchased a controlling stake in 2016.
Maximilian Bittner stepped down from his CEO position in March 2018 and moved into an advisory role. He started his career at Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking division in London prior to joining McKinsey & Company in Germany.
In his role as CEO of Vestiaire Collective, Maximilian Bittner is responsible for driving the company’s ambitious growth strategy by focusing on tech innovation, customer engagement, discoverability and integration of circularity into the fashion ecosystem. In answer to this, he recently launched the Circularity Collab with a series of contemporary brands, a partnership program developed to engage brands and consumers in the circular fashion movement.
Connect with Maximilian Bittner:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have a founder from Europe, and his story is interesting on how he has gone across different continents building, scaling, and exiting; you name it. So, I think we’re going to learn quite a bit. Without further ado, let me welcome our guest today. Max Bittner, welcome to the show.
Maximilian Bittner: Glad to meet you, Alejandro.
Alejandro: Originally born in Munich. Tell us, how was life growing up?
Maximilian Bittner: Munich is a wonderful little town. It’s a cozy place, close to the mountains, and you get to enjoy all aspects of life like skiing in the winter, spending time on the lakes, traveling in Europe. It was a fantastic upbringing with lots of fond memories and great friends, which I still have to this day.
Alejandro: Was anyone in your family into business, or did that love for entrepreneurship come later on?
Maximilian Bittner: No. My parents were not entrepreneurs. My dad had a more traditional consultant banking background. My mom initially supported us in the family before she went back to work at my early age. But the entrepreneurship in the family started with me.
Alejandro: Got it. Early on, you were traveling quite a bit, too, and you were exposed to the U.S. Perhaps that shaped your mindset and your perspective quite a bit. Is that right?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. I’ve been extremely fortunate. As I mentioned, my dad had a consultant banking background, and we moved around at times. I moved to New York back in ’86/’87 for a year. I think it was my second grade in school at the age of six or seven, which was an amazing experience just to be exposed to a different culture and different mindsets. I’ve kept that connection to the U.S. over the years, being in summer camp almost every summer from the age of six and seven onward until I went to University, I guess, as a camper, and then as a counselor in training, and then as a counselor itself. It’s always been amazing to meet different people from different walks of life, and I think it has changed and inspired me to have a very global experience.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. As we’ve chatted offline, I used to do that too, going to summer camps, and it definitely gives you a different perspective being here in the U.S. You came here to the U.S. later on, but before even that happened, you moved to Scotland to finish high school. How did that happen?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. I think my parents, at some point, I was about 15 or 16 and realized there were a lot of things distracting me in beautiful Munich. You’re a young man, and you’re growing up, and there are many things that you prefer doing than studying as hard as you can for your high school graduation. They had the wonderful idea to send me off to boarding school in the UK. We looked at a couple of schools. Most of them were in England. One of the schools we looked at was up somewhere north of Edinburgh in a city called Perth. We went there on probably the one sunny day that they have a year. It was a beautiful setting in the green hills. The sun was shining. The kids were coming from church wearing their kilts, kicking around a rugby ball. I just saw the glowing in my parent’s eyes because this seemed like a beautiful place. Then a couple of months later, I was then sitting in what was not sunny anymore, Scotland, and exposed to constant rain. But, at least, that forced me to focus back on school.
Alejandro: I hear you. Talking about school, you ended up studying economics and history in London. So, why economics and history?
Maximilian Bittner: I think the economics part was the rational side. The history part was the passion, the fun side. Just studying history maybe felt a bit too classical, so we added a bit of economics to the mix to at least have some sort of career prospect at the time. I spent, admittedly, very little time on the economics side. I thought it was rather dull, and I much preferred studying history and studying different times of largely revolutions, the Industrial Revolution, the American Revolution, the British Revolution, the French Revolution. So, that’s really the area I loved focusing on. It was amazing.
Alejandro: Then, you took the route that happens not being in Europe. It’s either you become a lawyer, or you become a banker. So, you went to Morgan Stanley, and I’m sure that you did a lot of presentations for clients.
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. I was actually on the way to become an entrepreneur, already, back then in the late ‘90s, early 2000s when I was in University. I started doing internships in some of these tech startups very early on in ’99, 2000. I did an internship at a company called [00:06:27], which I think is still around. It’s a listed company. I was super excited to do that, but by the time I graduated, that bubble had burst, and the opportunities to work at startups had rapidly disappeared. I had to figure out in the last five or six months of my studies, what else to do and somehow got exposed to investment banking because that’s what people did in London. I ended up doing what most bankers do when their analysts, working way too many hours, understanding way too little of what I was actually doing, and in some sort of way, trying to get by – being pretty miserable.
Alejandro: I hear you. Then, you did the MBA, and then that was a segue to doing McKinsey and a bit of consulting. Would you say that the MBA gave you that reminder that maybe entrepreneurship would happen at some point?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. I really realized quickly, when I was in banking, that is not something I wanted to do. Back then, everyone went to banking, and then private equity, or hedge funds. I just didn’t enjoy finance that much. So, I knew I wanted to do something else. I knew that I had to roundup my skill set. Doing an MBA was a great opportunity to step back and figure out what I wanted to do. This is 2005, 2006, 2007. Back then, we had companies like Facebook, which was coming to campus already, and they were still a fairly young company, and Google and those guys were there. I didn’t feel quite ready myself, so I felt that doing a couple of years at consulting would roundup my experience and then figure out what that big thing could be that I would go after. Like most people, especially people who join McKinsey, it’s a great place to learn. You’re surrounded by great people, and I got stuck a bit longer than I wanted. But in one of my last projects that I did at McKinsey, I took half a year off to join a private equity firm based in London. In my head, I had the vision of being a glamourous PE investor out of London. But on the first or second day when I arrived, they said, “We have this big portfolio company up in the north of England, and we want to send you up there as a Chief Restructuring Officer, and here I was on a train up to Preston, outside of Manchester. I spent the next four or five months helping to turn around that business, which was an absolutely incredible experience just being there in the thick of it, having the responsibility, and dealing with real problems. It’s a bit like the matrix. You get exposed to the blue pill or the white pill. I can’t remember which one was which. Once you take the pill and experience that real life, it’s very hard to go back. So, in my head, I was basically sold and ready to leave. Then, it took about another six or seven months for me to leave McKinsey to pursue the opportunity with Lazada, and then pursue the e-commerce opportunity in Southeast Asia.
Alejandro: Yeah. I saw that. It was your first rodeo, your first baby, and here, there was a conversation that happened with your significant other, and basically, it sounded like the idea of bringing the business to life happened quickly, and all of a sudden, you find yourself in Asia. Is that right?
Maximilian Bittner: Exactly. I think my wife understood that I had the fire burning in my belly, and I needed to do something big. McKinsey, while it was an amazing experience, at some point, had lost its lure to me. We were also back in Munich. I moved back to Munich to join McKinsey after 10 to 13 years, and I wanted to experience the rest of the world before getting stuck in that life that my parents lived in Munich. Then the opportunity and the idea of Lazada came. I met a couple of investors who had also thought about the idea. They actually looked at e-commerce from a fashion side and kind of Zalando’s Apps kind of company. I brought the e-commerce kind of Amazon idea on the table because I felt that the general merchandise model comes before the fashion model. Crazily enough, this is late 2011. Amazon was still not a – it was a big company. It was $50 to $60 billion, but it was still losing money; it never made profit. It was not the juggernaut that it is today. It’s not the 1.5-trillion-dollar company that it is today. But I felt the opportunity was immense, especially in markets which were back then and still are today, emerging markets where the offline retail development was much less as sophisticated. We discussed about regions which could be exciting. Southeast Asia clearly came to mind. We’re talking about a region with 600-700 million people living in a proximity of like two or three hours of flight. Many similarities – the countries can be very different geographically, the language, religions. It’s a very diverse region, but they all face very similar challenges and e-commerce, providing the one-stop-shop vision for the region for sellers and merchants and brands to enter the region for local merchants to get accessibility of a much bigger customer base. It all fit together amazingly. I flew over, back then, to Singapore in Jakarta and Manila. I called my wife after two or three days, and I said, “We’re moving.” I think we literally moved with our just newly-born first daughter, and within two or three weeks, we had moved to Singapore and started building Lazada.
Alejandro: Wow. How was it like to adjust to a completely different market? Here you are; you’ve had some exposure to the U.S. and to Europe, as well, but we’re talking about a completely different market. How crazy was it to adjust to this new market while you were building a business from nothing?
Maximilian Bittner: It was the most incredible experience, and especially the way we launched the business. It was fairly aggressive. We launched in five big markets simultaneously. In early 2012, we launched in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. We launched in Singapore two years later. I was based in Singapore at the time because it was the most central place to live and to fly. I would travel to two and sometimes three countries per week. So, just killing myself getting up at 5:00 am, getting home at 10:00 pm if I didn’t sleep in one of these markets. And working with amazing colleagues, my co-founders, across these markets. Some of these kids were 26, 27 – country CEOs, and hiring what were huge teams within months and within a year. Several of these markets had close to 1,000 employees. Just going at it because it was such a unique opportunity. We always knew we had a limited time window. The region was pretty empty at the time, but it was only a matter of time until the Alibaba’s and the Amazon’s of this world were going to put their attention on it. So, it was a race from day one, and we just killed ourselves to make it happen. The experiences in these markets were crazy. They were absolutely crazy. You live in markets where you have regular floods; we had a coup d’état; the Thai government was overthrown; we had our run-ins with local authorities, difficulties in getting licenses, people trying to blackmail us, death threats. We were really coming into this market disrupting what were deeply-seated and rooted economic interests that were held by a few families in each of these markets who clearly did not see us disrupting their offline retail businesses as too kind. But the speed at which we were able to scale, largely driven by an amazing two or three super trends, which came together at the same time, just allowed us to challenge the status quo extremely hard. Let’s go back to 2011, 2012, when mobile phone penetration in Indonesia, for example, would be the lowest single-digits. I remember back at the end of 2012, one of my colleagues met some Chinese manufacturers, and those were the first days where the $150 USD, $100 3G Android phones suddenly came to life. In a matter of one or two years, mobile phone penetration has gone to 50-60%, so we had this sudden explosion of the market. Obviously, we had the ability to raise quite a lot of money to support our growth. I think a lot of things came together at the same time. It was a great ride.
Alejandro: What ended up being the business model for the folks that are listening to get it?
Maximilian Bittner: Lazada was a general e-commerce model like Amazon. We started off the business as a retail business, so buying and selling products. But we realized quickly by the first year that just doing retail buying and selling was across the region with six markets with no common inventory was going to be very expensive, and we basically started moving towards a 3P model marketplace where we not only empowered big brands and big merchants, regional and global players, but we started empowering those small micro-merchants, the small manufacturers across each of our markets and building tools for them to compete on a global scale with the Samsung’s, with the Proctor & Gambles of this world. Giving these small merchants and small entrepreneurs, these tools allowed us to scale the platforms in the early years, 2013, 2014, 300-400% year over year at creating that massive growth. We also, very early, decided and saw that logistics was going to be a key challenge for the region – e-commerce logistics or logistics will stop or very underdeveloped. We decided early on that we needed to build our own logistics. We didn’t have the benefit of an Amazon, which were in the day they had founded, had FedEx, UPS, and USPS. We had nothing. So, the way we went about it is, we built our own logistics. By the time I had left, we had over 20 warehouses, I think. We had logistics workers north of 10,000 across warehouses. Our own last-mile fleet, we worked with more than 100 different regional and local logistic providers. It was a massive logistics machine that helped us combine that with the merchants to scale the business to what it was at the end.
Alejandro: How much capital did you guys raise in total for the business prior to the acquisition?
Maximilian Bittner: Prior to the acquisition, close to a billion.
Alejandro: Very cool. What was it like to grow 300% or 400% year over year and also increasing the headcount of people in the thousands every year? Did it feel like driving a Formula One car where all the pieces are wabbly, and you just keep going no matter what?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. I don’t think it was a Formula One car because I wouldn’t call myself a Formula One driver. [Laughter] I would call myself as a kid who just learned how to drive and was then supposed to drive a Ferrari at 300 kilometers per hour with zero experience. I knew it was just mad; it was absolutely mad. I think between 2013 and 2014, I had gone from low mid-1,000/1,500 to over 5,000 to 6,000 in a matter of 18 to 24 months. At the time, I was 33 or 34, and I was by far the oldest, almost, in the team I had. Of course, some of my colleagues and co-founders who were similar age than me, but then we had in the countries even younger teams where the country CEOS would be 27, 28, and some having 500 to 700 people below them. Any of us before – the most people we ever managed was probably two or three. So, we did a lot of really stupid stuff. We made a lot of mistakes. But we just toughed it out. We had some gritty entrepreneurs on the ground who saw the bigger vision of the way we were transforming, the way people were consuming across the region was just massively exploding and emerging, and the whole middle-class of 150 to 200 million people entering the consuming class. So, we were just riding this wave, holding on for dear life, and then trying not to completely mess up. We had tough competition in those early years, and we had to fight those guys off, but we toughed it out. Like I said, we made more mistakes than we did things right, but the few things we did right, we focused on and just worked incredibly hard.
Alejandro: So, obviously, when you’re growing at that pace, you also need to grow yourself. What did you do well in order to scale yourself at this same speed and in parallel with the same growth that the business was experiencing?
Maximilian Bittner: What did I do well? I mainly focused on the things I didn’t do well. That’s probably my German side. I think what I did well is I think I built a really good team. I was always extremely proud of the team and the colleagues that I built around me, and I think I had a good instinct for bringing the right people on board, and then being able to motivate them, to help them see the bigger vision and the opportunity that we’re going after. There’s always a bit of a stick and carrot. Different people need different motivations. I was quite rough around the edges back then, and I probably still am. But back then, under the pressure that we faced at times may be a bit too rough, but it worked. I think we were incredibly battle-hardened and just went for it. The second thing which helped me is I was a bit older. I had my failures in life before, both in banking and consulting. Things weren’t always a straight line. I was not always the first to get promoted and stuff like that, so I reflected on that things don’t always go well. Things can also go badly, and I tried to stay humble during those years, especially the early years. My wife was extremely supportive and grounded me in saying, “This is your work, and the rest doesn’t change who you are.” I tried to stay humble; tried to keep the team humble and hungry. The third probably strength that I had was not taking no for an answer. If I saw a wall, I ran against it once, and if it didn’t break, I ran again at it until it broke even if it took 20 to 30 times. An example would be Apple. We were only the second platform globally to get Apple as a licensed reseller back in 2016, 2017, and it took me 20 to 30 meetings to get them on board. It’s just persistence and not taking no for an answer, which is really required. Just keep on going until you drop, pretty much.
Alejandro: Absolutely. At what point, Alibaba comes knocking?
Maximilian Bittner: When did Alibaba come knocking? One of the last external rounds we had before Alibaba was – Temasek joined us as an investor back in 2014. They had very good relationships with Alibaba, obviously, because they were a big shareholder of Alibaba. At some point, they said I should meet Joe Tsai, who was Jack Ma’s number two, until very recently. He’s one of the original founders of Alibaba. That’s a meeting I took some time in the summer of 2015. It’s one of these meetings, which are very tempting. You’re faced with an incredibly inspiring entrepreneur like Joe, who is incredibly smart and charming. He explained to me what their vision was, how Alibaba wanted to expand globally and how Lazada could be a key part of that expansion. I really saw the opportunity of doing that and the experience of that. Like I said, we’ve been through three or four incredibly wild years, and the ability to get support and some stability, experiences having people you can learn from, getting technical support, getting financial support. What was becoming and continued to be an incredibly competitive environment, there were rumors about Amazon coming into the region. A lot of it made a lot of sense at the time. It’s not an easy decision to sell what is your baby. But it made a lot of sense at the time. We started having discussions, which lasted quite long to make sure that all sides were happy. By the end, they were successful, and I think both sides are very happy with the outcome.
Alejandro: How long did it take from start to finish to actually signing the asset purchase agreement?
Maximilian Bittner: That took until 2016. It was a long discussion. A long negotiation and a lot of sleepless nights. Yeah.
Alejandro: Got it. Then what were the terms of the deal that were announced?
Maximilian Bittner: The terms of the deals that were announced – the deal was structured in multiple phases over a two to three-year period. They bought the majority of the company back in 2016. I think the valuation at the time was 1.5 billion. Then they increased their share in 2017, where they bought out a lot of the old shareholders. I think the valuation back then was 3.1 billion USD. Then they bought out the remaining shareholders over the next couple of years. I exited the business in March 2018 after around two years of helping the transition and making sure this really becomes a core part of Alibaba.
Alejandro: So, close to a $4 billion acquisition, give or take. Correct?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah.
Alejandro: So, what was it for you, because here, you took a big risk moving to Asia. You build this thing into something massive, an incredible outcome. What was that moment for you of exiting the business? I’m sure that was tough for you and quite an emotional moment.
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. It was very bitter/sweet. On the one side, it’s obviously a great story and a great success to exit a business so successfully, and I’m incredibly proud of that achievement. I’m even more proud that the integration with Alibaba went extremely well. Lazada continues to do extremely well in Southeast Asia under the stewardship of Alibaba. So, making the brand outlast the founder was extremely important for me, and it mattered a lot to me. But the bitter part is, you have a business, which you grow from nothing, which you put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in, and then suddenly from one day to the next, you’re a general without an army. You wake up in the morning, and you’re like, “What now?” I thought that was an incredibly difficult period for me because I felt that I was still absolutely in my prime. I still love building a business, driving a business, working with a team in changing the world, and thinking about how you can drive a revolution in some sort of way. Then you wake up one day, and you have nothing to do, which is very sad. You miss your colleagues, you miss your company, and you have to figure out what’s next. I reflected a lot on who I am, what I did well, what I didn’t do well, and came to the conclusion fairly fast – probably too fast. Most people said I should take a year off or so. I barely took off three or four months and decided very fast that I was not done. I wanted to build another great company, and continue being a CEO, continue working for consumers and changing the way they consume. So, I wanted to get back on the horse fairly fast. I think I was 39 when I exited Lazada, and that, in my view, was way too young to retire.
Alejandro: Got it. At this point, you were already making some investments in other startups. I understand that one of those investments led to your next chapter, and that’s with Vestiaire. Tell us how that chapter came about, and what was that transition like?
Maximilian Bittner: The Vestiaire opportunity came a bit out of nowhere, to be very honest. I was looking at what I could do next. I really started forming the idea around what I had learned in Asia, and what of learnings could I bring back in my view to the West, to Europe, to the U.S.? If you step back, what did I do back in 2012? We applied e-commerce best practices from the West – Amazon to Southeast Asia. But over those next six to seven years, if you look at e-commerce in Southeast Asia or in Asia in general, especially China, e-commerce had developed differently. Amazon is still very similar today than it was back in 2011, 2012. If you look at e-commerce in China and Southeast Asia, it’s a very different experience. It’s much more driven by small entrepreneurs, small merchants; it’s a much more social experience, much more community-driven, it’s a lot around – it’s all at first, it’s all-around engagement, gamification. It’s really social commerce in a very different shape and form, and I really felt that this kind of e-commerce model was not just something which could work in Asia; it was something which could work globally. Because if you look at your young consumer, 15/16-year-old girl, whether she sits in Chacarita, or Paris, or New York, they all behave in the same way on their mobile. It’s just that in Southeast Asia, mobile came first. People leap from the whole desktop era, and I felt that building something around this engagement and around the gamification could be a great opportunity in Europe. I started looking at some business models, and I thought about building or investing or joining a company. Then the Vestiaire opportunity came out of nowhere. I didn’t really know the company, but I looked at what the fundamentals of the business were. It was a secondhand luxury business, which is really driven by a huge engagement of the consumers, buyers, and sellers with the products, with the brands, with the designers. If you think about a secondhand buying and selling experience, you really open up your personal wardrobe to a broader community of fashion-lovers on the selling side. On the buying side, you’re looking for things that you didn’t buy firsthand. You’re looking at an endless aisle, which can go over decades. It’s that kind of that Alibaba’s cave; it’s a treasure hunt; you find things that you can find nowhere else. Our catalog is now over 1.5 million items on the platform. You compare that to [00:33:43]. Their assortment is barely 100,000 or even less – 40 to 50,000. It’s this huge treasure hunt, so you have this emotional connection both in the buying and selling side. Obviously, it’s fashion, and our customers are mainly female – 90%+ are female, so girls and fashion – I think the only comparable is boys and football or rugby or basketball, depending on where you live. People are really engaged. I thought that there’s a deal to build on this engagement through these learnings around social commerce gamification engagement is something to build on. I spent time with the investors, with the business, and I got more and more excited about it. That was really the first big pillar that triggered it. I felt that my experience from Lazada, just the sheer scale that Lazada had, would allow me to bring a lot of best practices to Vestiaire. Then, finally, and I think that was really the clincher was this whole concept that secondhand is ultimately circular and is an incredibly sustainable business, and we’re living in a world where Paris can have north of 40 Celsius in the summer, and we all know that we need to do something. I have three daughters now. I want to leave the world in a better place than how I found it. So, that responsibility and the opportunity to do something about it was incredibly inspiring. It was not just about building another big e-commerce company and chasing order and GMV, but really doing something that can fundamentally make a difference. If you look at retail, you look at fashion; it’s one of the top; I think it’s the second most polluting industry in the world through all the products that are being sold and the way that people consume today, fast fashion being one of the biggest culprits of pollution, and secondhand really bringing a real solution. I think that got me very, very excited, very fast. Those three things put together were enough to get me to join the business as CEO, to also invest in the business, and to feel like this is mine, and then go for it again, basically.
Alejandro: How did you join as the CEO? Was this a conversation that happened at a board level? Something that maybe one day you received a call and they’re like, “We would like for you to jump in,” or why did they bring you as the CEO of the business?
Maximilian Bittner: There were several founders in the business. The main founder who is a German CEO – I think that the idea was that it was time for him to move on – to bring a bit more experience and a new and broader vision into the business. I started having discussions with some of the investors as to what that could look like. I think the opportunity became very clear for both sides on what it would mean for them, what it would mean for me, and what difference I could bring to the business.
Alejandro: When you come into a business, obviously, this is a different type of journey as building and scaling something from the ground up, you’re coming in where there is also something built. How did you come? You joined a couple of years ago? This company was founded in 2009, so how would you say that especially, maybe your background from McKinsey and investment banking, how do you think you applied some of these lessons to take a look at what worked, and what didn’t work, and how did you apply that vision so that everyone could get moved by it and inspired it and get things shaping up?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah. The main thing of assessing what worked and what didn’t work was probably the easy part because after building an e-commerce business like Lazada, you learn a lot, you see a lot of different things which work and which don’t work. That gives you an incredible advantage. The ability to having made so many mistakes at Lazada – you learn from your mistakes, and I can promise you, I made a lot of mistakes. Lazada, across six different markets, I made even more mistakes. That learning is very hard to replace. Figuring out what we wanted to do, and what needed to be fixed was probably the easiest part. The hardest part then was, you know everything that needs to be fixed. My roadmap of things to fix, even at the time, 18 months ago, was two to four years out. Today, I would say we’re maybe 20-25% along that road. The question was then, much less, what do we need to do, but how can we do it and how fast can we do it? And getting some support on that, so I brought a few people from some of my old colleagues from Lazada that wanted to continue working with me, and they came along. I still kept the very strong team at Vestiaire. The team at Vestiaire had huge strength, and the two sides were very complementary. Working together, they represented the old-fashioned DNA and that the business has built around – they built this incredible community of fashion-lovers. My side and some of my colleagues from Lazada brought the e-commerce tech experience. Then we tried to merge these businesses together and these experiences, which was not easy. There are clearly some challenges that we faced getting to know each other. But the key in these kinds of moments is to really rally around the vision. Where is this business going to be in 10, 20, or 30 years? That belief that I hold that the founders who are still there, Fanny and Sophie, who really represent the fashion DNA, and who I wanted to have continually collating the business with me. We all believe in that same vision on the role that Vestiarire can play on changing the way people think about consumption, about the difference we can make, and to make the planet more sustainable. In these moments of difficulties and disagreements and little fights here and there, you step back, and you focus on the bigger picture. The bigger picture was extremely clear; the vision was extremely clear; the mission that everyone in the company has cleared. Even to this day, now it’s one machine, and the company is doing extremely well. We all have that same kind of passion and drive that my previous team at Lazada has had, but still, every day, we remind ourselves of what is the bigger vision? What are we trying to achieve? How are we changing the way people consume? What can we do to make a difference? And that’s just incredibly motivating, and every day, you’re actually waking up in the morning, and you’re saying, “I’m actually doing something against this huge threat this world is facing, which is global warming.” I think in this day and age of COVID that we’ve all gone through and are still going through over the last five or six months, just reminds ourselves that the threat that we’re facing of global warming is exponentially bigger than what we’ve gone through. So, the need for action is really now. Running a business, which is not – it’s not a charity. We’re a business. We succeed if we make people act more circular and act more sustainable, so they buy and sell used clothes. They extend the lifecycle. The pinnacles of sustainability are reuse, repair, recycle, and we provide a real solution to that, and that’s amazing. We succeed if we make people more sustainable, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Alejandro: How much capital has Vestiaire raised to date?
Maximilian Bittner: In total, Vestiaire has raised around $200 million to date, out of which probably since I joined, we raised about $85 million or so.
Alejandro: How big is the business? Anything that you can share around maybe like the number of employees or anything else?
Maximilian Bittner: Yeah, sure. We have roughly 10 million members with the platform, and that’s what we call our community. We have close to 2 million items in the catalog. We add an average of 12 to 13,000 new items to the platform every day – not we, but the community does. We’re now approximately 400 people across six offices worldwide, and we’re just going for it.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Typically, one of the questions that I ask the guests that come on the show is, if you could go back in time, Max, and give yourself one piece of business advice before launching a business, especially knowing what you know now, and have that time to have a chat with your younger self; maybe that younger Max that was thinking about moving to Asia and launching a business, what would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to yourself knowing what you know now?
Maximilian Bittner: Just one? There are many things I would tell myself. I think the main one is being very clear why you’re building the business. Why ‘you’ are building the business; what is important for you every day when you build a business? For me, that was very clear. Lazada was very clear and Vestiaire – it’s extremely important to communicate that over and over again to the teams, to remind people why you’re doing things because once everyone is aligned around the vision and the mission of the company, so many of the small little disagreements and arguments disappear. While that is obvious, and as a founder, you know that for yourself, and even your co-founders and the early teams all know that because they interact with you from day one. You have dinners with them – hundreds of dinners over the years, and you’ve been in the trenches for months and years on end. Everyone knows that, but as the company gets bigger, and once you’re crossing the first thousand people, 5,000, 10,000 people. The rest of the people in the company are much further removed from you. You don’t know everyone by name anymore. Sometimes, you don’t even recognize people if they work for you or not because the company is just too big. Some of these younger team members also don’t know some of the other founders, so you start having that one-degree of separation, and they don’t understand that drive, that mission, that vision that you’re trying to achieve. The whole communication with the broader audience, the repetition of how often you say, “This is what we’re trying to achieve, and this is how we’re going to achieve it,” has become so vital. Then you see these companies that have passed the test of not just growing over one or two decades, but really have outlived the founders and the original entrepreneurs and lasted 50, 60, 100, 150 years. One thing that these companies all have in common that they have incredibly clear joint missions, very clearly defined values, and they’re extremely good and, in some sort of way, the propaganda, which you over and over repeat. I think you cannot start early enough as a founder and as an entrepreneur to practice that because when you get into this growth period of 100%+, you so fast become reactive versus being proactive because things are flying at you at a million miles per hour, and you’re just reacting; you’re defending; you’re trying to keep everything together. At that point, at some point – I’m not saying it’s too late. You can always restart that, but it becomes much harder to build that joint propaganda across what matters and to institutionalize that. I think that’s the key thing that I’ve learned and which is extremely important.
Alejandro: I love it. So, Max, for the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Maximilian Bittner: Write me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I try to answer all the emails that I get. If I don’t, don’t take it personally. Maybe something distracted me at that moment, or I was too tired to reply. Be persistent. I love interacting with people, and I love sharing my experience, but most importantly, I also love learning from other people. So, just reach out, and I’m always happy to meet new people.
Alejandro: Amazing. Well, Max, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Maximilian Bittner: Fantastic! Thank you so much for having me.
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