Alexandre de Vigan started out as a lawyer helping to manage M&A transactions before leaping into the fray with his own startup.
On the Dealmakers Show he shared his big lessons from working in mergers and acquisitions and what it is really like to become a founder. Including fundraising, and the journey to finding product market fit. Plus, his take on marketing tech, and the future of merchandising.
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Startups Through The Lens Of A M&A Attorney
Alexandre de Vigan was born to an American mother and French father in France.
As a serial entrepreneur, his father provided a lot of early insights into what the future would hold. Both the ups and downs. Though this did not deter him, Alexandre will tell you that nothing really prepares you for what it is really like in the driver’s seat.
One big takeaway he gained from watching his father in business was that whether things worked out successfully or not, you always needed a lawyer. He also saw a gap in the lack of what the lawyers knew about business.
Naturally he went on to study both business and law. Then after business school he became a M&A attorney.
Not many startup entrepreneurs have the advantage of coming into business with this background.
Among the lessons he is able to share from this experience working with big funds and on big deals include:
- Understanding that these deals are very fragile
- An appreciation for being humble in the process
- Even after you’ve signed a deal, it doesn’t mean that it is a done deal
After four years in this role Alexandre says he began to get frustrated. He was being sought out to give all the advice, yet had no control over the operations or outcomes. He didn’t feel that he was having enough impact. So, determined he would have to just quit his job and make the leap into taking the reins as a business owner himself.
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Despite having seen it from the outside, Alexandre de Vigan says that the reality of entrepreneurship has been much harder than anticipated. It’s painful, but “no pain, no gain.”
In fact, his top advice today is “don’t quit.” He says that everything takes time, and you will have to be relentless, and keep learning on the way. Success may not come easy or immediately, but if you want a great adventure, and the potential for a great outcome, you should do it. He advises to pursue your dream, but be agile in how you achieve it.
Pivoting & Iterating Through The Desert
Both fundraising and finding product market fit are both parts of the puzzle that can take time to get right.
In Alexandre’s case it took five long years of pivoting and iterating to nail product market fit for his startup, Nfinite.
It started out as a real estate marketplace, with the idea of becoming the equivalent of Zillow or Trulia in Europe. He soon found that to make a difference they needed better imagery. So, he shut the first attempt down, and dedicated his efforts to digital imagery in real estate.
That worked, but the market was too small. So, they leveraged that technology for use by retailers. Then they had to move from a transactional model to something which was more sustainable and profitable.
Then, just when they seemed to have nailed it, the COVID lockdowns hit. Retailers got hit hard, and capital was hard to come by.
Still he says that you only fail when you quit. They kept on going. Today, Nfinite is a e-merchandising platform on a mission to empower retailers to improve their online presence to increase sales. Which is accomplished by enabling them to create unlimited product visuals leveraging next-generation 3D and CGI technology.
Of course, everytime you advance to a bigger vision, it also requires more investment, and more capital to be raised. Which can also require some pivoting and iterating. In the first few years he says that they got rejected by everyone. Including angel investors, family offices, and VCs. For three years of daily investor meetings they weren’t getting anywhere fast. Then it all came together.
Still, Alexandre warns that it’s not done until the money is in the bank. They even had one investor leave them hanging after the first of a three tranche funding agreement.
To date, they have now raised $130M through their Series B round.
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Europe Versus The US For Startup Fundraising
While Europe has certainly done a lot of catching up in recent years, there is certainly a big gap in the startup ecosystem.
While startups and entrepreneurship have become a much more acceptable career path, Alexandre says that scale up startups are more popular. Funds there are a little more risk averse, and that stage suits them better. The same applies to attracting high level talent.
Whereas in the US, investors seem much more willing to get involved in early stage startups, and provide more capital. In the case of Nfinite, he credits their success with raising capital in the US to them having US customers. Which now make up around 60% of their revenues.
Nfinite has now grown to a team of 150 people. With remote teams spread from Europe to the US, and Asia. While that can make managing company culture more challenging for those that weren’t born as cloud native startups, he says they champion this by hiring local leaders with shared values, and getting everyone together in person as often as possible.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Balancing vision and what you need to do to make it happen
- What’s next in marketing tech and merchandising
- How Nfinite is helping brands sell more online