After business school, Ulric [Le Grand] began his career in the world of banking, where he remained for nearly ten years. In 2011, as part of a leave for business creation, he had his first entrepreneurial experience with Zenbus, a consumer application for tracking your bus. Two years later, without leaving his role as co-founder and CFO, he returned to Banque Populaire for an intrapreneurship project: the creation of a crowdfunding platform for small and medium-sized enterprises. (…) With his two associates Nicholas [Davoust] and Enguerrand [Léger]they take advantage of the pleasure of being together to develop a new kind of classifieds site, motivated by the conviction of keeping a ‘secret sauce’ so that their project becomes viral, quickly and without marketing investment.
Six years later, Gens de Confiance is a classifieds marketplace and social network with more than one million members. Their ‘secret sauce’ is sponsorship, in this case the need to have three sponsors to be able to access the ads. (…) From a modest vision of an additional project, Gens de Confiance has built a company that embeds a fifty employees and a very active community. For us, Ulric agreed to come back to the genesis of the project.
Share a common vision
Our whole story, basically, is a story of wonderful encounters. First between partners. With Nicolas and Enguerrand, we didn’t choose each other to set up a box, we chose each other because we shared the same product vision. So, initially, Gens de Confiance was a product before being a company. This may seem anecdotal or obvious, but in fact it allowed us to focus on the essential: the product.
We have put all our energy into responding to a real problem, that of trust on a classifieds site. Administrative and capital matters, agreements between partners or others had no place during our exchanges… Beyond our common vision of the product, we immediately got along very well. A strong trust reigned between us and we had very complementary skills. I think it helped us a lot, both for the start and for the future.
From conviction to success
The Gens de Confiance adventure is also singular in its start: it was a ‘side project’, we had parallel activities to live, we met just for the pleasure of creating something useful which could have impact. Thus, without any financial pressure, we have always made long-term decisions, which turned out to be good decisions!
In the summer of 2014, barely a month old, the platform already had 2,000 members; three months after the launch, we are at 10,000. We quickly understood that we had achieved a difficult thing, to grow the community through virality, without marketing investment. With our figures and my experience in financing, it was a good time to go see investors. We decide to go 100% and we go on a roadshow. It was only then that we created the company, in October 2015, 18 months after the launch of the site. As we seek to raise funds, we need to formalize the vision of our company and our business.
Our conviction is that you have to have a very precise product vision, which is based on a concrete thesis. For us, it was about explaining that trust can be strengthened thanks to our platform and our sponsorship mechanism. For example, for a property rental, a good tenant proves his seriousness and solvency more by the quality and number of his sponsors than by an employment contract or a pay slip. And it works! We then come to raise 1 million euros with Partech Venture and BPI. Three years later, we have over 300,000 members.
Grow the business
After a very rewarding trip to San Francisco organized by our investors, we retain two things: ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast‘ and ‘we always recruit C-levels too late‘. Concretely, this is the moment when we realize that we have to go further than a simple product vision. Even if, between partners, we are perfectly clear on where we want to go, we come up against the fact that, for our team, the trajectory we are following is not explicit. We need to build a vision of our business. More specifically, the challenge is to move from a product vision carried by us, co-founders, to a organizational vision carried by each employee. A vision that inspires everyone! In other words: that the ambition and culture of Gens de Confiance be formalized, to be shared collectively, with the desire to build a solid company, with controlled growth.
The second lesson teaches us that we always too late recruiting better people than us, to help us build and grow the business. At that time, we chose to hire our Marketing Director, Bertille, in order to structure our acquisition. In the development of an organization, I think you have to have the humility to surround yourself well and let yourself be inspired, to be challenged on what already exists and go beyond certain glass ceilings. You will find these people among your relatives, your collaborators or your investors, it does not matter after all, as long as they are benevolent, while being constructive and demanding.
The authors :
Fly The Nest supports entrepreneurs to succeed in their change of scale. This text is taken from their book, “Fly. The practical guide to a successful collective adventure”, published by Editions Dynamique Collective in May 2021, 400 pages, 19 euros.