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You don't know anything about it, so go ahead!

“We only had that to do and nothing to lose”, so we started!

This is how Philippe de Chanville summarizes the start of his entrepreneurial adventure with Christian Raisson, his partner. Sunday handymen who wander (or even get lost) in specialized supermarkets to find what they are looking for, they imagine a digital platform that would bring together a multitude of references of products and tools.

It was in 2012, Mon Echelle, which later became ManoMano, thus saw the light of day.

10 years later and 6 successful fundraising campaigns, ManoMano went from 1 country and 1 million euros in business volume in 2013 to 6 countries and more than 1 billion in 2020.

Today, they want to go further and create the responsible European leader specializing in online home furnishings. Of course to support the growth and development of ManoMano, but also with the firm conviction that it is necessary to create strong European companies that play by the rules of the old continent. “You have to know what you want and who you want to be” summarizes Philippe de Chanville, who particularly deplores the transfer of European data to feed American algorithms.

For RaiseLab, Philippe de Chanville returned to the genesis of ManoMano but also to his doubts about relationships between startups and large groups and to the mistakes that marked the brilliant career of this (ex-) successful startup

Can you go back to the genesis of ManoMano?

The genesis of ManoMano is based on experience. With my partner, we noticed that when we were tinkering, we spent our time looking for different products, going from one supermarket to another to find a reference, ordering them and waiting for weeks...

We therefore imagined a marketplace specializing in home furnishings (DIY, gardening and decoration) that would bring together a wide range of products. At the time, this principle worked in other fields, especially in the car industry with Oscaro.

It was then revealed that there was a need and that our customer intuition was not wrong. Especially since no comparable service existed on the Internet, the timing was good!

Right from the start, ManoMano was co-founded by Christian and me 50/50 and with the help of a few business angels. They were very rare to believe in the project because the professionals in the sector, the major DIY groups on the front line, did not believe in the marketplace.

Why did the marketplace not seem to be a good vehicle for selling products for the home?

At the time, commercial sites only existed backed by an already existing structure: a company next door that ensures a significant level of margin and therefore makes it possible to pay fixed costs. Among large groups, there was even a plan to reduce supply following the observation of a concentration of sales on a few references and for reasons of profitability per m2, which is the key to physical retail. For our part, we came up with the idea of offering thousands of references...

According to experts, not having a physical structure but only a specialized vertical marketplace could not work because the sales volume to be profitable and amortize fixed costs was too large.

We have been profitable in France for 2 years. Before that, our commission rates were equivalent to our fixed costs, especially marketing. Thanks to volume and automation, we started to amortize these costs. Once ManoMano became a more mature company, we were able to increase the margin and add services and thus completely amortize them.

Looking back, I think that the threshold effect is at 500 million sales volume so you have to be careful with vertical marketplaces that are too niche...

Have you already been the subject of merger attempts by large companies, during your fundraising or as part of open innovation projects for example? In your opinion, is the future of ManoMano to be bought by a large group?

At the beginning, the look was both very kind and a bit condescending. The people in the business saw our project as something nice but that wouldn't work.

Around 2017/2018, when there were a few tens of millions of us, this outlook changed. They considered the project interesting because it represented a small niche market that made it possible to find 3% or 4% of the digital market.

Discussions were then initiated (entry into capital, commercial partnerships, open innovation...). We were a bit suspicious but always open to discussions because this represented for us a possibility of acceleration and a possible complementarity with distribution. We kept a lot of information to ourselves because we didn't know how honest these discussions were. The rest of the events proved us right, none of the discussions was clearly ended with a firm “yes” or “no”... and surprisingly the major groups then launched their own solution.

Do you believe in a marriage between David and Goliath?

Personally, I don't believe in a marriage between David and Goliath. Startups are companies that have losses and that would degrade too much the profitability of shares (listed or not listed) of large groups. Certainly the startup brings a positive dimension and goodwill to customers and to their image, but over several years, it will systematically degrade the value per share. And that's without counting on the bet that the startup will be profitable in a few years. What CEO is able to say to his shareholders: I am going to reduce the value of dividends and the company for 4 or 5 years because I believe in this long-term bet? If the management bodies do not change their vision, it will not change.

Startups are sources of inspiration for large groups but I think that no one is fooled. In the case of ManoMano, I think that a takeover of the company would have been made in order to kill this new entrant and in order to then allow the large group to develop at its own pace and in its own way.

Today, ManoMano is in direct competition with large groups because our model is mostly B2C but this is different for B2B models that offer services to large groups.

What were your most important mistakes in developing ManoMano?

Our biggest mistakes are human: employees that we have not succeeded in growing or team changes due to insufficient forecasting of cash flow needs, for example.

On the business side, the biggest mistake was the Super Mano offer. It was a business of putting individuals in contact (between handymen and people looking for these skills) with remuneration via a commission. We made several million but the growth was no longer there because we had missed the point: we obviously needed the person who was looking, but not enough of the person who tinkers because they had no interest in being paid via a commission. Once the connection was made via Super Mano, the people went live.

Marketing has played a crucial role in our evolution, especially after a false start linked to natural referencing when ManoMano was launched in 2013. Following this error, a radical transformation of our marketing strategy, in particular the exploitation of data, was decisive for the development of ManoMano. The Google algorithm is designed to retrieve the most data. So we created our own algorithm that served our objective: to optimize customer spending and to be as ROI as possible. Today, each of our marketing campaigns is analyzed in every detail.

You had 500 recruitments in progress following your last fundraiser. What is the place of human resources within ManoMano?

From the beginning, we did not create a company to do performances but to be happy. We wanted to maintain a sense of proximity with our employees and create a human adventure. It may seem very naive and lazy but it is the reality. We therefore systematically oscillate between two pillars, the human and business dimensions, even if this is complex in a growing company.

In this context, it is essential to recruit competent employees who are in line with ManoMano's values. They must also be resilient, able to maintain their composure in an unstable environment, specific to constantly changing marketplaces. We did not have this last element in mind when we first recruited, but we are not all equal when it comes to life and its accidents. Some people, and this is completely understandable, need a more relaxed pace and to be able to catch their breath.

Today my job is different, I accept it and I am learning a lot. ManoMano is now a multi-site company composed of more than a thousand employees of various nationalities. I am happy with the progress made and I am forever grateful to the first 50 employees of ManoMano.

What is the worst advice you've ever been given?

“You don't know anything about it so don't go.”

Professionals in this or that sector are prisoners. Of course, it is essential to have technicians but to start and innovate, it is better to have a fresh mind.

What is the failure you are most proud of?

I didn't manage to have girls, but I am proud of my 5 guys!