Tag Archives: scaling

Why I got on board StarOfService

I have been involved with StarOfService since the end of 2015, so it must be about time to briefly explain, why that is the case.

StarOfService (“SOS”) is a Paris based market place for local services. It was launched by CEO Lucas Lambertini and his old friend Toni Paignant and CTO Mäel Leclair.

I have a long history of being involved in online market places with a clear vertical focus. All the way back when I did my first startup (sol.dk), we experimented with market places in e.g. cars. During my time building JUST EAT I learned a lot about the vertical focus, and it’s the same with Treatwell, ClickMechanic etc. However, many years ago (10 yrs is a long time in this industry), a colleague showed me some services, that tried to aggregate all kinds of local services in one platform, and make it bookable, ie. like the old school directory sites but with a booking and service platform on top. None of those companies made it, but it always stuck in my head, that maybe one day technology advancement and user adaptation would make it possible to create a successful local services market place that was not vertically focused.

Imagine if such a service could be designed to work for both consumers and the local service professionals. In my youth, I was used to the yellow pages phone directory, and I would use it quite a lot. Seldom would I use it frequently for the same service category, but because yellow pages were the portal to all local services, then I would use that big, yellow book every month. One month for looking for this, another month looking for that – but I always knew where to find that book, and how to use it – I would flick through the pages, find a couple of professionals offering the service I was looking for, and make my calls. Later the internet came along, and it became easier to find the relevant professionals, but the service and booking experience was still old school.

My thesis is, that for all those services out there, where there is not a high-frequent use case (auditor, plumber, tax lawyer, etc.) + where the underlying scale of the category is limited (DJ’s, event organizers, numerologists, photographers, etc.) there is a real need for an aggregater service. I don’t want to go to Google every time I need to interact with all these services, because then I will be send to a new interface, a new registration platform, new evaluation of trust both ways, etc. for every category, and even for every professional. I want to go to one service, which I trust for local services and where I can easily find the relevant and trustworthy professionals and book them safely. And I know, that most of the (typically) small entrepreneurs running these kind of businesses are also ready. They are already using digital services for accounting, tax registration, etc., and they understand that the internet should be a source of business for them. In both their private and professional life they buy and book product and services, so they should of course use the same channel to earn a living. Both demand and supply needs a market place that could make the interaction a better and more efficient experience for everybody.

How difficult can that be? Why did this not happen a long time ago? Well, because as usual, it is difficult when you get into the details. How do you bridge the use case of different verticals? How do you create economics that work, e.g. who is paying who? How do you with algorithms match demand with the right supply? Etc., etc. I spend more than a year looking at various companies in Scandinavia, the UK and throughout the rest of Europe, but even though I met some great entrepreneurs, I didn’t meet someone that had metrics I could believe in. I continued, also fueled by the fact, that an American company, Thumbtack, had made it work. It took them a few years to figure out, but around 2014-15 they seemed to have had a major break-through in their business volume and they raised significant amounts of money.

There had to be someone in Europe, that had also understood how to do it, and I badly wanted to part of that venture. Building leading international companies is what I really like to do in my professional life, and when it is in a local services market place I simply can not be involved.

Through an introduction from Guillaume Durao of ID Invest, I then met Lucas from SOS. My first call and then later meeting with Lucas I will never forget. I knew very little about Lucas before I met him, other than he was quite young, having launched SOS straight out of school, so I was surprised to see such a “solid” appearance from his side. Some would call it French arrogance, but let’s just say that Lucas had no intentions of being impressed by a punk like me. In normal circumstances that attitude would be a major turn-off for me, but Lucas managed to play it in a way so I instead got respect for him. He really knew his stuff, he was smart and stood out as a world class fighter. And I like a smart general in charge of his company, also if he has a bit of personality and edge.

In some strange way, the first discussions in the autumn 2015 went well, and we decided to move on in our discussions. That revealed four things for me. First of all, Lucas is a stellar guy. Funny and very easy going when you get on the inside – he just had to test me a bit, and after that he became one of the easiest people to work with I know. Secondly, where my first meetings with Lucas was maybe a bit on the edge, then meeting Lucas’ partner and friend Toni was a pleasure from day one, super nice guy that was all over the business. Thirdly, the SOS organisation was three guys in a room in Paris, and then another 40 people spread out over the world. Given that SOS already had very decent traffic, usage and revenue, then I had never seen such a distributed organisation run so well before. And fourthly, the metrics SOS could show were a revelation. They had made it work in France! Traffic was growing fast, they had done it with very limited money (from high profile French angels and seed money from the stellar guys at Point9) and their unit economics made sense.

It did not take us long to agree I should join the battle and become advisor and board member at SOS as well as investing in the company. It’s been 15 months now, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. There has been lots of changes in the company for sure, but overwhelmingly positively. The company raised a decent series A round, and now there is a real organisation in the Paris office to supplement the international organisation, incl. great people in the exec team like Jean-Francois Rochet (ex-eBay and PayPal), Andy Wilson (ex-GetYourGuide and Rocket Internet), Nicolas Garnaut (ex-AppTurbo), Augustin Neyra (ex-Melty) and my old colleague Guillaume Dellamare (JUST EAT/Alloresto).

SOS wants to be the international leader in the space, and Lucas & Co. is leading the charge to make it easier for everybody to engage with local services. France is the core country now, but the international roll-out is gaining momentum. Good people, I like it!

Billedresultat for death of yellow pages

Wahanda – why I get involved in “hair and beauty”

Those that know me would not say the “hair & beauty” segment is a natural fit for me. My wife would even say I’m the anti-thesis to hair & beauty (she married me because of wit, charm and money …) so how did I end up as chairman of Wahanda?

Earlier this spring I got a ping from Lopo Champalimaud. Lopo is co-founder and CEO of Wahanda, Europe’s biggest destination for salon – and spa bookings. Initially I was a bit baffled, because why would people in the beauty space talk to me, they obviously had never met me or seen pictures of me, but when I then started chatting to Lopo, I quickly realised the logic for why I should talk to Wahanda. A while ago, Lopo had decided to go all in on the booking part of his business concept, i.e. if you need to get you hair done or want a beauty treatment, then go to Wahanda, check out the local salons in your area, and book directly into the system. Obviously, that is quite similar to the underlying model of JUST EAT – however, there are also some critical differences which team Wahanda has spotted and are getting the most out of.

Lopo’s Wahanda journey has so far been 5 years long, and lots have been achieved, but I am particularly excited about the focus on building up the best and biggest network of local merchants that can offer great supply of hair and beauty services through out the UK, and internationally as well. Lopo and his team (incl. the latest add-on of Simon and Chris) has more experience than anyone else in this space, and the size of the business is also well ahead of the many smaller players in the industry. Building internationally leading companies in emerging industries is one of the greatest professional experiences I know of, and I think Wahanda has a great opportunity to do exactly that.

A chairman role is very different from the many years where I was running companies, but I hope that background is a strength. I need to help & support those that leads the organisation & strategy, not be the big leader or strategizer my self. This transition is massively helped by the fact that Lopo and I get along very well, and through a very open discussion atmosphere we get everything on the table and leverage our different backgrounds and perspectives. I’m looking very much forward to the Wahanda journey, this will be both very fun and very big. And I might even learn a few beauty tips along the way.

Why I’m involved with Kirkeweb

Three months ago, I heard about a small company in Copenhagen called Kirkeweb, which is Danish for Churchweb. Religion is always an exciting topic (too exciting for some!), but the key reasons why I got interested in the Kirkeweb story was, that the company was a start-up focusing on a clear niche (Churches) in a highly fragmented “industry” (most parishes and deaneries are fairly independently run organizations) where the need for a work flow management system is very clear, but no-one else in Europe seems to understand how to build and market to this highly specialized sector.

I met the founder and CEO, Christian Steffensen, and then I quickly became hooked on getting involved. Christian could explain clearly how churches has significant benefits from using the system to streamline administration processes, internal communication & coordination, web site management, etc. and thereby have more time/resources to focus on the core tasks of the church (Love!). So, all the classic benefits of good work flow systems were also clearly seen in this “industry”, and on top of that Christian through his long history with the church (programming church websites and admin systems since he was 11 years old) knew how to interact with the church community. Also (and Christian will hate me for writing this), Christian is a smart cookie who is a proper entreprofessional mixing the best of entrepreneurship with the desire to do things in a smart way.

This means that since the Danish part of the business is doing really well with critical scale of churches signing up, then it is now becoming important to move out of tiny Denmark. Kirkeweb is engaging with the Church community in Germany, the first churches has signed up and much more is coming. This ticks the last box for me, since my background and skill set is a great fit to help Kirkeweb and Christian in the coming years as Churches all over Europe will see the benefits of easy-to-use Church Management Software.

I joined Kirkeweb as chairman/bestyrelsesformand in April, and I think this is the beginning of a long and fruitful journey, amen!

Scaling a business – learning and performance focus

One and a half year ago we/JUST EAT decided to move forward more ambitiously with the JUST EAT Academy. The objective is to supplement the valuable on-the-job training with more structured learning and development. In practice, the set-up has been running for less than a year, and there is plenty more to do, but from my perspective we can already see some really good results, e.g.

  • Most of the managers in JUST EAT have now been through our Management Assessment Centre (“MAC”). This means that as a supplement to their line manager’s view on their performance and development needs, then we have a structured, 360 degree view on the person from many of the traditional management/leader dimensions, e.g. communication skills, presentation skills, collaboration skills, analytical skills, etc. The MAC is definitely not the final truth, and the line managers qualitative view is still key, but it all adds up to a better understanding of what the manager need to do to develop her- or himself. It is challenging to be a manager in a fast growing company, so if JUST EAT can support with a few tools then great.
  • Together with an external agency, we have developed a really good sales module called “Sweet & Sour”. A lot of sales reps and managers have already been through this program, and it is getting very good reviews. The important thing now of course, is to make sure the learning’s are actually been put into use when the participants come back home, so that is a key focus area for the sales managers.
  • We have a lot of people in JUST EAT, who have their first management job, or which have the biggest management challenge they have ever had, so a course in basic management skills can come in handy. We have therefore put together a course (“JUST about people”), where the participants goes through a catalogue of the fundamental management tools, and we have run this course for the first time some weeks ago.

We want to institutionalise learning, and it is of course not only about fine courses, but it all helps. To build a truly great, international company, having the most talented people that are constantly upgrading their skillset is fundamental. And that breeds a virtuous circle, because as people in one part of the organisation shows how to improve, there will be peer pressure on other parts to improve as well. In a performance environment such as JUST EAT, where there is focus on improving all the time, healthy competition drives the company forward, and it is important that the company support this with tools and infrastructure, such as the Academy. We are not yet where we should be in rolling this philosophy out, but we have made a good start.

If you want to scale your business beyond the small-company level, you have to put learning and development at the core together with a performance culture. Deliver, then learn to deliver more/better/faster/funnier/cheaper. It’s all very Jammy!

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The big C

We did it again! Went through a few months of focused effort and then suddenly the Just-Eat bank account has been filled up. The press release says we raised $64 Mio., but with the exchange rate on the day it was actually $65 Mio. – but as they say, what is a Million between friends? Officially this is called a series C funding round, because that is what logically comes after A and B funding rounds, internally known as “the big C”.

The new guys we have chosen to work with are Vitruvian Partners – also great for us to see we got full backing from our existing investors, thanks to Index, Greylock and Redpoint. For those that follow the European internet scene Vitruvian doesn’t pop up as the traditional VC, but more of a Private Equity company (“PE”), which is true. So, why are we suddenly getting money from spreadsheet driven PE’s instead of the sexy “big picture” VC’s? The answer is simple: it is difficult in Europe to raise that level of money from traditional VC’s. $65 Mio. is a lot of money, and well beyond the scope of the traditional VC model. In the US it is different, but if you want someone that has a European presence to support you then an important option to explore is the mid-cap growth focused PE guys with internet experience. Another argument for inviting PE’s on board is that they in general have another set of expertise and support infrastructure which is helpful in our situation.

We got – as usual, I am cocky enough to add – a fair amount of interest, and most of those potential investors were PE companies, typically US investors with a good European presence. Several of them we really liked, but we ended up with Vitruvian partly because they had a different feel to them. Of course Vitruvian offered the right terms, but several investors did – most of the people we talked to in the process were also really good people we got along with, but the specific Vitruvian guys on this transaction had a great rapport with us. It probably helped some of them in the past worked as VC’s, entrepreneurs or executives in high growth companies.

And what will we use the money for? Other than the usual jokes about corporate jets, there are only a few specific things on the list, and the rest is dependent on what happens in the future. We already run a tight ship, where we generate enough money in profitable countries to fund loss making countries. But there are so many growth opportunities out there in terms of new countries, consolidation/M&A opportunities, new technologies etc. so it makes a lot of sense to have a very strong balance sheet so we can move fast if the right opportunity arises.

Just-Eat is ready for the next chapter in our history, thanks to all who contributed so far! Back to running the business – money is nice, but the real deal is what you can do with those money, and that is all about satisfying restaurants and consumers.

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