Interview #1: Bruno Lévêque, Founder
The pitch / In 2007, Bruno Lévêque was 23. He was finishing his IT degree at Epitech while working at LeGuide.com. That was where he met Igor Schlumberger and Corinne Lejbowicz. Immersed in the burgeoning e-commerce ecosystem and convinced of its incredible potential for retailers, he decided to create an open-to-all e-commerce solution. And so PrestaShop was born!
Now / President of PrestaShop
PrestaShop vision 2007 vs. reality 2017
- The product. Back in 2007 I wanted to open up access to e-commerce, enabling e-retailers to get set up easily but most of all to grow! My aim was to offer a simple but powerful e-commerce solution, available worldwide and at a rock-bottom price. This is still our aim today, and there is still a lot to do. E-commerce is always changing, in its technical aspects as much as in its sales methods. In 10 years, our product has gone from 125 features to over 500!
- Open source. It was at the heart of my project and my values right from day one, but I was only thinking of bringing together a few dozen contributors: and today we have tens of thousands of them! PrestaShop features in the Top 125 PHP projects on GitHub, out of over 100,000 available projects. Open source enables us to offer our users a real wealth of features plus transparency, while guaranteeing reliability and performance. It’s a terrific advantage when it comes to differentiating ourselves and holding our own against competing software publishers who sometimes hire hundreds of internal developers.
- The international market. The project very quickly set its sights on Europe. I bought the domain name with 40 different extensions within a month of setting up the business. The software was created in English initially, for immediate and easier translation (into 3 languages in 2008). We did plan to go international, although not as fast as we actually did. I was originally thinking of targeting 10 countries, but already after only 10 years PrestaShop is being used in over 195 countries. And our people are very proud of making this little French gem shine abroad.
- Community and business model. I was determined to find the right balance between merchants and partners, so as to guarantee a reasonable operating cost on the one hand, and a reduced time-to-market on the other. The best proof that this business model works is that I was thinking of creating a community of 10-20,000 members, but today it has over 1 million, and more than 90% of partners renew their commitment from one year to the next.
- From pure players to big retailers. When we started we were very appealing to pure players, which gave us an image which is still hard to shake off at times. But these pure players changed: Envie de Fraises and Le Slip Français, for example, who started up in 2006 and 2011 on PrestaShop, quickly expanded into bricks-and-mortar retailing and abroad, with breathtaking revenues and growth rates. And they still use PrestaShop! At the same time, we’ve seen more and more big businesses and retailers joining us. I'm thinking especially of Décathlon as an international example.
The role of business angels and investors
In 10 years, PrestaShop has raised over 10 million euros from business angels and investors who believed in the project and in our people. I’ve always made a point of surrounding myself with investors who bring real added value to the venture. That was how internet pioneers like Patrick Robin (Imaginet, 24h00.fr), Anne-Sophie Pastel and Cyril Vermeulen (co-founders of AuFeminin.com) and Benjamin Magnard (founder of Alapage.com and Maxicours) enabled the business to expand very early on. As well as providing invaluable financial support for the company, some of them even gave me support with things like defining the economic model, improving the software or even recruiting the best talents.
In a similar vein, I also chose to surround myself with investment funds in 2011 and 2014. These were funds with an approach that focused more on creating value than on simply providing finance for the business. The Serena Capital team supported us like this from 2011, quickly followed by XAnge and Seventure Partners.
E-commerce 2007 - 2017 – 2027?
- The reduction in sales channels. Over the course of 10 years, e-commerce has retained the same structure: 1 back office (for the e-retailer) and 2 store fronts (usually a computer and/or a phone). With the advent of connected objects, everything is going to become a shopping interface: your fridge, your car, your watch, Amazon Echo, virtual reality, and so on. Sales opportunities will increase enormously and easier access to products can’t help but result from that.
- Extreme customization. The potential for this is still enormous. We’ve already started customizing shoes, for example, but connecting industrial tools to the internet will enable the consumer to customize a great many of their purchases (clothes, cars, etc.) in an extremely individual way.
- Extreme consumer knowledge and artificial intelligence. With ever more varied and discriminating tools for gathering and analyzing information, all of us — in both bricks-and-mortar and e-commerce — will be increasingly capable of offering the consumer exactly what they need or want, whatever that might be, and of adapting ourselves immediately to the consumer’s behavior. The sector is in the midst of a revolution. E-commerce stores will definitely benefit from these advances by becoming more automated and “smarter” in the years ahead.