Interview of Marie-Laure Berthié
Could you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Marie-Laure Berthié, I have a 25-year career in innovation. I founded a company, Eolus, which advises family offices, funds and entrepreneurs.
After two professional experiences in large international companies, what brought you to the world of Start-ups?
There was a decisive intermediate experience. I learned a lot at IBM, then joined a small consulting firm that worked only in the field of innovation and supply chain. In the company, all persons were involved, and interested in the capital. It was there that I measured the difference between the world of the employee and that of the partner. We regularly discussed the different ways to build and develop the company together. It was an experience I loved, especially the atmosphere with the colleagues. This was the turning point in my career, from that moment on, I knew that I would only go into professions where I would be a shareholder, co-owner of the project, ultimately that of a fund.
So, I went more towards investment, we build projects with the founders of start-ups. That's what led me to start-ups.
What are the major difficulties that startups face when raising funds for the first time?
An entrepreneur is very often optimistic and in love with his project.
During the first fundraising campaign, he will be confronted with criticisms that are sometimes relevant and sometimes not. You have to be able to take the best remarks and make a good selection. It is important to keep your conviction while listening.
What advice would you have, to enable start-ups to maintain a balance, make the right choices and listen to the right advice?
There are several things. First, it takes a lot of work and being in touch with your market. As a reminder, according to statistics, approximately 10,000 hours of work are required to become an expert in a subject. Thus, it is necessary to reach a stage from which, despite divergent opinions, the entrepreneur can forge his own conviction. Sometimes, as an investor, I receive different opinions from clients and this requires getting informed, doing market research, approaching the subject differently or meeting other people in the ecosystem. In addition, it is very important to understand its segmentation because two opinions can be correct but specific to a particular segment.
It is also essential to use common sense. Indeed, many projects are influenced by the lack of common sense following the creation of the start-up. For example, in some cases, it is well known that the sales cycle is X, however, the start-up divides it by 10. No step will be easier, on the contrary, it will be much more complicated, because the entrepreneur will be confronted with many strangers. Unfortunately, optimism in projects can lead to a lack of common sense.
It is important to compare your ideas, projects with reality, in order to know if the result is applicable to the real world. And if after spending a lot of energy, the project doesn't work, it may be that you have to rotate.
I met entrepreneurs who had gone in the wrong market direction in the beginning. Then, they acquired so much expertise over time, that 2-3 years later, they rotated in an extraordinary way with a success that followed. However, there is a lot of work and analysis. You have to mix your market with the whole ecosystem and face reality.
What are the recurring mistakes that startups make when raising funds? How can they be avoided?
As mentioned above, there are unrealistic expectations.
Some people forget that the first fundraising takes time, especially at the "Seed" stage.
It is very important to estimate the time of a fundraising event and the impact on personal financing, if the entrepreneur is self-financing.
In other cases, the energy is too quickly focused on fundraising, while the entrepreneur should also train his team beforehand. Technology is a key element, but forming a complementary team with different profiles will challenge the technology and perhaps turn the company around or help it find its market.
It is essential to quickly work on the team's complementarity and perhaps question the entrepreneur's ability to work with different people. A team is made up of personalities, complementary skills, and not "more of the same" that raises funds.
If the entrepreneur does not complete his team directly, because the project is carried out in a laboratory for example, there is still an ecosystem of serial entrepreneurs, consultants, experienced coaches who can complete it.
Then there is the danger of the "one man show", the person who leaves alone. The one who wants to raise funds first and then recruit. This is a vicious circle, as the person must lead the development of the start-up and fundraising, which usually leads to a delay in product development. Therefore, the fundraising is not done etc. It is very complicated to master all the complexities of the business, so the formation of a team is essential. However, the whole team must agree and be aware of the adventure they will lead (work, stress).
Finally, pricing is a great challenge. Indeed, some contractors compare the performance of their product at the prototype stage to that of a product on the market, made up of millions of parts, at a price set for the mass market. However, the prototype may not reach this stage. The simplification of a product for a mass market often comes from price and reliability constraints.
What were the 1-2 major start-ups in the context of Eolus? And why?
They all are, the adventures are all different. If I have to mention some of them, I would say round B of Ecorobotix, with a total of more than CHF 10 million raised. The most memorable adventures are those where we spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs. They are also the ones where we go into detail in the business, in order to understand what they do and to be convincing to investors.
Recently, I also accompanied a company that is also managed by Platinn, Dufour Aerospace. The team is very complementary and committed. The first electric, acrobatic aircraft they manufactured was flown for the first time by two of the team's founders. The commitment to the product cannot go beyond that. The team's culture is exceptional.