Interview with Olivier Issaly, co-founder and president of Zenride, which has just raised €8 million from the Alter Equity impact fund and the RATP group, to accelerate its development.
What was your background before creating Zenride?
I have an engineering background that I stopped along the way. I created my first company at age 21 in the video game called Owlient and which made a horseback riding game. In 2005, we created equideow.com on the web, which was before the spread of mobile games. There were already about sixty of us in the studio when we sold it to Ubisoft in 2011, where I spent 3 years. At the time, we made three quarters of our revenue abroad. Then I set up a second travel company called Myatlas.com, a platform for travel enthusiasts, and we managed to create an integrated travel agency. It was more successful in terms of audience than in terms of turnover and was resumed in 2019. Subsequently, I started a Business Angel activity and, through it, I met Antoine and Thomas, my associates at Zenride. The company had already been established in 2018 when I joined them, but it was still in its infancy. In 2019, they had acquired their first customer, Castalie in drinking fountains, but the activity really took off in mid-2019 with the signing of our first major customer, Euler Hermès.
Was the business model then the same as it is now?
Since 2019, the product and commercial offer have remained almost identical but, on the other hand, the operating model is different from the current one because we buy the bikes directly from the manufacturers and store them in warehouse. We would then deliver them to the customer and manage the after-sales service. In 2019, we decided to act differently and work with a network of partner stores. Today, we have more than 250 partner stores in France, where our customers’ employees can choose their bike and provide after-sales service. This is a real strength on 2 levels. The first is that they have access to the full range of bikes on the market, which means they can really find a bike that matches their everyday use, whether it’s an e-bike, a city bike, a racing bike… All this allows us to be present throughout France, which means that we have been able to establish a successful partnership with large accounts such as Véolia, Saint-Gobain… We have signed framework contracts with them and are implementing our solution in all their subsidiaries .
So today, what are you doing for them?
Key accounts are our customers and they have three needs. They have a major concern, which is to decarbonize work-from-home journeys and they must assess and reduce their carbon footprint. We also help them strengthen their employer brand with a benefit that really impacts on a day-to-day basis, as employees tell us we make them smile twice a day and they also have the issue of employee health. How we do ? By converting as many of your employees as possible to cycling and for that, in addition to early adopters, they must be taken by the hand, with a complete and turnkey offer, which is really a trigger for carrying out a rental car. long-term equipment: the bicycle, the helmet, the padlock in particular, as well as all the daily services that will reassure you, such as assistance for towing the bicycle, for breaking down, for the maintenance or overhaul of the bicycle, as well as an e-learning on road safety, which is important because some have not ridden a bicycle for a long time. This training is used to support employees on their “back in the saddle” in a way. We are in the long term, as there are 36 months of rent and the monthly rent will be borne both by the company up to 70% and by the employee for the remainder through the payroll where there is, such as for restaurant vouchers, a line of company bicycles. This is often a real trigger for employees, as a share of up to 70% is very interesting for them. They are very happy because they go to the store without taking out their bank card.
What were the big steps to get to where you are today?
In the beginning, it was necessary to convince the first customers and it was in 2018 or 2019, and it was not easy at first. Then, as I mentioned, there was a change in the operating model in 2019 with partner stores. We had an acceleration at the end of the confinement where we signed many big accounts like Véolia. There was real acceleration at that moment that pushed us forward. These different key accounts are in the process of being installed in all subsidiaries since 2020 and turning into a framework agreement. I forgot about the funding phase because in January 2020, just before COVID, we had a roundtable and about fifteen Business Angels participated in this roundtable that was worth 550,000 euros, which made it more serene during the confinement (laughs). We have just taken a new step recently, as we have just raised 8 million euros from Alter Equity, which is the pioneer fund in issues with environmental impacts in particular, and from RATP capital innovation, which is an investment structure of RATP that seeks to promote cycling as a since they are complementary to public transport. She strongly believes in this company’s financing model which has proven to be very developed in Germany.
Why did you hold this second fundraiser?
We raise funds for a variety of reasons. Firstly, because we are in the long-term leasing business and in these businesses, equity is essential. It’s good to have support because we’re talking about a 36-month lease, so you have to manage the operational and manpower.
More classically, we have a lot of recruiting to do at the sales and marketing level. We found our position in very large accounts and now we are going to plant our flag on CAC 40 and more generally on SBF120. Big accounts and ETI still have 7 million employees in France and we can capture market share there. Then we’d like to get involved in VSEs/SMEs because we’re starting to get orders. So, we have requests for operational fleets for cargo bikes, for example, always with a desire to decarbonize. Finally, investing in product and technology recruitment, as well as in international establishments, as some customers ask us if we can support them in other subsidiaries located abroad and in particular in Europe. Recruitment in general will be one of our challenges, in particular finding “dirty” profiles for key accounts, marketing and technology.
Is this experience different from your first experience?
I would say the first one was more emotion-based. I approach perhaps more professionally with more hindsight and more experience. This makes it possible to be more efficient in many matters. It is quite different because I was only 21 years old in my first company and I had no experience in starting a company, not even a company. Of course, experience and the network completely change the situation. Also, when you’ve already sold a company to Ubisoft, it makes things a lot easier, even if it’s just for the funding part. What is also very different is the context of start-ups, particularly in terms of funding. We had raised 3 million euros in our first company and that has absolutely nothing to do with today. It’s much easier now for me to find. Also, before I was in BTOC and now we are evolving in BTOB. I think the commercial approach is much more rational because it is true that it is more “process”. BTOC is always a dream, but there is always an irrational part of the purchase decision that we don’t understand well.
What was the biggest difficulty you encountered?
We had a supply difficulty, especially during the great post-deconfinement boom, which resulted in tensions in this one. It was a little tricky, but thanks to our partner stores, big electronics retailers like Decathlon.fr, we got through it well. The other concern is funding because we fund our clients and therefore we work with donors and financial partners because we had to give them the lease. This relationship is a relationship of trust that takes a long time to build. It’s done little by little, but trust naturally takes time to establish, even if it’s getting better and better because we’ve been working together for 3 years.
Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs?
I think it is necessary, above all, to ask the right questions at the time of launch: one should not undertake for the wrong reasons and ask the question “why am I undertaking? “. On a daily basis, entrepreneurship represents a lot of work or pressure, so you have to be realistic and know that there will be a lot of sacrifices. If you start for the wrong reasons, you won’t last the distance. For example, what I appreciate is the Liberty.
“I think you have to ask yourself the right questions, especially at launch: you shouldn’t start a business for the wrong reasons and ask yourself ‘why am I starting a business? “. »