Pictarine, the French startup that earns 40 million euros in turnover in the United States and 0 € in France

When Guillaume Martin launched it in 2008 with Maxime Rafalimanana, its co-founder, the reaction of those around them was immediate: “When are you looking for a real job?”. At that time, Numa was still called Le Camping, and its premises were on the top floor of the former stock exchange of the Palais Brongniart.

The two co-founders thus found themselves in the midst of a symbol of the old economy, even as they fled from it by abandoning their jobs in finance. The subprime crisis was there and they looked at each other before saying: “Come on, let’s do something we like.”

It was Maxime who first launched himself with the desire for a project in the world of photography. Guillaume quickly adhered to this idea, assuming a family inheritance, he who developed his own prints in his father’s photographic laboratory (his parents being passionate about this art that had already seen his grandfather win prizes) . They, who later feel out of place in society since they became entrepreneurs, have never felt more at home with this project.

Being an entrepreneur back then was very different from today. “There were few start-up eventsexplains Guillaume Martin. It was difficult to get information. Today, some watch videos to learn… we live the bullshit »🇧🇷 So they had the feeling of staying on the launch pad for three and a half years. Until the day they join Le Camping.

Le Camping and then Techstars Chicago: two ecosystems, two atmospheres

“For the first time, we met people who were like ushe remembers. It was cool”. So they are sixteen hours a day in the same room with the same people. In the open space, they share space with the co-founders of Bankin, Sketchfab, Kawet (whose founders later launched Biloba), TV Showtime (whose founder António Pinto launched Bellman). All first-time entrepreneurs, they paved a path that many entrepreneurs would follow.

Pictarine, however, fails to raise funds. “With our BtoC photo sharing tool, we were light years away from what was bankable in France in 2011”🇧🇷 At the same time, Guillaume regularly read the stories of American entrepreneurs on TechCrunch. He feels that the US ecosystem will be more welcoming to them and they decide to apply to every accelerator out there. They are selected to join Techstars in Chicago for their class of 2012 and so they take off with dreams in their pockets.

“When you come to America as a businessman… you are a herosays Guillaume Martin. It was so far from being the case in Paris at that time.” He explains that he learned about his work at the Techstars benches, Entrepreneurship with a capital E. They will have a decisive meeting there, that of Samuel Yagan, co-founder of Techstars Chicago, but also the man behind SparkNotes, OkCupid, or even the eDonkey protocol (used by the eMule download software).

“We were taking a mobile turn at that timeremembers Guillaume Martin. And it was great to have him. We understood a lot of things: what the product was, the user interface, the marketing, the fundraising…” Is Pictarine’s experience in the US entrepreneurial ecosystem diametrically opposed to that of the French ecosystem? Not exactly: they try again to raise funds without success.

A decisive partnership

At the same time, Walgreens, the second-largest drugstore chain in the United States, knocked on its door. “They wanted to partnerexplains Pictarine’s CEO. We didn’t know them, so we dispatched them.” However, they are starting to open their eyes to discover the presence of Walgreens stores on every corner (about 8,000 on US soil). It may have been the biggest mistake of their entrepreneurial journey, but Walgreens comes back to see them six months later to renew their interest in the partnership.
The idea was simple: the possibility of ordering the printing of your photos from a smartphone application and picking them up twenty minutes later at a Walgreens store.

“They understood the interest of this partnership for customer acquisition. People came to pharmacies to get the photos, but they used the opportunity to buy other things”. In a few days, this first partnership will be signed. Guillaume Martin then decides to knock on the door of CVS, the main chain of pharmacies ahead of Walgreens, then Walmart, the main general retailer in the world.

This time, the discussions will stretch for nine months, but Guillaume will finally manage to convince them. Pictarine is thus available at 23,000 points of sale and generates USD 40 million in turnover, for a turnover of USD 11 million in 2022.

Consequently, 100% of sales are made in the United States, although all teams are based in Labège (near Toulouse). The desire to innovate is, however, very present at Pictarine. “I wish all of our teams could use our own products on a daily basis, but that’s not the case today. he confesses, the nearest partner’s point of sale is 6,000 kilometers from its offices. I print my photos at Cheerz and I love what Antoine has done (NDA: Antoine Le Conte, co-founder of Cheerz), but I would like to use my own service one day”.

How to start in France?

The solution to start in Europe may have seemed simple: after convincing the biggest American players, it was enough to replicate this model with local players. “I told myself that we really mastered our business in the US and that would easily happen in Europe. I showed up at Carrefour, Fnac, Leclerc, I saw everyone… but we got bogged down in discussions. I think they don’t have the vision that American actors have. People here ultimately don’t understand our value proposition. We had neglected the aspect of cultural differences and could not release a single euro in our own country”.

Pictarine then decided to change its tune, trying to think of different products for different markets. And while the historic business is seething, Pictarine decides to embark on a new stage in its history, experimenting with new products to diversify its offer.
“We found it a personal challenge to relaunch for ten years…while maintaining full control and financial independence.”

Because after failing to raise funds in France and then in the United States, Pictarine definitely put an end to the prospect of raising capital. “From the beginning we wanted to have a club where we didn’t need others, casts Guillaume Martin. Instead of wasting our time begging for money, we decided to dedicate more time to our users and turn them into customers. And I think that was a founding element.”

Thanks to its numbers, the startup was able to support this new phase of experimentation that allowed them, namely, to create an application with Ravensburger (Picta Puzzle) to transform their photographs into a puzzle, but also with Warner so that a child can personalize his future Batman poster, affixing his name to it. “Our desire is to maintain our value proposition of getting your products back in twenty minutes from a partner… but to provide things that are different, original and customizable”.

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