What if car maintenance was as easy as ordering pizza online? This is the question that joined Limvirak Chea, Frédéric Dermer and Cristian Vrabie in the creation of Fixter. All three had unpleasant experiences with mechanics and were singled out by this survey which showed that 73% of Britons are afraid of being ripped off when they go to this one.
“When we go to the garageexplains Frédéric Dermer. It’s like going back in time, seeing what customer service was like in the early 20th century. Nothing moved. You can do everything with your phone, be it ordering a taxi, a hotel, a restaurant, plane tickets, train tickets… anything but car maintenance. An experience that has not changed for 50 years”.
So they launched Fixter in 2017 from London, offering a transparent, simple and efficient service.
Created in a startup studio “made in AXA”
The meeting of the three co-founders took place on the initiative of Stéphane Guinet, former manager of the AXA insurance company (he was in particular CEO of the entity AXA Global Direct) who has headed Kamet since 2016. Kamet has long presented itself as AXA’s startup studio. The aim is to build startups that revolve around their core business themes: healthcare, automotive and insurance.
“They came up with the idea that this would create standalone businesses that would work well or businesses that would potentially have synergies with AXA’s core business”describes Frédéric Dermer. The reality is however more complex, but AXA is such a big company that you also need to be a big company to create a synergy that makes sense at AXA scale. On paper, there were obvious things to imagine: but AXA is 6 million car policyholders in France… To be a reliable partner, you have to be able to maintain 6 million vehicles”.
Fixter is therefore sometimes presented as a “made in AXA” startup, but the reality is, however, very different depending on its founders. If the Kamet studio was still effectively funded by the insurance company, it remained very independent, developing on a model similar to that of eFounders.
“We had the feeling of being totally independent, explains Frédéric Dermar. We had AXA on our board, but I would say any startup has its investors on its board. It happened to them exactly as it could have happened to a fund.”
Anatomy of an entrepreneurial adventure
Fixter’s history is very easy to outline: first there was a period in which the focus was on growth, then a period in which it was profitability. Then growth again.
“In the first three years of Fixter, the subject was any startup that wanted to prove that it has a scalable model, that there is a market. We doubled our numbers every year and it was really the box engine.”
COVID is coming to the end of its next three years and it stops that growth. Successive confinements force garage owners to close their doors. “It was very clear to us: we were not going to grow in 2020. And we told ourselves that if we can’t grow, let’s focus on profitability. We will not have wasted two years for nothing”.
Overnight, the Fixter will completely overhaul its priorities. It was no longer a question of attracting the greatest number of customers, mechanics and drivers (to pick up vehicles from the user), the questions changed: who are the mechanics who offer the best prices, who are the most profitable customers, what is the best pricing model? The next two years are devoted to answering these questions, in particular by recruiting machine learning experts.
Fixter is, however, forced to enter a new phase at the end of 2021, with AXA having announced some time before, the will to move away from all projects related to Kamet (which has since opened to financing by other companies) .
Knowing that AXA would not continue with Fixter, its three co-founders got together with many investors, industrialists and financiers to try to imagine the best future for their startup. One meeting clearly stands out, the one with the Renault group. “Our visions were super alignedremembers Frédéric Dermer. Renault wanted to develop in independent maintenance, that is, to expand to all brands, with a strategy focused on digital and car collection at home. They told us clearly that what we were doing was exactly what they wanted to do internally and that they wanted to bring Fixter back into the group to develop us in all markets where Renault has a strong presence.”
The startup was only present in England for a year and launched in France less than six months ago. “After a new phase of growth and a phase in which we focused on profitability, we are back in a new phase of growthexplains Frederick. We are going to launch a new country next year and the desire is to be able to open several from 2024”.
Rollout in all countries where Renault is located will therefore potentially be extended over the next decade, but this also reflects the long-term vision of the automotive group. But then why is such a complicated synergy with a giant like AXA obvious with Renault?
“The Fixter project was really something that was extremely peripheral at an insurance company like AXAconsiders Frédéric Dermer. Although it is something at the heart of Renault’s growth strategy in the coming years. We are a long way from being Renault’s biggest project, but I think that in its 10-year strategic roadmap, there is a real ambition to assert itself in the aftermarket in a significant way”.
The rest of the Fixter story
This third phase of growth has just begun for Fixter and there is still a long way to go for its co-founders. It seems clear that Frédéric Dermer and his associates intend to go beyond the clauses signed during the acquisition. “The goal in a startup is always to give you the means to achieve your initial vision, to realize the dream you may have had with your co-founders. And that’s what Renault allows us to do.”
The most important thing for Frédéric is therefore not the (confidential) value of the acquisition. Indeed, even if it is a figure that may have delighted shareholders, it represents only a fraction of the investment that Renault has committed to making over the coming years to enable Fixter to spread its vision around the world.