End of cycle, acquisition, new desires: how to unleash the reins of your start-up

Posted on Jan 12, 2023, 8:17 amUpdated Jan 12, 2023 at 10:29 am

Ten years behind the wheel and a retirement. A few days ago, Benjamin Gaignault announced that he was leaving the management of Ornikar, specialist in online driving schools. A carefully considered decision for this figure of French technology whose entrepreneurial adventure has been intense.

In its infancy, the start-up that revolutionized the driving schools market had to fight for several years in the courts to bend the traditional players, furious with the arrival of this competitor. Free to speak, Benjamin Gaignault personified this struggle by intervening frequently in the media.

The young shoot then experienced strong traction and attracted investors. In 2021, it notably raised €100 million from the KKR fund. An XXL investment that should primarily be used to fund your insurance diversification. Ornikar’s idea was to support young drivers, once they got their license, with tailor-made insurance.

A variety of reasons

That tight turn led Benjamin Gaignault to question his role as boss. And to make the decision to hand over to Philippe Maso y Guell Rivet, a former employee of AXA, Covéa and MMA Assurances, who joined Ornikar in 2022 to develop the company’s insurance business that is expected to become, in the future, his main source of income (against approximately 15% to date).

“Insurance is a highly technical profession,” comments Benjamin Gaignault. “Philippe has much more reason than I do to hold this position. He’s still 17 moves ahead and thinks three times as fast! I am sure he will be able to create much more value”.

The development of the venture capital market also weighed on his thinking. “I know how to grow at all costs,” he says. A strategy that earned Ornikar a high ranking among investors and being cited among French Tech’s potential unicorns. But that philosophy is much less in vogue these days.

The firing of a boss is part of life in a developing ecosystem. And the reasons for a withdrawal can be manifold. After nine years at the head of Cardiologs, a young shooter that developed an innovative solution for the automatic interpretation of electrocardiograms (ECG), Yann Fleureau has just passed the torch to France Schwarz. A decision following the acquisition of medtech by Philips. “I had not set a deadline for leaving. But it felt natural to me to leave because the mission would be similar to that of a senior executive in a large group,” he explains.

A moment full of emotions

There are also painful departures. After two difficult years, Meero founder Thomas Rebaud resigned in favor of one of his relatives, Gaétan Rougevin-Baville, who was supposed to embody a new beginning. Recently, the founders of Solendro claimed to have been landed and “robbed” by their investors (Breega, etc). A version strongly contested by the latter, who denounce slanderous comments. The case is now running in court. The Court of Cassation must decide on the conditions of his dismissal.

In a very different record, Olivier Goy left the management of fintech October after learning that he had Charcot disease. This popular figure of French technology then confided that he wanted to “give October every chance not to miss any opportunities because of [s] to health”.

Whatever the scenario, a founder’s retirement is always exciting. “It’s complicated for ego reasons,” observes Benjamin Gaignault. You need to learn to detach from operations, sometimes in the best interests of your company. Some entrepreneurs feel this as a relief, others describe it as a “little death”…

An opportunity to reinvent yourself

Matches are rarely full. Founders often retain stock in the company or even a seat on the board of directors. This is the case of Benjamin Gaignault, who will continue to act as Ornikar’s sales representative, ensuring, for example, discussions with investors. “It’s the only thing I do better than Philippe,” he laughs.

Leaving the management of a start-up also brings advantages. Yann Fleureau compares this phase to a “landing” period. “We regain energy and are less stressed. I no longer have 150 decisions to make a day,” he slips. This allows you to see more of your family, get back into sports, or immerse yourself in new reading. “The range of possibilities is very exciting, but also a little daunting,” continues the former Cardiologs executive.

Benjamin Gaignault and Yann Fleureau shouldn’t be bored for long. The first is already working on a new start-up – of which he will not be the boss – and the second sees himself diving back into the bathtub. A blessing for investors, who are very fond of this type of profile. But Yann Fleureau is in no hurry. “The idea is not to jump on the first idea that comes along. »

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