This is one of the main trends of recent months: French start-ups have fallen with mixed excitement and uncertainty in the deep sea of mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
The nuggets of the Next40 are ahead. Alan bought Jour to diversify mental health, Doctolib bet on Tanker to secure its data, Swile swallowed Okarito to facilitate business travel, Vestiaire Collective absorbed Tradesy, its main rival in America, Mirakl bet on Target2Sell, a start-up that specializes in personalizing e-commerce sites, etc.
Companies less well known to the general public, such as Sendinblue or Skeepers, have made 4 and 8 acquisitions in less than two years! This bulimia was facilitated by the huge amount accumulated by the French Tech champions from investors. Part of this envelope is typically devoted to M&A operations.
A reflection of the maturity of French Tech
The growing presence of American investors, accustomed to this type of operation, prompted the phenomenon. In a more structural way, classic for more mature start-ups to conduct external growth operations, young shoots that favor organic growth.
To continue the offensive, French start-ups are becoming structured. For example, Vestiaire Collective hired Bernard Osta, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs and Lazard, an M&A specialist. “Our CEO wants to separate the roles of CFO (chief financial officer) and CSO (chief strategy officer),” he explains. He was thus able to lead the acquisition of Tradesy, which employs second-hand fashion specialist in the United States, along with other members of the executive committee. “My experience has allowed us to move forward in a procedural way,” he underlined.
Voodoo, Swile, IAD and Malt also have dedicated M&A divisions. Sorare and Qonto, two of the largest French start-ups, on the other hand, have no employees in charge of these questions. “Most unicorns don’t have one before Covid-19,” Arthur Porré, co-founder of Avolta Partners, put in perspective.
When they have targets in mind, start-ups work with investment banks and consulting firms to carry out these complex operations that can take months. Once the acquisition is complete, the integration phase must be successfully completed. It assumes having a strong internal organization to make everything work harmoniously.
French Tech is part of a larger movement. In the first quarter of 2022, 4,138 M&A deals were completed in Europe for a total value of 479 billion dollars, according to a Pitchbook study. A historical record.
Second quarter figures are not available, but the last few months have been marked by a sharp cooling of the venture capital market, affected by rising interest rates, the war in Ukraine and the return of inflation. The final stages of the funding cycle are the most affected, which should have an impact on M&A. As such, Pitchbook expects a quiet one.
“When there’s a market crash, the natural reaction is to focus on operations first,” Bernard Osta recalled. In recent weeks, crisis meetings have increased within start-ups to adapt to this new scenario. The goal? Examine the business model and, potentially, identify sources of savings so as not to burn too much money. Start-ups thinking of making acquisitions can delay major maneuvers.
In the second stage, however, the momentum may rise again. Young shooters who have not yet raised funds will find a way. Conversely, large groups or scale-ups with healthy growth models and well-funded can take the opportunity to swallow a competitor, get their hands on technology or recruit talent at unimaginable prices. there are a few more months. “It’s going to be sale time,” he waved his hands to a Next40 boss.