Photo: Photo by Flickr user titlap
Jacques-Antoine Granjon is the co-founder and CEO of Vente Privée, which is probably Europe’s biggest startup — bigger than Skype — with countless copycats.Vente Privée pioneered the private flash sale for fashion and built it into a business that turned over $1 billion in 2010 and has over 1500 employees.
Estimates put the company’s value at $3 billion, making it the biggest private web company in Europe.
Who is he? How did he do it?
Granjon is not a web guy or even a computer guy. He's a fashion guy. He started his first company out of college in 1985, working in selling fashion overstock. Except for one of the co-founders of Vente Privée, all the other eight are from the fashion overstock business.
That was the key to inventing the company's innovative business model -- offer flash sales of overstock goods to an invite-only audience, thereby preserving the brand's value.
It was after 22 years in the fashion industry buying and selling inventory that he had the connections and industry knowledge to get Vente Privée off the ground.
He started the company in 2001, right after the dotcom bubble burst, and no investor wanted to touch his idea. But Vente Privée was actually started as an outgrowth of his original overstock business, and that business funded the company for three years until it reached breakeven. The site only really took off in 2004.
Of course, now that Vente Privée dominates the market, leaving very little room to challengers, VCs are lining up to pour money in copycats.
As a commerce site, Vente Privée has negative working capital, meaning it gets money from its customers before it has to pay its suppliers and can more easily fund itself from cashflow.
$1 billion in sales. 1300 employees. It's now active in every big country in Europe (France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and the UK).
850 of the employees work out of the company's headquarters, which are the old printing press of Le Monde newspaper (which, unrelatedly, was recently acquired by another French internet entrepreneur, Xavier Niel) -- quite the symbol. But the company is already outgrowing the huge building.
In 2007, Vente Privée sold 20% of the company to Summit Partners, an American private equity firm, reportedly at a billion dollar plus valuation. The scuttlebutt is that most of that money went into the founders' pockets.
In his collection: Jeff Koons, Combas, Basquiat, Ron Arad furniture, Helmut Newton... Modern art fills the Vente Privée offices, including nude pictures, a giant gorilla made of coat hangers and a stuffed grizzly bear wielding two chainsaws.
An art gallery owner says he doesn't hesitate to buy works by unknown artists as well, and that many have gone up tremendously in value -- but he never sells them.
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