Entrepreneur Alexandre Bonetti is the CEO and co-founder of French startup Simplébo, which helps entrepreneurs and small businesses launch their own website. We spoke to him about the importance of maintaining an independent approach to entrepreneurship and fundraising.
Hello Alexandre! First of all, can you tell us a little about your background before you created Simplébo?
I went to school at CentraleSupélec, where I met my co-founders, before going to graduate school at ESCP. After I got my diploma, I joined Mazars’ financial audit department, but I found my workload to be extremely repetitive – I struggled to see how it was adding efficiency or value.
We weren’t encouraged to streamline our tasks, which was something I struggled with. After six months, I decided to set out on my own to create something more impactful, with the freedom to delegate as I saw fit.
What gave you the idea to found Simplébo?
Simplébo was launched after a classic case of finding a gap in the market – a huge one in this instance! I launched the business after learning that in France, around 66% of small businesses do not have a website to sell their products or services, which seemed almost unbelievable.
To try and make sense of it, I spoke to hundreds of small business owners to find out why they didn’t have a website. The answer was almost systematic: classic web-based agencies or website providers were just too expensive, while they lacked the skills or resources to go through the time-consuming process of developing one with online tools.
These small business owners needed something simple and relatively inexpensive, requiring minimal input on their side. I paired up with two fellow CentraleSupélec graduates and created Simplébo, the first automatic website creation agency.
We take care of everything from A to Z, while costing around 6 times less than traditional agencies. In four years, we’ve become the most trusted web agency in France according to Trustpilot and Google Reviews, with over 7,000 businesses using our services directly.
We’ve also partnered with some of France’s largest businesses, like Saint-Gobain and retail bank Crédit du Nord, who share our expertise with their own networks of smaller businesses.
How did you succeed in getting investors on board?
In the beginning, we launched with €10,000 that we raised between the three of us. We then turned towards investors in hopes of raising what we needed to grow, while setting ourselves the goal of maximum growth (+70% this year).
Once we had 1,000 clients on our books, we were able to raise €500,000, followed by a further €1,000,000 last year. We’re going to approach investors for a third round in 2022 – but only those who share our goal of becoming European leaders by 2030. We really want to strike a balance between ambitious organic growth while remaining profitable in the short term.
How do you measure success at Simplébo? What were the main factors in your success?
Our goal is to become the European leader in website creation for small businesses, ahead of our main competitors (e.g. the Yellow Pages). To achieve this, we’re focusing on three key indicators of success, which are separate from our financial objectives.
First, we monitor our Net Promoter Score (NPS) as rated by our customers. All of our clients are asked “How likely are you to recommend Simplébo?”, on a scale of +100 to -100. We currently have a net positive rating of 65 which we are proud of.
We also use NPS ratings to track our employee satisfaction, which is the second key indicator of our success. Finally, we aim for year-on-year growth of between 50% and 100% to make sure we’re keeping up with our long-term goal.
What has been your biggest challenge since founding Simplébo?
The biggest challenge has definitely been growing with the business.
As CEO of a startup that has grown 70% year on year, I’m constantly learning about all aspects of the business – one could say I change jobs all the time.
Learning how to effectively delegate, surrounding oneself with peers and mentors, becoming an effective manager, maintaining a positive work environment… these are just some of the many things I’ve had to learn since founding the company!
Do you feel that things have changed when it comes to ensuring business longevity in the current climate?
There are three main ways to go about ensuring business longevity. You can either try to maximise your profits independently, seek out investors as quickly and as often as possible, or go for a combination of the two.
At Simplébo, we prefer the latter option – with the ‘best of both worlds’ we can work with our investors to grow the business authentically, without becoming dependent on their capital.
You recently founded the “Bootstrap Club”, which brings together startup leaders who are passionate about this way of working. Can you tell us more about the philosophy behind this initiative?
“Bootstrap” is an approach that focuses on achieving maximum results with minimal resources – particularly financial. This translates into a laser-sharp focus on ROI performance.
The Boostrap Club is a collective formed of startup founders who are actively seeking to move away from the incessant media focus on fundraising and investment and who are committed to another way of operating.
We believe that while startups can often be helped by investment, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of becoming dependent on external financial resources.
Instead of simply racing to raise huge sums for the sake of it, we believe that successful investment can be measured by many different criteria: profits, growth, client satisfaction and employee satisfaction.
We have three main goals: to share our experiences and best practices with our peers, to show that ambition and determination can thrive in a positive working environment (and vice versa), and to change the conversation surrounding success to include the social and human impact.
To sum up, you’ve said that you want to encourage “an entrepreneurship philosophy where investment is a means, not an end.” What does this model of entrepreneurship look like, and what advice would you give entrepreneurs who identify with this approach?
First, I’d encourage prioritising customer and employee satisfaction over immediate profitability – think long-term, not short-term. I’d also recommend having a clear vision of how you want your business to operate and how this will translate into the workplace, so that management and teams have tangible guidelines to work with.
Finally, I’d recommend focusing on ROI as much as possible, and to define clear financial goals upon which to condition your expenses. When it comes to fundraising, keep an open mind if it’s necessary to the above conditions, but don’t seek investors for the sake of it.
What do you think the world of entrepreneurship will look like in the next five to ten years?
By virtue of their industry or business model, some startups will find themselves obligated to pursue fundraising initiatives, possibly becoming dependent on their investors in the process.
With that said, I don’t think that should become a trend that young entrepreneurs should follow.
I personally would like to see a more holistic environment, where entrepreneurs spend at least one day a month sharing their experiences with their peers, and where investors seek to provide long-term value instead of the most profitable three-year plan, and where financial success is measured by more than just short-term financial results.
You can follow along on Alexandre’s entrepreneurial journey via LinkedIn.
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