In celebration of Rakuten PriceMinister’s 15th anniversary, Olivier Mathiot, CEO of PriceMinister, looks back at the budding startup when Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet, Pierre Krings and Justin Ziegler were about to launch the site.
The word entrepreneur comes from the 13th century French verb “entreprendre”, meaning “to do something” or “to undertake”. By the 16th century, the noun “entrepreneur” had emerged to refer to someone who undertakes a business venture. The first academic usage of the term was by economist Richard Cantillon in 1730. For Cantillion, the bearing of risk “engaging in business without an assurance of the profits that will be derived” is the distinguishing feature of an entrepreneur. Many people think that the concept of entrepreneurship has its roots in American culture as many strong players in the digital industry are based in the US. However, there are also strong players with a different origin. One of these players is Rakuten PriceMinister.
15 years ago, Rakuten PriceMinister pioneered the way for people to buy and sell online in France. 15 years later, thanks to all its customers and employees, the site is one of the most vibrant and unique shopping destinations in France. That is totally worth celebrating!
Back in 2000, I was 29 years old and I used to work in a big advertising agency called DDB when my cousin Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet called me and asked me to sign a NDA. He only mentioned that he would like to share a business plan with me and that he needed some advice on how to promote a new, transactional e-commerce model and I agreed to signing the NDA. This e-commerce model is today known as Rakuten PriceMinister and, after 15 years of hard work, it is one of the most popular websites in France.
A few weeks later, I got married and went on my honeymoon but could not stop thinking about Pierre’s business plan. Long story short: I decided to give Pierre a call and give him the best advice I have ever given: I told my cousin that PriceMinister needs to hire a Co-founder as Chief Marketing Officer!
That is how I joined the team, how I became an entrepreneur and the beginning of a 15 year journey. Before launching the business in 2001, we were lucky enough to collect enough money from individual investors, business angels, friends and our families who helped us turn our vision into reality. In the very beginning, we had a very limited product range and launched the site with just a couple of CDs, DVDs and books on it, although everything developed quite quickly after the launch.
In March 2001, after the site has been up for around 6 weeks, we had more than 100,000 products online. In 2003, the inventory was already 30 million items which brought us to the decision to launch new categories such as electronics, computers, fashion, sports goods, baby care and so on in 2004. We have always followed our core rule to start with a B2B2C model before launching C2C options as well.
However, the secret sauce and the key to success was our decision to expand our business into a whole bunch of services. The action plan was decided: we started to acquire smaller companies to aggregate an ecosystem of services around the idea of becoming an online intermediation business: a classified website for real estate and used cars and a price comparison engine for travels. We conducted four acquisitions back in 2007.
The vision behind this roadmap was clearly to have a beautiful story to tell to the financial market and then to go public. We worked hard on the IPO plan until 2008. We have even obtained all the green lights from the French regulation authorities but unfortunately, the first Internet bubble collapsed back then and we dropped our ambition bitterly and went back to the basics in 2009. We obviously made the right decisions and optimized processes and the site itself in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
One thing that has always been crucial for us is Rakuten PriceMinister’s corporate culture. We organize a special team building weekend every year that includes all of our 250 employees which is perfect for maintaining a strong spirit and for the onboarding of all newcomers. This has never changed as our employees are our main asset.
One day in 2010, we received a very polite and strange call from a company named RAKUTEN. Rakuten? We knew the name but certainly not the whole story as Rakuten did not exist in Europe back then. Mickey invited Pierre to Tokyo where they talked about business, did some karaoke and made up plans on how PriceMinister could join the Japanese family!
Since then, a lot of things have changed. We have shifted our focus on the B2B2C business, have created an ECC team, moved to a larger office to expand our Development Unit in order to create strong tools for our merchants, to implement the Rakuten Super Points program etc.
I took over the CEO position in the beginning of 2014 with pride and sadness at the same time, as two co-founders and friends, Pierre Koscisko-Morizet and Pierre Krings, left the company. However, I am still on board as I am keen on expanding PriceMinister’s key to success to Europe by creating a real ecosystem of services across the region. Well, I guess I still behave as an entrepreneur and never consider myself as salary man*.
Happy anniversary, Rakuten PriceMinister!
*a phrase used in Japan to describe white collar salaried workers