2022 began with a bang for the European startup ecosystem, with many startups achieving the elusive unicorn status, just a couple of weeks into the new year. Paris-based Ankorstore is one of them, with the online B2B marketplace raising €250M in a Series C round of funding at a valuation of €1.75B. What’s more impressive is the fact that it managed to do so just two years after its launch.
Ankorstore was founded in November 2019 by four French e-commerce entrepreneurs: Pierre-Louis Lacoste (former Etsy country manager), Nicolas d’Audiffret and Nicolas Cohen (founders of A Little Market) and Mathieu Alengrin (former Head Engineer at Vestiaire Collective).
The platform connects brands and designers with boutiques all over Europe. It allows on-trend brands to sell through local businesses and retailers to sell products that cannot usually be found on major e-commerce sites or large retail chains.
Currently, the company claims to be working with more than 200,000 independent retailers and 15,000 brands across 23 EU countries. Its nearly 400 employees work from its offices in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Stockholm.
Driving this growth in such a short span of time is no easy task. Being the co-founder and CBO of Ankorstore, Pierre-Louis Lacoste oversees Brand and Marketing at Ankorstore. Previously he was Country Manager of France at Etsy, Senior Executive at the Jean Vier Company Los Angeles, opening the brand’s first concept store in the United States; held strategic positions at Coalision, the wholesale/retail company; and was Web Director, Executive Coordinator and then European Vice-President of the Lolë brand, based at their Montreal HQ.
Therefore, for this week’s ‘Founder in Focus’ interview series, we have chosen to focus on Pierre-Louis Lacoste.
SC: How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur?
Lacoste: Firstly, I am driven to understand ways how I can create value by solving the pain points independent shop owners face today. Secondly, I am not afraid to say “no”. A “no” to one thing is a “yes” to something else that has more priority. You have to make choices as an entrepreneur and focus on what is important to you.
Third, I have no problem telling my team when I was wrong about something. On the contrary, it is crucial in my goal to strive for excellence and to constantly grow.
SC: What was the inspiration or Eureka moment for creating Ankorstore?
Lacoste: I was a shop owner myself and experienced all the ups and downs, early mornings and late evenings, but also the satisfaction of finding the right products for my clients. After that, I was on the brand side and managed a clothing brand for 7 years. Finally, I joined Etsy, a Nasdaq-listed American company, as country manager. Thanks to all these experiences, I saw that there was much more I could do for independent retailers to empower them with technology and give them the same opportunities as big box retailers. So it was not really a “Eureka moment”, but rather a result of a long term desire, and a logical next step to support independent retailers. That’s where I come from and where I will always be involved, as I consider myself part of this community.
SC: What were some of the initial challenges that you faced while setting up Ankorstore?
Lacoste: The initial challenges were defining the right operating principles, so that everyone involved is aligned on how the company works. But first and foremost, it is not only about the how but about the why. And here we are very clear WHY we are here. Our mission and vision is strong: to empower independent retailers to succeed through the use of technology. Then, as a marketplace, you have to build your offer and demand in parallel, which of course is the main challenge at the beginning.
SC: What was it like to hire your first team member?
Lacoste: Hiring is always something really special to me, as you enter a long-term professional relationship with a person you believe in and vice versa. I will always remember my first Ankorstore team member and I was very excited about the person to join. But so I am for all the others I have hired afterwards as our adventure continues from day to day. And we have just started!
This year, we will hire 1,000 additional team members. Of course, we now have a VP of People and a dedicated team that does an excellent job in hiring by, amongst other things, creating a job board on our website.
SC: What was your first office like? How has your office evolved over the years?
Lacoste: I work from everywhere, anytime. We give our employees the choice to work remotely or at the office. It’s their choice, as we hire people with an entrepreneurial mindset. They know best where they can work most efficiently. Today, we have 6 offices across 6 countries in Europe. An office in the city centre of Paris on two floors with a balcony, one in the city centre of London, one in the city centre of Berlin, and the same in Amsterdam, Barcelona and Stockholm.
We want our employees to be happy in their workplace and a dedicated people team is constantly listening to see how we can improve things. It’s another of our key operating principles: constantly improving things.
SC: What are some of your most memorable memories during Ankorstore’s journey?
Lacoste: We have tons of memorable moments. This is such an incredible journey that it’s hard to just name a few, though there have been two which have been especially memorable.
The first was finding the name of the company. In retail jargon, an ‘anchor store’ is a shop that drives traffic and draws attention. We want independent retailers to become the local ‘anchor stores’ in their community, because they’re the stores that offer the right, curated products at the right price and combine that with a unique and special experience. Ankorstore is creating an ecosystem for brands, retailers and consumers in which everyone thrives. Together, we are building the future of independent retail.
The second special moment was our first sale. We were four founders in a small office at the time, and I think the entire building heard us scream when it happened.
SC: Was it difficult to seek VC investment for your company? What were some of the key challenges you faced while seeking your first investment?
Lacoste: It’s all about trust and performance. Ankorstore solves a real problem for a real market. We are talking about an addressable market that is valued at over a trillion euros in Europe and that has around 2 million active independent retailers. We onboarded brands and retailers from day one and had sufficient traction on our platform to convince our VCs of our business model that disrupts the wholesale market with a minimum order of only 100 euros. That’s “never been seen before” in the wholesale industry, where the average minimum order amount is several thousands of euros. The main challenge at the very beginning was to convince people that retail is actually not dead but is coming back stronger and that the future will be brighter for them thanks to new technology and tools.
SC: Ankorstore recently anchored its position as a unicorn. What does reaching this milestone mean to you as an entrepreneur?
Lacoste: When we founded the company two years ago, it was obviously something we dreamed of. But when the day came and we reached unicorn status, I also stepped back and was not only very proud of what we had achieved but also very grateful for all the people who made it happen. It’s a great boost to continue with our mission even stronger and more powerfully. Now, the moment lasted a short time – we need to continue working on our mission!
SC: What is your long-term vision for your company?
Lacoste: Our long term vision is to change the way wholesale is done today. We want to bring the convenience of the B2C experience in sourcing products to the wholesale market and to become a community of independent retailers – not only a platform but a global solution.
SC: When would you consider your company to be a success?
Lacoste: Today, we have 200,000 retailers and 15,000 brands on our platform. The aim is to continue to grow rapidly and to increase the number of retailers and brands. Our company will be a success when retailers everywhere are thriving again!
SC: What are your international expansion plans, and further plans in the Netherlands?
Lacoste: We want to expand our activities in Europe and have recently opened an office in Barcelona. We will also have a dedicated team in Italy soon. In the Netherlands, we will focus on hiring top talent to be as close as possible to our local brands and retailers and to offer them the best user experience possible. Many stores have had to keep their doors closed in the past months in the Netherlands.
That’s why we are running a special week which is called “Lift Days” for Dutch retailers at the end of January (Jan. 26 – Feb. 2nd) to “lift them up”, support them with their purchases and get out of lockdown with healthy margins. The entire Ankorstore platform offering is discounted by 10 per cent, and brands can add additional discounts up to 60 per cent.
SC: What would you advise your younger self? Are there things that you would do differently if given a chance?
Lacoste: I would probably have founded Ankorstore sooner to not see our city centres decline, as it makes me feel very sad as a former shop owner and father of two children to see that lots of independent shops had to close recently. I really want my children to see high streets with independent shops where you can experience different products, touch and feel them and where independent shops thrive, like book shops have risen again lately.
On the other hand, I have also learned that everything has its time. I would not be where I am today without my experience as a shop owner and my experience at Etsy. They were necessary to listen, understand and learn.