French serial entrepreneur Denis Payre, a co-founder of Business Objects, a business intelligence software company which was sold to SAP in 2007 for $6.8 billion, talks to Informilo about his most recent venture, a pan-European software and distribution company called Kiala, his decision to return to France after going into exile for tax reasons, and why he is bullish about building tech companies in Europe. Click here to read the story and see the video.
Entrerpreneurs struggling in the current economic environment take heart: It often takes awhile for a great idea to get traction. Ask serial entrepreneur Denis Payre, a co-founder of Business Objects, which was founded in 1990 and sold 17 years later
Payre, who was Business Objects’ chief operating officer for the first eight years, is credited for increasing sales to €100 million and doubling revenues for five consecutive years, before quitting to spend more time with his family. He didn’t stay home long. Payre became one of the Continents’s most vocal crusaders for changes in stock-option rules and tax reductions for start-ups. He famoulsy left France and moved to Belgium in 1998 after the government sent him a tax bill of nearly $2.5 million on paper assets he was not able to cash.
Convinced that e-commerce would explode, in 2001 he co-founded his latest venture Kiala, a Brussels-based pan-European software and distribution system to allow customers that have placed orders via their computers, phones or television sets to pick up the items at specified location,. It took a few years longer than expected for e-commerce to really take off in Europe but his big bet has paid off: Kiala, which had 2008 revenues of €26 million, has been growing by 63% each year.
Kiala now handles 50,000 parcels a day at 5,000 stores across Europe and the potential for further growth is huge: Online retail and travel in Western Europe will reach €129 billion in 2009 and is projected to grow to €203 billion by 2014, according to Forrester Research. The European eCommerce market, which includes the EU-17 — Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and the U.K. — is expected to grow at a compounded annural growth rate of 8% over the six-year forecast period. Business-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer e-commerce continue their double-digit year-over-year growth rate, in part because sales are shifting away from stores, the number of new online shoppers is rising, and online shoppers are less sensitive to adverse economic conditions than the average European consumer, according to Forrester. The consultancy predicts that Europeans will spend an annual average of €942 per person in 2009, and this amount will grow to €1,086 in 2014.
Kiala’s customers include pure-play on-line vendors such as Pixmania as well as big brick and mortar retailers such as fashion outlets Esprit and H&M. A nice chunk of its business is coming from an unlikely source: phone companies, which are using the service to swap set-top boxes. In the past, phone companies had to pay for delivery services such as DHL to make several trips to a customer’s home and customers would be asked to stay at home all day. Using Kiala outlets is cheaper and more efficient, says Payre.
Although Business Objects, which was created in France, eventually moved its headquarters to the U.S., Payre says the environment for entrepreneurs in Europe has “improved substantially.” That is partly due to Payre’s own efforts. Croissance Plus, the French lobbying group for entrepreneurs he founded, evolved into Growth Plus, a pan-European organization that gained the ear of the European Commission.
Changes have been in Europe an companies to make starting and running companies easier. In France, for example, changes have been made to wealth taxes and a “Young Entrepreneurs Law,” enacted in 2004, offers tax breaks for companies below a certain size and age that invest a lot in R&D. Indeed, France, once considered one of the worst places in Europe to launch a new business, is now one of the best, says Payre, who recently moved his family back to Paris.
Another sign that Europe is progressing is its growing pool of serial entrepreneurs. Payre co-founded Kiala with the help of Marc Fourrier, another French serial entrepreneur who, among other things, co-founded Wavecom and Ilog, both of which went public on Nasdaq.
These are just part of the reason that Payre is bullish on Europe. The Old World may have missed the software wave, says Payre, but he does not believe it has missed the e-commerce wave and could lead in what he believes will be the the Next Big Thing: cleantech.