Everyone seems to have an opinion on doing business in France. Simply bring up the topic and you won’t be able to escape the stereotypes of strikes, long-vacations and the 35-hour work week. Even the French are not always positive when it comes to discussing their experiences in their own country. But despite the fact that select entrepreneurs that are busy badmouthing France abroad, there are foreigners who manage to successfully set-up shop in France.
Hi Meryl. First, why don’t you introduce your startup VideDressing. How did it come about and what do you guys do?
Videdressing is a social marketplace dedicated to fashion. The site is composed of a community of fashion lovers who use the site to buy and sell their previously owned clothing and fashion accessories. Videdressing operates as a trusted third-party between buyers and sellers, securing all steps of the transactional process from payment to reception of the merchandise in order to ensure complete customer satisfaction, prevent fraud and fight against the sale of counterfeit items.
Videdressing combines the advantages of an online marketplace, including negative working capital and no inventory, with a highly merchandised, fashion savvy environment.
What sets Videdressing apart from other marketplaces is its exclusive focus on fashion (high quality editorial content, collaborations with well known fashion bloggers), community features (members can sponsor their friends to join the community; roughly one third of our member base has been sponsored by other members), and lastly but perhaps most importantly the high level of service we offer to our members. We are the only C to C site to offer a money back guarantee and it is a real competitive advantage for us in the sense that it offers buyers a quality of service similar to what they would encounter on a traditional B to C fashion e-commerce site.
How did you come up with the idea?
The idea came to me at the end of 2008, when trying to find a way to sell some clothing and fashion accessories of my own that I no longer wore nor used.
I had accumulated a certain amount of clothing and fashion accessories purchased at sample sales in Paris and at a certain point I didn’t have any more room in my closet. I then started looking for a way to sell some of these items which were mostly from high end brands and in pretty good condition. I went to the consignment shop in my street but the 50% commission fee was a big turn off. I looked on the internet, and at that time, there were only generalist C to C sites where one could sell everything from children’s toys to electronics to automobiles and I just didn’t see these platforms as being adapted to the resale of clothing and fashion accessories.
Moreover, while surfing the internet, I had also noticed that a rapidly increasing number of fashion bloggers were starting to create their own “vide-dressings” or blogs specializing in the resale of fashion items. I was very inspired by this trend and thought it would be great if this option would be available to all people as I realized that there were probably thousands of other women (and men) in my situation. Videdressing was launched a year later, in December 2009.
And what made you want to run your business out of France in the first place? Is there any specific business advantage that made sense for you to set-up in Paris?
It resulted from a mix of opportunity and circumstance. During my years living and working in France, I acquired certain knowledge of the French market. It’s one of the most dynamic fashion markets in the world. Paris being the fashion capital of the world, so many new designers and brands emerge in France and export to markets worldwide.
There’s a strong global demand for French brands, particularly well-established luxury brands but also newer designers. French women are very fashion forward; very in touch with the latest trends. They tend to renew their wardrobes frequently and have an interesting way of mixing high street brands with more exclusive labels.
Furthermore, the exponential development of “vide-dressing” blogs and forums in France confirmed my belief in the right product/market fit. So it made sense for my partner and me to launch Videdressing in France, while always having the ambition and the desire to develop our business internationally.
So, everyone thinks that it’s impossible to run a business in France as a foreigner. What would you say have been the main challenges you’ve faced as an American?
There are aspects of starting a company in France that I think could seem difficult to someone who isn’t French. The laws and regulations are different – labor laws, tax laws. I was very fortunate in that respect because my partner is French and, as the former international tax director of a major pharmaceutical company, he possesses a very solid knowledge of the French legal and business environment. He took care of all formalities related to the creation of the company.
And now on the flip side, are there any benefits to being an American entrepreneur in France or Europe?
Yes, certainly. Being a native English speaker does have its advantages. Having grown up in a typical American city – Minneapolis, Minnesota – has given me a fairly good understanding of the US market. I also have a natural network of professional and personal contacts in the US, which will certainly be of help for a future US launch. Being of Indian origin, and having lived during many years in France has provided me with an international background and enabled me to develop a broader, more global perspective which can be useful in many aspects of business as well as in life!
You have made incredible progress with the company. Any important milestones or stats to share?
Thanks so much! The most recent milestone was the complete relaunch of our site that happened in December, following our latest fund-raising round of 700K EUR that we completed in September with business angels and our current shareholders. We had a very good 2011 in which we quintupled our business vs. 2010. Our goal for 2012 is to grow even bigger and to develop our business internationally.
And finally, tell me what we can expect to see from Videdressing in the next few months.
I guess that means we’ll have to stay tuned! Thanks, Meryl.