Behind Botteri: Betting Big on French Unicorns

Jun 22, 2015
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Any investor worth their salt will say that their job is to exist in the shadows, and that it is the entrepreneurs they have invested in who are the real heroes; however, when the same name keeps popping up behind ambitious investments (especially in startups I believe in), one can’t help but wonder how much of it is about being a good investor. One such name is Philippe Botteri, a name that has become synonymous with French “Unicorns” (and unicorn hopefuls), that is, French startups with $1 Billion+ valuations.

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Botteri’s got a pretty impressive resumé of companies he’s invested in. While with Bessemer, he lead investments in Criteo (IPO’d on the NASDAQ in 2012) & Eloqua (acquired by Oracle in 2012), and since arriving at Accel Partners, he’s lead rounds in Blablacar, PeopleDoc & Algolia (among others), 3 of France’s fastest growing, most promising startups right now.

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After Botteri’s most recent investment in Algolia, a startup I’ve followed closely since their early days, I was intrigued to learn about how Botteri manages to get inside every great & ambitious deal in Paris – a market with increasing competition from both London VCs (Balderton & Index, notably, but also Felix Capital since their launch earlier this year) as well as Paris VCs (Partech, IDInvest, Ventech, Iris Capital), all of whom are putting their money behind ambitious startups in France.

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Long-term relationships, or a Picture vs. a Film

Of course, Botteri isn’t only looking at the French market. In fact, none of the VCs at Accel Partners have a focus on a particular market. Both Botteri & Destin spend their days travelling across Europe (Botteri spouted off his itinerary for last week and I stopped jotting it done after the 5th international flight.

One of the main keys to success for Botteri seems to be that he develops lasting relationships with the entrepreneurs he invests in. With Criteo, he spoke of meeting CEO & Co-Founder Jean-Baptiste Rudelle 3 pivots before they found the product-market fit that led them to 1) investment from Bessemer via Botteri and 2) a multi-billion dollar market cap. With Algolia, he spoke of seeing their original model as a white label search engine for mobile apps, and with PeopleDoc, he seemed to have been chasing CEO Jonathan Benhamou for months trying to get into the round, despite the fact that PeopleDoc’s (then “Novapost”) investors didn’t want to let in new investors.

Botteri isn’t looking to become an enabler for all French startups to raise Silicon Valley-sized rounds – although, if the Financial Times is to be believed, Europe is the next Silicon Valley – however, his track-record shows a pretty good capacity to pick out companies that deliver on the promise that so many make to so many VCs: great growth, great businesses, great entrepreneurs.