CEO JB Rudelle calls Criteo a Ninja Turtle on the eve of Series D fundraising


This morning, headlines are buzzing with the announcement of Criteo’s series D fundraising of 30 million euros, led by Softbank Capital, Yahoo! Japan, SAP Ventures, Adams Street, and Bessemer. Previous investors in the French startup include Elaia Ventures, IDInvest Partners, and Index Ventures. This fundraising will put the company ever-closer to the arbitrary burden that most French entrepreneurs have put on Criteo – to become the next $1Billion company. And while Criteo has dodged talk of IPOs and acquisition possibilities, Index Ventures’ announcement last week about helping London build a tech IPO scene referenced Criteo as one of the European companies in their portfolio ready to IPO.

On the Night before Christmas..

The real story, however, happened yesterday at Microsoft France, where the 3rd edition of FailCon France took place; FailCon is a conference devoted entirely to entrepreneurs talking about their past & present failures, and getting all entrepreneurs to learn from their and others’ mistakes. Conveniently enough, in addition to Elaia Partners’ Marie Ekeland and IDInvest’s Matthieu Baret being present (two VC investors in Criteo), Criteo CEO JB Rudelle took the stage sporting his trademark professional biker glasses, and gave a talk that he called “The Tortoise & The Hare.”
In the talk he compared his two ventures to date: Kiwee (1999-2004, acquired), and Criteo (2005-present). With ringtone-selling startup Kiwee, Rudelle said, there was quick growth (profitable by year 1 with $15M annual revenue), but it plateaued by year 3 and in year 4 they decided to sell. With Criteo, on the other hand, the company didn’t make any money for the first three years; in fact, the company pivoted three times before finally landing on its CPC Digital Advertising model. The company had its technology since Day 1 – Product Recommendation Engine – but they didn’t figure out how to monetize on it properly until their forth iteration, passing from B2C product recommendation site, to a B2B Saas platform that allowed other sites to build Criteo’s Engine into their site, to a Blog Widget that recommended product, and then finally landing on Criteo’s CPC Digital Advertising model of today.
And so, Rudelle said, the story of the tortoise & the hare is more a story of the Sleeping Hare & the Ninja Turtle – FYI: Rudelle chose to use Donatello on his slide.