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Laurent Foata and Thibaud Bussière, how did you come to embark on this joint adventure?
Laurent Foata: A fundamental prerequisite for all our investments is the quality of the entrepreneurs. Shared values and the relationship with an entrepreneurial team guide our investment decisions, much more than the industry, the financial aspects and past revenue growth. We encountered the Neotys entrepreneurs through our presence in the software ecosystem. I gave a presentation on supporting software publishers seeking to expand internationally to the French software association, "Tech in France", where I met Stéphane Jammet, Thibaud’s partner, who told me of Neotys’ US ambitions. This vision was shared with the three founders that I met soon after in Marseille at Neotys’ headquarters. We spoke the same software language, in which the Ardian Growth Fund has been immersed for many years, both in France and abroad. We could identify with the Software sector. Neotys was a perfect example of the development and expansion of a French technology company. It was launched by experienced engineers, and founded on customized technology that we liked very much. Moreover, in its early development stages, the technology solution was sold online, directly on the web, with already an international ambition leading quickly to the creation of an international customer portfolio. We arrived in 2014, when it was time to shift up a gear and accelerate expansion in the United States.
Thibaud Bussière: We were effectively three engineers working in the same company. Following its sale, the proposed project fell short of our expectations. We therefore considered our options, starting with what drives us most: innovation and technology. This was the starting point for the development of a unique software. Creating our company became the obvious next step and that is what we did in 2004. We started with a direct model over the internet. We developed the company drawing on our own capital, as we wished to remain independent. But, along the way, we saw the dual advantage of injecting liquidity into the company and implementing an ambitious strategy consistent with our vision, especially internationally. We therefore started looking for external expertise to help us develop Neotys. When we met Laurent, our discussions were nothing like how we imagined a financial investor. We found a high-quality individual who could help us go further, taking more controlled risks and with whom we could consider our strategic challenges in greater depth. We were looking for the team that would help us better structure our salesforce and scale up our technology. We met with several funds and finally chose Ardian Growth for all the reasons discussed.
Thibaud and his partners embody the entrepreneurial profile we are seeking throughout Europe. They have demonstrated their ability to achieve milestones, sometimes by making difficult but well thought-out and concerted decisions. We made the wise decision to support them: their entrepreneurial momentum offered potential and speed of progress. This agility really made a difference at Neotys. We are very proud to have accompanied them. As for the human dimension, once we establish such relationships, we keep them even after our investment. That is the virtue of our model.
In all investments there is a dream, what was Neotys'?
Laurent Foata: After taking their first steps in the international arena, Neotys’ entrepreneurs realized that their growth model and team structure needed to change. To achieve this transformation they had to find a partner, who would not only help them financially, but above all would strengthen their governance, help them make the right choices,develop “Go to Market” expertise, and accelerate their development in the US. Neotys had a strong and reputed product, as well as an ambitious leadership team with a vision to take the next steps.
We were drawn by their recognition of the need to find the right partner. Our DNA lies in supporting everyday business realities, in all strategic areas, without disrupting the major balances of share ownership or decision-making leadership by partners and founders.
By working together, we successfully formed a Board with independent members. We sought to support the team as much as possible, to help it make the right decisions at the right time.
And Thibaud Bussière, what prompted you to join with Ardian?
Thibaud Bussière: We wanted to further our ambitions. The Ardian Growth team fully understood that we were looking for strong sustainable growth. Ardian Growth’s expertise in digital in general, and in software in particular, has helped us significantly. We were reassured by their experience in supporting digital companies expanding in the US. It is one thing to establish a base across the Atlantic, it is quite another to expand. Ardian supported us in this expansion. We had regular and constructive discussions. We spoke the same language. One of the essential contributions was the structuring of a Board, a real place of discussion, which was very beneficial.
In a few words, what are Ardian’s strengths?
Thibaud Bussière: Ardian Growth knows the software world inside-out and can draw on its long experience of supporting companies in the United States. But this dual expertise would not have been enough if it had not been coupled with a human approach to the support provided. Over time, when we encountered challenges, Ardian’s perfect knowledge of our sector was crucial both for the business model transition and establishing a solid basis for growth.
How did the relationship develop over time?
Laurent Foata: Investing in the software sector is not without its ups and downs. The relationship is built over time. As a long-term investor, Ardian Growth specializes in tech and considers itself entrepreneur-friendly. The risk for an investor who has not completed its learning curve in the software sector is not only to fail to provide support, but also to destabilize the way a company operates and its fundamentals. It is in difficult times that empathy, intimate knowledge of the sector, understanding situations quickly and agility make a difference.
Were Ardian’s teams available when you needed them? Would you say the relationship was balanced?
Thibaud Bussière: The fund’s specialization was paramount. I would not advise an entrepreneur to take the plunge with a general fund. It takes know-how to maximize the chances of success. As for the balance with our partner, it was aligned with the understanding reached during the preliminary discussions. Over time and at our request, Laurent and his team spoke freely, telling us things we needed to hear, always in a cordial and benevolent manner. When faced with an obstacle, we needed to hear that we had to make difficult decisions even if our partner never imposed them. Their relationship was not intrusive, but steady, quarterly reporting proved to be very useful and a real management tool for us. We made a lot of progress during the various Board meetings.
Was the company already present across the Atlantic?
Thibaud Bussière: We have always sold our products in the United States. Our first US customer dates back to 2005. In 2009, we created our US subsidiary. Ardian provided support by putting us in contact with the right partner companies. Having an external consultant on the Board was a key factor in moving through the different stages. This led me to personally relocate to the US and, in doing so, give the company a new direction.
We have had memorable moments and learned a lot from Ardian Growth. The change in our business model in recent years has been a success. We have all thought a lot about the future of our company. This next step is a new chapter that we must now begin writing.
Is it important to have an expansion strategy in the United States in the software sector?
Laurent Foata: Our business is to support companies at every stage of their development. By providing the benefit of our experience with past investments, we develop reflexes or ideas that help trigger momentum in the companies support. Our two key values, boldness and agility, underpin our relationship of trust.
With more than 20 years’ experience in the technology industry, we have built credibility, especially among US players. We also benefit from the Ardian worldwide brand. At the time of exit negotiations when it comes to selling the company, our expertise also plays a decisive role.
Is this the first time that a US fund investment has bought one of your companies?
Laurent Foata: No, it’s not the first time. We know the American funds well and have developed a relationship of trust with them thanks to Ardian’s reputation, but also Ardian Growth’s position as a pan-European leader in digital and software.
And going forward?
Thibaud Bussière: Following the acquisition of Neotys and its integration into the software publisher Tricentis, I will take the reins of NeoLoad in the new company. The objective: to continue developing this software publisher’s portfolio. This company had the ideal profile to acquire Neotys: it has been our partner for several years and has been supported by a major American fund specializing in software. Our contribution completes its offer. The timing is perfect. It opens a new chapter for us as an entrepreneur.