Before we start, can you tell us more about Alexandre Bonvin…
I’m the Founder & CEO of Audacia Group, I’m 29 years old, born and raised in Switzerland. After obtaining my Swiss maturity, I relocated to London to obtain a master’s degree at the London School of Economics. Then, I worked in private equity for a bit and completed a semester in the US. Always animated by an entrepreneurial spirit, I started companies quite young: one in real estate to flip flats, and another, in the F&B industry, that I co-founded in 2014 called The Green Van Company. We started Green Van with only one food truck, and have expanded the company since then. The company now includes three food trucks and three restaurants between Lausanne and Geneva.
I have always been interested in the entrepreneurial way of life, that’s why I like private equity because you have a story behind it: either by creating the company, or acquiring and improving it. I came back to Switzerland to take care of my own projects and, in 2018, I founded Audacia Holding, an investment holding company, through the acquisition of KissKiss. Even though my background is predominantly finance, real estate and F&B, my interests are now mainly focused on private equity and the e-commerce industry, in particular niche industries. With Audacia, my main goal is to acquire and manage companies, and to grow in a sustainable way.
“With Audacia, my main goal is to acquire and manage companies, and to grow in a sustainable way”
How did you build Audacia? And who is your core team?
At first, Audacia was a small real estate company that I founded in 2014 to flip apartments. Then, I sold it to found Audacia Holding, the investment holding company which I’m running today. I did an LBO of a Swiss e-commerce company called KissKiss and this is how everything started. I’m very proud to have established my holding company in Valais, and to continue to build and develop it there. My core team evolved through the years but Tristan Barras, the founder of KissKiss, was there from the beginning and helped me to grow this investment holding by giving me all his knowledge and know-how about e-commerce. We consolidated most of the acquired companies at Audacia’s Headquarters in Sion (Valais), where 55 employees are based, including the executive team. Our Headquarters also include the key departments to run e-commerce companies: logistics, production, IT & development, support, marketing, and graphic design, supported by our administrative department (HR & Finance).
How many startups has Audacia acquired so far? Tell me about the company’s growth.
To date, we have acquired over 20 companies that we consolidated to have 12 companies, managing 16 e-commerce platforms offering products and services online. The main brands of Audacia’s portfolio are KissKiss, IdealVoyance, Manticus, Stickerkid, Stickeryeti, SweetPlaid, My Little Necklace and La Ferme du CBD (http://www.audacia.co/). The growth of Audacia was quite fast as I started alone in 2018. Last year, we made €48 million of annual sales and we are confident to double that for 2022.
Does Audacia acquire only e-commerce companies? Why?
Yes, Audacia only acquires promising companies that offer products or services online. The e-commerce industry is a booming sector. As e-commerce is the core business of our private investment firm, we now have know-how, competence and resources in this area, mainly regarding DevOps and digital marketing. As part of our consistent organic growth and buy-and-build strategy, Audacia has developed its brands into market leaders, whose high-quality product and service ranges now cater to more than 2 millions of customers in more than 45 countries worldwide.
In the future will you merge all your startups into one portal?
It’s a good question that we have asked ourselves since the beginning. Maybe it could be the case one day, but not a priority for the moment. We want to keep all the brands independent and don’t want to dilute their identity. The main reason why we acquire e-commerce companies is because of their brand identity and the community they have around them. But no, merging all the brands into one portal is not on the agenda as we are a private equity company and not a marketplace.
In 2021, Audacia was a pioneer in the tokenization of its shares through the blockchain technology as all the company’s registered shares had become tokenized into digital tokens. This allowed Audacia to become one of the first Swiss companies to digitize its shares using Ethereum’s distributed ledger technology.
What’s the investment strategy and what are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
We are looking for small and large companies that could have big synergies with our current portfolio companies, sharing the same niche markets for example. We are not looking for specific products and if a company has a good brand name or is already well established in a market, it could be an interesting target for us.
But for new markets, we are looking for quite large companies. Even though the process of plugging them in the group is an intricate one, we now have a plug-and-play system through which we can streamline all the processes, from the acquisition to the integration of the company. We still acquire legacy technology and ways of doing business and this requires a lot of effort as well. We need to learn about new markets and this is why we don’t have a perfect size for a company of the same market. But for new companies to acquire, we prefer to invest in bigger ones as we now have the learning curve. With smaller companies with less history, employees and turnover, we cannot afford too many mistakes compared to big ones.
How has the eCommerce market changed due to COVID-19 and where do you see it going?
We were fortunate to have registered double digit growth during the pandemic and, even if in 2022 the growth slightly dropped, the e-commerce industry remains very competitive. After Covid-19, we see that most people have changed their way of consumption: they are doing more online shopping and less in retail stores. After that, the bricks-and-mortar stores will not die but I think they have to evolve. The e-commerce market is strong and will continue to be strong even though, as you saw, a recession is looming. But we are ready for that. The question is more about how the economy is going? People will have less disposable income due to inflation, and will certainly spend less than during the pandemic. But we are very confident about the future, as we see that people have changed their way of consuming. Through our data, we can see for instance that older people, who were not big shoppers, are now much more active and realize that e-commerce is the most convenient way to shop nowadays.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
All our companies are predominantly active in online marketing (paid ads, emailing, social media…). Today, we are also trying to be more active in the traditional advertising space. The brands are solidifying their current client base and, for every brand, the main objective is to aim for customer success throughout the customer journey. This being applicable both with products and online services. Indeed, customers can make every company collapse simply by shopping elsewhere. Audacia also grows organically and inorganically through acquisitions, which helps us to boost our growth.
We did a bit of research and noticed your company is also involved in environmental activities…
Audacia planted trees through the Ecologi platform, and supported various carbon offset projects all over the world because we want to compensate for the carbon footprint of all our employees. As “offsetting is good, but reducing is better”, we are also currently working on the first steps for the obtention of an environmental label. Nowadays, if a company has some issues with sustainability, it has to be at least active in climate action change.
What are your goals for the future?
Audacia is really an investment holding, a private equity player with a long-term vision and our evergreen goal is to buy, build and hold. Perhaps undertaking an IPO is a possibility in the future. My main objective is to continue to grow and improve Audacia, acquire more promising e-commerce companies and expand more businesses in the US. All this, whilst also being simultaneously audacious and ambitious. I want to make Audacia one of the references in the Swiss e-commerce industry, and in particular in the private equity sector as a successful investment vehicle. At the same time, my wish is to stabilize the group’s structure in Switzerland and abroad in order to integrate, manage and develop the newly acquired brands in the smoothest way possible.
“My main objective is to continue to grow and improve Audacia, acquire more promising e-commerce companies and expand more businesses in the US”