I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking: Huh? Wtf ? Why would any Americans in their right mind want to leave the happiest business place on earth to launch anything in France?! Maybe the wine?
Ok, maybe you’re not thinking that. But it doesn’t change the fact that 25-year-old American entrepreneurs Anton Bernstein and Joshua David hopped the Atlantic to launch Groupon clone Lookingo specifically in France. And no, they don’t speak the language (yet !).
One year ago, even before Google officially started going gaga for Groupon, Bernstein and David started getting interested in the Groupon phenomenon. But when they actually started considering what possibilities they had to do something similar in the States, the idea seemed somewhat doomed; Groupon was already pretty much dominating the market and all niche-oriented newcomers seemed destined to remain small. And so the team decided they would start conquering markets void of Groupon clones (uh, good luck).
The first market they went to was Australia, which apparently they had never even been before. But what’s not to like about a nice, big English-speaking market? Plus, there were practically no Groupon clones in sight and online ad space was undervalued, unlike in the US. And so the dynamic duo launched Ouffer - which has saved their users some 8 million Australian dollars, according to the site’s counter.
After Ouffer took off, Bernstein and David started looking around for the next market to attack. Despite a few recent Groupon clones - like Bon-Privé and Dealissime - the French market seemed relatively untouched and online advertisement was once again undervalued. But what really sold the deal was Smart&Co.
For anyone who doesn’t know Smart&Co, it’s the company behind gift package success Smartbox. The founders had been looking for a way to enter the hot daily deal market, which is fairly similar to a lot of the gift packages on Smartbox: trips, spas, restaurants, etc. So once they met up with Bernstein and David, the decision to team up and launch Lookingo seemed more or less obvious.
First off, Smart&Co put €2.5 million into the project right off the bat. Just for the sake of comparison, French competitor Bon-Privé raised €1.5 million in the beginning of the year. But better yet, Smart&Co already has established relationships with some 4,500 restaurants - since they are behind OpenTable-like platform Lafourchette - as well as a number of hotels and spas from running the site Weekendesk. But the icing on the cake is that Smart&Go already has 2.5 million registered users. Therefore, it probably won’t take much for Lookingo to catchup to Groupon, who has 3 million users in France.
Lookingo has now been online for 3 months and has already published 150 deals. And the company’s 30 employees are now preparing to conquer Europe.
When I asked Bernstein about the experience, he mentioned that he was pleasantly surprised by the “budding” French tech community – entrepreneurs and investors alike. Plus, the fact that the French are very web 2.0 savvy with 20 million people on Facebook is another huge plus. But on the downside, France is nonetheless comparatively more expensive in terms of taxes and salaries. And from Bernstein’s experience, the French market is ever-so-slightly slower to adopt new and innovative ideas.
But still, just because there may be Italians moving to Silicon Valley and getting $101K funding with ex-Youtubers in just 19 days doesn’t mean that 25-year-old Americans can’t score €2.5 million to launch Groupon clones in France.