ANNE GALLET, FOUNDER OF ATICEO
Interview by Nathalie GLOREL – Founder Intersection Conseil & Création
What is your job?
Within my company, Aticeo, we focus on financial advisory in two fields: international mergers and acquisitions on the one hand, and fundraising for private equity general partners, on the other hand. Beyond these two missions, we also enjoy being “impact investors”. These are both human and technical jobs, with a very strong French-Spanish angle. I am based in Barcelona, while working a lot with France and commuting constantly between the two countries. Since the creation of Aticeo, we are working a lot in the “ed-tech” sector, which means the education sector integrating tech, which is in very strong development. Our second sector of choice is related to healthy nutrition. Finally, our third sector is “passion business”, in other words, how to transform what is initially a hobby or a passion into a profession.
How did you become an entrepreneur? What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
I followed a classic career path after graduating with my Master’s degree from HEC Paris, starting my career in investment banking in Paris, with an early focus on acquisition finance and principal investment in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. I then moved to London, where I was first involved in financial sponsors coverage and M&A functions, providing private equity funds with advisory and financing services. Then, I worked in the principal investment department, investing on the bank’s balance sheet, managing an allocation of 250 million euros. When I arrived in Spain, I worked in an M&A boutique and then, from 2015, at Suma Capital, a Spanish investment fund with a sustainability focus, where I fostered their relationships with foreign investors I knew. This experience allowed me to learn a lot, but precluded me from investing for my own account, for obvious reasons of conflict of interest.
At that time, I really wanted to continue to develop the three professions that I had learned during my career: M&A corporate finance, fundraising for private equity / VCs, and investing, especially in innovating companies.
At that point, I resigned and started my own business with the privilege of having Suma Capital as client. I often meet women who have left their jobs in a desire to move on and to find a meaning. In my case, I had the pleasure of continuing to do what I was doing at a private equity fund, while becoming a service provider and adding activities that I had learnt before.
Today, even if this approach is rare in small boutiques like Aticeo, I have perpetuated these three pillars – M&A, fundraising and impact investing – for my greatest happiness: because they nurture who we are as professionals and they can have synergies between them. I like the idea of not compartmentalizing or limiting myself.
What do you like most about being an entrepreneur?
A total freedom and zero politics! At Aticeo, we are 100% operational. I like to see projects become a reality, without needing to be recognized by a title or a promotion. I simply enjoy doing what I do while respecting my convictions, especially regarding impact investing. Not having to spend every minute of my day on internal politics saves time and allows me to be efficient and to enjoy a family balance that suits me.
I’m not looking to invest in big companies with record-beating rounds of financing that make headlines. I particularly enjoy accompanying women founders – often, the companies in which we have invested, such as Librinova or MiCuento, were created by outstanding women with whom I have developed a relationship of trust. These projects galvanize me, because they are made of hard work, creativity and conviction. I could not have supported them when I was in investment banking, because they were too small for these structures and I simply did not have the time.
The fact that I don’t have to consult anyone, no investment committee to convince before writing a check to support this kind of project is a great source of joy, which is multiplied tenfold when I see the impact they have on the people who use their services or buy their products.
What are the main difficulties you have to face?
During the first years, it is all about being able to live from your business. For my part, as I wanted to keep my freedom, I financed myself entirely. I therefore had to be extremely rigorous in cost management. It must be admitted that this was not always easy, but today I enjoy the fact that Aticeo has no debt, nor any financial obligations towards anyone, which gives me immense freedom.
It is difficult to find your first clients, to convince them, and to get paid at the right price, when you are on a very competitive market. At the beginning, many clients asked me to work for free! In response to this situation, I tried to be rigorous in terms of pricing and I never hesitated to terminate contracts which locked me in too tightly in order to devote myself to cases with greater potential.
The second difficulty is to recruit talent, something I didn’t realize when I was working at Société Générale in London, where we received hundreds of CVs per month Justin my department! When you belong to a small company, you have to work hard to attract the best candidates, both junior and senior. However, I have noticed that more and more profiles are looking for a meaning to their work and may therefore be attracted by smaller structures. There is a first turning point after 2 or 3 years spent in investment banking or consultancy, with very comfortable salaries but an exhausting work rhythm; a second moment of questioning comes for workers in their thirties, especially for women, who have young children or want to start a family. Finally, many 40- to 50-year-old professionals find themselves on the job market in spite of themselves and are looking for different professional horizons.
Over time, I have come to understand that there are other forms of collaboration that exist, other than full time employment. Some profiles come today to Aticeo, with something to offer, for a given moment, and without wanting to be necessarily an employee of the company, but also by finding a fulfilment in the collaboration. I find a lot of pleasure in the interaction with these profiles, with whom I share similar values, the same will to progress, to reach a result, without nit-picking. I am a great believer in these open models, with junctions, and a common journey for some time.
What is your development strategy and how has it evolved over time?
My geographical strategy is very clear: what we do well between predominantly France and Spain, I would like to do more often between France and England, or Germany in the future and, eventually, on a pan-European level. I am lucky enough to be able to work in 3 languages and I like to integrate this dimension with Aticeo’s team.
Secondly, I want to increase the size of the companies we work with, knowing that currently most of the SMEs we advise for M&A projects have revenues of 100 to 200 million and that we could work with ETIs.
Finally, following the example of the niche I have explored in ed-tech since 2017, I would like to diversify our areas of expertise, for example by moving towards expertise in natural and “organic” cosmetics or in “nutri-cosmetics”.
I am confident about these development prospects because I am not starting from scratch. I have proven myself; I capitalize on 25 years of expertise in the multinational transaction business, on a European and international network. And we begin to have beautiful stories to tell, that we built as Aticeo over the past 4 years.
If you had to give some advice to someone who wants to start a business, what would it be?
Launch yourself into something you believe in, and if possible, in the real economy. If you can: let your clients finance most of your growth: it will be the best proof that your company is viable.
What is your best memory as an entrepreneur?
The day when a client I had advised on the M&A front asked me, in representation of Aticeo, to join the Board of the company that I had helped them acquire. It was spontaneous and a nice proof of their trust in Aticeo, which touched me a lot.
On a daily basis, I am proud to be able to do finance in my very own way.
I love my job on an intellectual level, but I have always been embarrassed by everything that surrounds it, and that I call ornaments, in other words: the external signs of wealth, associated with a way of being that often lacks kindness and humility.
Beyond the often hollow speeches and the “greenwashing”, I have tried for 4 years to show that one can do finance differently. One can be a reliable professional, while remaining simple, being able to accept failures when they happen and to recognize one’s mistakes. We can do finance with 100% impact, that is to say in our investment choices as well as in our ways of being and doing.
It seems to me that the evidence supports this, since after 4 years, only one of the companies I invested in has closed, because of the Covid pandemic, while all the others are growing, and some of them are even profitable by now.
Original interveiew by Nathalie GLOREL
Directrice Associée – Intersection Conseil & Création
For more information about Intersection Conseil et Création : intersection-conseil.com