Evaneos has just secured $21 million in investment, that’s an amazing feat for any young start-up company. Please tell us everything we need to know about the founders of Evaneos.
I'm Eric La Bonnardière, CEO and co-founder, the origin story of Evaneos begins in 2008, and revolves around a meeting between me and my business partner, Yvan Wibaux, CTO and co-founder. My particular background is in engineering and business, but after two years as a strategy consultant, I started to grow bored of my consultancy firm and realised that I craved something more adventurous and exciting. Given that Yvan is more of a technology specialist, it seemed to be a match made in Heaven from the start – not only were our respective skillsets complementary, but we both shared a mutual passion for meaningful travel, and the aim to allow people to travel differently.
As enthusiastic globetrotters, we had collectively covered over 60 countries in our travel portfolio, and felt that classic tour operators based outside the destination didn’t quite fit with travellers’ needs, which are becoming more oriented around authenticity, freedom, and unique, personalised experiences. Evaneos really began because Yvan and I sought to find a solution to travel that did not previously exist - 100% tailor-made trips designed by local experts.
You’ve now completed 3 rounds of funding, is that how you got the company off the ground at its inception?
When Yvan and I started Evaneos, raising funds was not really one of our primary objectives. In the digital sector, however, a big factor to success is growing your company quickly – the internet moves at a rapid pace. It became clear to us early on that there was huge potential for Evaneos, and we realised that raising funds was a necessary step to facilitating the company’s development. We’ve completed three funding rounds since 2009, and at each one, we’ve been lucky to find investors with entrepreneurial profiles who share the same vision for Evaneos as us. It’s given us the freedom to launch all the projects we dreamt of years ago when we came up with the business concept.
Funding is a big deal for many start-ups, what are your top tips for securing funding, particularly from investors?
I think it’s important to point out that investors invest above all in people, not in projects, so highlighting the strength and potential of your team is possibly the number one way of proving that you are worth the investment. Investors need to see the team’s adaptability and compatibility, particularly when there are multiple areas of expertise involved. In terms of the business model itself, even on a small scale, you have to demonstrate that you are bringing significant value to a specific client target, hence why it’s important to develop your products closely with your customers and always listen to their feedback. Lastly, I would add that investors are very sensitive to the size or nature of the particular market, so depending on the market(s) your business operates in, taking the time to explain market metrics and drivers to potential investors can be key.
Evaneos has been compared to Airbnb and Uber as you cut out the middle man. What inspired you to start the company?
I’m very happy to hear that we’ve been compared to two such great companies! Yvan and I started Evaneos when marketplaces and business models such as ours weren’t as famous as they are today. We spent a lot of time exploring the travel sector to identify what other market players were around, and to understand the restraints and holes in the value chain. These initial analyses led us to meet some incredible individuals who are now a firm part of our community – our partner local agents. These were eccentric, inspiring people, totally passionate and knowledgeable about their destinations, and it was through meeting them that we had the idea of the Evaneos concept.
So how does it all work?
Evaneos is a marketplace that connects travellers with local travel agents all over the world to create 100% personalised adventure and discovery trips. In short: you head to the Evaneos website, you choose a destination, you browse the customisable tour ideas suggested by our local agents, you fill out a short enquiry form, and from that point, you enter into contact with a hand-picked local agent on-site in the destination, to design your perfect trip itinerary. The role of Evaneos is essentially to select the best local experts in the world and bring them together in one place so that our travellers can design their trips directly with the people who know their destinations like the back of their hand. Evaneos also provides guarantees such as secure payment, free repatriation insurance, and trip replacement services, to allow every traveller total peace of mind.
How difficult was it to launch the platform across multiple markets?
Thanks to the flexible, universal nature of the Evaneos model, it’s quite easy to test the platform on new markets. The difficult part is actually growing the brand in each of those markets and reaching a significant audience, which is why I’ve always thought it was important to hire experienced teams native to their particular market, who are then able to localise the Evaneos concept and bring us expertise on how best to create traffic in their home countries. Evaneos has been becoming more and more international in the past four years. We now operate across France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK, which was an exciting launch given that the UK represents the biggest European travel market – let’s just say that we’re excited to rise to the challenge.
What’s been your experience of working with international stakeholders?
Our business has always been by definition very international, because we work with local agents in more than 150 destinations in every continent on the planet, and therefore we have been used to creating a team with a strong international mindset. At Evaneos, we have now more than 13 different nationalities within the team, which massively enriches the cohesive working environment we have in the office. English is also now our official language internally, which is quite fun sometimes in Paris (with ze French accent).
What’s been your biggest highlight in the last couple of years?
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific highlight, because everything is just moving so quickly at Evaneos. A special moment that I experienced recently was back in June, when I realised that we had hired over 40 people in a period of just 6 months. It really made me smile because when we started the company in 2009, I would never have imagined that it would grow this big in such little time.
You’re obviously very passionate about travel. Where is your favourite destination and why?
I’m going to have to say that my favourite destination is simply ‘the next one,’ because there’s nothing I love more than preparing my trips and discovering incredible new places and cultures.
You’re ultimately responsible for a team of about 80 people and that’s expected to increase with the recent UK expansion, how do you switch off from work?
That’s easy: I don’t! Travelling itself is an occasion to switch off, but otherwise, I have my two kids (with one more on the way) who certainly keep me busy at home!
You launched in the UK late last year and you plan to expand across Europe and the US so world domination is clearly on the cards, what’s next for the company?
We’ve actually just launched Evaneos’ Swedish website which is really exciting. The Netherlands will come later this year, and expansion out of Europe is on the cards for 2017. That said, it’s equally as important to us to work on optimising the website in all its current markets. This means that we still have some work to do in terms of making the traveller experience even more unique and special, in keeping with our long-term goal of revolutionising the way that people dream up, design, and experience their trips.