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Ludovic Huraux, Shapr and Attractive World founder

Ludovic Huraux, serial entrepreneur, shared his adventures as a founder and manager of two very successful businesses: Attractive World, the first premium online dating app where selection occurs on entrance, and Shapr, an inspiring and meaningful networking app. A unique testimony with no filter. 

 
Life as an investment banker
With a trade unionist father and a mother working for the CRNS, I was not really pre-destined to become an entrepreneur. But I developed a taste for entrepreneurship from a very young age when trying to understand how bankers made money. I didn’t like school, was very interested in sport and the year of my Baccalaureate I worked two nights a week at the very famous Parisian club “Bains Douches”. I then joined the IPAG business school and trained for 6 months in a bank in London. I didn’t have much to do and started reading the finance Bible “Le Vernimmen” by Pascal Quiry (M&A director at BNP Paribas).  This marked the starting point of my interest in the Private Equity world. Back in Paris, I met Pascal Quiry, who offered me a position as a graduate at BNP Paribas. I then got offered a full-time job which I refused as they wanted to pay me 4 times less than a HEC graduate. I moved on to Sao Paulo Bank and afterwards worked for a capital investment fund called “Industries et Finances Partenaires” which had the particularity of investing only in 5 or 6 sectors and accompanying company managers with external growth strategies. I loved being more operational, worked there for 3 years, had a high-level of responsibility and was very well paid. I was really enjoying myself but deep inside I wanted to be in the shoes of the entrepreneurs I was investing in. I had plenty of business ideas, but they never materialized as I didn’t have the courage to leave my job.

 
The birth of Attractive World
In 2006, the Meetic Initial Public Offering marked a turning point: I saw an opportunity as I was convinced that the dating market needed to be segmented based on people’s styles and expectations. This is how Attractive World was born. I discussed it with my two best friends who told me that unless I created my own business, I would never be happy. It was hard for me to quit my job because I didn’t want to disappoint the managing partners who had trusted and trained me. At the time it was very difficult to attract women who didn’t trust dating sites as well as young people who thought that it was cheesy to date online. With Attractive World, we created a more upscale dating service with member selection on entrance. We also created a cooptation system whereby members accepted or refused new members. Convinced that celibacy is a true state of mind, we wanted to create a community around celibacy through the organization of real-life member events.

Another element of differentiation was of our launch strategy of using off-line marketing rather than buying key words on Google. We recruited 70 Ambassadors.  For a month, they distributed cards explaining that Attractive World selected its founding members who would then benefit from lifetime free service. It worked really well: we collected 5,000 candidates and a month later, selected 1,000. This was very innovative, and we benefited from tremendous media buzz. But we had zero experience in technology and one of my biggest mistakes was that I had under-estimated the technical complexity of my project. I asked some students to build the first platform, but it crashed within half an hour. I then met a Tunisian developer who said that he could do it. I spent New Year’s Eve in Tunisia and migration to the new platform took 3 weeks instead of 1 and it frequently bugged.


The road to success
In 2008, I met Vincent Bobin (our Marketing Director) and Cyril Ferey (our CTO) who both played a key role in the success of the Attractive World adventure. We were on the brink of bankruptcy, but we decided to dedicate another 6 months to sorting out the product and we internalized the tech aspect. This was the right decision and I understood that you can’t externalize what is core to your business. In 2009 (2 years after our creation), we rebuilt the entire platform and moved from a free business model to a paying one. Our acquisition costs were 3 times higher than Meetic because of our selection process at the entry. Our subscription was twice as expensive as our competitors, which was risky (€60 per month versus €30 for Meetic). It worked well from the very beginning and our conversion rates were very high. We proved that our business model was profitable, and our members really appreciated the difference between us and Meetic.

Boosting our notoriety was the next step: I convinced our investors that we had to launch a TV campaign and one of our investors signed a great deal with Canal +. Early 2011, we sponsored 100 % of Canal + programs with the following baseline: “You like Canal + spirit, you are going to love Attractive World”. It was a huge success and again we raised more private funds. I even refused some cash! Thanks to our TV spots, sales were multiplied by 7 in 2 years and in 2012, our assisted notoriety rocketed from 8 % to 72 %. We entered a virtual circle with a lot of press articles in major newspapers. Our acquisition costs dropped and in 2013 we generated €1 million profit.


From Attractive World to Shapr 
Our business model was profitable in France, sales had increased by 30/40 % per year, so we decided to expand to the US and the UK. We applied a dual strategy: to remain independent, we contacted VCs and raised between €15 and €20 million to enter the US market; we also contacted industry players already present in the US who would take a participation and with whom we could expand internationally. I encountered my first important entrepreneurial disappointment as French funds said that a French company would never succeed in the US with a B2C model and US funds said they would not invest in a French company because of heavy administration. On the industry side, the only offer we got was from a porn player who agreed to buy 51% of the company and invest €6 million to launch it in the US. This didn’t work as we didn’t share the same vision and culture. We refused their offer and agreed that our internationalization would be too complicated. We decided to remain focused on France, but I told my shareholders that I was not the right person to manage Attractive World on a daily basis. We then decided to recruit a new management team and to distribute dividends.  I believe that I was rushing forward rather than trying to address the real issues at Attractive World. It was at this time that we decided to begin a new adventure with the launch of Shapr. Early 2014, we managed to raise $3 million from private investors to support the launch of Shapr in the US.  I have always loved meeting new people and I found it very inspiring. My entrepreneurial adventure was based on meeting people. I am convinced that meeting people with no specific intentions can be magical. It is the key to a more meaningful, fulfilling and healthy existence. It is a good way to create more authentic relationships and to build opportunities. This is why we created Shapr, our networking app.


Shapr, a difficult start
Things were going well with the Attractive World transition and its new management and so I moved to the US. But problems started to occur in 2015, as the new Attractive World managing director still required a lot of my time and involved me in all her decisions. We launched the first version of Shapr early 2015 and it was a total disaster, with very few registered people and low retention. This failure really affected me and I lost confidence in myself. I wanted to close down Shapr, but a discussion I had with one trainee changed everything. He told me that as long as I believed in Shapr, the rest of the team and the investors would too. This helped me to regain confidence and I realized that my number one quality was to have a vision and to embark people with me in one direction. I took some time off and tried to put my ego aside. I then visited all the investors and told them: “I can give you back your cash or we can continue, it’s up to you.” They all agreed to pursue the adventure.  I stayed on my own in New York and conducted many user interviews to get feedback to help the rest of the team to improve the product. The users wanted a simple app to meet people, not a new social network.  Based on our dating app experience, we came up with the following concept: to recommend users to meet 15 new people a day - swipe to the right if they want to connect or to the left if they don’t, anonymously. It was a true technological challenge: unlike dating platforms where Swipes are induced by a picture, with a network app like Shapr you need to get a lot more data, to find out about the user’s passions, interests, experiences and so on and then calculate the probability that they might want to meet. We re-worked the algorithmic product and launched Shapr V2 early 2016, with the most promising results in New York. So, we decided to raise more funds.


Closing the loop with Attractive World
Meanwhile, Attractive World was not doing so well, partly because the CEO changed the brand from “Attractive World for demanding singles” to “Attractive World share more than meetings”. I then decided to recruit a new CEO and go back to the initial base line. Early 2016, at both Shapr and Attractive World, things improved, with sales increasing once again. In May 2016, we raised $4 million for Shapr.  In June 2016, I was approached by the CEO of the German dating company Affinitas: they wanted to enter the French market and wondered if we could agree on a deal rather than starting a fight. I agreed and we finally sold Attractive World to Affinitas for a good price. I felt released as an entrepreneur to give back to all the investors who had supported me, especially my two best friends who had been by my side since the inception of Attractive World.

 
Shapr is all about “serendipity” 
By early 2016, I was able dedicate 100 % of my time to Shapr which had begun to grow at a fast pace: by the end of 2016, we had around 500 new users per day, then 2,500 per day a year later. Today, we have between 3,500 / 4,000 new subscriptions per day and our acquisition costs have dropped by 50 %. 60 % of our users are based in the US and Canada, 20-25 % in France, 15 % in the UK. Starting off in the US gave us a stronger international aura, even if our acquisition costs are double. We raised $9.5 million at the end of 2017. Shapr is on a strong momentum even though we still need to address many challenges, particularly monetization. We are positioned on a huge market: the new generations want to find meaning in their professional lives. Although Linkedin is a very powerful platform, it remains cold and transactional. Making Shapr a platform for good meetings, finding meaning, is what allows us to grow quickly with acquisition costs constantly dropping. We realize that today we have a serendipity service (luck-provoking). This is one of the characteristics of Americans: they believe in serendipity. They wake up in the morning thinking that perhaps they will meet a person who is going to change their life. This belief creates curiosity and an openness which is very strong and impacts how people interact with one another. Shapr is for serendipity: we introduce you to people you might not even have thought about.


It's all about humility, perseverance and meeting new people
Through Shapr, I meet amazing people working in different areas. Their common quality is their openness, their curiosity and their kindness. With Shapr, we want to promote a new way of making business. By being a giver, you help others as well as yourself.

Throughout my 10 years of entrepreneurial adventures, I have always considered my shareholders as friends, not just investors, and this certainly explains why we have always successfully managed to raise funds. We are convinced that it is important to have this attitude in life as it generates a great deal of professional and personal blossoming. We also know that serendipity won’t make you money. Today conversion rates are not as high as expected with our premium pack. Users say that they meet enough people with our free pack, so they won’t pay to get more. We are thinking about a more contextual offer, giving our users access to our database: one right swipe a day will be free, while beyond one they will have to upgrade to the premium pack. We want to deliver mutual interest and focus on mutual aid.

To conclude, I would like to say that it is important to be humble about your product, to listen to your users, to be reactive, support their needs while keeping the vision in mind. I don’t know if Shapr will be a success, but I strongly believe that it can become a world leader. All the people we have met during this entrepreneurial adventure have led us to where we are today.

 


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