Starting Up When Silicon Valley Shut Down

How Acquire’s co-founders launched a new business in the midst of a global pandemic.

In early 2020, Florent Breton and Maxime Pruvost were both looking for something new to do. Florent was in between jobs, while Max was winding down his CTO role at an SaaS e-commerce start-up. The French immigrants, serial entrepreneurs, and longtime friends decided to team up to start a new business together. They began dreaming about how to build from their shared passions for technology and excellent consumer experiences.

The two San Francisco residents hit upon an idea that excited them and addressed an important market need: creating a simpler, user-friendly, and reliable checkout experience that online retailers of all sizes could use. They began pitching their ideas to friends, colleagues, and investors — until, on March 13, 2020, the city of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area suddenly enacted a shelter-in-place order in response to the growing COVID-19 threat.

Offices, stores, and schools shut down. Highways and streets emptied. People stayed home and events were canceled. Much of the economy in Silicon Valley ground to a halt. Other regions of the country and around the world soon followed suit.

Even as many entrepreneurs and business owners were forced to put their ventures on hold, Florent and Max saw an opportunity. In a pandemic-stricken world, e-commerce was even more essential. With many storefronts forced to close, a growing number of retailers were launching new shopping websites or expanding their existing platforms. E-commerce was suddenly surging at an unprecedented rate, and retailers needed better tools to serve their customers.

The business name Florent and Max selected, Acquire, pointed to their desire to move the online shopping experience beyond one-time, impersonal transactions. The business partners aimed to empower merchants to establish their brand outside of crowded online marketplaces, expand their reach, and ultimately strengthen their market position.

But how to start a new business when all in-person interactions had stopped and routine activities were no longer considered safe? Florent and Max immediately began adapting to the rapidly shifting landscape. Their bedrooms became their workspaces; investor pitches shifted from in-person meetings to online Zoom meetings. Florent and his wife had their first baby in the midst of a California-wide quarantine — another new experience in a season of unprecedented change.

Using the time they saved from not having to travel to investor offices, Florent and Max scheduled investor pitches in quick succession. They honed their deck and message with each pitch, doing their best to build personal connections with investors while dealing with the inevitable delays and glitches of video chats. They tried to mute the sounds of crying children and hide the least appealing pieces of furniture from the background, staying focused on their mission to launch the most efficient, seamless checkout platform available.

Their efforts paid off. Nearly a dozen early-stage venture funds and angel investors in the US, France, and Israel signed on to support the vision, enthusiasm, and tech-savviness of the two co-founders. By early summer, the partners had raised enough seed funding to get started. They surpassed their initial goal of $1 million, eventually closing the pre-seed round at $1.7 million. Through it all, they hadn’t met a single investor in person.

After incorporating Acquire, Florent and Max officially got to work in July 2020. They realized that, in a world where everyone was working from home, their hiring no longer needed to be constrained by geography. They could hire the best talent from pretty much anywhere. Their first key hire was based in Finland; since then, they have brought on team members from France, Canada, and multiple states in the US.

As the pandemic continues to drag on, the Acquire team is growing fast and moving ahead with developing their user-friendly, highly secure online checkout. They are building a culture of effective, efficient collaboration across time zones and countries, freed from the need to travel or maintain high-priced office spaces. Florent and Max have seized the moment with the innovation that every entrepreneur needs to succeed.

Silicon Valley lore surrounding some of the nation’s largest tech giants often begins with a garage. For Florent, Max, and Acquire, it began with a lockdown, two separate bedrooms, and wifi. Their start may have been unconventional, but there’s almost nothing conventional about 2020. And that fresh ingenuity may be just what the e-commerce industry needs most right now.