By Philippe Gire & Louisa Mesnard
Today is an exciting day as Shift Technology announces its $220m Series D round and becomes a unicorn. At Elaia, we have been supporting Shift Technology since the seed round so we figured it was a good time to reflect on their amazing story and highlight key elements of our partnership.
Spoiler alert: this article will also talk about Star Wars, the French Tech ecosystem & football!
1/ An amazing team has nothing to do with age
Jeremy, Eric and David played, of course, the most important part in this success story. I remember being impressed by their first pitch deck, back in 2014, when we met for the first time as well as their maturity even at a young age, under 30 at the time. It was a very well-thought, graphical deck with a clear explanation of how much fraud was a pain for insurers and how AI could help to detect it and make money: a true vision, simple and well-articulated!
Star Wars as part of the 1st board meeting agenda
I also remember the first board when I was asked to pick a Star Wars name as every top manager and board member had to be one character of the saga! I chose Chewbacca, guess why? Not only because he is Han Solo’s co-pilot but also because of his unwavering loyalty. He is present all along the saga! A few weeks later I received a nice hand drawn poster at the office that still hangs in one of our meeting rooms. Even in the fun parts of the deal, this team was professional all the way.
In a previous article, we presented lessons learned from seed-funding our new portfolio unicorn, Mirakl, most of these lessons apply to Shift Technology too. With Criteo and Mirakl, we could have thought that the first lesson: “Billion-dollar founders are not just great, they play in another league” was only the case for serial entrepreneurs! Shift Technology proves that it isn’t always necessary! Young geniuses such as Messi or Mbappé are not exclusive to soccer.
2/ AI at its best: extracting gems out of data to address a massive pain
It all started with a simple diagnosis: up to €12bn are lost to fraud each year in Europe and €2bn just in France. Shift Technology was launched on two key assumptions of the founders to tackle this massive pain: AI would detect fraud much better than humans and insurers will accept to share their business data with a SaaS company. Which honestly was not quite as obvious back in 2014! But the talented founders were able to turn these assumptions into reality. In addition, there were two other important hidden gems within the nugget, unknown at that time, at least by us and probably by the founders too: first, the fact that sharing data amongst insurers would finally become acceptable to them and would drastically increase fraud detections (and barriers to Shift‘s competitors as well) and second, the fact that fraud detection is an absolute prerequisite to automation. In other words, a fraud detection system is the perfect platform to offer (limited or complete) AI automation of claim management. And this is where the big disruption is as well as an unlimited market for Shift Technology.
3/ A spotless Equity History
There is another area where the founders were outstanding: their capability to convince the best international investors, one after the other, and without help from any kind of fundraiser.
After a first round of $1.6m with Iris and Elaia, a round of $10m led by Accel UK, another round of $28 Million Series B led by Accel US and General Catalyst and a $60m round led by Bessemer Venture Partners (with whom we also co-invested in Criteo), Shift Technology just announced a new round of $220m led by Advent International! What a track record for a young French startup! And the execution of these rounds was faster and faster! I remember how long and painful the negotiation of the first shareholder agreement was. On the contrary, at the last round, although the round was 130 times bigger, it took less than 4 weeks to go from the term sheet to the bidding agreement. What an impressive learning curve!
4/ A flawless execution to reach a global at scale footprint
Shift Technology has shown outstanding growth and execution with an international presence since the early days. Today, their clients are based across 25 countries and their 300 employees are spread out across 10 offices (Boston in the U.S., just like Mirakl)! With over 100 insurance-focused data scientists and almost 2 billion claims analyzed to date, Shift Technology has a very high hit rate of 75% (which is twice the average hit rate of its competitors)!
5/ The French Startup ecosystem & the perfect daughter/son-in-law
Shift Technology is the perfect illustration of the great progress made by the French startup ecosystem over the last 10 years. The three founders come from the best scientific French “Grandes Ecoles”. The company was incubated at Agoranov, grew up at Paris Innovation Boucicaut was supported by the Pass French Tech and is a member of the Next40. Note that Paris Innovation Boucicaut used to be a hospital, and it’s where Jeremy was born — if that’s not a sign! The technology initially matured within its French insurance clients and started abroad with a subsidiary of a major insurer, and it is now becoming a worldwide standard in its field. Shift and its post-seed rounds are proof of the French Tech ecosystem’s maturity attracting more and more foreign investments. If Shift Technology was a young person, it would be the “perfect daughter/son-in-law”.
6/ Elaia’s hat trick when seed funding unicorns
We are very proud of this round not only because Shift Technology is a great investment for us but also because, after Criteo and Mirakl, it scores a hat trick for Elaia. For those of you who aren’t into football, a hat trick is when a player scores three times in the same game. Having several unicorns in its portfolio may be relatively easy for a late stage fund who selects its investments when the startups are already well grown up (meaning when the horn is easily visible on the nose of the animal!) but this is not what we are talking about here. The three unicorns in our hat trick were detected at seed stage and, among other characteristics they had in common when we invested: less than five people, no revenues on their core product and a regular seed valuation! In other words, at this stage, it’s impossible to categorize the animal we are facing and even more challenging to predict a future unicorn — but after the 3rd Elaia Family unicorn, we can say that our hit ratio is not bad! These unicorns also confirm our investment thesis: investing early stage in tech-intensive B2B venture which tackle global challenges with global ambition.
Officially, at the time of writing this paper, there are 13 unicorns in France today including Shift Technology. If you add the former unicorns which were removed because of time or IPO, such as Talend or Criteo, the total number of unicorns raised in France in the last 15 years is about 15. It means 20% of the French unicorns went through our stable!
Our unicorn hat trick was achieved across our two first funds among a total of forty one investments. An average of roughly one unicorn every thirteen investments, quite a good ratio! And with the recent €100m round of Ornikar which stands among the forty investments, the ratio might soon reach 1 unicorn out of ten early stage investments!
Shift Technology is not only an amazing company per se, but its achievements also have a special impact for us too by proving our model.
7/ “Don’t tell my mother I make a lot of money, she believes I’m a seed investor”
The good news for our investors is that a unicorn is at least a fund returner if not a multiple of fund returner. Each of the three unicorns in our funds weigh between 1 and 3 times the whole fund. One can say it is easy to achieve with a small fund but less obvious with a larger fund. In fact, it is all about the way you deploy the capital you have on hand: with a small fund you won’t be able to maintain the ownership you got at seed stage through the following rounds, but the size of the fund will be easily matched by the value of the unicorn even with a low percentage of ownership. In larger funds, our dedicated portfolio management methodology enables us to deploy a large part of the fund in the best performers. It allows to maintain a more or less 20% ownership overtime from the first investment to the exit. With a valuation at €1–2bn, 20% ownership means a value for our stake of €200–400M, i.e. a one- or two-time fund returner for a €200m fund.
When we launched our two first funds, very few investors thought seed investments could be profitable! Thanks to our hat trick, our first fund returned more than 3x net to its LPs and our second fund has a net asset value above 5x! And the story for this fund is far from being finished. We already wrote an article about the performance of our 1st fund : “Yes you can earn big money with venture capital (even when going through a couple of economical crisis)!” Our second fund will confirm this analysis and we are convinced that it will even largely outperform the first one. What better way to thank the investors who trusted Elaia and our intensive tech B2B early stage strategy from the start?