Le Tipi Portraits: Efaisto, The Makers Network

Though we would love to have them over at Le Tipi once in a while, WORK Saigon (one of Saigon’s really cool coworking spaces) is where I sat down with Lou and Bernard for this talk about their up-and-coming startup, Efaisto. And after a full hour of interview around bootstrapping, craftsmanship and the fashion industry, one thing is for sure, they don’t lack vision and ambition!

Building a founding team

Lou, CTO (left) and Bernard, CEO (right) of Efaisto

What’s really striking when they start telling their story, especially considering the importance of the founding team in the startup world, is how “connected” they seem to be. Their explanations complete each other into a very solid and coherent vision. So how did they reach that level of communion? “We used to hang out in the same group of friends 2–3 years ago” shares Lou. “We knew we had the same will to build something. Bernard came to me with ideas, we shared viewpoints: He wanted to reproduce the tailor-made experience, while I was more into the collaborative economy. This converged quite well.” How long did this whole process take? “I remember our first idea” continues Bernard, laughing, “a kind of Trip Advisor for craftsmanship. We kept exchanging ideas for several days. We were sometimes spending six straight hours to share our motivations, our perspectives in life, and how they would be reflected in this project. The whole ideation process took maybe a couple of weeks, but they were definitely worth it as the vision that emerged from this process is still the foundation of every decision we are making today.”.

And after almost one year working on their project, Efaisto is still evolving constantly. “Although we are proposing a radically new vision about how people consume, interestingly, it is still naturally evolving in a direction which others took.” tells Bernard. Lou completes “The point is to understand what are the basics of e-commerce, and at which point you can go off the beaten path. We had no previous experience in this industry, and hence no preconceived idea about what to do or not.” How does that translate into day to day work? “Well… For example, we realized on our first day of release that we forgot to add our pricing (laughs). Fortunately we are learning fast, and having a fresh look helps to formulate an innovative value proposition in an industry which has been around for a while.

The vision

So what exactly is Efaisto? Bernard takes over “In the Greek mythology, Hephaestus is basically the God of makers”. “Our idea comes from two realizations: First of all, it’s revolting that (censored brand names) manufacture their products for 3$ in Vietnam, and sell it for 50$ a piece in Europe. We want to totally reverse that ratio, and give back to those who deserve it, the craftsmen. Secondly, well, the collaborative economy allows that. We can now provide a high level of customization at large scale. We believe that “The Mall is Dead” (sic), and we want to consolidate the long tail of shopping into one single place.

That’s when a tricky question comes to me. So I am not a full-fledged fashionista, but I do love to buy some nice stuffs. And the thing is, when given the choice, I have no idea what I actually want. Lou explains “Actually that’s our first major pivot. Initially our approach was total customization, taking measures and everything… Basically building your product from scratch. Now we’re stepping back a bit, and we guide our customers through small step-by-step personalization.” He continues “There is a community effect as well, that will help e-shoppers: When 100 people recommend a given tailor, as a buyer you know it guarantees a certain level of quality.

Bootstrapping in Vietnam

Next up came my favorite topic, bootstrapping in Vietnam. It’s particularly interesting in their situation, since most of their customers are based in Europe. Bernard explains “We actually started by 3 months of true bootstrapping. We were not talking to users. But when we eventually launched, it was quite easy to keep in touch with our customers online. We had more than a hundred users in beta, and were collecting actionable feedbacks every day. And then we can build very close relationships with our makers, too. In Europe I hated doing shopping. Here I spend most of my week-ends with craftsmen, talking about fabrics quality, sewing… That’s also when I realized how attached I am to our product”.

How about finding core members? Lou continues “We already work with three full-time employees… Yes, it would probably be impossible for us to recruit in France. Now what we’ll have to see next is how much experience we’ll be able to find in every aspect: marketing, quality control, development. If we want to scale fast we will need experts in each domain.” Is it tough to find passionate people? “Right now, everyone understands the product. They can see direct impact of their actions, so we can transfer a lot of responsibilities to them”.

When asked if anything is missing to make Vietnam a large-scale startup hub, Bernard shares “We would like to see a true network of international investors, more people like 500 Startups. Investment here still remains a bit “traditional”, oriented towards proven business models. So yes, doing a me-too business would probably be much easier to raise funds.”

What’s next?

We will need investments to scale fast, so we’re currently focusing on that” says Lou. “What we’re doing is ambitious, but we believe we have a solid vision behind. Many people tell us we’re crazy, and say it won’t work for this or that reason. But look at that. We put directly in contact craftsmen from remote area of Vietnam with your businessman working out of an office tower in Brussels. And they don’t even speak the same language!” He continues “We want to have a social impact, but we don’t like the idea of being labelled as a social business. Let’s call us… a business social.”

As to whether Efaisto will become a recognized brand? “It’s a complex question. We’re a brand, but people don’t buy Efaisto the same way they buy traditional fashion brands. They buy craftsmen’s products. We’ll never build a factory, for example. We want people to think: I bought through Efaisto, I enjoy unique, quality products, and I am doing something positive for the craftsman who made it.”

Well thanks guys, that was intense. And while it’s still time, check out Efaisto for awesome Christmas gifts!

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