2015 - 2019: Kerala Makes its First Assessment

Antoine Freysz
Kerala Ventures
Published in
10 min readMar 6, 2019



Doctolib, Malt, Admo.tv and Tracktor have all announced 4 fundraisings of €150m, €25m, €6m and €3m in February and Marc 2019.

Those 4 startups had Kerala Ventures by their side since their launch. For example, we were “co-founding investors” of Malt before the arrival of the first freelance. The startup now counts 100,000 ones!

Julien, Laura and Idir cofounders of Tracktor (left), Vincent and Hugo cofounders of Malt, Pierre and Baptiste cofounders of Admo.tv (Right)

This gives me the opportunity to look back at our (short) story and make the first Kerala performance review after 4 years!

The origin of Kerala: Otium Capital & Lafourchette/Thefork

In 2008, after having spent 6 years as Sales Director and then COO of lastminute.com and having launched NaturaBuy with Olivier Occelli, I co-founded the Corporate Investment activity of Smartbox with Pierre-Edouard Stérin. Leader in gift cards and boxes in 10 countries, Smartbox is a fast-growing and highly profitable company[1].

First named Smart&co Ventures, the new activity quickly broke away from Smartbox and became Otium Capital.

For 6 years, we have developed with Otium 7 startups, that we owned as majority stakeholders, deeply involved in strategic matters but also in operations, in particular for key recruitments.

Otium startups were either launched from scratch by my team on a “Start-up Lab” model (we then recruited management teams) or purchased via small acquisitions.

The 7 startups established in this period are still active or have been sold. Weekendesk, present in 4 countries with several hundred employees, and Balinea, a marketplace for booking hairdressers and beauty salons, were particularly successful. Laurent Salanié of Weekendesk and Valérie Abhesera of Balinea, both great entrepreneurs, joined quickly after their creation and have been the main architects of these two successful stories.

The most emblematic story was that of Lafourchette/Thefork, which we acquired in 2008, when it had only a few employees. Hybrid model of SaaS and Marketplace, Lafourchette has experienced very strong growth from 2009 onwards, and quickly expanded in its 2 original markets, France and Spain, before launching in Switzerland and Belgium. In 2014, while Otium was still the majority shareholder in the company (alongside the founders and the funds Serena and Partech that both entered in 2012), we accepted an offer of acquisition from TripAdvisor. At that time, Lafourchette made nearly 10 million reservations per year in 4 countries and employed several hundred people.

Beyond successful business and financial records, Otium allowed me to cross and meet outstanding profiles of our industry. Starting with Pierre-Edouard, of course, with his incredible business sense and unlimited ambition.

I also had the opportunity to recruit 4 exceptional profiles and entrepreneurs to be part of Otium team: Stanislas Niox-Château who will then create Doctolib at the end of 2013 (see details below, both Stan and Philippe had been the real cofounders of Otium with me) ; Philippe de Chanville, brilliant founder of ManoMano (leading marketplace in DIY, €185m raised, €250m of sales in 2017 in 6 countries and exponential growth); Bruno Raillard, who took my place in 2015 and successfully developed Otium in a new direction, and finally Marc Laurent, another outstanding profile with whom we will co-found Kerala!

On May 6, 2014, TripAdvisor completed the acquisition of 100% of Lafourchette after a process directly managed by Otium and Lafourchette’s teams.

Closing of the acquisition of Lafourchette/Thefork by TripAdvisor on May 21th 2014. From left to right & from top to bottom: Antoine Freysz (Otium), Bertrand Jelensperger (Lafourchette), Patrick Dalsace (Lafourchette), Charles Rousset (Serena), Marc Laurent (Otium), Pierre-Edouard Stérin (Otium), Sylvie Nhansana (Lafourchette), Jean-Marc Patouillaud (Partech)

This major acquisition[2] (the media reported a transaction of $150m) marked the end of a cycle, where I felt much like an entrepreneur and manager rather than an investor.

In the summer of 2014, Marc and I decided to create Kerala. The “third man” of the adventure was Olivier Occelli who still brings us today his permanent hands-on experience (Olivier is the CEO of the startup NaturaBuy) and great analytical skills.

We all decided to launch our investment entity in 2014 (we have been full-time as of 2015) with 2 main principles:

invest at early-stage and bring massive added value to our entrepreneurs.

The start: The fantastic adventures of the first 3 deals Doctolib, Malt and Admo.tv

During 2014, we made our first 3 early-stage investments in Doctolib, Malt and Admo.tv, 3 startups of which we will own up to 20% of the capital.

1. Doctolib

The fantastic adventure of Doctolib was in particular the foundation stone of our story.

Doctolib team early 2016 in its Sebastopol office in Paris, the startup currently counts 800 salaries located on almost 20 sites in Germany and France

An exceptional, charismatic and brilliant entrepreneur, Stan, supported by the other co-founders Ivan, Jessy, Steve and Thomas, drove everyone in an atmosphere of commitment, team spirit and of absolute will to succeed!

Doctolib was the latest in a series of nearly 10 startups, all tackling the relationship between doctors and patients, and medical appointments…

Nothing was certain, everything had to be done!

At Kerala, we had all-round fields of action: business plan, preparation of the company’s Series A, B and C (Doctolib raised €250m from Accel, then BPI and Eurazeo and from General Atlantic in March 2019), analysis of European markets, recruitment, etc. That last subject has been a particular focus: since January 2014, we have initiated and/or carried out 18 recruitments for Doctolib in Sales, Operations, Product, Tech, Finance and also General Management.

2. Malt

At the same time, Malt’s adventure (which was called Hopwork in its early days) was taking shape. The founders, Vincent Huguet and Hugo Lassiège had designed a unique, open and very efficient working model between freelancers and companies. Having entered this field as “co-founding investor” before any other fund, we have been very active in supporting recruitment, product strategy and first fundraising rounds (ISAI then Serena and IDinvest) with the founders.

3. Admo.tv

Finally, in 2014 we invested in Admo.tv (a “personal” investment, even before Kerala was structured). At that time, the start-up was called ClickOn and offered a technology for synchronizing online and TV ads.

The beginnings were more complicated than expected but Pierre and Baptiste, the founders, gathered all the remaining resources to launch in 8 weeks a new SaaS product for advertising performance measurement: Admo.tv. The success was immediate, the results accelerated at the end of 2015 and the company raised a €1m Seed round in 2016 and a €6m Series A in January 2019.

The concept of Kerala was built on these adventures of Otium, Lafourchette, Smartbox, Doctolib and Malt.

What motivates us: bringing maximum added value to our entrepreneurs

We have defined the principles of Kerala on the basis of market convictions as well as our personal desires and ambitions:

  • Making an exceptional impact on our startups
  • Aiming for a very high “Net Promoter Score” of our entrepreneurs
  • «Productizing» the investment business, by trying to make our added value (particularly on recruitment) more scalable through technology and process
  • Experiencing exceptional adventures & always being there even in the most difficult moments
  • Aiming for high financial performance

We have chosen to tackle the early stage and maintain our early-bird investment culture, partnering with companies that do not yet have income and clients (see details in the assessment below). We then opened our approach by entering the Seed market.

Our investment strategy

  • Stage. Investing at early-stage or in Seed; tickets from a few hundred €K to €1.5m.
  • Sector. We invest in 100% technological startups or startups with a significant technological component: SaaS, AI, Data, Marketplaces, Services….
  • Exit. No exit horizon, we can remain at the side of entrepreneurs in the long term.
  • Entrepreneur profiles: We are looking for highly ambitious entrepreneurs, who aim to revolutionize their sector and create extraordinary things.

Kerala Contribution on recruitment

Our objective is to contribute concretely to the building of exceptional teams within our participations, which we consider to be 1/ the first key success factor and 2/ the best investment of time we can make to increase the chances of success of one of our startups.

For this reason, we have:

  • launched the first20.club. Kerala has built and directly operates the first20.club platform which connects «friendly» Kerala startups (teams that we have met or that are recommended to us) with hundreds of co-opted candidates. Backed by a CRM of several thousand candidates, first20.club is a unique source of candidates for Kerala startups.
  • structured HR Methodology & Process. This is a set of best practices acquired during our previous management (nearly 200 people for my part in direct management at lastminute.com) and recruitment experiences (Marc’s experience of 4 years of working together with our entrepreneurs on over 100 recruitments).

Kerala contribution on strategic and operational topics

In addition to the recruitment mentioned above, we work in detail and concretely with 100% of our entrepreneurs on the following subjects:

  • General management: management techniques, objectives, top player retention, training, BSPCE plans, etc…
  • KPI: definition and tools
  • Business Plan and cash forecast
  • General strategy

In the majority of cases (~ more than 75%), we work with our entrepreneurs in detail on the following topics:

  • Sales Strategy
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Successive fundraising: we have intervened (strategy and general approach, Business Plan, concrete support on decks etc….) in about twenty Series A, B and C transactions for startups which we entered at Seed stage
  • Pricing
  • International development
  • Technology (selection of technologies, HR strategy, tools, etc.). Our contribution on the last point is developing significantly with the recent arrival of new profiles at Kerala (see below).
  • Strategic partnerships and M&A

Kerala since mid-2017: acceleration

Backed by our first successful investments, we decided to accelerate Kerala in 2017 by creating a new capital model: a deliberately limited number of 30 technology entrepreneurs and experienced managers joined the “Kerala Club” and systematically co-invest alongside us. This model was reinforced by the launch in 2018 of a private platform that professionalized and simplified the relationship between Kerala and its co-investors. On this occasion, we also became “Conseil en Investissement Financier” (“CIF”), a status that oversees and regulates our activity.

On the startup side, this evolution does not change Kerala’s promise of value and way of working; on the other hand, our startups are increasingly benefiting from an expert network with very high added value.

Our acceleration is supported by NextStage, a listed fund headed by Grégoire Sentilhes, who joined us in 2018 as a minority shareholder. Beyond additional resources, Gregoire and his team were decisive to enrich the new “Kerala” model and our action plans, all with a real entrepreneurial spirit.

At the end of 2018, our team was completed by:

- Thomas Thimothée, (CentraleSupélec & Keio University) was a database researcher, RoR expert, and CTO of a startup where he successfully built and managed a team of 10 people. Thomas is in charge of Kerala’s technological development and brings a dual business & tech culture that is very useful to Kerala’s startups.

- Victoire Laurenty, (TelecomParistech & LSE) was a consultant at L.E.K. before joining the Ardian Growth investment team. Victoire brings us analytical skills and specialized expertise in data, modeling and algorithms.

Victoire and Thomas share with the rest of Kerala the passion for innovation and entrepreneurial stories!

Our results as of 31/12/2018

As at 31 December 2018, the assessment of Kerala activity is as follows.

Investment statistics

By date of completion:

  • Kerala Step 1(2014 → mi 2017): Doctolib, Adot, Admo.tv, Malt (formerly Hopwork), Avrio, Skillup, Privateaser
  • Kerala Step 2: Tracktor, HostnFly, Ouihelp, Georges.tech and PlayPlay

By stage:

  • 8 investments at inception: Doctolib, Admo.tv, Malt, Avrio, Skillup, Ouihelp, Privateaser
  • 4 investments at Seed stage (a few months of sales): Adot, Tracktor, Georges.tech, HostnFly, PlayPlay

Ownership at investment: 15% to 25%

Board Member Role: 100%

Performance indicators

  • 8 startups raised follow-on capital, recording a total of €320m (4 have raised 2 or more times, 4 have raised 1 time)
  • For every euro Kerala invested, startups raised x30 follow-on capital. Excluding Doctolib, this ratio stands at x12.
  • 1 exit, Adot, via a strategic investment by VeePee (formerly Vente-Privée)
  • 3 haven’t raise additional fundings (these 3 startups are recent investments from 2017 or 2018, some of them are preparing acceleration operations in 2019)
  • 0 bankruptcy, even though we know very well that this is largely volatile
  • 87 recruitments initiated since 2015 (8 per participation on average) : that figure includes 1/ the candidates brought by Kerala (the majority) and 2/ the recruitment processes in which Kerala was directly and significantly involved

Today, we have an outstanding portfolio of entrepreneurs of whom we are incredibly proud, significant financial resources and a complete team.

Our passion for business creation and support for entrepreneurs drives us every day and gives us motivation to follow our 11 investments and meet our future shareholdings and their founders. The beginning of a great adventure!

[1] Created in 2004 by Pierre-Edouard Stérin, serial entrepreneur, Smartbox currently operates in 12 countries with a turnover of more than €500m in 2017. In addition to my role at Otium, I served as a Board Member for Smartbox until 2013, executing 4 M&A operations in Europe and leading the company’s reorganization in 2013, including the recruitment of John Perkins (formerly VP Apple Europe), who is still CEO of Smartbox.

[2] Lafourchette represents a successful international development of a French B2C startup. Founded in 2007 by Patrick Dalsace (Serial Entrepreneur), Denis Fayolle (who then successfully initiated several startups) and Bertrand Jelensperger, Lafourchette experienced a successful integration with TripAdvisor after the “Otium” era. Still serving as Lafourchette CEO, based in Boston and now running the important “vertical” TripAdvisor restaurant worldwide, Bertrand (also a lifelong friend with whom we launched our first startup after school…) has remarkably succeeded in integrating and expanding the business rapidly in a dozen new countries in Europe and Asia.