Six reasons why we invested in Totem

Our latest investment, Totem, is the 10th company to join the Samaipata’s family and our 3rd deal in France, together with Food Chéri and Procsea. Even if — let’s be honest — our investment decision might have been driven by the eagerness to help them expand quicker to Spain, saving us from eating sweets all day long and dying early from a certain and slow death, here are a few ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ reasons why we invested in Totem.

Totem is not an obscure Mexican sect but a healthy snacks & beverages delivery platform, targeting startups as well as large enterprise accounts, launched in Paris on February 2017. Capitalising on a digitally native vertically integrated business model (aka DNVB), they source curated products and deliver them into the heart of their clients’ offices onto the Totem shelves, essentially creating a unique cafeteria space.

1. Dynamic & resilient founding team combining tech expertise and genuine product drive

Rafaël, Pierre and Stefan, the three Totem’s cofounders, are engineers with top-notch academic backgrounds. Yet, on top of a strong tech & business know-how, their product sensibility is remarkable, making their skillset the perfect combination to tackle the ambitious challenge of improving employee experience with technology. Although they are ̶c̶e̶r̶t̶a̶i̶n̶l̶y̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶n̶g̶ straight-out-of-university founders, they have displayed a rare sense of maturity, and execution in the 1st year of operations has been impressive: reaching c. 50k in MRR in less than c. 12 months, they have successfully set up a lean and cash efficient business. Finally, they are deeply committed to their ambitious vision — Becoming the leading kitchen management solution for offices in Europe — which makes them truly inspiring.

2. One-stop-shop solution addressing a large & growing market opportunity

Totem is addressing a real issue: with the competitiveness of the labour market skyrocketing, acquiring and retaining talents has become key for companies. Ways to differentiate oneself as an employer are not only high compensation levels and comprehensive benefits packages, but increasingly ensuring the best office environment for one’s employees. And providing differentiated food & beverages services is a crucial aspect of it.

However, purchasing processes for snacks in companies are broken: i.e. on the demand side — fragmented supplier base, inefficient logistics, bad UX, low digitalisation levels, and poor customer services to name a few challenges; and on the supply side — lack of adequate distribution channels. Totem is on a mission to solve most of those market pains by creating a digital one-stop-shop, allowing office managers to handle all transactions on a centralised & user-friendly customer dashboard.

But, on top of this, it’s becoming commonplace to state that millennials’ expectations in the workplace are changing and that they are expecting more than the traditional cafeteria model. Thus, beyond fixing some of the challenges faced by the incumbents, Totem is essentially creating a new market, poised to grow exponentially in the next few years.

3. Great crossell & upsell potential

Totem is not only building a digital platform but is also establishing a physical presence into offices with the installation of their kitchen space. They are becoming a branded distribution channel into companies, perfectly positioned to address any additional needs its clients could have and gradually increasing their share of wallet. And Totem’s value proposition for CPG brands is strong, i.e. allowing them to reach millennials directly at the crate and to test new products in a controlled environment.

Additionally, beyond evident cross-selling opportunities, by targeting startups since Day 1, Totem has embarked on their customers’ journey, growing ultimately hand-in-hand.

4. Defensibility achieved in the long run through a B2B2U reference brand, an extensive focus on UI/UX and powerful data network effects

By curating supply, designing the best interface on the market, and developing top-of-mind awareness not only at the office manager level but also down to the individual employee, Totem is building a strong & defensible brand asset.

Moreover, the stickiness of their client base is also ensured by i. the monthly subscription model they have adopted (increasingly attractive for consumers, driven by access, selection, price, experience and personalisation) and ii. through the equipment they provide to clients (e.g. coffee machines & shelves).

Finally, in the long term, the data they are collecting is going to be a unique source of information for both brands and corporations of what employees strive for — ultimately establishing data network effects.

5. Strong tech DNA allowing stock optimisation and high scalability potential

Their extensive focus on tech is mainly ensuring two things: first, on the customer side, they have developed a flexible web app, with a slick interface, in which most tasks typically performed manually by office managers can be done in a few clicks.

Second, on the supply side, through a strong & versatile back-end built from scratch, they have been able to set up super lean operations, optimising stock management (they have only 1 week of inventory!), reaching the VC Holy Grail, negative working capital — and their logistics framework has been set up to smoothly absorb volumes.

6. Sound traction validating a genuine product-market fit, and a healthy business model

Totem is already displaying impressive results. In less than a year, they had already signed 40 clients (now over 65) in Paris such as Zenly, Google, Payfit and Comet. Their c. c. 30% month-on-month growth is purely organic, without any paid marketing to date, ensuring a staggeringly low customer acquisition cost (CAC).

Moreover, retention (R: average retention rate of first time buyers) & levels of engagement on the platform (Q: average number of orders per actual buyers), as we define in the Samaipata’s cohort analysis framework, are amazingly high, ultimately ensuring a negative churn.

All in all, their low CAC, their high retention & growing client engagement, combined with a high average order basket and above-average gross & contribution margins, are ensuring strong unit economics for the business. However, although they have already set up strong foundations for an efficient B2B sales machine, the journey is only starting!

In a nutshell, we are deeply honoured to welcome Rafaël, Pierre and Stefan into the family and to help them revolutionise the employee experience, along with our co-investors Kima and Tekton! 🚀