[Event Recap] Journey to the West–Opportunities for Chinese startups in Europe, with Leon Ge at Partech Partners

Event Recap

On 8th April, we had the privilege to host Leon Ge from Partech Partners in the new series of online events organized jointly by Startup Grind Chengdu & Startup Grind Paris.




Leon comes with extensive experience across borders, with his previous role at Google APAC, and AVP at ID Capital covering Greater China, Korea, Japan and partially Southeast Asia. He is currently a Principal at Partech Partners based out of Paris, investing across Europe and beyond, while spearheading Asia initiatives for the firm.


Here are the main insights from the discussion:


The European Advantage 欧洲的优势 ?
  • Talents: Europe has more STEM graduates than the USA (1.1m vs 0.5m on an average year; 9.7m vs 4.5m in the past 10 years). Paris is arguably the biggest mathematical talent pool in the world. All of these elements serve as an irreplaceable asset to be tapped into.

  • Early-stage Fundings: Europe overtook USA in number of early-stage deals (2625 vs. 2206, in # of deals <$1m in 2018)

  • Tough start, likely stronger expansion: Successfully scaling a company in Europe requires entering different markets very early in the cycle. While it remains a factor of complexity and challenges in European startup landscape, it does present a chance for the team, once they growth past the early expansion phase and beyond Europe. It is an extremely complex and painful process that eventually trains the leadership the skills of starting up new markets, catering products and services to local markets as well as managing teams across geographies and cultures. All this is evidenced by the numerous success Europe stories, most lastly demonstrated by ManoMano, a European marketplace for DYI and home improvement (launched in FR, IT, DE, ES, UK, but also working with Chinese suppliers now). .

  • 人才资源:相比美国,欧洲每年会有更多理工科毕业生。欧洲年均110万,过去十年累计970万,而美国年均50万,过去十年累计450万。巴黎有世界顶尖的数学人才储备规模。所有这些因素共同塑造了这片区域对于初创公司不可替代的价值。

  • 早期投资:欧洲比美国有更多早期投资案例。2018年度,欧洲有2625桩金额小于100万美元的投资,而美国有2206桩。

  • 起步虽难,扩张则易:在欧洲草创一家公司需要在创业初期即面对高度异质化的市场,客观讲难度比较高。但成功通过如此高强度挑战洗礼的团队将培养出卓越的领导能力,例如开拓新市场的能力,为当地市场提供适当产品和服务的能力,以及管理远程/多元文化团队的能力。具有上述特征的成功团队很多,最近一个是ManoMano,一个欧洲本土的家庭装修市场。它初创于法意德西,现在也在和中国供应商合作。

Expanding across Regions 跨文化市场拓展 ?
  • Humility: Success doesn’t always transpose across geographies and cultures (at best). It’s hardly over-exaggerated to be always reminded to remain humble when considering entering a new market. At the end of the day, Deezer still remains largely significant in the French market despite the deep pockets of its behemoth competitor Spotify.

  • Cultural Differences: having lived in France, Singapore, China and Japan, Leon underlines that misunderstandings and miscommunications across cultures are still overwhelmingly present, despite much progress over the years. Taking a step back and getting a clarity in the basics of a framework one should operate under in a specific culture is paramount. Leon recommended reading “Culture Map” by Erin Meyer for a boost of ‘Culture Quotient’.

  • Deep understanding of the market: it is irreplaceable to gain unique insights and deeply understanding of local consumer behavioral habits and hence the winning strategy. Leon shared the example of Lemonbox that spent a tremendous amount of time finding the best go-to-market for the Chinese market. The company decided to build a DTC presence with WeChat ecosystem (through mini apps and it influencer platform), This bet seems to have paid off since their subscribers have skyrocketed since the launch.

  • 谦逊:成功并不总能够在不同地区和文化下被简单复制。在进入其他市场时,”保持谦逊”几乎是一个永不会夸大的建议。说到底,Spotify再财大气粗,法国市场的Deezer作为它的挑战者依然活出了自己的道路。

  • 文化差异:葛先生在法国、新加坡,中国和日本都生活过。他深切地意识到不同文化之间的误解依然广泛存在。花时间厘清特定文化环境之下的基础协作框架是非常有必要的。葛先生给大家推荐了Erin Meyer的著作“The Culture Map”.

  • 深入理解:深入了解客户习惯和商业战略对希望进入其他市场的公司是必不可少的。葛先生举了Lemonbox的例子:他们投入了大量时间分析中国市场。基于这些分析结论,他们调整了既有战略,通过微信小程序接入微信生态圈,直接面对消费者,在相关领域成为了市场的引领者,并在上线后获得了极高的用户关注。

Advices to Entrepreneurs 对创业者的建议
  • Early Stage, local VCs: Founders should feel comfortable raising local capital vs. international at early stage (typically preseed and seed, building solid fundamentals of the business and the team in the home country. For later stage (A, B and onwards), international VCs such as Partech could provide invaluable and sometime unparalleled support that are vital for scaling and expanding the business to the next level. Partech comes along a long history of supporting startups across regions since 1982, and boasts a network of LPs, global corporates and partners that are on a regular contact with the investment team and ready to partner with startups as clients, partners or even acquirers (e.g. the recent acquisition of DejBox by Carrefour would a case in point).

  • VC’s capital is expensive: this is a truth. As entrepreneurs, you are giving away a significant part of your business in exchange for an amount of capital, but more importantly resources, guidance and support beyond capital. If a VC’s capacity is limited at the capital on the table and a sporadic disengaged board presence, then cheaper capital such government grants and specific loans might not be a worse choice at the end of the day (especially if you’ve got your business up and running).

  • Strong opinions, loosely held: the best entrepreneurs (that come in all ‘shapes’ needless to say) often hold strong opinions and unique insights about a certain industry, but “loosely held”. Founders are to be sensible to direct advice but also minor nudges. Certainly without following all advice, but being receptive to hearing different ideas are extremely important. Effective feedback at the leadership level often decides to a crazy extent the caliber of a startup and hence the result delivered.

  • 早期阶段依靠本土VC:在创业的最初阶段(通常是种子轮或更早),创始人应该更多吸收本地资本,建立和强化基于本土的商业和资本链接,夯实本地团队。在中后期(A轮B轮以后)再尝试从跨国VC获取资金支持。如栢德资本这样的跨国VC能够给创业者提供宝贵的支持。自1982年起,栢德资本就在支持初创企业,建立起来了一个多元化、坚实的网络,以帮助初创企业获得投资和合作,甚至并购(最近的相关案例是家乐福集团并购了DejBox。)

  • VC的资金很“贵”:这是真相。当你和VC合作时,你是在用相当可观的一部分业务来交换资金、资源、指导和支持。而后面三样往往更加重要。如果一个VC的付出仅仅是资本和偶尔出席一下董事会议,那对创业者而言更“低成本”的资金来源,比如政府扶持,奖励金或贷款可能是更好的选择。

  • 自信,但不刚愎:最好的创业者总是在特定产业有深入理解和坚定的主见的人,但他们不会刚愎自用。相反,他们不光对直接建议敏感,甚至能够差距细微的不认可。当然,并不是说创业者应该对建议意见照单全收,但保持开放的心态极其重要。面对反馈的自省和谦逊是创业者应该培养的优秀品质,对创业公司的器量和最终交付的成绩有异乎寻常的相关性。

Finally, let’s conclude with a little career advice from Leon’s experience: if you have a curiosity of an intellectual, a drive to make the world a better place (no matter how small of a step) but also not minding being the supporting team behind the heroes, venture capital could be something for you.

最后,葛先生给大家提供了一个职业发展小建议:如果你有智识的好奇心,有改善世界的内驱力,又不介意做一个幕后英雄,不妨试试做一个投资人 🙂

Thanks again to Leon for spending time with us and with the Startup Grind audience.


Looking forward to our next Startup Grind Chengdu x Paris event on the 22nd of April, where we will interviewing David Baverez, yet another seasoned investor. We will speak about the relationship between Europe & China, Angel Investing & opportunities post-COVID19 for startups.


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