Appointed managing director of 2050, a new impact investment fund, in March 2021, the co-founder of PriceMinister has his sights firmly set on changing the world, starting with the way in which it is financed. It’s an exercise in leadership.
What do smart devices, carbon emissions in businesses and ethical flowers all have in common? The answer is: an investment fund called 2050. Wethings, Sweep and Fleurs d’ici are the first three projects with a strong social and environmental impact to be supported by this new investment vehicle founded in late 2020 by Marie Ekeland and now headed by Olivier Mathiot.
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“Current generations are searching for meaning, and 2050 is in keeping with that mood. What can you do with money? You can simply keep on making more of it or you can earn while factoring in the societal and environmental impacts of your business. That’s what 2050 is all about,” explains Mathiot, co-founder of PriceMinister and vice-chairman of France Digitale, through which he met Marie Ekeland, co-initiator of the French tech association.
Mathiot is convinced that, from a financial point of view, “fertile” investment is a winning formula: “it’s a promise that meets the expectations of consumers and employees alike.”
This venture capital specialist, who has supported dozens of start-ups over the past 12 or so years, has the task of getting 2050 up and running, since the fund plans to invest as much as €1 billion in the next 5 to 6 years. “This project is an opportunity for me to embark on a new entrepreneurial adventure – one that is in line with my conscience. If we want to improve the world, we can start by improving the way in which we finance it,” reveals Mathiot who values collective intelligence and transdisciplinarity above all else in his work as an investor.
Agility as a guiding principle
“When you invest in agriculture or electric bikes, you have to immerse yourself in the topic,” a form of agility that he has always sought in the projects he backs. “For me, this agility – which is key to the success of the project – depends on one overriding factor: people. What I mean by that is the adaptability of the teams involved, their listening skills, their ambition and their willingness to disrupt practices in the market they are entering.”
Agility is something that Olivier Mathiot has applied throughout his personal and professional life. Brought up in a family of engineers (his father is a graduate of École Polytechnique and his brother studied at Arts et Métiers – both engineering schools – and his sister is an agricultural engineer), this model pupil left his home town of Grenoble to follow a “more general course” at HEC business school.
“I’ve always been torn between the business world, economic reality and a more creative universe. I thought HEC would give me a broad range of options,” he says. In fact, he began his career in advertising. He loved the experience, “even if the late 90s was no longer the period of advertising legend Jacques Séguéla’s flamboyant campaigns! But it was good training for me; I had fun and met people with very different backgrounds.”
Influencing public debate
However, in 2001 when his cousin Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet showed him his business plan, he jumped right on it and offered to become his partner and marketing director. This was to be the start of the PriceMinister adventure.
“It was an opportunity to be independent, to no longer support other people’s decisions.”
Agility was required here too: “Each year was different, you had to adapt as the company evolved.” Ten years later when PriceMinister was acquired by Rakuten, Mathiot continued in the business and signed: “We kept some form of independence from the Japanese head office.” But in 2017, PriceMinister had to make way for Rakuten.
“Current generations are searching for meaning, and 2050 is in keeping with that mood”
“It was the end of an era, and I left. Looking back, it was a wonderful personal experience and I’m proud of having created a brand that innovated in its market.” Another thing that sticks in his mind from this entrepreneurial period and from his years as a business angel is that raising capital is often synonymous with crises: “The business changes size, new people come on the scene, management has to be reinvented. It can be complicated. Business tends to slow…” It was at times such as these that his leadership skills came to light.
Today, the former spokesperson for the “Pigeon” movement in 2012, which opposed tax changes relating to business acquisitions, and author of a book entitled “La gauche a mal à son entreprise” (Plon, 2013) intends to continue influencing public debate by “hacking the next presidential campaign through France Digitale.” He says: “It is time to press the reset button, but at the moment I don’t really see any blueprints for society that are doing that.”
Mathiot also likes to escape to the world of fiction… A film enthusiast, he plans to devote more time to writing about business, “which provides as much scope for fiction as you could wish for.” Indeed, he already has a script for a television series on start-ups under his belt which he has presented to AB group.