How to choose the right business model to launch online

It was thanks to his wife who had crossed Paris to find a pair of shoes that Yoann Le Berrigaud got the idea in 2005 to create Sarenza, today the French leader in online shoe sales.

. Selling on the internet a product that most people try before buying was daring. Eight years later, the company has a turnover of more than 130 million euros. A success partly linked to a business model that is out of step with what is generally practiced on merchant sites. “We do not sell at bargain prices,” says Stéphane Treppoz, the current chairman of the board. We preferred to focus on choice, service and free delivery and return. “

Whether you are launching an e-commerce site, a networking platform or a mobile application, the challenge is to adopt the right business model, the one that will enable you to turn an idea into a financial success. .

Get inspired by others without duplicating

Replicating what has worked elsewhere is not always a guarantee of success. “We never exactly duplicate a business model because each context is unique: in the United States, for example, we do not have the same laws, not the same distribution networks, customer expectations are different,” analyzes Adnane Maalaoui, teacher researcher and head of the ESG Management School incubator. .

Stéphanie Pelaprat’s founder of Restopolitan experienced this when she wanted to draw inspiration from the American OpenTable. “In theory, everything worked,” she says. We had developed reservation management software for restaurateurs. We charged an installation fee and then asked for a monthly fee plus a commission of 2 euros per person. coverage. The formula appeals to large tables, but discourages middle-class restaurants. In 2011, it changed its tune: Restaurant participation now consists of offering a meal out of two (excluding drinks) with each reservation to members of Restopolitan (who subscribe to a subscription of 9.90 euros per month). In eighteen months, the start-up achieved a turnover of 2 million euros. And expect to double for 2013.

It is therefore up to everyone to invent their own business model. But how ? First by asking the right questions. “Ask yourself which customers to target, how to reach them and what will be your competitive advantage”, advises Catherine Léger Jarniou, speaker at the Paris-Dauphine and coordinator of the “Grand livre de l’entrepreneurship” (Dunod) . The first step, therefore, is to identify your added value and your goal. “Beware of the myth of the ‘universal’ product that is supposed to affect everyone. In the first place, it is better to have an offer corresponding to a specific segment, even if it is narrow,” advises Olivier Schwartz, consultant and professor at EDC Paris.

Then sketch the first reasons: at what price do you want to sell, via which payment method? For Bertrand Gstalder, CEO of SeLoger.com, digital businesses fall into two categories: those that make money on their audiences (connectivity platforms, content, etc.) and those that rely on a transactional model (e-commerce). Although certain economic models clearly correspond to one or the other of these categories (financing through advertising is a means of monetizing the public, selling a product requires collecting a margin), the boundaries are sometimes blurred: “freemium “, which combines free and paid, has been adopted by platforms based on audience revenue generation (LinkedIn, Viadeo, etc.) as well as by mobile gaming apps that fall under the online business.

Another heavy trend: the subscription. “It’s guaranteed money, which reassures investors,” notes Jonathan Lascar, co-founder of L’Accélérateur (support for start-ups). Even heavyweights like IBM or Microsoft offer SaaS offerings (“software as a service”) that allow you to subscribe to software instead of acquiring it. >>> Our slide show:

Eight lively niches to get started online

Think visibility and audience from the start

How to create an audience? This is a question you need to ask yourself right from the start. “We can no longer afford to develop a site and subsequently reflect on how to make it visible,” confirms Catherine Headley, “digital strategist” and associate professor at ESG Management School. It would be like setting up a shop in the middle of the Sahara: no one comes by at random. ”

Ultimately, your model must be both profitable, “scalable”, ie. could be scaled up and finally reproducible: it is, thanks to your network, often easy to find your first customers. , to renew them is less so. Criteria that may require you to customize your business model or even your product. Like PayPlug, a start-up that has created a solution to accept credit card payments via a smartphone. “It was innovative, useful for some professionals, but not very profitable given the low volume of initial activity, because the business model was based on a commission of only 2.5%,” said Jonathan Lascar, who supported the start-up. need to find an extra service to increase revenue: In addition to the mobile app, PayPlug now offers a payment solution for online sellers, such as PayPal, but simpler. ”

Look towards the field without delay

Does everything work on paper? “The only way to validate your business model is to compare it to the reality on the ground,” says Olivier Schwartz. This can go through the search for “customer sponsors” or “prospect sponsors” who will be users and promoters of your product and may ultimately take a stake in the company. At ESG Management School, the Audace incubator has developed a partnership with the crowdfunding platform Ulule, which enables incubated start-ups to combine testing of their product or concept with the search for funding.

Another solution: choose for free at a given time. An effective system, especially when offering an innovative product: This allows customers to discover the offer and become followers, while refining the marketing model. This is what Dashlane (Internet Password Management Solution) did. The startup was set up in late 2009 and waited until May last year to switch from a free offer to a freemium model, the time to test more formulas. “What has become profitable is the ability to use Dashlane on multiple devices, to secure and synchronize data in the ‘cloud’,” concludes CEO Emmanuel Schalit. If we had paid from the start, we might not have understood our users’ expectations so be careful. However, be careful about the time you can give yourself: Until June, Dashlane achieved no revenue. “Instead of thinking in deadlines, it’s better to put a commercial mass – 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 users – onwards. for everything to have enough customer feedback to refine your offer “, advises Jonathan Lascar.

Constantly develop your business

Even more than for a traditional business, the business model of a digital business needs to be constantly evolving. “A start-up is always looking for its optimal business model,” confirms Olivier Schwartz. “A revenue channel that worked yesterday may no longer work tomorrow: other kinds of resources are popping up … You have to constantly test and renew yourself,” adds Catherine Headley.

A strategy successfully implemented by HiTechPros, a kind of IT Meetic, which allows companies to exchange competencies. After joining SSII, the site attacked training centers, freelance computer scientists and software publishers. The company then developed a tool for purchasing IT services before becoming a player in its own market, by making its consultants available to the IT departments in larger accounts. “Our first customers, the SSIIs, then became our suppliers,” sums up Bob Sammour, general manager. Non-existent in the original business model, since it was developed four years after the launch of the site, the brokerage activity now represents 75% of the turnover.

Karine Hendriks

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