17 Oct 13Sarah Gill
France is rapidly becoming a hot ticket for digital media investors, with a decent roster of high-profile tech firms calling it home, from Spotify’s closest rival, fast-expanding music streaming service, Deezer to online video hub Dailymotion. From online fashion and mobile meal reservations to last-minute hotel bookings and the hottest health startups, here are six to watch.
Fashion e-commerce continues to be an in-vogue area of investment. That’s because the offline fashion industry is so vast that the opportunity for new digital portals selling clothes and accessories is still wide open. Parisian fashion store Rad had been around for a year by the time it picked up VC funding this summer, claiming to have pulled in 1m users on the back of its own viral marketing campaigns. In a market where branding is everything, that's promising.
It looks like Rad is already making in-roads into the space. While online fashion retail is hugely competitive, the level of investment in the sector over the past few years suggests there is plenty of room for independent brands to build a business alongside giants like ASOS. Still, differentiation is key and Rad’s focus on what it describes as hipster clothes and accessories is clearly paying off. It is wisely planning to consolidate this growth in Europe over the next two years before targeting the US, where it will compete with goliaths like Fab.com and The Fancy.
Mimicking a model established by Lastminute.com, VeryLastRoom is a same-day booking app that offers users rooms in hotels across France. The twist is that it prices rooms at discount rates that fall as the day wears on. Currently featuring 450 hotels across the country, the company has apps for iOS and Android and raised a little more than half a million dollars in May. Focused on France, it has expanded into Belgium, with no immediate plans for wider international growth.
Online travel and same-day bookings is a fast-growing market. According to StrategyEye data, investors have poured USD350m into the sector this year alone and that is only set to continue as the massive offline tourism industry shifts to digital. That means it’s about to get super competitive, if it wasn’t already.
While the firm’s focus on its native France is an advantage, it will still ultimately compete with global bookings services like LastMinute.com itself. Its flash-like sliding pricing model will help it compete with established travel brands because it increases incentive to buy, but the firm will have to ensure that demand matches supply.
Brands and advertisers continue to adopt Instagram. And they’re doing it of their own accord, using the hugely popular image and video sharing service as a shop window for new products, as well as building online followings around their brand. It’s grown up organically, with Instagram yet to launch paid advertising. That meant metrics remain rudimentary. Apart from likes and comments that sit on top of a particular post, it’s impossible to gauge the full audience reach of campaigns on Instagram.
That’s where Paris-based Nitrogram comes in. Its dashboard lets clients track accounts and the traction on individual hashtags, as well as creating a leaderboard for the most-popular brands and accounts on the service. Its rankings take into account mentions of a brand from a third-party, say someone uploading a photo of their new NIKEid customised shoes and tagging it, as well as likes. The firm does not release revenues, but already has a tiered subscription pricing plan in place starting at USD149 for brands with up to 50,000 followers or posts and its prospects look decent. Social is one of the fastest-growing verticals in online advertising, but marketers are still getting their heads round it and social analytics metrics are extremely valuable currency. With Instagram poised to launch ads in the near future, Nitrogram is well-positioned to ride the rapid growth of social marketing.
Spartoo is a Grenoble-based online shoe and bag retailer. And it’s growing fast, claiming to have 12m unique visitors per month, three times the 4m recorded in 2009. Currently active in 20 European countries, Spartoo says it will use its latest funding round, which brought its overall VC backing to nearly USD50m, on continued “aggressive” expansion across Europe.
Spartoo is already on a roll. Profitable in its home market, It’s got nearly USD50m VC funding under its belt, which it will need it if it is to pursue its expansion plans. Funding is all well and good, but the firm would be wise to aim for profitability in a couple more markets instead of stretching itself too thin. That is particularly true in the face of rivalry from established players in Europe like Zappos, which can afford narrower margins and competitive prices.
Digital health looks set to be a goldmine for investors during the coming years as the juggernaut that is the health industry turns increasingly digital, creating a significant opportunity for tech startups operating in the space. And it’s on a collision course with wearable tech as startups like Fitbit and sports giants like Nike are combining fitness tracking and analytics with wearable hardware. Withings manufactures health and fitness hardware and has moved into wearable devices with its tracker, named Pulse.
While health and fitness is one of the more established verticals within the much-hyped wearable tech market, challenges lie ahead in the form of consumer electronics giants like Samsung and Apple. But questions remain over how big the wearable tech market will grow as predictions for demand continue to vary wildly.
From takeaway deliver to grocery shopping to table bookings, digital food is one of the fastest-growing verticals within online market places, and - unsurprisingly - the French are getting on board. Online restaurant booking service LaFourchette picked up more than USD10m in its latest funding round, highlighting the potential investors see in the space. The firm has a website, but sensibly focuses on mobile, building its business in line with demand from consumers that increasingly complete everyday tasks on the move. It offers discoverability and discounts for restaurants in its native France as well as Spain, Monaco and Switzerland. The firm charges EUR2 (USD2.7) per reservation and is planning to offer a premium tier.
It’s taken 16.7m bookings to date, so it’s got traction. Its biggest challenge is competition from the likes of RestoBookings and TableOnline, as well as US firm OpenTable, which could be a threat if it decides to up its focus on France. But LaFourchett’s local knowledge will play to its favour here and in any case the market looks wide open in Europe where online reservations for meals are growing rapidly but still lag behind other verticals like hotels. Speaking last year LaFourchette's CEO and co-founder Bertrand Jelensperger claimed only 2% of restaurant bookings are taking place online in Europe.
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