Ian Rogers

Ian Rogers, chief digital officer of LVMH, discussed Station F and France’s start-up ecosystem in the run-up to the launch of LVMH’s new accelerator program, La Maison des Startups.

Here, the executive talks about the strides he has made since joining the group and why Paris is where it’s now happening for tech startups.

WWD: La Maison des Startups LVMH; the LVMH Innovation Prize, the DARE LVMH program — a lot of things have been put into place since your arrival in mid-2015…

Ian Rogers: I’m pretty happy that we’ve built this funnel. The most direct value is partnerships; we know the start-ups in our space and if there is value, we [build] a relationship.

I have a whole function on my team that is just about digital literacy, if you think about the more than 100,000 people who work for LVMH, it’s about how can we make sure everybody is embracing and moving forward.

The teams are completely different than they were two years ago. Céline has an entire team devoted to omnichannel and digital.

WWD: As a Silicon Valley veteran that recently moved to LVMH, how are things evolving for the luxury world in the start-up field? 

I.R.: An industry like luxury doesn’t need to be an early adopter, but you also don’t want to be a Luddite. Ideally, you need to be [positioned] just before mainstream.

When you see a tool that has a lot of value for your industry, like Instagram or WeChat, you want to really invest.

WWD: Is the idea, with all these start-up initiatives, to take control of these tools to have the edge over the competition?

I.R.: We all should stick to what we’re good at, it’s about having a relationship.

We don’t really look at weapons against competition. Le Bon Marché, DFS and Sephora all sell our competition very happily. Why? Because it’s good business.

The aim is to be a part of the change of making Paris a hub for innovation, and it has always been part of [LVMH chief executive officer] Bernard Arnault’s drive to be innovative.

If the only thing that happens is a venture capital firm meets a start-up through our process and they’re successful and five years down the road they say, “Remember the way that we met was through LVMH,” that alone is good for us, it’s good for everybody. You want to have a healthy ecosystem surrounding your industry because the rising tide lifts all boats.

WWD: Station F, where LVMH’s La Maison des Startups is based, is the world’s biggest start-up campus. Where does Paris rank in the start-up ecosystem?

I.R.: L.A., New York, London’s Shoreditch, they’ve all had their moment, and I think Paris is definitely having its moment right now. When you look at what’s going on, it’s incredibly exciting. Xavier Niel is contributing a lot to that with Station F, École 42 and all the investments that he makes, and you have other people like The Family, Numa, all the incubators, Crédit Agricole…

To that end, it feels a bit like a bubble, because you need the ecosystem to support this. You need two things: reform in France, and you need Europe to be a market.

WWD: Is France compatible with entrepreneurship?    

I.R.: Last year at Viva Technology, Bernard Arnault introduced me to [French President] Emmanuel Macron, which was super exciting to me. He asked me: “What do you think of the environment here?” And I said, “I think this would be a very hard place to start a company.” And he said, “I know, and we would like to change that.”

There are also the practical things, like the ability to hire and fire, or what happens to you personally if your company goes bankrupt. These sorts of things are things the government can and must change for companies to be supported because, let’s face it, if you and I were starting a company, it’s not the friendliest place to start one.

This is a great environment to start off in, the question is: Can you scale here? And there are companies that are doing it, like Ledger, which is one of the fastest-growing companies in the world, based right here in the 1st arrondissement. That type of thing is what we want to see.

WWD: Could you ever see Paris or France becoming the next Silicon Valley?

I.R.: Do we really want Paris to be like Silicon Valley? Personally, I can name a lot of other people who are leaving [Silicon Valley] to go somewhere else — whether it’s Hawaii or Colorado or France or Austin, Tex., or New Orleans.

A lot of people in Silicon Valley who have been working very hard for the past 15 or 20 years, then they wake up one day and realize that their lifestyle is very rich, and that San Francisco has become a place where you have a lot of young people who are making six figures who have never worked somewhere without a free lunch, who are complaining about how long an Uber takes, and meanwhile there’s an 80-year-old woman standing next to them who’s homeless because she just got priced out of her apartment.

Do we want this to be a place where it’s easier for a young person to start a business, and if they have an innovative business idea not feel like they have to move out of the country? Yes. But do we want France to become like Silicon Valley? Please, please, please no. That’s my personal opinion.

Both need a little of what the other has.

 

WWD: What is Station F’s point of difference?  

I.R.: I think the big difference in Paris is, if you have this [kind of] start-up space in Silicon Valley, it has a financial motivation. And I really believe that for Xavier [Niel], it’s a little bit of activism. He’s looking at some of the things that are fundamentally unsupportive in France and trying to build some scaffolding, build his own support network to make sure that this is a place that is friendlier to start-ups.

 

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