An innovative company founded by Lionel Vargel in Montpellier in 2006, Compufirst is an IT provider with value added – equipment, software, Cloud solutions, services, and consulting – for professionals, micro-businesses, SMEs, and mid-sized companies. By the end of 2018, the company had 35 employees and generates 17-18 million euros in revenue annually.
Why did you choose Montpellier?
Two of our three founders are not from Montpellier, but we all came from the Dell site in Montpellier. We wanted to leverage our professional experience while remaining in this city, both for the quality of life here and because we feel attached to the area. We founded Compufirst in December 2006. I have never regretted choosing Montpellier, not even once.
What was the main contribution for your success brought by Montpellier BIC and its teams?
We went to see Montpellier BIC when we were working on our business model. We were at the Cap Omega incubator from the very first day our company was founded. We ended up staying there for nearly seven years. There is a good chance that we would not be around today if we had “started in a garage”... Montpellier BIC assistance brought us so many things! We were all experienced professionals in our careers, but we all used to be employees. Montpellier BIC put us into contact with lawyers, chartered accountants, expert consultants, bankers, and more. The BIC team did not tell us what to do, but their advice enabled us to make the right decisions. It went so well that we raised one million euros in funds in June 2008. Meeting investors proved to be quite useful.
We met investors at Montpellier Venture Capital
, an event that made things much easier. The BIC “label” opened doors for us, which was of considerable value. The label is a brand guarantee that we leveraged during our meetings with suppliers. We even found partners in the same building, such as the one with which we implemented our ERP system.
I feel that it is important to give something back to the system that was so beneficial for us, so I have become involved with the startup ecosystem. I am on the Cap Manager
strategic council at Montpellier BIC. This advisory board meets one morning every two or three months to help handle issues facing several startups.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to start a company?
When you have an idea, it is important to not waste too much time on construction, but without skipping steps. For example, it is best to have a lawyer for your shareholder agreement, which can be a source of extremely negative or positive outcome. Many companies have a great idea, but a vision that is too technological. You need to make sales first. A startup needs cash. I often notice that startups have a sense of anguish with respect to business. A startup’s first instinct after raising funds is often to hire a sales director, but the founder is the best sales representative! The founder is the person who has every interest in making personal commitments. In order to test a business model, you can launch with a partial solution and then ramp up afterwards. Another piece of advice would be to not spare any effort, even though it may take long months or even years. Lastly, it can be challenging to manage human resources. That is something I see with the Cap Manager program. Don’t hesitate to stay open to new experiences and establish benchmarks.
How do you envision the innovative company of tomorrow in Montpellier?
I am absolutely convinced that we are on the verge of a fourth industrial revolution, that it is now year zero of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and connected objects. This major movement needs to be turned into business that creates wealth. Not to mention the ethical issues related to creating augmented humans. I feel very strong positive progression, notably with increasing numbers of women with fantastic success stories. In fact, women developed French Tech in Montpellier, often cited as a successful example.