10 QUESTIONS TO VICTOR D’ALLANCÉ: AN INTERVIEW WITH DEVIALET’S UK GM
After graduating from Cranfield University, Victor started his career in Finance as an Investment Banking Intern at BNP Paribas in Paris. After 3 months, he was offered a contract in Moscow where he spent 2 years and a half within their Energy & Commodities Financing Department. When the Rouble was devaluated and recession hit Russia, he transferred to London, switching to the Mergers and Acquisitions Division. After a year, he took a new step in his career, resigning from his 100-hour week job to look for a new opportunity in a company combining true leadership, scalability and impact. Through a friend from church, Victor heard of Devialet and landed the job of General Manager of Devialet’s UK subsidiary after a few interviews, as the then-General Manager was promoted to a new position at Devialet’s global HQ in Paris.
Hello Victor! Thanks for sharing your story with us. We know a little about your backstory but would love to know more. What pushed you to make the move from Finance to the Start-Up world?
Finance for me was always a kind of training, a great stepping stone to understand how companies work from the inside and quickly analyse financial situations. I knew I wouldn’t stay in the field more than 2 to 3 years because I had a strong appetite for business and leadership. I knew I was a people person. In the end, I was very lucky because I applied to be their finance director and the top management saw in me the qualities to do more and made me GM for UK instead. I will always be extremely thankful for that.
“Beeleev: You can’t become GM UK for Devialet only thanks to luck, can you !
V: Luck is something you can work on !”
Could you tell us a little more about Devialet ?
Devialet was founded in 2007 by an engineer, a designer and a strategy consultant. The vision was, and still is, to revolutionize the music industry by using ground-breaking innovations to bring people a new emotion when they listen to music.
It all started with a true invention called ADH (Analogue Digital Hybrid). What it means is that we combine the quality and the purity of analogue amplification with the compactness and the power of digital amplification. It gives you a sound you never heard before.
With this innovation, Devialet first launched a very niche product, released in 2010 at the CES in Las Vegas. “Expert”, an all-in-one amplifier, was instantaneously recognised by specialised press as the « best amplifier ever on the market ». It is still up to now the most successful product in the history of high-end audio.
Then, thanks to the investment of Bernard Arnault (CEO LVMH), Xavier Niels (Free’s founder) and other top French entrepreneurs Devialet was able in 2015 to miniaturize the technology inside the amplifier and create Phantom, an active wireless speaker.
“Phantom is certainly the most refined and most powerful wireless speaker on the market.”
You recently raised a lot of money to continue your development, what is Devialet’s strategy?
Of course the vision is not to stop there: we already have a team of around 80 engineers in Paris working on the next generation of products, making it the biggest hub for music engineering in Europe. On top of that, our ambition tomorrow is to put our technologies inside every single amplifiable device on earth: cars, phones, TVs, laptops, etc.
We are creating the means of our ambitions and Devialet raised €100m at the end of 2016: this is the third biggest funding round ever for a French start-up. It will directly help our international development (principally in UK, US, Asia and the rest of Europe) and to continue to invest massively in R&D. Devialet plans to become global leader in sound technologies by 2020.
How such a fast scalability is possible?
In our case, I think it comes down to having an incredible and a real innovation with the ADH. Something that no one is able to replicate. At the same time, it’s also about having an amazing leadership and the ability of our three founders to attract brilliant, passionate and extremely energetic people.
From the very beginning in 2007, Pierre Emmanuel (Calmel), Quentin (Sannié) et Emmanuel (Nardin) have been able to attract top tier talents: basically the best acoustic engineers in France. Not only people with a lot of skills, but people sharing the same vision and the same values. One key value at Devialet is humility: if you talk to our CEO you will feel it, if you talk to anyone across any team, you will feel it. Our real advantage is this: having a true invention making a huge impact wherever we go, to whoever we pitch, and at the same time, the right people. Hence, it is down to the product and the people, Devialet’s key assets.
“We love to call our CEO the French Steve Jobs”
What is your role for Devialet UK ?
I’m in charge of the whole UK subsidiary, including sales, marketing, HR, logistics and finance. I lead a team of around 20 people including 7 in head office. I’m delegating a lot but, of course, I have to keep an eye on everything. My role is to shout the vision, recruit the right people and drive business development. It’s a cool, very challenging and demanding, but extremely rewarding job.
Your biggest challenge right now?
Recruitment! In the UK, Devialet doesn’t enjoy the level of brand identity it has in France. In France I think Devialet is one of the top 3 start ups everybody is talking about. In the UK, it’s very different, of course… In terms of communication, we are not communicating everywhere because of our brand positioning. We are a luxury brand so, every time (especially the first) you have an interaction with Devialet – be it in store listening to Phantom, in Wired reading a product review of at one of our highly selective event – we want to make sure that there is an impact. When we recruit people, very often candidates would not know about us. In consequence, it’s more complicated and lengthy to attract UK-based talents. As we are committed to recruit local talents, we invest a lot of time and energy in recruitment, as this is the future of the subsidiary. During interviews, once candidates have heard Phantom play, once they have done their research and understand our vision, they are amazed. It is completely different in France where so many brilliant people want to work for Devialet, and I’m looking forward to being in the same position in London!
We often hear about the importance of hiring local people when developing in a foreign country. Does it add to your difficulties?
Local in London doesn’t really mean much because the city is so international and cosmopolitan. I think that, in our team, we have 7 different nationalities at the moment.
Since we are speaking of cultural differences, what comes to your mind in terms of market specificities?
As opposed to the US for instance, where “amazing” is a word that can be used easily, British people are very pragmatic. You know in advance that they will weigh the pros and cons and want to have all the details. Plus, they don’t show their emotions a lot, so we have to adapt our approach. We don’t want to be a French company doing business in the UK, we want to be a UK company belonging to a Paris-based company, and we want to be sure that we are part of the UK because we love this country and we are here to stay.
What advice could you give to Beeleevers wanting to start a business in London?
I would say be flexible. You know, London is an incredibly fast-paced city. Businesses start and go and it goes extremely quickly as opposed to different cities. If you want to come and set up your business in London, you’ll be facing a lot of competition as pretty much everybody is here. You can get overwhelmed very quickly because there are so many networking opportunities, so many conferences around the place, start-up pitches, and it can be quite impressive. I would say you need to be extremely well organised and agile at the same time. Be extremely clear on what you want to achieve and be very agile and flexible, being able to adapt very quickly to the market, to the people. Sometimes you have an interview with someone you want to pitch but, 10 min before the interview, it is cancelled because everybody is so busy all the time. So, it’s about your ability to adjust and to adapt to this kind of environment.
What do you wish you knew before you started at Devialet?
It may sound a bit cheesy but at the end I want to answer: nothing, because I’m being taught so much. I have full support from all my colleagues, be it my boss (General Manager Europe) or Quentin Sannié himself! I came from a finance background, so I had accounting/business knowledge and I am learning so much everyday: retail, marketing, PR agency recruitment, high-level negotiations, HR management and so on… Hence, there is nothing really I regret I didn’t know, I’m sorry!
Interview by Wandrille Feuilloy on behalf of Beeleev. Beeleev is an entrepreneurs-only community allowing to find all the partners of your international expansion online. You can contact Victor d’Allancé once you register and your application is validated. 3000 entrepreneurs are waiting to help you!