“With a good project and steely determination, you can always find investors!”
Matthieu Lesne (ESC 2006) and Martin Ohannessian (ESC 2007) met at EMLYON. Whilst studying, Martin played in a band called the “Green Olives”. When they finished their studies they went in different directions but they stayed in contact.
Matthieu Lesne worked in the Marketing and Sales Department of Nestle for three years, and then spent one year working for a press organisation, Le Bonbon. Martin, who already had the seed of an idea in the back of his mind, worked in the finance and commercial purchasing sector before creating his start-up aimed at helping musicians and music venues. The entrepreneurship bug had got him. “At the same time, out of personal interest, I was trying to learn more about wine and wine-tasting. I attended a number of courses and workshops which were supposed to turn me into a knowledgeable amateur, but actually, I found the groups quite sad and pompous and the classes were…expensive and very complicated”, he explained.
Is that why you created “Petit Ballon”?
Martin Ohannessian: Yes, we wanted to make discovering wine fun and enjoyable. No more theatrical gestures and sophisticated language…we are doing things differently. It’s fun, a lot cheaper but still good quality. A number of wine makers send us their produce. Our goal is to democratise the world of wine but we don’t compromise on the quality of our wines! For us, that’s the most important criteria, that the wines should be good! After that, if we can get good organic wines then even better, but that’s a secondary consideration. And, according to the feedback we receive, people are enjoying our wines.
Matthieu Lesne: Martin was looking for an associate and asked whether I’d like to join him. Until then I’d never been involved in the wine industry but both the man and the project were convincing. In January 2011, Jean-Michel Deluc, chef-sommelier at the Ritz hotel in Paris, was convinced by the idea of presenting wine in a simpler way so he decided to join us. He has the same entrepreneurial spirit that we all have. He is the one in charge of our wine selection. Recently, Clément Thibaut, who is from Lyon and studied at the Ecole Centrale and actually took part in an exchange programme with EMLYON, joined our team as Managing Director.
How is “Le Petit Ballon” different from other companies in the same field?
Martin Ohannessian: We are the ones who created the concept of wine subscriptions. Every month our members receive two bottles selected by Jean-Michel Deluc. We also created special wine tasting kits for our members, information sheets for each month’s wine selection, videos about the wines filmed with Jean-Michel Deluc and related products such as glasses, and so on. We attend trade fairs and organise events in the most surprising places. We are in the process of developing a network to include people who know nothing about wine or wine-tasting, which still has an elitist image. We want to involve people who wouldn’t attend traditional courses or workshops, both due to the cost and also the kind of atmosphere they might not be comfortable with. But we also welcome committed wine lovers who are looking for something different. In fact, we are widening the wine-tasting market. Half of our clientele are men and women of between 25 and 40 and most live in cities.
What’s your status after 2 years of operations?
Matthieu Lesne: We’re doing really well. We now have a team of six people and our turnover has reached more than one million Euros. We’ve opened a shop in Paris’ 8th district and also operate in the Czech Republic. 2014 will be our year for expansion abroad, starting with the United Kingdom.
What have you found most surprising about being an entrepreneur?
Matthieu Lesne: Everything has been a surprise! Being an entrepreneur is about being a jack of all trades. It’s really interesting but exhausting. You give 150% and work all the time. We have kept sight of the goal we had when we set out: to have fun whilst being very professional. And so far we have managed to maintain our ‘nice guy’ image with our clients. Our wine-tasting sessions are fun and enjoyable.
How could the EMLYON network help you to develop “Le Petit Ballon”?
Martin Ohannessian: Beyond our company, the EMLYON network could become a real active support community for small businesses created by its graduates. In our case, that might mean organising evening drinks, working groups, themed events, or members of the group could become ambassadors, etc.
For example, we are launching a new BtoB offer of gift vouchers for clients, employees, salespeople or even works councils. We would be thrilled to benefit from any help offered by the network. On our side, we often receive requests from young EMLYON entrepreneurs who we are happy to see and to whom we can offer advice and help through sharing our experiences.
Being an entrepreneur is about taking risks but the support of a real community can be a precious aid in the development of a company and could even mean survival for small businesses. Even if all you are starting out with is a good project idea and steely determination, you can always find investors…
Contact: Martin Ohannessian (ESC 2007), tel. (+33) 06 18 38 01 29 firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthieu Lesne (ESC 2006), tel. (+33) 06 50 71 92 71