|Interview with Dominique Rogeau, Eden Spine’s Angel Investor|
Dominique Rogeau, an expert in strategic marketing, and a successful self-made entrepreneur, provides seed and early-stage capital in the range of $1M - $3M to technology, direct marketing, and advertising companies in Europe and North America. Dominique has invested in more than 10 start-ups in the past 15 years, and is one of Eden Spine’s co-founder and investor.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your passions?
Born and raised in France, I now live in Spain and conduct most of my business affairs from Switzerland. To summarize my personal background, I can tell you that my life growing up was very humble to say the least. College was never an option; I quickly earned a graduate degree from the School of Life with an insatiable curiosity and burning desire to learn and succeed.
In 1984, at the age of 21, I started my first company, a simple retail outlet selling “new age/well-being” products in Paris. I did quite well, and very quickly became a serial entrepreneur, looking for the thrill of entrepreneurship and the desire to build a balanced investment portfolio.
Apart from my 2 daughters and my wife of 25 years, I have 2 passions in life, car racing, and hunting for exciting business opportunities. Regarding my passion for cars, I am a Formula One fanatic. I created a Formula One driving School in Barcelona, and still today I follow the Formula 1 Grand Prix with the passion of a teenager.
You have invested in many organizations around the world. What do you look for in an angel investment?
Before anything else, I look for individuals with unique interpersonal and communication skills. I bet on people. I am a firm believer that the founders or inventors are the soul of their organization; that they need to be able to communicate their passion both internally to the team and to the world. If the founders do not have the ”magic touch,” or are unable to connect emotionally with their audience, I will not touch their business, even if it seems like a great business idea.
Second, I look for executable, tangible business plans, with products that fulfill an unmet need in a growing industry. The excitement for me comes from the concept of unlimited potential. I need to believe that if we do our job right, and the planets align, the sky is the limit.
Third, and most importantly, I want to be involved. I am not someone who will give my money, disappear and show-up 4 times a year for Board Meetings. I want to supply more than cash, I want to offer my common sense approach, my business knowledge, my network of contacts and potentially follow-on financing if necessary.
Do you invest alone or with a group of investors?
Considering the range in which I usually invest, I realize that I am not your typical stand alone Angel investor. I make my own investment decisions, invest my own money. I am the only investor in Eden Spine for instance. I also do not feel that I have to only invest in what I know, which is also unusual. I often trust my “instinct” more than reports from analysts. I can tell you that my “guts” have served my family and me quite well in the past 30 years.
Do you invest only in start-ups, or also in later-stage companies?
Not everyone has the stomach for start-ups, especially considering the amounts that I usually commit to new ventures. But for me, a business is like most personal relationships, the best times are often the early years, the courtship, the honeymoon, the first kids, etc.
This is exactly what I feel about start-up companies. Meeting inventors, entrepreneurs, getting to know them, working on the business plan, imagining how the products will look and be accepted, defining the vision. All of that is for me the most exciting part a company’s life cycle. The rest is execution and problem solving. So, to answer your question, I only invest in start-ups.
What return are you typically looking for with each investment?
Even though each investment is different, I look for a satisfactory return within a 5 to 7 years period. Some companies in my portfolio will provide no or little return while some will provide 500% return. It is the name of the game. This is why you need a sufficiently large and diversified portfolio of companies if you want to maximize your chances of success as an angel.
What led you to decide to invest in the Eden Spine vision?
In 2005, Guillaume Viallaneix, whom I had know from past investments, brought me the business plan of a bright and experienced biomechanical engineer, he knew well and trusted. He informed me that I should look into it, as that person had some valuable ideas and was looking to start an R&D Laboratory in Switzerland. He added that the lab would be dedicated to developing a portfolio of innovative spinal technologies, with the support of several renowned Orthopedic and Neurosurgeons. He made it clear to me that if I wanted to make a play in the spine industry that could be the opportunity!
I met Mourad Ben Mokhtar in Paris later than year, listened to his story, and felt that the new technologies he was looking to develop had a true competitive edge, that they were in a high-growth market, and that with proper capital the right management team and business model, the opportunity to create value was substantial. I then met Mourad’s scientific team, which confirmed my belief.
What due diligence did you conduct before investing in Eden Spine?
Once again, at such an early stage, the key is the team. So, the most important due diligence I did during the period, was to spend a lot of time with each member of the team, working on the vision, building an ambitious but fiscally responsible business plan, working carefully on the balance between optimism and realism.
I also met with some the key surgeon designers, Dr. Fuentes and the late Dr. Lemaire, spent time with industry executives and even arranged to meet some spinal patients to understand their pain, know what they are looking for and get a full vision of what this investment was all about.
When did the Eden Spine adventure really started?
I committed to the venture in 2005, but it took another 8 months to finalize the business model, and have the full management team in place.
What is your next step with Eden Spine?
My number one goal with Eden was never to turn it into a giant sales and marketing organization, but rather to create value with our IP, our portfolio of new technologies and a reasonable and profitable network of distributors. Our distribution network is in place first and foremost to validate clinically our new technologies and of course to allow us to pay our bills. This formula has allowed us to create a solid self-sustaining business, stay independent, and weather the economic meltdown of 2008 and 2009, while creating value.
You asked me about the next step. I will tell you that I am a patient and resilient investor. If I see that we are constantly improving and increasing the value of the organization, I am pleased. The rest will take care of itself.
Last but not least, I know that you have created a foundation that is very dear to your heart. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Yes, in 2004, I created the foundation “Enfance et Vie.” Our goal is to help the poorest of the poorest kids to get medical care in desperate situations.
We intervene in situations where kids lives are threatened by the lack of available care. It is a “one kid at a time approach.” Our representatives identify a child who usually needs a complex surgical intervention to be cured for life. We bring the kid and his family to Switzerland; we work with hospitals and surgeons who will perform the surgery; we keep the kid and his family in Switzerland until he fully recovers; finally we bring them back to their country. More information can be found on the foundation at www.enfanceetvie.ch
This project has also been life changing for me, giving me a new perspective on life, and what truly matters!