Alex Chavotier

Scaling Luuna as Mexico´s top sleep challenger and establishing ZeBrands as LATAM´s leading next-gen retail brand house
Chief Strategy & Analytics Officer
@
ZeBrands

How did you get here?

Above all, my current life stage is a tale of enduring friendship. I was approached by one of my best friends to move to Mexico and help him and his associates scale their company. Him and I randomly teamed up on a US university campus 13 years ago to defeat a crew of fellow American students playing beer pong. One must appreciate the oddity of a Frenchman and Englishman joining forces (our old European countries hate and love each other with equal intensity, always in a good way) and the even greater foolishness of attempting to defeat Americans at beer pong. We lost. But we won a great bond. I am dwelling on this event because I want to highlight that great relationships can play a defining role in one´s journey. I would have never had the chance to live the current experience if not for our friendship. It was the sparkle. Then, I brought to the table 1 year of investment banking and 6 years of strategy consulting, centred on pure strategy, company turnaround, organizational and advanced analytics work as part of Quantum Black (McKinsey´s AA franchise). It made me a very valuable Swiss knife to a company at ZeBrands´ stage. Additionally, I had started a venture inside McKinsey. Together with two friends, we launched and deployed an AI solution predicting short-term commodity price moves for relevant clients. We secured internal funding by winning McKinsey´s New Venture Competition. It was a personal and exhilarating turning point that transformed my consulting experience and left me willing to build new things.

What options were you considering?

I was quite set on wanting to try out the start-up scene out of consulting. I did not feel like starting mine and wanted to learn from successful founders that I could pair up with in a leadership position.

How did you make the decision to take your current role?

The decision boiled down to three dimensions for me: i. the people ii. the company´s standing and room for me to disproportionately impact its trajectory iii. the appeal of adventure:

1.     People – I joined ZeBrands for its spiky founders, a trio of Bolivian, Mexican and French/British young men. I took a week off and jumped on a plane to Mexico to meet them and evaluate if we could work together. I could sense that each of them was exceptional in his own way and that they were complementary. Carlos, their Bolivian CEO, sat me for a 3h-session that felt like a smooth date and won me over, drafting an offer on scrub paper at the end to make sure I was heading home full handed (well done again on that one). When you meet the right people, you know it straight away

2.     Company´s standing and room for me to disproportionately impact its trajectory – I ran my DD and would advise anyone to do the same. There is the obvious company´s positioning and capability side (market / client / competitive DD, top team calibre and ambitions, track record to date, capital availability…) that most consultants would be familiar with. There is also the less obvious and usually harder-to-assess capital structure situation. Harder for lack of knowledge and difficult-to-access information. The importance of that side can´t be overstated. For countless reasons beyond your control, you could end up working for equity redeemed in glory instead of dollars. The following points are not meant to be professional advice, nor comprehensive. That said, you want to check three fronts. First, make sure that whoever raises money in the company is skilled. Second, you want to enquire about the shareholder agreements and at the very least understand the ownership structure and control terms (who calls the shot?), the liquidation preferences and share classes in place (who will get what under different scenarios?) and how the company is faring vs. its latest valuation point (is it unrealistically high and unattainable, meaning bad news when comes the necessity to raise again?). Third, understand which sort of liquidity is on the horizon and what are the employee exit conditions (you may be forced to convert your options upon exit without being able to monetize them, hence facing a possibly huge and unmanageable money call). Having ticked both DD sides, what swayed my decision positively was that I could establish that I would have room to structure and accelerate the company with my skillset and experience. In no small part because the founders were open and eager to work with ex-consultants

3.     The appeal of adventure – I had never worked at a start-up, never lived, let alone worked in a developing country, and did not speak a word of Spanish. A combo that seemed absolute madness to most felt like an epic challenge to take on to me. This truly energized me

What are you doing now?

I am still in my role of Chief Strategy & Analytics Officer

What does your day to day look like?

My day-to-day is split between my Strategy and Analytics hats and across conceptual thinking, team management / leadership, and operative tasks. On the analytics front, I have spent quite some time defining and executing our Advanced Analytics roadmap across data architecture and technology, talent acquisition and data governance to build a data self-service desk and power our analytics needs. On the Strategy side, I work hand in hand with our CEO on a combination of pure strategy and what I would label operative strategy work. I tackle strategy formulation at the company and BU level (e.g., which new brands and services to launch?), fundraising and board management and company structuring (I engineered and led a complete 18-month long flip of the entire company to an agile operating model, for instance). The more operative side implies to tackle the toughest problems that come up and drill as a Swiss knife to quickly fix them. For instance, that led me to revamp our S&OP, build a commercial plan to quadruple our market share to a leader position in our main wholesale channel or standardize our new brand launch playbook. The constant is the need to play actively both at the high thinking and granular practical levels. I deliver these projects with my teams of ex-consultants and data engineers across Latin America.

What do you love about your job?

What if you could work with smart and cool people and have the freedom to go 120% after what you want to and what makes most sense? This is ZeBrands. If one thing, I love our people. We have a diverse group of spiky persons, all weird and brilliant at the same time. It is a unique crew assembled thanks to the character of the founders. We have a high-performance culture without the unnecessary interpersonal aggressiveness. And we have the freedom to do what we want to. This is a magic combo. You can make bets, take bold decisions that pay off. Management freedom is underrated, this has been a big learning.

What do you not love about your job?

I would rephrase this to what I believe is important to know and consider before stepping into a start-up role out of consulting. A start-up is a being-for-death, a bold attempt to defy the odds. It implies a complete dedication to your core operations, which, in turn entails quite a few things. First, strategy comes second, and most problems are primarily practical and require on-the-go actions as opposed to conceptual thinking. Second, you must be ready to roll up your sleeves and embrace any task. You will stretch from being a junior analyst crunching excels that you must first merge and clean yourself to being a partner story-lining and defending an equity story with investors over the course of the same day. Finally, your peers, bosses and reports will be very diverse, and you won´t deal with the cosy homogeneity in profiles and ways of working known to you in consulting. It will require an adjustment.

What advice would you give someone deciding what they should do?

Consultancies are a destination for some and a launching pad for most. I am personally grateful to the high-powered individuals who apprenticed me at McKinsey (and at L.E.K. earlier on). Now, if you are like most (aka “launching pad” bucket), ask yourself if you are happy. Ask yourself if you feel like you are fulfilling your own unique path in life. Are you fighting the wars of others or are you waging your own? Are you galvanized or debilitated? Switch off your ever-running risk mitigation engine and start making choices instead of decisions. Decisions are strictly logical and imply an optimal outcome under constraints. For instance, it is arguably advisable on average to embrace higher education instead of entering the workforce straight out of high school to increase one´s average life income. Optimizing is the default wiring mode of most unsecure, high-achieving individuals. By contrast, choices are binary and hard to unturn. They can´t be optimized. And most importantly, they imply a loss. In essence, choosing is renouncing. Should you go to London or stay in Sydney? Should you propose to Bridget or Liz (you could try both, but it could get complicated. Or sequentially then)? The individuals who live a fulfilling life make choices. This leads me to my biggest piece of advice, which I hope some readers will pick up on and find useful: start embracing a life of choices. Follow your intuition because it is not a madman´s whisper but the unspoken sum of all your life experiences pointing you towards your path.

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