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Egalitarian Entrepreneur

Hugo Mulliez is the third-gen of one of France’s most successful family businesses, Auchan. He is now on a mission to democratise the elitist world of contemporary art with Artsper, a new online marketplace.

With Artsper we form partnerships with galleries across France and we are starting to develop into Europe. We ask them to get involved in Artsper [an online marketplace where galleries can display artworks for sale from their exhibitions], and after creating their account they can manage it by themselves. We do not have our own artists or artworks, so we don’t have any stock or delivery issues, we are just an intermediary between galleries, buyers and art amateurs.

One of the problems with the art world is that there is a lack of structure in the market – there are other websites that work directly with artists but every artist can subscribe to those websites. There you have lots of artworks – some are very good, some are bad and some are very bad, and art amateurs are pretty lost.

They don’t know which artworks are good, and they don’t know if the value of the art will increase in the future, but on Artsper they know that art galleries selected our artists and we selected our galleries – it means that all the art on the website should gain some value as it matures. We are here to help the art amateur choose good quality art at a low price, and we ask our galleries to propose artworks at less than €5,000.

At university I wanted to work in finance, and I ended up doing my end-of-studies internship with a private equity fund. During that period I realised that I did not really want to work in finance. We were in touch with entrepreneurs, we were looking at a lot of different businesses and I was specialising in internet businesses, but I realised I did not want to invest in those companies, I wanted to create them.

My family doesn’t really like finance so they were happy that I was quitting the finance world – my grandfather [Gérard Mulliez, founder of Auchan] always asked me, “So now, do you still like finance? Don’t you want to quit your job to work at Auchan?” My family doesn’t really understand the private equity world. They think it is only hedge funds but it isn’t.

They were worried about me becoming an entrepreneur because they knew I didn’t have any experience. Before I started my business, my father [Arnaud Mulliez, president of Auchan France] and my grandfather tried to convince me to get some experience in an art company but I was totally convinced I had to do it now. We had the advantage of being the first website of this type in Europe and I did not want to lose that. But now that I have done it they help me a lot, they understand now and they know they have to be on my side, and they understand why I wanted to do it.

I really wondered if I wanted to start working for Auchan E-Commerce to get some experience but my wish to create my company was too strong so I decided not to work there for now. But if my company doesn’t work or I quit my company in the next few years, I think I will want to work for Auchan E-Commerce.
I was given two pieces of good advice. The first was to try not to do it alone. I started alone, I wanted to find a partner before creating the company but at the end of June 2012 I didn’t find anyone. Everything changed when François-Xavier [Trancart (pictured, left)] – my associate – arrived in the business. Your partner – the guy you work with – will be there to fight, and it kind of gives you strength when you need it.

The second is to try, if possible, to have an advisory board. We are young, we don’t have any experience, and it is the one thing my grandfather always says about creating a business, “There is one guy, the entrepreneur, an idea – the idea of the business – and there is one board.” 

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