What if car maintenance was as easy as ordering a pizza online? This is the question that brought Limvirak Chea, Frédéric Dermer and Cristian Vrabie together in the creation of Fixter. All three have had unpleasant experiences with mechanics and were marked by this survey which showed that 73% of Brits are afraid of being scammed when they go to one.
“When we go to the garageexplains Frédéric Dermer. It feels like stepping back in time to what consumer service was like in the early 20th century. Nothing moved. You can do everything with your phone, whether it’s ordering a taxi, a hotel, a restaurant, plane tickets, train tickets… everything except car maintenance. An experience that hasn’t changed for 50 years”.
They therefore launched Fixter in 2017 from London offering a transparent, simple and efficient service.
Created in a “made in AXA” startup studio
The meeting of the three co-founders was made at the initiative of Stéphane Guinet, former manager of the AXA insurer (he was notably CEO of the AXA Global Direct entity) who has been managing Kamet since 2016. Kamet presented himself for a long time as the head of AXA startup studio. The goal is to build startups that revolve around their main business themes: health, automotive and insurance.
“They had the idea that it would create standalone businesses that would perform well or businesses that would potentially have synergies with AXA’s core business”describes Frédéric Dermer. The reality is more complex, however, but AXA is such a large company that you also need to be a large company to create a synergy that makes sense on AXA’s scale. On paper there were obvious things to imagine: but AXA is 6 million motor policyholders in France… To be a credible partner, you have to be able to maintain 6 million vehicles”.
Fixter is therefore sometimes presented as a “made in AXA” startup, but the reality is still very different depending on its founders. While the Kamet studio was still effectively funded by the insurer, it remained very independent, building on a model similar to that of the eFounders.
“We had the feeling of being completely independent, explains Frederic Dermar. We had AXA on our board, but I would argue that every startup has its investors on its board. It happened with them exactly as it could have happened with a fund”.
Anatomy of an entrepreneurial adventure
The history of Fixter is very easy to summarize: first there was a period in which the focus was on growth, then a period in which it was profitability. Then growth again.
“For the first three years of Fixter, the subject was any startup that wanted to demonstrate that they have a scalable model, that there is a market. We’ve doubled our figures every year and it’s really been the engine of the garage.”
COVID is coming to the end of its next three years and halting this growth. Subsequent confinements force garage owners to close their doors. “It was quite clear to us: we weren’t going to grow in 2020. And we told ourselves that if we can’t grow, let’s focus on profitability. We won’t have wasted two years for nothing.”
During the night, Fixter will then completely revise his priorities. It was no longer a question of recovering the largest number of customers, mechanics and drivers (to collect the vehicles from the user), the questions shift: who are the mechanics who offer the best prices, who are the most profitable customers, what is the best price model? The next two years are dedicated to answering these questions, especially through the recruitment of machine learning experts.
However, Fixter is forced to enter a new phase at the end of 2021, having AXA announced some time earlier, its willingness to turn its back on all projects related to Kamet (which has since opened up to funding from other companies) .
Knowing that AXA would not continue with Fixter, its three co-founders met with many investors, industrialists and financiers to try and imagine the best future for their startup. One meeting will clearly stand out, the one with the Renault group. “Our visions were super alignedrecalls Frédéric Dermer. Renault wanted to develop itself in independent maintenance, i.e. extend to all brands, with a strategy focused on digital and home collection of vehicles. They clearly told us that what we were doing was exactly what they wanted to do internally and that they wanted to bring Fixter back into the group to develop us in all the markets where Renault has a strong presence.”
The startup was only present in England a year ago and was launched in France less than six months ago. “After a new phase of growth and a phase where we focused on profitability, we are back to a new phase of growthFrederic explains. Next year we will launch a new country and the desire is to be able to open several from 2024″.
Deployment in all countries where Renault is located will therefore potentially be widespread over the next decade, but this also reflects the long-term vision of the automotive group. So why is such a complicated synergy with a giant like AXA taken for granted with Renault?
“The Fixter project was really something extremely peripheral in an insurance company like AXAconsiders Frédéric Dermer. While it is something at the heart of Renault’s growth strategy for the years to come. We are a long way from being Renault’s biggest project, but I think there is a real ambition in its ten-year strategic roadmap to establish itself in the aftermarket in a significant way.”
The rest of the Fixter story
This third phase of growth has just begun for Fixter and there is still a long way to go for its co-founders. It seems clear that Frédéric Dermer and associates intend to stay beyond the clauses signed during the acquisition. “The goal in a startup is always to give you the means to realize your initial vision, to realize the dream you may have had with your co-founders. And that’s what Renault allows us to do.”
The most important thing for Frédéric is therefore not the (confidential) acquisition amount. Indeed, while it’s a figure that may have delighted shareholders, it represents only a fraction of the investment Renault has pledged to make over the next few years to enable Fixter to spread his vision around the world.