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ESSEC MBA Got Serial Entrepreneur €600k And Ten Years Of Start-Up Success

This MBA banked start-up investment before even graduating. Since leaving ESSEC, he raised €600,000 in seed-funding and ran a successful start-up for ten years. But he's not stopping there.

Wed Feb 5 2014

BusinessBecause
Alexandre Sagakian has known he wanted to become an entrepreneur since his teenager years. His plan, like many MBAs, was to get a few years’ experience in consulting under his belt and launch a business later in life.
 
But in the summer of 2000, when the dotcom bubble burst, so too did his start-up ambition. The rise of Internet sites and the tech industry was un-paralleled at that point, and so too was Alex’s passion for the field.
 
But when things took a turn into the unexpected, when dotcom investors lost vast sums of money, when a mild economic recession was trigged, when the bubble was popped, it was a difficult time for Alex to launch an online-based business.
 
He had successfully raised a first round of funding, but the industry’s instability meant it was much less than he expected. He was clever enough to adapt and slow things down, to bide his time during the storm engulfing many tech start-ups and launch his product when the market was stronger. On the face of it, his patience paid dividends.

Flash forward to 2014, and Alex strolls into TechStars’ London office in the City this morning as an accomplished entrepreneur. He launched and ran an online market research company for over a decade, raising €600,000 in seed-funding before selling it on to Bolloré Group, the French investment firm.

So when I speak with him in London and ask why he chose entrepreneurship over the corporate MBA lifestyle, he has a pretty simple answer. “When you get to be your own boss and make all the decisions, you think it’s the best job you will ever do,” says Alex. “I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur since I was young. And I knew that long before I started an MBA.”

Alex is part of the old-guard of MBA entrepreneurs; after working for Capgemini, the leading French consultancy, he joined a business school to launch a business, rather than take a start-up to the next level – as is commonplace nowadays.

But when he graduated from ESSEC Business School, it wasn’t with the MBA cohort he had enjoyed 12-months with. At the ceremony, he had no idea who his fellow graduates were.  

“I entered ESSEC’s entrepreneurship program, which helps you develop a business plan and approach investors,” he explains. “A group of investors told me they wanted to invest now. And I couldn’t just say wait, could I? They don’t care if you graduate or not.

“I left the program and raised some finance, but after a while I realized that I should still get my diploma – you never know what will happen. So I went back to ESSEC. I was supposed to graduate in 2000 but didn’t complete the MBA until 2002. I didn’t even know anybody on graduation day.”

There are those that will say you don’t need an MBA to launch a successful business. And Alex’s case gives weight to that argument. But the context of business school has changed since then too. More and more professionals are enrolling on MBA programs to get an edge in the jobs market – there are bigger program intakes each year and therefore more competition post-graduation.

It might have been something of a rarity to have those three magic letters on your CV ten years ago. But if Alex already had a business, backed by investors and a serious amount of capital, why did he go back to ESSEC?

“An MBA helps because you need the background, the additional edge,” he says. “In entrepreneurship, it’s sometimes hard to connect the dots between education [and start-ups]. Everything you learn on an MBA is very useful but there’s no one single thing that was really instrumental to the success of my business.

“But I don’t think people would have invested in me if I wasn’t an ESSEC graduate; it gives you credibility. But it’s more than a label too; it’s a whole concept. You will learn how to create a business plan, manage finance and build a network. It’s always easier with an alumni network.”

So it’s not a condition for start-up success – but it certainly helps. Many graduates are shunning traditional MBA jobs in favour of launching their own ventures, and if they can achieve as much success as Alex, the tuition fees will be a risk worth reward.

He was inspired to launch his business, Directpanel Research, while on the MBA program after he identified a gap in the market. The company carried out market research, helping other corporations connect with their customers and to test new products and services with target demographics.

Alex may have sheltered from the dotcom storm, but this type of Internet research was creating a few waves of its own. Now, online focus groups are a regular feature for many big-name brands. Directpanel Research was one of the first.

It wasn’t all plain-sailing in those storms, though. It took Alex 18 months to get his product out – much longer than first intended. He says the market wasn’t ready. They held off for a while, but came back with attitude. They started working directly with brands, instead of just doing general market research, as was first planned.

Alex’s biggest challenge came when his co-founder, whom he met on ESSEC’s entrepreneurship program, decided to leave the company. “In hind-sight, it was a bad decision to not spend more time with her before launching something together,” he says.

“It was tough when she left, it wasn’t the plan to be the only co-founder and it changes a lot. But you have to learn from your past.  Today, I make sure I have a strong team of at least three for any venture.”

It didn’t seem to hamper the company’s progress, however. Directpanel Research was in business for almost 11 years. If Alex could pin his start-up success down to one factor, it would be teamwork. “Business is about people more than anything else. If you can’t trust your co-founders and employees, there is no way you’re going to make it work,” he says.

“Entrepreneurs are smart but the smartest are the ones that get the right people on board. We shouldn’t forget that in the start-up world – 80 per cent of success is dependent on your team.”

Finding finance is a key concern for today’s MBAs, and a strong team will give you confidence among investors, Alex says. And he should know – he’s a Director at Techstars, one of the best-known accelerators in the world. Alex also dabbles in angel investing, and helping other entrepreneurs is important to him.

“Entrepreneurs now-a-days need ten times less cash than when I started-up,” he says. “If you have a great team and a great product, you will never have trouble finding money. People will come to you.

“Focusing on your team is the best thing you can do. Make sure you all complement each other and that your interests are aligned. I believe you should find the team before the product, and that may be counter-intuitive, but even if your idea doesn’t work, you can tweak it.

“You can alter the business model, but what you cannot do is alter the team. You have to make investors have confidence in the team, and confidence that you will make the right business decisions.”

The dotcom bubble may have burst a decade ago, but Alex should look back on that moment with fond memories. For it was the motivation he needed to begin an MBA – and that was where his entrepreneurial flair truly took flight.  

He has a few more ideas up his sleeve, as any MBA does, and you can be sure Alex is not done with start-ups yet. Far from it. This is just the beginning.   

Student Reviews

ESSEC Business School

Student

Verified

5/12/2023

On Campus

The best intercultural university

There are more than 50 nationality in the grade, so there are opportunities to interact with people from all around the world. In terms of academics, the BBA course offers diverse courses for the 1st

Student

Verified

6/04/2022

On Campus

Creativity, adaptability and entrepreneurship

The Master in Management program at the ESSEC Business School allows the students to choose their courses accordingly to their preferences and their professional targets. We can also go through international exchange and take part in internships with companies that are also partners with the school. The school is also next to the city of Paris.

Prithwiraj

Verified

17/11/2021

On Campus

Top business school in France

Doing PhD in essec took some time, to be precise about five years. But the experience was very good and cost effective too. There are opportunities for the student for teaching assistantship and that helps both financially and in career. In the final year I could manage to teach marketing to M1 students and this helped shape my career

Student

Verified

30/10/2021

On Campus

Great college

The program is well suited for early professionals with an engineering degree preferably or a degree in economics. I would suggest taking the ceasure irrespective of the experience level as it helps you take your time to adjust to the job market.

Student

Verified

30/10/2021

Blended

Good school in France

I am currently enrolled in M2 in Essec business school. I am specialising in marketing management. The Grande Ecole programme is valued in France and my school ranks very high up. There are a lot of opportunities for internships and CDD.

Student

Verified

9/02/2020

The program curriculum

BBA program. The program is really practical and useful, provide us many international opportunities. Like internship and humanitarian experience, and the flexibility is also really cool, we can choose different campus and tracks as we want.

Véronique

Verified

11/12/2019

International Course

This school is very international and business oriented. Highly recognized by the companies The campus has been renovated and is very functional and modern from now on. Excellent atmosphere. Reputation of essec is a plus

kevin

Verified

11/11/2019

Friends, Career opportunities.

The program I did gave me the opportunity to start in Singapore. I got the chance to know all the students that started there and we bonded and made some friends for life. The career opportunities that ESSEC also gave me were unbelievable.

Student

Verified

25/09/2019

Practical and useful

I think the best thing about Essec is that it's not focusing on academics rather it emphasizes on future job mindset and professional experiences.. The classes are interesting and we have plenty of workshops attributing to different sectors.. The campus is very nice with a good cafe and wonderful library. The only problem is the location of the campus. It's quite far from Paris.

Kartik

Verified

14/02/2024

On Campus

Amazing experience! Must try

I think its a very amazing school with great and experienced faculty. Also the alumni network is very solid and useful. The school has a great balance of studies and work experience which is really essential for a student.

Ali

Verified

28/05/2024

On Campus

GBBA: Diverse, Enriching, and Career-Boosting

My experience at ESSEC Business School has been outstanding. The Global BBA program offers a rich academic curriculum and diverse learning opportunities. I appreciated the chance to study on different campuses, including an international exchange, which broadened my perspective. The social environment is culturally diverse and vibrant, enhancing both my personal and professional growth. The administration is attentive, constantly offering new academic and student life opportunities. The campus facilities and classrooms are excellent. I highly recommend ESSEC for its excellence, global exposure, and career opportunities.

Maximilien

Verified

5/06/2024

On Campus

ESSEC BS BBA REVIEW

The English track BBA program at ESSEC is simply exceptional. Courses are taught by internationally renowned professors who are experts in their field. The subjects taught cover a wide range of disciplines from marketing to finance, strategy and entrepreneurship. The English track is a major asset because it allows you to develop perfect mastery of professional English, essential in today's globalized business world. Some students love student life at Essec, which is one of the best in France, but it all depends on taste.

Clément

Verified

14/06/2024

On Campus

Great program, incredible school

I love almost everything about this school, from the student life to the academic program and the opportunities it provides. I'm currently at the Paris campus, in Cergy, and I'm really enjoying it. The BBA program is very rich and diversified, you can start with geopolitics and then finance, what I mean is that there's a great balance between the subjects in this program. I was also lucky enough to spend a semester at the Singapore campus, and I loved that experience on the other side of the world. ESSEC is also known for its dynamic and rich student life, with access to several parties a week and the various associations within the school. If I could recommend just one school, it would be this one - I'm 100% satisfied.

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