Sabine Ruaud and Peter Daly, professors at EDHEC Business School together with Dr Véronique Boulocher from the Brighton Business School, have just published a case study in The International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation dealing specifically with a born-global start-up, ‘Merci Handy. The article illustrates the shift from an economic and marketing product-based approach to a completely user-centric approach, whether the start-up had clients or not. In a client-centered environment, client experience is a strategic issue and a challenge for brands. The case study also questions the benefits and opportunities of start-ups to address a global target from their inception. It enables to illustrate the stages of the international development of an emerging company, which follows the ‘born-global’ model.

The ‘Merci Handy’ Story

Merci Handy is the story of two Parisian friends; Louis and Roland, both 25 years old, who like many young people of their generation, were fans of finger food. Louis explains the genesis of Merci Handy:

" We often had lunch on the go: burgers, sandwiches, spring rolls, etc. We eat all of these delicious foods with our fingers. And as our mothers educated us well, washing our hands afterwards was of utmost importance. When there is a water point, this is no problem but if we are eating fajitas at the top of the Eiffel Tower, then there an issue. So, we bought water-based antibacterial gels. The bottles were often too big and impractical to carry around. But by shopping around, we found smaller bottles that slipped neatly into our pockets. But it was a disappointment when you first opened them as you have the funny feeling that you were pouring vodka onto your hands. And your hands became really dry. What’s more, our friends thought we were hypochondriacs as soon as we took out our medical-looking bottles of gel. So, we had an idea: to de-dramatize the hand-cleansing gel by making it pleasant, fun and trendy, like a fashion accessory, and to make it more pleasurable to use”.

Enhanced market value via sensory experience

Thus, in February 2014, Merci Handy was born, an innovative brand in this hyper-competitive environment, where consumers had an unlimited but rather banal choice. Their mission was to transform the unglamorous gesture of washing your hands into a trendy lifestyle gesture. Their distinctive competitive advantage was to play on the imagination in order to create an affective and emotional sensory experience with their consumer, whom the founders of the start-up call “our kittens”.

By enacting a enchantment process with a hydro-alcoholic hand gel, Merci Handy transformed the product from a basic, sanitized, ugly and tasteless product into an everyday cosmetic that is beautiful and entertaining. The colourful packaging and the greedy texture creates a distinctive desire around the product. With this creation and this unique universe, Merci Handy have differentiated themselves and delighted their “kittens”.

Distribution and Communication Strategies

In order to continue to be disruptive, Merci Handy decided to start selling online with delivery by post. The opening of a Pop-up store in Paris enabled the brand to meet clients in the neighbourhood, and get people to talk about the brand. A second step involved selling the products in unusual places such as concept stores. Merci Handy launched an exclusive special collection at Colette, the Parisian, trendy landmark. Finally, Louis and Roland’s distributed the product by referencing it at Sephora, Douglas, le Bon Marché and Urban Outfitters, which gave them instant access to English-speaking countries.

Proud of their success on the French market, these two daring Millennial entrepreneurs continued their expansion into Europe with the aim of launching their product internationally in Asia and in the United States. Their challenge was to become the world's leading brand of everyday cosmetics. Social networks were one of Merci Handy’s marketing strategies. The brand opted also for humorous communications in order to boost and strengthen advertising, memorization and recognition.

Merci Handy targets Influencers like Aly Mommy Darling

Key learnings

  1. In the life of a start-up, the question of international development is often crucial and difficult to solve.
  2. However, more and more internationalization is unavoidable. Nowadays, creating a start-up means offering a solution to an identified problem, which goes beyond the realms of national borders
  3. As soon as you begin to formulate a value proposition, you must therefore fit into an international ecosystem.
  4. Integrating an international dimension within a start-up is part of the DNA of many start-ups as well as being the vision of its founders. For innovative projects, it is a way to win new customers, accelerate the growth of the company and position itself as a leader.
  5. Growth requires significant resources and continuous innovation of the offer, so as to remain at the forefront of what can be achieved at a global level.
  6. Therefore, the number of people to whom the product or service is offered should be as large as possible in order to generate significant profits, making it possible to finance innovation.
  7. It would be dangerous to wait for profitability in one country before extending into another, because you would be leaving markets to other players, given that the "first mover advantage" is crucial on several markets.

Being a born global start up implies that:

► the entrepreneur is dynamic, passionate and a risk-taker,

► the entrepreneur has a clear vision of their internationalization,

► He has the requisite language skills and can nurture and develop international networks and ecosystems.