A few days ago, I learned with a humbled heart about a sad turning of events. It’s the end of the road for Luxembourg’s own startup, Largowind. The company’s chief in command, Mathilde Argaud, decided to officially end the journey earlier this week. Even in such a difficult time, she has decided to share her adventure with us—underlining the challenges that slowly yet surely took the wind from Largowind’s sails towards the end of the summer. The life of a startup is not always a long, steady waterway, and I thank you, Mathilde, for choosing Silicon Luxembourg’s columns for your final salute.
(Featured Image: Mathilde Argaud, Founder of Largowind / Image Credit © Olivier Minaire / Silicon Luxembourg)
Everything starts with a pitch…
In a few days, Startup Weekend Luxembourg’s 10th edition, a hackathon-of-sorts lasting 54 hours that allows you, if your idea rises to the top on Friday night, to potentially formalize a startup by Sunday night and, even better, to launch it by Monday morning. Mathilde knows this phenomenon well having discovered it three and a half years ago when she became a pitcher. Alongside her father, the idea for digitalized boat beacons saw daylight for the first time. Without even realizing what happened, Mathilde found herself at the mother of a newborn, Largowind.
How many times did Mathilde pitch her project? Hundreds, of that we’re sure. And with each passing pitch, stronger became her determination to convince her friends, her family, her partners, her clients, her investors, her banker, and others.
In 2016, Mathilde took a striking blow with the sudden passing of her father and business partner. There she was, the lone captain on the deck of her startup, still determined to pursue what had become a family dream, still determined to bring that idea to maturity.
… and the prizes…
You must have also heard about Mathilde and Largowind joined to a number of prizes and considerable recognition over the past three years. In addition to Startup Weekend Luxembourg 2015, Mathilde earned her place at the 2nd edition of the Fit4Start program (spring-winter 2016), the public startup growth initiative launched by Luxinnovation and the Ministry of the Economy in late 2014. A graduate of the program, she received financial support to the tune of €50,000 with an additional investment of €50,000 in private funding.
Her last calls to arms came when Mathilde took gold at Luxembourg’s national edition of the Startup World Cup in 2018, and when she proudly defended Luxembourg’s colors in the world final that took place in San Francisco in May of the same year, with a key week of immersion in Silicon Valley and the chance—dare I say a dream for Mathilde—to be invited to navigate the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge.
…then some beautiful recognition…
From the very first day, Mathilde’s handsome story awoke the curiosity of several publications, starting with Silicon Luxembourg. Truly. A startup born out of a hackathon, led by a woman (Lord knows how few there are in the ecosystem), accepted into an accelerator program, winner of a prestigious startup competition, and joined by key players in the ecosystem, it seemed the stars were aligning to put the spotlight on Largowind and its glowing founder.
In July 2017, I asked Mathilde to be on the cover of SILICON magazine’s 6th edition. It was a bet and an editorial choice for which I take full responsibility that touched a good number of you, dear readers. Yes, our editorial choices make up the wonderful side of this publication, shedding light on young entrepreneurs and those who throw themselves into the tumbling waves of the startup sea, whose beaches before them are littered with the remains of former sailors.
I will never forget our first meeting on the terrace of the one and only marina in Luxembourg. That day, Mathilde told me her entire entrepreneurial story, showing off with a proud yet anxious figure the beginning designs of what was to be her digitalized solution. That series of pictures gave way to the excitement of a nearby sailor who, after climbing on board her vessel for a picture at the helm, saw himself completely convinced, a sheer force of personality and a vision, at the time so clear, making him one of the first clients.
… and the snowball effect!
Over the course of three years, Mathilde and her team of two, who become 100% involved, took off. She paid her associates when it was possible while tooking nothing at all, and together they valiantly took the product to all the major distributers in the nautical industry across Europe and its areas of concentration, tested the product in French, Italian, and Spanish marinas, succeeded in gaining attention in several major professional catalogs, and attracted the sector’s interest in the company’s Connected Rope solution. All speeds were full ahead from investors, partners, and industrial teams that supported and accompanied the extremely motivated team and produced the startup’s beacons.
But—and yes, there’s always a but, and this time more severe than others—in the summer of 2018, the company that was supposed to deliver the first products revealed to Mathilde that such was not possible for the season. Democles’ sword dangling above Mathilde’s head fell hard. She couldn’t bounce back, and even worse, she couldn’t believe that after years of hard work such a blow was possible. It crushed all hopes she had of launching the product. Impossible to deliver to her clients in January 2019, impossible to see more visibility in the following professional catalogs, she would have to wait for the next annual editions in 2020. Impossible to envision a coming revenue after arriving at the end of three years of investment financing. The planned commercialization for the following year just wouldn’t happen. It would be a blank year that Mathilde had not at all allotted for in her business plan. Who would bet on a startup with a blank year in the development plan?
To manufacturers who do not keep their word, we hope you understand the magnitude of damages caused by unachieved delivery, especially those concerning a startup in need of production.
Mathilde tried to create time for herself, and to find additional months through several option, including reducing costs. But then another stone fell at Mathilde’s feet. One of her associates, someone in whom she had an enormous amount of confidence, would not help. The startup fell to its lowest low, and the thin thread holding the team together split.
The story does not end there. In the face of the manufacturer’s shortcoming, the original investors who previously believed whole heartedly in the project, dropped Mathilde, estimating that the risk had become too high for extra financing, thus sending all hopes for production into the abyss. The floodgates had opened, one by one, and Mathilde found herself in high tide without a life vest.
The internal flame that carried Mathilde during three and a half years slowly withered, and the situation become unbearable. Mathilde thus decided, just a few days ago, to toss her balance sheet and declare bankruptcy. I should be clear that the manufacturer took great care to send its invoices – we are, after all, talking about industrialization and important investments—without offering any kind of compensation. Although the manufacturer was open to discussion, it did not come through, leaving our young startup at inescapable bankruptcy.
Even in the face of such resistance, Mathilde went to find support from her family, to take a step back for a long reflection and mentally close the entrepreneurial adventure, after which she will make strong strides forward in the coming months. Even if a bitter feeling still lives inside Mathilde, she is staying true to herself and is already thinking of new adventures. In the search for work, this young startuper carries on her shoulders the strength of a true professional, human, and personal experience.
It is not without emotion that I write this article and live, alongside Mathilde, this beautiful entrepreneurial adventure. We are very close, for full disclosure. In bringing this story to the public, and in revealing to you the details of this “failure,” I also hope to shed light on the difficulties hitting startups, and to with what ease a dream can become a nightmare from one day to the next. Many are those who have lived similar experiences and those, for one reason or another, decided to put an end to the costs. I could tell others, but I think such is more a job for the entrepreneurs themselves and a job for me to write it down. Mathilde made the courageous decision to share with you the details and to tell you her story through these lines. This changes nothing, really, and certainly does not put her courage, her audacity, her vision, her perseverance, or her dreams in question, au contraire.
The future belongs to the daring. Happy sailing, Mathilde!
“As in any story, mine had an end, though premature and obviously less pretty than what I had hoped for. However, though this article announced a fall, I would like to take a line or two to thank all of the wonderful people who I had the pleasure to meet and with whom I had the privilege to sail. Entrepreneurship is a rich experience full of ups and downs, but it would not exist without the warmth of the entire community for which I am truly and sincerely grateful. A huge thank you, thus, to all the people who supported me and allowed me to express myself.” – Mathilde Argaud.