In 2023 Valentin Lautier founded Homaio, a startup looking to unlock Compliance Carbon Markets for individual investors. Valentin spoke to Roundtable about discovering the idea for his business on the Eurostar, how he convinced investors by playing to his strengths, and using Roundtable to bring smaller ticket investors on board via an SPV.
Roundtable: How and when did you decide to launch a business in the relatively unknown world of carbon markets?
Valentin Lautier: I’ve always loved building things. Over the last ten years, I have created startups in different environments and economic sectors, from fintech and payments to a little bit of VR and architecture, to direct-to-consumer brands. A few years ago, while I was traveling on the Eurostar, there was an article on European Union Allowances in the Financial Times. [EUAs are a tradable unit, allowing the holder the right to emit one tonne of CO2, under the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme]. The price was just going up and to the right. Reading more, I discovered a fascinating market, growing fast and really contributing to emissions reductions.
Once home, I looked for ways of investing in EUAs. There weren’t any. I asked around, and quickly realized they were not accessible to individual investors. I’ve been looking for ways to solve that for years. About a year ago, I decided to drop everything and dedicate my time to building a platform where people can find financial assets that deliver on that promise: combining financial performance with impact you can trust.
We are starting with compliance carbon markets, but down the line hope to expand to other asset classes. When you invest in crypto you go on Coinbase, or art on Masterworks, or stocks on Bitpanda. Homaio will be the place where you invest in assets that deliver impact and returns: that is our raison d’être.
Roundtable: The company is only a few months old. What are you focused on right now?
Valentin: Right now, we are looking for clients who want to invest in carbon markets. Unfortunately, we currently can only onboard clients with a minimum investment of 25,000 EUR. The objective down the line is to be as universal as possible and to democratize that asset class.
The thing is that we are still doing a lot by hand. We don't have a platform in place to onboard thousands of users seamlessly yet. That is what we are building.
So, in the meantime, we’re looking to maximize value while doing things that don't scale. And one way to do it is to focus on high-net-worth individuals initially. They help us build a track record and credibility. Next year we will be able to lower the threshold and onboard more people.
Roundtable: Could you tell me a little bit about your fundraising experience?
Valentin: Initially, I didn't want to fundraise. I wanted to self-finance or do a very small, quick fundraising round, to avoid the fundraising process, which I knew from experience to be toilsome. Looking back, I'm happy that I went through it because it really helped me to grow.
I was looking for angel investors, but quite rapidly I realized that I was working on something that was relatively unknown. It is a huge market, but a lot of people are not familiar with it. It is also a regulated market. And we are a fintech company. So,things quickly get technical. A lot of our innovation is around the financial instruments that we are building and the regulatory environments that we are operating in. Several angels were not comfortable with all these layers of complexity. They needed to have a venture capital fund lead the round, do the due diligence, and put their stamp on it. I did not expect, this early in the adventure, to reach out to VCs.
In the end, I mixed both: having one VC lead the round and then having a mix of smaller funds and business angels. Within the business angel group, I also split between larger, more experienced angels and smaller checks that were more from friends and family. You have different categories of investors, and you kind of mix it all together to design a relevant cap table.
Roundtable: How did you use Roundtable?
Valentin: From the get-go, I knew that if I were to open the round to friends and family, with more volume of smaller tickets, I would regroup them in an SPV.
On the one hand, an SPV usually takes time, and money, you must manage it. But on the other hand, it is also nice to have your friends and your family involved in supporting you. So, I was hesitating.
I was aware that down the line, you really don't want to have a cap table with too many lines to manage, as it is a time sink for founders, and funds don't like it.
Roundtable was the solution to all these problems. I could delegate to a third party that would bring in all these people together and manage them for me.
The Roundtable SPV accounts for around 100,000 EUR, and there are 25 or 30 people in it. The average ticket is a few thousand euros. It is a small part of the round, but it is one that is important to have. And there is no way I could have onboarded them without Roundtable.
Roundtable: How do you keep your investors engaged? And do you ever ask them for help or anything else besides cash?
Valentin: I really like to keep my investors informed. Having friends put in €1,000 in yourcompany helps, but to be honest, this money is not going to make a huge difference.
What does make a difference however is to have that friend involved and aware and supportive: for them to say, “oh, I've seen this or I've talked to that person, or I thought about you for that reason”. So you have to keep them aware for them to help. If they're not aware, there's no way they can help.
I keep them updated with a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter: what's going on, what we've been working on since the last newsletter, and updates on what we're going to be focusing on in the next four, six, or eight weeks. And I make it very clear how they can help and where I expect them to help
Advice for founders
Roundtable: Do you have any advice for aspiring founders?
Valentin: At the very beginning, it's just pure chaos. That's why I don't like to give advice. What worked for me was the outcome of my singular experience. That in itself is a piece of advice: every company is unique, and every journey is unique.
That being said, when you fundraise, you have to understand that it's a grind: it's difficult. And whatever you may read about people raising millions over five days, that's not the real world. Everybody struggles. The truth is, it takes time. It's frustrating. But you must embrace the challenge and enjoy the process.
Finally, you must understand your strengths and weaknesses. Your company is not for everybody. Most people are going to pass, but all you need is that one win. I was a solo founder, I was working on a market that was relatively unknown, and I didn't have a lot of experience in carbon markets or in financial markets. There were a lot of things that were going against me, but I also knew there were a lot of things that were going for me. I stuck to what I felt were my strengths: a well-documented, data-backed, rational process. And for a lot of people that is not going to work: they are more interested in the emotional or social dimensions. They are going to invest because their friend is investing or because a famous investor is investing. I looked for investors that were ready to look at the numbers. Look at the trends. Because I needed an investor with whom that resonated.
So go out there and try to find the person who is going to be looking for the reasons to do the deal because they are excited by it. It takes a lot of time, and trial and error, and you must speak with dozens of different funds and investors. But it is a numbers game, and with some luck, you’ll get there eventually.