Nicolas Julia can smile. Less than nine months after a previous fundraising of 50 million dollars, his start-up Sorare has just made a new fundraising. And this time, the amount is astronomical since the young shoot has recovered 680 million dollars. A new record for French Tech, and above all a mountain of cash that allows it to be valued at 4.3 billion dollars (3.7 billion euros). Amazing for a company created in 2018.
But beyond the figures, it is above all the sector and Sorare’s ambition that can impress. Like Ledger, the start-up is one of those young shoots in the fast-developing crypto ecosystem. Very quickly. And with a lot of ambitions. In the years to come, Sorare wants to become the world leader in entertainment. After signing a partnership in September with the Spanish football league, it is the turn of the German Bundesliga to join the adventure. The co-founder of Sorare, Nicolas Julia, details his strategy and ambitions in an exclusive interview.
L’Express: With 680 million dollars, you broke the record for the biggest fundraiser for French Tech. But what exactly does Sorare do?
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Sorare is a fantasy football game that allows both to collect digital cards and to use them to make online matches against other players. Today several hundred thousand people collect cards and play matches every week.
In fact, you’re a kind of mix between Panini cards and an online football game… On paper, it’s nothing revolutionary, right? What makes Sorare special?
The key is technology. Our game is based on NFTs (non fungible tokens), i.e. unique digital tokens registered in the blockchain. We discovered this technology in 2017, and when we saw it, we thought it was going to change the way we own digital objects. Our lives are increasingly dematerialized, so it is normal that property adapts.
NFT technology is very interesting for three reasons. First, because it makes our player cards unique. When you buy a Mbappé card on Sorare, you are guaranteed to have a rare item that cannot be duplicated. Then the card belongs to the users, they are the real owners of it, unlike classic games where when you buy objects in a game of war or football, such as swords or jerseys, you lose them in the following season. Finally, there is the portability of these game objects. Players can use them wherever they want whenever they want. They can especially sell them! It’s a huge change.
How are the cards created?
As in the physical world, we will collect the images of the players from the football clubs to create the cards. We create an NFT on which we will affix these images, except that instead of using paper, we will print them on the blockchain (Ethereum, Ed). Once the cards are printed on the blockchain, we will market them to our community who will collect them and use them to play.
When we talk about NFT, we still wonder a lot about the value of these digital tokens, about their use? What is it actually for?
Our goal in launching Sorare was to add to the collection dimension, the fun aspect, the game. The usefulness of our NFTs is there. It is used in the game to compose a team of five players and compete against others with ratings that depend on the actual performance of the players on the grass. In addition to the game, we are building an entire ecosystem of services to connect the physical and digital worlds. For example, we have just signed an exclusive agreement with the Spanish League and the winner of the tournament of the week will win VIP tickets to attend the “Clasico” between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona all expenses paid. There is also the possibility of accessing the training center, the players…
Much has been said about NFTs because of recent record sales, such as the artist Beeple who sold one of his works for $69.3 million. Isn’t that excessive? Isn’t there a bubble?
If we ask ourselves this question it is because there is a huge enthusiasm around this new technology. I think it’s very good, it’s super positive. Without wanting to compare ourselves to other technologies, we had exactly the same debates at the beginning of the web and mobile. We have these questions as soon as there is a radical innovation in Tech. It is obvious that certain projects will fail, that certain amounts are excessive. But we have to look at the longer term and see the whole economy that is being created around it.
Exactly, let’s get back to your fundraising. $680 million is considerable. What are you going to do with all that money?
Lots of things ! But the first priority is to expand the team. We are recruiting people and we are trying to attract the best profiles. For example, we have just recruited the HR department of Lyft and we are looking at other big profiles, other talents from Silicon Valley to build a world leader in entertainment based in Paris. There, we are around thirty and we are aiming for 200 employees by the end of the year with several offices around the world.
The second priority is the product. We are still at the beginning of the development of the game, it is a new model so we will improve it. We will also unveil a mobile application in the coming months. And the third major project is the agreements with the leagues and the partnership dimension of the business. We have more than 180 football clubs on board and we want to expand to other major leagues.
Still, such a sum seems enormous for a company of 30 people…
Of course it’s huge. But we have to come back to the needs and ambitions of society. If you have the ambition to create a world leader, and it’s true that it’s not something you see every day in France, you have to give yourself the means, you have to recruit the best around the world and sign clubs as soon as possible. Sorare wants to become the world leader in entertainment so we need the best talent. All of this is expensive, very expensive.
Do you have competitors?
The advantage when you open a market is that you have no competitor, you are alone. After the real challenge for us is to execute very quickly. Given that the market is very buoyant, there will be competitors, large groups that will arrive, but for the moment we are making progress. With this fundraising, we are now the best-funded NFT company in the world. We are not talking about France and Europe, but about the world and so that gives us a lot of weight. Afterwards, you have to keep moving forward quickly to keep this advantage, hence the fundraising.
With digital, boundaries tend to blur. There you are in football, gaming and entertainment, but could you expand your area to other sports, to other sectors?
Obviously, we look at other sports like baseball and basketball. Afterwards, you must not disperse. We have managed to establish ourselves as the world leader in the sector at the crossroads between fantasy and NFT and that has been noticed by clubs, in all sports, especially in the United States. So much so that large companies have even come to ask us. Even companies outside of sport have noticed us, but that’s not our short or medium term goal. We already have so much to do. Afterwards, in a few years, we won’t forbid ourselves anything…
After Ledger, Sorare is the second crypto company to become a unicorn. How do you explain that two of the biggest companies in this ecosystem are French?
The first explanation is quite simple: in France, we have plenty of talent in engineering and in crypto. We may even have the best in the world! The second explanation is the change in ambitions of French entrepreneurs. A new generation is arriving with people who no longer think of a year, but of 10 years, who do not think of the 1 billion valuation, but of the 100 billion market capitalization.
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Today what would it take for there to be more unicorns in France?
In fact, we have a context that is very favorable to businesses in France. But you have to succeed in transforming the test. In Asia and the United States, things are moving very quickly.
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