Graded alumnus Edouard de Montmort ‘03 is a serial entrepreneur who is currently running a startup focused on increasing liquidity in emerging markets. Seeking exciting opportunities in Brazil’s tech space, Edouard returned to São Paulo after college, where he co-founded the companies Majoritas, ÁRVORE Immersive Experiences, and Velvet.
In this month’s "Alumni Spotlight," Edouard discusses the path he took towards finding purposeful work, Graded's influence on his career, and his experiences leveraging technology in innovative ways.
You moved to Brazil from Monaco at the age of ten. How was your transition to São Paulo and to Graded?
I was born in Paris to a French father and a Brazilian mother, and I lived in the French capital until I moved to Monaco at age seven. When I was ten, my parents decided to relocate us to Brazil to be closer to my aging maternal grandparents. Upon arriving in São Paulo, I spoke no Portuguese whatsoever, so I struggled with the transition. But being thrust into an alien culture meant that I had to adapt quickly. I learned the language, embraced the culture, and made new friends much sooner than I had anticipated.
My first few years in the city were marked by several changes. Upon arrival, I attended a French school in São Paulo. Enrolling at a school that followed a French curriculum allowed me to acclimate to my new life without the additional stress of classes conducted in Portuguese. I then attended a Brazilian school for a few years, after which I enrolled at Graded. I was set on attending university in the US, and I knew that studying at an international school would help me achieve that goal. I chose to go to Graded mostly because of the strong recommendations I received from family friends.
After college, you decided to pursue a career in technology. What drew you to that sector?
I graduated from Bentley University in the late 2000s, just as the markets were crashing due to the subprime mortgage crisis. Massive layoffs were taking place, and many of my classmates who had gone into investment banking were facing severe instability. Fortunately, I landed a job at a large, publicly-traded technology staffing firm in Boston.
During my time in that company, I gained a solid understanding of the growing technology sector and met several tech entrepreneurs. Two of the friends I made during those years later became my partners at Majoritas, the first tech venture I joined.
After leaving Boston, you joined the founding team at Majoritas, a data company focused on presidential elections and diplomacy. What challenges did you face building your first company?
In 2009, The Economist published a story about economic growth in Brazil. The cover featured an image of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue taking off like a rocket. A lot of foreign capital was flowing into the country at the time, and the American economy was still in steep decline; it seemed that there would be fantastic opportunities for me back in São Paulo. So, after a lot of consideration, I decided to return to Brazil.
Much to my surprise, however, Brazil's tech ecosystem was actually verging on nonexistence. As a result, I had a difficult time landing somewhere I liked. I worked at a movie production company, a large real-estate developer, and a local hedge fund, but it was only when I joined Majoritas that I felt my work was purposeful again.
Majoritas was founded in 2009 by two Romanians whom I had befriended in Boston. They had since returned to Bucharest and were searching for a partner to help them scale emerging markets. Majoritas aims to improve democracy by providing presidential candidates, elected officials, and governments with technology tools and digital strategies to carry out their civic and political agendas. It leverages the power of data to mobilize voters in an ethical and transparent way, abiding by all privacy laws.
Majoritas expanded at an incredible rate—in less than three years, the company grew from a small crew of four overextended employees to an enterprise involving more than 400 collaborators working out of 12 offices spread across four continents. It was insane!
The greatest challenge I faced in helping build Majoritas was scaling the business while maintaining the company culture. We were operating offices in several countries, across multiple time zones, and in different languages, which made it difficult to sustain our corporate philosophy worldwide. Additionally, in early stages, we focused too much on building the technology and securing new contracts. We should have paid more attention to our employees. Consequently, we lost a lot of good, competent people because of our failure to provide adequate training. And we were constantly dealing with issues such as hacker threats and the lack of digital infrastructure in the under-developed countries we served. Despite these challenges and mistakes, though, working at Majoritas was the greatest grassroots experience I could have had.
In 2016, you connected with another Graded alumus, Ricardo Justus '01, and together you founded ÁRVORE, a virtual reality company that creates interactive narrative experiences and games. How did your partnership begin?
In late 2016, after threats to my physical safety were made by opposition leaders in countries like Colombia, Sri Lanka, and the Dominican Republic, I decided to remove myself from the day-to-day activities of Majoritas and fully dedicate myself to my wife, who was then pregnant with my first son.
A few weeks into my sabbatical, an uncle of mine who owns a content-production company convinced me to put together a business plan for a next-generation entertainment startup. At around that same time, I was introduced by a mutual friend to Ricardo [Ricky] Justus, whom I vaguely remembered having seen around the Graded campus. I soon learned that Ricky was debating whether or not to quit his day job and start a VR [virtual reality] studio.
Ricky and I clicked immediately. The fact that we were both Graded alumni helped establish the trust between us that remains to this day, and our strengths were complementary (he had a more creative background; I had experience with business development and fundraising). We were both convinced that advancements in technology and increasing access to high-speed internet would soon completely transform human communication and content consumption.
We started ÁRVOREwith the goal of bringing forth a new era of entertainment by creating innovative and immersive story worlds with the capacity to connect people everywhere. In a matter of months, we had built a stellar team of game developers, storytellers, and other experts; raised our first round of venture capital; and begun shipping our games to more than 65 countries.
The ÁRVORE team. (Edouard is in the bottom row, third from the left.)
What makes ÁRVORE unique?
ÁRVORE is a VR and AR [augmented reality] studio that creates interactive games and narratives for several different VR platforms. Our VR narrative A Linha, or The Line, is a great example of what makes us unique, as it combines a truly compelling story with cutting-edge technology. Set in 1920s São Paulo, the interactive film, narrated by Rodrigo Santoro, takes place on a maquette and tells the love story of Pedro, a delivery boy, and Rosa, a flower girl. A Linha was awarded the 2020 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media—it was the first Brazilian feature ever to win a Primetime Emmy.
We are currently entering a new phase at ÁRVORE as VR/AR transitions from niche to mass market, and we plan to launch three new games in 2023.
Edouard and the 2020 Emmy Award for Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Media.
You recently co-founded São Paulo-based Velvet, a liquidity platform for venture capital, with new offices in Bangalore, Miami, and Mexico City. Tell us about that endeavor.
Velvet is the liquidity partner to some of the best technology companies in emerging markets. My co-founder Carlos Naupari (EARJ class of '04 and former Big Four competitor) and I reconnected during the pandemic around opportunities to provide liquidity to stock option holders of tech companies about to go public in the US. We connected a sizable pool of employees from companies like Nubank, Palantir, Kraken, and SpaceX, who wanted to sell some of their shares, with investors interested in buying them. Thus, Velvet was born.
As companies stay private for longer, the need for liquidity before an IPO [initial public offering] becomes greater, and we could see that this secondary trading market was completely unexplored in Latin America and other emerging regions. We raised a significant amount of capital to build a solid team and scale our business in Brazil, Mexico, and India, and have since begun working with venture debt, loans with company shares as collateral, and an early-stage fund (which we will announce soon).
Edouard (second from left) and his team in front of the Times Square Nasdaq sign as it features Velvet (initially called Velvt).
What are your fondest memories of Graded?
Definitely the friendships I made! When I was new at Graded, everyone welcomed me and made me feel at home there, and I still have many good friends from those years. Recently, I have also sought to reconnect with classmates I had lost touch with along the way, and that has been extremely gratifying.
I also have fond memories of the amazing Graded teachers who molded me into the person I am today (shout-out to Dona Cris and Mr. Michell!). The Big Four tournaments, too, were great fun. I played softball and basketball for the school team, and I also really enjoyed watching the soccer team play (and win!).
In what ways did your experience at Graded help you succeed professionally?
Graded is a fantastic school that prepared me for college in the US, which in turn helped pave the way for my entrepreneurship. The Graded network has been invaluable to me as two of my business partners are people I met because of the school.
When hiring for the businesses I’ve helped build over the years, we have actively sought out alumni from Graded and other international schools. These people are a great addition to any team: they tend to have multicultural perspectives, excellent leadership skills, and unparalleled social networks, all of which really set them apart from other employees.
What do you wish you had known when you were starting your career?
One thing that has been key to my success is my well-planned routine. People often complain that they don’t have the time to be productive at work, engaged at home, well-rested, and physically and socially active. Over the years, I’ve learned how to organize my time in a pragmatic way that allows me to fit it all in. It takes a lot of discipline, but it makes a huge difference. I wish I had known how to do this from the very beginning!
I realize that authenticity and sincerity would have helped me out in my early career. When I was starting out, I often felt the need to please everyone, even if it meant pretending to be someone I was not. After a while, it became clear to me that the happiest people were those who were true to themselves.
I wish I had known how to identify which people and projects had the potential to add value to a company and which did not. Many times over the course of my career, I have dedicated buckets of sweat and tears to short-sighted visions that, in retrospect, were clearly doomed from the start. It took me a long time to develop that sense.
Lastly, I wish I had had more patience and resilience. Building great companies and extracting value takes time, and there are no shortcuts.
What advice would you give Graded graduates who are just beginning their professional journeys?
Whatever you choose to do professionally, remember that most life-changing opportunities in the next decades will be found in developing regions such as Latin America, India, Africa, and the Middle East.
Find some time to learn programming languages, invest your time and money with purpose, and don't be afraid to do something crazy (and if you do, let me know how I can help!).
Edouard with his wife, Carol, and their children, Luc and Philippe.