Inside Sampler’s Founder-Led M&A Growth Strategy

Stefan Palios

Growing through M&A can be high-pressure, but Marie Chevrier, founder and CEO of Sampler, offers living proof that it doesn’t need to be. Speaking with ahead of her conference talk, Marie shared her more informal strategy that led to two acquisitions in four months.

Key takeaways:

  • An M&A strategy can start by making time for open-ended conversations, then moving toward acquisition talks if it makes sense for all parties.
  • Even if you take a more informal approach to M&A, you need to know the goal of each acquisition and plan integration accordingly.
  • Every acquisition will have a unique business case for your growth; let that guide timelines and KPIs.

Marie Chevrier’s scale-up Sampler doesn’t have an M&A team nor does she have a private equity background. Yet Sampler just completed two acquisitions in a four-month period, bringing beauty sampling startup Abeo and user generated content platform AdMass into the fold.

Speaking with ahead of her Toronto conference talk, Marie peeled back the curtain of her informal founder-led M&A growth strategy.

Conversations with a greater purpose

Now entering her tenth year since founding Sampler in 2013, Marie sees her CEO job a little differently than she once did. She’s played nearly every role in the organization in the past decade and now is focused solely on the future of the company, including expansion opportunities with product features, entering new markets, or inorganic growth.

Rather than having a dedicated team support her focus on future growth, though, Marie has her executive team run the day-to-day of the business so she can do what she does best: have conversations with people.

“I always try to put time in my calendar for educating myself on new businesses and business models that are tangential to what we're building,” said Marie. “It's giving back, but all of my conversations give a lot to me as well.”

“Reasons [for conversations] could be long term M&A, but it could also be partnerships,” she continued. “It could also be just kind of pushing my thinking in different directions and driving inspiration.”

When it comes to her conversations, Marie said she’s not only looking for companies to buy—it’s both a “very big honour and a very big responsibility” that she doesn’t take lightly or require as part of Sampler’s growth.

“We weren't running formalized processes although we have a few theses on how acquisitions or partnerships can help us go faster,” Marie said. “We were just open, in market, to have conversations with companies that are tangential. And where we saw fit, we executed.”

A tale of two acquisitions

Despite informal beginnings to her process, Marie said an acquisition needs to drive not just the mission long-term but also an immediate need. Take Abeo, for example. Marie wanted to drive Sampler both more into the high-end beauty space and grow via geographic expansion in both Europe and the USA. Those two goals made Abeo a great potential acquisition, so Marie championed the deal internally.

The directional goal of deepening their high-end beauty expertise and expanding into new markets also guided integration plans.

“We called it Abeo by Sampler, because the Abeo brand has great recognition within the premium beauty space,” Marie said. “We inherited some great clients that are used to working with the brand.”

This plan for acquisition also made the future goals very clear: “the big KPI for that acquisition is expansion of the beauty industry for Sampler.”

AdMass, on the other hand, took a completely different path to acquisition. Sampler was a client of AdMass’ platform as it looked to bring user-generated content into the product sampling world. After meeting one of the co-founders, Marie realized there was significant vision alignment, albeit it from different starting points. Conversations continued, and Marie broached the topic of an acquisition and things moved from there.

When the AdMass acquisition happened, integration planning was more nuanced. First and foremost, said Marie, the goal was to leverage AdMass’ talent to support Sampler’s existing roadmap. Among other moves, this took the form of AdMass team members taking on strategic roles within the Sampler team, including one of the co-founders leading the product commercialization team.

“We were very thoughtful about when we actually wanted to complete, for example, product integration or data integration,” Marie said. “And we made sure we were transparent that it may take a little bit longer, it won't be overnight. We gave ourselves some wiggle room.”

Responsible to the mission

Looking back on two acquisitions, Marie is aware that integration going forward will be the real show of success. With that in mind, she is continuing to focus on Sampler’s mission. In the short-term, that likely means pausing acquisitions for a while. However, even that is up for debate; as Marie’s strategy is simply to have conversations with an open mind as to where things lead, you never know.

“We're probably going to lay low for a little bit, but I am continuing to have tons of great conversations,” Marie said. “There is a lot of opportunity in our long-term roadmap for areas of growth that we think could potentially be accelerated by acquisitions.”