“You should have the right to have your phone repaired”: the head of a booming second-hand tech company Back Market | Retail industry

Thibaud Hug de Larauze waves his iPhone, boasting that it is over seven years old. “It works great,” he says. It’s not what you’d expect from the tech entrepreneur at the helm of one of France’s largest unicorn startups, Back Market, which has raised more than $1 billion to expand into 18 countries.

The chief executive of a second-hand gadget market says he would rather identify as an eco-warrior than a tech guru, fighting to convince us all to buy used phones, laptops and other devices and repair or recycle our old ones.

According to Our World in Data, the new technology causes more than 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, accounting for just under 3% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, making it the seventh-largest source of emissions – about half the size of the fashion industry.

A one-time smartphone repair could save more than 77 kg of carbon dioxide emissions, research by French ecological transition agency Ademe has shown, helping to reduce our impact on the planet and solve the gigantic problem of electronic waste, which amounts to more than 60 million tons per year worldwide, and reduce the need for mining limited resources including gold, platinum and palladium.

“It’s a great motivation to wake up and at the end of the day… know that I’m trying to achieve something positive,” says Hug de Larauze. He says what he likes about the company is that it doesn’t compromise value for value. “The more we grow the company, the better its impact will be.”

The group, which is headquartered in Paris and Bordeaux and employs 700 people worldwide, expects to achieve its first annual underlying profit this year, shortly after its 10th anniversary in November. Sales continue to grow after last year’s increase of 45% to €320m (£270m), making the company about a quarter the size of British online electrical retailer AO.

The UK, where Back Market opened four years ago, is now the fastest growing country – with sales increasing by 80% year-on-year. The group has 44% of the UK refurbished internet technology market and its smartphone market share is over half. Hug de Larauze says interest in the UK has increased because of the people “fighting inflation and thus looking for options to simply save money on technology,” but also because they are “very sustainability-oriented.” “E-waste is a big topic; it’s something that matters to people.”

Back Market – now a certified B Corp company guaranteeing specific ethical standards – was founded in 2014 by Hug de Larauze and two friends, Quentin Le Brouster and Vianney Vaute. He says the inspiration for the launch came from working with renovation specialists who sold their wares on platforms such as eBay.

Hug de Larauze believed that refurbished products needed a better profile and smoother sales to provide greater confidence to buyers. They may be cheaper and greener, but refurbished products compete with high-priced household brands, and “there was a big trust gap between the two worlds that needed to be bridged.”

Starting out selling smartphones exclusively in France, Back Market now sells 200 different types of refurbished gadgets – from smartphones and laptops to baby monitors and game consoles – in 18 countries. These include the United States and much of Europe, as well as Japan, South Korea and Australia, where 4.5 million new customers were added last year, bringing the total number of customers since launch to more than 13 million.

Back Market does not purchase, stock, or renovate itself. It works with 1,700 tradespeople and renovation companies who are rigorously vetted before they are allowed to advertise. Sellers source their products from a variety of sources, including telecommunications companies that offer trade-ins and upgrades to customers.

Last year, after several rounds of financing, with growth money from companies like Goldman Sachs and Airbnb and Spotify investor Aglaé Ventures, Back Market decided to focus on making profits. It is now self-financed, after rising interest rates and a weak IPO market made sources of new cash less promising.

While a stock market listing is not entirely out of the question, Hug de Larauze says no new cash is needed to continue expansion. He is confident the group is on track to post a profit in December. It has pulled back on hiring and stopped expanding into new territories or product categories to take full advantage of its established position.

The growth of the Back Market is not only driven by existing markets, but also by new services such as trading in certain products in the UK, France, USA and other markets, and recycling, which is tested in France. Hug de Larauze says he wants to offer society a way to get rid of unwanted technology in an easy and potentially profitable way, rather than letting gadgets accumulate in a drawer. Redeeming or offering to recycle items also ensures a steady supply of products for Back Market’s army of refurbisher.

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Given that every household in the UK now collects around 30 broken tech items – up from 20 four years ago, according to Material Focus – there’s clearly a lot of scope for such services. Further driving change is ‘right to repair’ rules that will come into force in EU member states by 2026, forcing manufacturers to make spare parts and technical information available for phones and tablets, as well as kitchen appliances.

In the UK, where we dispose of 2 million tonnes of electronic waste every year, Right to Repair legislation was introduced in 2021. However, they only cover a few items, including large kitchen appliances and televisions.

Hug de Larauze wants the legislation to go further: “If you really want to move people towards circularity and/or repairs, thereby increasing the durability of devices, you have to get everything involved. It takes a village, especially producers. This may include designing products (with repair or durability in mind), starting to sell spare parts, or enabling people to repair them more easily.”

Further legislation requiring electronics manufacturers and retailers to pay higher collection and recycling fees for the products they sell was also welcomed. But the Back Market boss says the UK system needs to be improved so that repair is considered as a first option before recycling.

“People would like to be able to buy these products,” he says. “Everyone should have the right to have their product repaired and use it longer.”


Age 36
Family Married, has three daughters.
Education French high school in Canada, then management school in IÉSEG great ecology in France. During his studies, he traveled between France, Toronto, Mexico, Spain and India, before taking a break to rebuild schools in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Pay Not disclosed.
Last holiday In Brittany, in the Gulf of Morbihan near Vannes.
The biggest regret “I have no regrets. Except perhaps for not becoming a professional tennis player.
The best advice he ever received “You have to be ambitious and careful and listen for subtle signals.”
Words or phrases that are overused “Great, great – but how do we take it to the next level?”
How he relaxes Sailing; tennis; being close to the ocean; and played with his daughters on the beach.