French start-up Dartagnans - modern tool to save heritage

Romain Delaume and Bastien Goullard co-founded Dartagnans to preserve the cultural heritage in France. Over several years they helped to raise money for hundreds of castles, manors and other properties through their heritage crowdfunding platform and introduced a shared castle owenership model.

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Romain Delaume and Bastien Goullard, Dartagnans Co-Founders
@Castles_and_Palaces's Artiom Ganin sat down with Romain Delaume, the CEO and Co-Founder of Dartagnans - a start-up which does its best to preserve the cultural heritage in France, Europe and far beyond. The company which was launched by Romain and his business partner Bastien, has managed to come to rescue to hundreds of landmarks and change the way ordinary people - history lovers and architecture fans - can be engaged into preserving the heritage. The French start-up can boast several large scale successful project with Chateau de la Mothe Chandeniers being the most high-profile of them. It was Dartagnans' first collective purchase project which raised some 1.6 million euros within just 2 months to buy a chateau - never before was a castle bought this way!

HOW DARTAGNANS START-UP WAS BORN

Castles and Palaces (CnP): Please tell me about yourself, your background, experience.
Romain Delaume (RD): My name is Romain, I'm a 34, a young entrepreneur passionate about my job. I've graduated from Skema, one of France's top 5 Business Schools, where I met my associate Bastien.

I had the chance to travel during my whole life and I've always been fascinated by civilization, history, castles and historical buildings.

After a few years working in finance, Bastien and I decided to launch Dartagnans to change the way people can be engaged into the cultural heritage preservation.
CnP: How do you run the project?
RD: Bastien and I are the two co-founders. We have 3 others associates. In total we are 16 Musketeers at Dartagnans skilled in tech, hotel management, cultural heritage restoration programs and animation, marketing, fundraising, social media and more.

CnP: Lots of people want to own a castle – but this is a bit expensive! You help people implement their dreams. How did you come across this idea?
RD: After 2 years of development at Dartagnans and after helping hundreds of heritage landmarks' owners and managing a wonderful community of cultural heritage lovers, we wanted to have our "own" historical building to save from A to Z.
1.6 mn euros raised by 25,000 co-chatelains from 115 countries in 2 months!
RD: At the time we were a very small start-up, and we couldn't afford to buy a castle or to get a bank loan.

But we had this incredible community who trusted us, so we though "what if we buy a castle all together?"

We've spent months to make it possible and to create all the good conditions for our community. We wanted to make everyone feel really part of it as a shareholder and a co-chatelain.
RD: When we launched our first collective purchase project, it was an incredible success: 1.6 million euros raised by 25,000 co-chatelains from 115 countries in 2 months. A world-new concept was born, and the Chateau de la Mothe Chandeniers (Vienne, France), was the first ever castle bought this way. We've built up a family.

After 2 years of great works and the bet of the safeguard successful, the community offers the possibility to all the lovers of the heritage to join in, as we have just reopened a second crowdfunding campaign.
CnP: Why Dartagnans? What's the connection with Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" novel?
RD: First of all, it stands for the famous sentence "one for all and all for one". This is exactly what we do and this is our vision of cultural heritage preservation. Then d'Artagnan is a great French historical character and a book hero. The perfect name for our start-up.


HOW THE SCHEME WORKS

CnP: Shared ownership sounds cool. Tell me how the scheme works.
RD: It is as simple as being a shareholder of Tesla or Apple. Dartagnans, as a project holder, works on a vision to save a particular castle with a restoration program, a business plan and a touristic development which will finance the restoration program.

The aim is to make a viable company which makes profits and can afford the huge restoration program.
RD: Then, we propose to our community if they want to invest and be part of something incredible: we raise funds to first buy the castle, launch the first restoration works and economical investments to develop the castle company through touristic activities.

In return for his or her contribution of 79€ per share, each new castellan becomes a shareholder of the castle company. He or she also benefits from free admission for life. He or she participates in decision-making and volunteer workcamps. Finally, he or she becomes part of a close-knit community of castle rescuers.

This new concept allows everyone to get involved in a different way in the preservation of heritage, to exchange on the development of the project and to enter a community united around a common goal: that of saving their ruined castle.
CnP: Can it be applied to privately-owned castles or to state-owned too?
RD: Yes, shareholding can be applied everywhere.

CnP: So you collect enough money to buy out a castle, you do it, what comes next?
RD: As I said, buying the castle is the easiest part. Once it's done, we then transform ourselves into castles savers and entrepreneurs. If we want to be efficient as castle savers, we need to create as soon as possible a sustainable economic model that will finance for years the restoration program. Days are over when the state could finance everything. We need to move forward on our own.
Dartagnans means "one for all and all for one". This is exactly what we do!
RD: The other big challenge is to share a maximum of information with the community, organize volunteers' work and events. The community has a central part in the project, and we want to make everyone feel proud to be part of such projects.
CnP: How can all the owners agree on the development strategy, there surely needs to be a board who will take care of it. How do you select the board? Based on what?

RD: Dartagnans is the captain of the ship. We fix a cap. But the ship cannot go forward if the community is not with us. This is why we spend a lot of time speaking with volunteers during weekends, we organize lives on social media: their opinion counts, it means a lot. On a daily basis, Dartagnans does all of the shadow work: answering emails, phone calls, managing the restoration enterprises, organizing visits, events, privatization, creating contents on social media, looking for partners, etc.

We manage our collective castles like we manage Dartagnans, with a lot of love, consciously and with the will to succeed in our mission of castle savers and entrepreneurs.

CRITICISM AND SUCCESS STORIES

CnP: Your start-up has recently come under fire from your former employees who accused you of not being transparent enough, fair and of not playing by the rules. Once a valuable partner, the Adopte un Chateau cut ties with you. What's your response to those accusations?

RD: In France, we say "the absent are always wrong", maybe this is why they tell lies. We have no time to lose with this. In 5 years, we have helped over 600 historical monuments' owners and raised over 11 million euros. We've also invested millions in the local economy. We currently work with more than 60 local companies; we've organized more than 170 volunteers' workcamps and we've welcomed 50,000 tourists in our castles. We are proud of it.
CnP: How many people are united by Dartagnans and where are they from?
RD: We have built over the past 5 years an incredible worldwide community of 200,000 donors, shareholders and co-chatelains from 185 countries.
In 5 years, we have help over 600 historical monuments owners, raised over 11 million euros and created a community of 200,000 passionate people thanks to a fantastic team of 16 collaborators
CnP: Describe a typical supporter of Dartagnans, what kind of person can they be?
RD: She or he can be everyone. From a French student, to an American lawyer or a German nurse. Our community is made of people who desire to get united by a common cause: saving our heritage.
CnP: Was your idea initially well received?
RD: Since 2018, Darganans has become the Number 1 French crowdfunding platform for cultural heritage. We've worked with 600+ historical monuments' owners and raised more than 11 million euros.

Furthermore, the collective purchase concept was extremely well received. When we launched the idea in 2017 with la Mothe Chandeniers - it has been the world's biggest crowdfunding campaign ever launch for a cultural heritage project. We've managed to gather thousands of people from 115 countries. Since then, we've bought 2 other castles on the same concept: l'Ebaupinay (Deux-Sèvres) and Vibrac (Charente).

Our new operation on the Mothe Chandeniers castle is a tremendous success as we've already raised 1.5 million euros. I believe we will break the world record, made also by la Mothe Chandeniers in 2017 with 1.6 million euros.
CnP: Are you active only in France – what about other countries?
RD: We've worked with about 20 project holders outside France: Spain, Italy, England, Cambodia, Lebanon, India, Belgium, Armenia.

CnP: Any plans to expand and register branch offices in other EU countries to promote your good cause?
RD: Not at the moment, but who knows. . .
CnP: Have you been to all those properties?
RD: We have this chance to do a job where we meet people and travel. We've been in many of them, meeting the owners and the associations. We have a true skill because we know the land by heart. For someone who is passionate about history, architecture and castle it's just incredible.

CnP: I personally donated some money to become a chatelain of Chateau de Vibrac. What are your biggest projects?
RD: Thank you for your support. Our biggest projects are the collective purchase projets: la Mothe Chandeniers, l'Ebaupinay and Vibrac.
CnP: What is your biggest success?
RD: The whole Dartagnans adventure is our biggest success. We've started from nothing and now we are here, with 16 collaborators, a community of 200,000+ people, 3 castles and hundreds of monuments helped.

CnP: And what was the biggest failure (if any)?
RD: Just like everyone we can always do better. . .

CnP: Which project is your favorite?
RD: I love all the 600 projects and project holders we have worked with. One project which is a great example of what Dartagnans does is a little church -Saint-Pierre de Quilen, located in the North of France. They've raised 30K+ euros and gathered 152 donors for a little village with only 62 inhabitants. This the power of the Dartagnans community.
CnP: What are your plans with Mothe-Chandeniers and L'Ebaupinay?
RD: At la Mothe, our vision is to become one of France's top touristic sites. We forecast around 100,000 visitors by 2025-2026. At l'Ebaupinay, our vision is to create one of the top medieval sites and transmit the knowledge and know-how of this period through touristic activities.

CnP: What was the largest donation made and what did the donor receive in exchange?
RD: The biggest contributions have been made during the current crowdfunding campaign of la Mothe Chandeniers. A few people have invested 7900 euros. Here is what they got for it.
CnP: What's your interest apart from saving the French heritage sites? Moneywise.
RD: We want to leave a little something behind. Heritage, history, historical monuments have fascinated us since childhood. Then there is also pride in entrepreneurship, in creating jobs and developing ideas. So it was only natural that we created Dartagnans.

CnP: Is Dartagnans somehow involved with the restoration of Notre Dame de Paris?
RD: Yes, we launched a 4-day flash appeal at the time of this terrible fire. Our community mobilized in a tremendous way, raising 100,000 euros. All the funds (without commission) were donated for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame. That is also the Dartagnans spirit.
CnP: Which requirement should a castle owner meet to be able to qualify for the project?
RD: The first thing to do is to want to communicate, to share your passion and your story. Thanks to this, a project leader is able to federate and bring on board donors. Then, of course, it is necessary to have a clear project, with established estimates, a work schedule and the date of completion. The more precise and transparent the project will be, the more likely it will be able to federate.

CnP: Can say a French Count who lacks money to run his third castle apply for help, or would he be too-elitist to qualify?
RD: Once again, all projects can be welcomed, as long as they share the passion and are transparent about the use of the funds.
CnP: How is the state involved in all these activities? Do you mediate between the state and the owners?
RD: Our work complements what the state does. We bring additional funds to historical monuments. Without the campaigns launched on Dartagnans, these additional funds would probably have never existed.

CnP: I think you know about the Italian authorities' initiative to sell ruined properties in depressed regions for symbolic 1 euro. They intend to attract investors and revitalize the areas. What do you make of this initiative?
RD: All ideas and initiatives that help preserve our history and monuments are good to take. I hope it will work.
CnP: Should medieval castles remain museums or should they adapt to modern times, i.e. transform into hotels, venues, etc?

RD: In 2021, if you as a historical monument want to succeed, you must have a vision of how you want to use it. Whatever it is. One project is no better than another as long as it allows the monument to cover its costs and finance its development. At Dartagnans we are open to all types of projects, provided they serve the cause of preservation and transmission to future generations.
We very much hope that you liked the interview with the CEO and Co-Founder of Dartagnans - the start-up which helps preserve cultural heritage!

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Photo credits: @Dartagnans

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