Arnaud Petitvallet
Credit: Lindsay Siu

Arnaud Petitvallet, 27

Co-founder and COO

Life Story: Arnaud Petitvallet grew up in La Rochelle, France, where his mother was a sales representative for the medical industry and his father was a customs officer. Seeking global experience, he earned a bachelor in international management in his hometown, working in Israel and the Congo during his studies. In 2012, Petitvallet enrolled in an MSc in international business at Kedge Business School in Bordeaux, where he became friends with a fellow student from Vancouver named Max Rivest.
Seeking a project for a global business plan competition, the pair saw an opportunity in coffee leaf tea, which is rich in antioxidants and made from a part of the plant that is typically discarded. “We realized that not only could we do something that was healthy, we could also change the entire economics of coffee farming,” says Petitvallet, whose major in wine marketing has helped along the way.

Launching Wize Monkey in 2013, he and CEO Rivest set up shop in Vancouver after graduation that year and spent three months in Nicaragua building relationships with coffee farmers and developing their product. It was a departure for Petitvallet, who says French business school prepares students to work in management at a company or for the government. “You’re not very risk-attracted,” he explains. “In France, you’re kind of afraid of failure.”

So far, Wize Monkey has created about 100 jobs for Nicaraguan coffee growers. In 2018 the company will boost those workers’ total hours from 10,000 to 40,000, Petivallet reckons, by extending the off-season during which they harvest leaves.

The Bottom Line: Some 600 grocery stores in North America, including the Whole Foods Market Inc. chain, carry Wize Monkey’s five flavours. This year the business expects to top $1 million in revenue from in-store and online sales, bulk exports to Asia and deals with industrial clients such as tea companies and nutraceutical manufacturers. Wize Monkey, which employs 15 part-time staff and has won several international awards, plans to make new varieties such as green tea as well as bottled drinks.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
Ask for advice, not for money.

Your favourite book is
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry.

Who is your role model or mentor?
James Tansey [associate professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business and founder of investment and advisory firm NatureBank Asset Management Inc.]. James was one of the mentors [when we were] at iHub [the Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub, a social venture incubator at UBC].

Since 2015 we have been working with him….He’s our best business contact for sure. He helped us put together our board. He helped us find our initial investors, he introduced us to all the people, he helped us find the space where we are working right now.

What is your biggest regret?
I stopped playing saxophone. I couldn’t even pick it up now; I would have to start again from scratch.

A little-known fact about you is…
My first job was at a skydiving club, helping fold the parachutes.