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Archive for January, 2014

Ideas to share

ideadayOne of my favorite companies, Bill Gross’ Idealab, organized on January 14th their first Idea Day. Even after creating more than 125 companies in their first 18 years, it appears that Idealab has still more ideas than they have teams to execute them. So to attract young and dynamic entrepreneurs, they decided to share these ideas during an Idea Day.

Meanwhile, they also made these ideas freely available on the web to anyone who wishes to develop them. For those of you who are looking for a good project to develop, I have listed them below:

  • A software that helps us manage our pictures from so many different sources
  • An iPhone or iPad app to answer email on the go, without missing out on emergencies
  • An “Uber” for convenience store merchandise that could cost effectively get you something you need in under an hour (actually TokTokTok is already doing this in France)
  • Wearable devices that can help make life changes like reducing smoking or managing anger
  • A web tool to help you really understand what features matter to you when buying products like cameras, refrigerators or dishwashers
  • Aftermarket products that can make driving safe on existing vehicles
  • Recommendation websites for food, cars, apps, etc.
  • Metrics dashboard for Small and Medium Businesses
  • Make your data searchable and shareable on the cloud
  • A cost-effective way to get more parking in a given amount of pavement

More details can be found here

Should you start your company in 2014?

Bungee-jumping

The month of January usually comes with its set of new resolutions and, for wannabe entrepreneurs, 2014 might be the year when they ditch their jobs and start their own business. But becoming an entrepreneur is a bit like bungee jumping: it looks cool when you sign up but you start asking yourself millions of questions when they tie your feet to the elastic cord.

Since I came across a lot of these questions recently, I summarized below 7 questions wannabe entrepreneurs usually ask themselves before making the jump, with my best answers to them.

1/ Is it a risk to start a new business in 2014?

Absolutely yes but no more than it’s been for the past years! Any search on Google will show you that more than 90% of startups fail. In my opinion, the question you should ask yourself is rather: “what happens if I fail”? The answer to that question is utterly personal; whether you have kids to look after or you are a young computer science engineer who can find a job any time, the answer will be very different.

2/ What is the minimum budget to start?

Thanks to open source software and cloud-based hosting solutions (like Amazon Web Services), you can start your web or mobile startup with only a couple of thousand euros. This is drastically lower than 10 years ago where you had to invest into software licenses (like Microsoft or Oracle), physical servers and hosting space. Of course, if your project is about creating a hardware product, budget will be much higher as you will need to buy electronic components, work with industrial designers and make a few prototypes validate your idea.

 3/ Can I launch a startup alone?

Yes you can but, for example, a business founder starting a technology company alone will not get very far. Hence the current hunt for technical co-founders. If you have a technical background, it really depends on how much you’re willing to take care of the sales and marketing parts of the business. Technical people usually underestimate their ability to take care of sales and marketing. As of managing a company alone, many entrepreneurs have proven that they don’t need partners to run their company and rely only on employees.

4/ Is a failed startup considered a career disaster?

One of my first bosses used to work for Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. During the job interview, Paul allegedly asked him about his biggest fuck-ups and “if he didn’t have any, he wasn’t a real man”. Of course, we ‘re talking here about a real innovator and entrepreneur, moreover located in an area (Silicon Valley) that value failure. In old Europe (not just France), failure can indeed be viewed negatively but this tends to disappear, especially in IT. Actually, more and more web companies like Google or Facebook even prefer to hire previous startupers as they know for sure they’re selecting entrepreneurial and dynamic people.

 5/ Do I have to raise funds?

My personal view with fund raising is that there are projects that are made for fund-raising and there are people that are made to raise funds and manage other people’s money. Unfortunately, the two conditions are not always met together. In other words, if you’re not planning to do whatever it takes (it usually means sacrificing most of your personal life) to rapidly grow your business and get it acquired within the next 5-10 years, don’t raise funds. If you have the right profile, with the right project (i.e. that fits with 5-10 years exit), go ahead. To get a balanced view on venture capital, I encourage you to watch 37Signals’ Hansson’s speech on the matter.

6/ How can I protect my idea before discussing with potential investors or partners?

Unless you’re working on very advanced, state of the art, science, you shouldn’t have to protect your idea. Since they meet hundreds of entrepreneurs every month, no investor will have the time or the will to sign an NDA. If you’re thinking of patenting your technology, be ready to spend tens of thousands of euros and I’m not even talking about global patents. I would rather encourage you to disclose enough of your idea to engage with people and get quality feedback from them but be cautious enough to recognize a potential competitor. Of course, at the end, idea doesn’t matter much. Execution does.

 7/ When should I ship my product?

As LinkedIn’s founder Reid Hoffman famously put it, “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”. This applies even more to engineers that always have to develop this very last feature that will make their product appealing. The reality is that most of the times, your feature set doesn’t fit with customers/users’ expectations. So the sooner you launch, the sooner you can get quantitative feedback from your customers and adapt your feature set.

P.S: Thanks to Erwan Guerin for the initial list of questions

Feedback on GAN MD Conference

GAN MD Conference
GAN MD Conference

This post was originally published on StartUp42′s blog on January 14th 2014.

Back in November of last year, I attended the annual GAN Managing Director conference in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. The GAN (Global Accelerator Network) is the global accelerator club founded by TechStars, that we joined in September of last year. Created over two years ago, the GAN already has some very impressive numbers: more than 50 accelerators, in 63 cities, from 6 continents, with over 3125 jobs generated and $548M raised in financing.

The annual MD conference is supposed to bring together management teams from accelerators around the globe to connect, share best practices and learn from experts in our industry. This year, 46 people from 27 different accelerators – most of them located in the U.S., the rest in eight other countries including South Korea – attended the 3-day conference. As a fresh new member of the GAN and, to be honest, still a rookie in the accelerator space, this sounded like the perfect event to improve my knowledge and get to learn from very experienced accelerators’ MDs, including the folks at Techstars. And, of course, I got to spend a few days under California sun in November ;)

As I predicted, I learned a lot. Here are my key takeaways:

1/ Apart from local specificities, most accelerators face the same problems. To name a few: early access to deal flow, manage and educate local investor base, get quality mentors.

2/ Being a non-profit like us is not the norm at the GAN. All accelerators present follow the “standard” YC/Techstars model: raise funds, invest in startups, take equity and live of (relatively small) management fees. As most seed accelerators raise less than $5M, almost no accelerator can live on management fees, or at least not until they realize a substantial exit. Most of them try to diversify as much as possible their revenue stream through consulting or event organization.

3/ Successful accelerators maintain close relationship with their local investor base. As John Greathouse , one of our guest speakers, pointed out: “VCs like to feel like they’re important. Find something operational a VC can help you with and reward investors for being active in a tangible way”.

4/ Corporations are more and more interested in creating their own accelerators (we have seen it in France as well, with the recent launch of Canal+ accelerator). There is a clearer and clearer will from corporations to learn from startups on how to engage with consumers and move products.

5/ Engaging alumni (previously accelerated startups’ CEOs) with newly recruited startups is a great way to share knowledge and build your own community.

Since we don’t currently invest in startups at StartUp42, many of the problems faced by my fellow accelerators do not currently apply to us. Nevertheless, I came back from this conference better armed than ever to help our startups and work on the future of StartUp42.

StartUp42 First year in review

This post was initially posted on StartUp42′s blog on December 23rd 2013.

End of December is usually the time to reflect back on what we did during the past year and try to have an objective look on what we achieved and failed. StartUp42 is no different and with so many things that happened this year, I thought of summing everything up in a blog post and sharing it with you.

 

First of all, our biggest achievement of 2013 is purely and simply the fact that we exist. Thanks to the support of our founding partner, EPITA, as well as our corporate partners(especially Econocom, the fist partner who believed in our vision), we managed to raise a bit more than 100K€ for our first year in operation. This budget allowed us to offer free of charge acceleration to 7 projects during our v0.1 batch (March-July 2013) and 7 other during our v0.2 batch (still ongoing).

 

We’re quite proud of our v0.1 batch:
  • Out of 7 projects, 6 of them are still alive;
  • All together, they realized a cumulated revenue of almost 150K€ in 2013;
  • Three of them have particularly performed this year:
    • Modizy raised 210k€ from respected business angels and foreign investors;
    • MotionLead is about to sign contracts with leading companies and is looking towards the United States with very much ambition;
    • Mobeye community performs around 120 missions per week in more than 100 cities in France for prestigious retailers
Stay tuned for news about our v0.2 batch which will end by our now traditional Prototype Fiesta the last week of January.

 

Other achievements we had in 2013:
  • With 70% of our founders having a technical background, we proved that engineers and programmers can lead startups;
  • We welcomed more than 60 extraordinary entrepreneurs, executives, investors and experts to come share, pro bono, their experience with our startups;
  • We managed to get visibility within the local entrepreneurial community thanks to our amazing media partners;

 

It wouldn’t  be fair though if we didn’t mention our failures. Like any startup we also tried things that didn’t work and we learned a great deal from them:
  • Like most engineers, we didn’t pay enough attention to branding and communication. As a result, our own achievements and those of our alumni were not necessarily broadcasted to the community. This is definitely our main focus for 2014 so expect to see more and more news from us, starting with this very blog post!
  • We failed to attract teams from other countries. I believe strongly that mixing up startups from different countries will give everyone a global outlook (and hopefully ambition) from the start. We did receive applications from foreign teams (even one from Japan) but not enough to select one of them;
  • Even though we aim for quality instead of quantity, we were a bit disappointed to receive the same number of applications for our v0.2 round than for our v0.1 (around 40). This could be explained by the fact that our recruitment period was during the summer and ended early September (apparently startup founders take vacations). Another explanation is that we didn’t put as much efforts during the application campaign as we did during the first one as we relied more on our digital communication channels. Obviously project sourcing is a hell of a job and requires a great deal of “real-life” interactions
  • Last but not least, we failed to attract designers. Apart from Fenris Lair Studio, our v0.2 startup developing a MMO game, none of our startups have a designer on board.

 

All in all, we’re absolutely thrilled about our results this year even though I must admit that digital startups were really the hot topic everywhere in 2013. Meanwhile, I wanted to individually thank some people that really made the StartUp42 project a reality and helped us along the way:
  • Joël Courtois, EPITA Managing Director, who trusted my crazy  ideas and backed the project from the very beginning;
  • Fabrice Bardèche, IONIS Group Vice-President, who realized the opportunity for the campus and gave us his initial support;
  • The EPITA and IONIS teams who constantly support us: Sandrine Maingourd, Christian Dujardin, Pedro Miranda, Corinne Bréchoire, Stéphane Garnier, Anne Dewilde, Guillaume Bardèche, Géraldine Seuleusian, Caroline Ales, Basile Petit, Benoit Lachamp and many others I forgot;
  • Everyone that was or still is part of the StartUp42 organization: Arthur Katz, Flora Lapage, Yannick Peraste, Kevin Straszburger, Aline Mayard, Thomas Meï, Shubham Sharma;
  • Our mentors that dedicated themselves to our startups more than they should have been, especially Adrien Aumont, Ori Pekelman and Michel Sasson;
  • People that inspired the StartUp42 program: Joël Saingré, Michel Sasson (again) and Stéphane Distinguin.

 

I wish all and everyone of you a wonderful end of year and see you in 2014!