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Archive for October, 2014

Entrepreneurship at Supélec

Yesterday, for the second time this year, I was invited by the Supélec engineering school, to talk about tech entrepreneurship for 3 hours. As you can see below, my slides are very much inspired by Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad course. Some thoughts and comments about this course:

  • 50 last year engineering students attended the speech and more or less half of them seemed interested by starting their company. That is way better than I would have thought
  • Students were much more interested by practical examples than concepts
  • I still get questions like: “should I start my startup in college?”, “what happens if I fail?”, “how can I work in a big company after a startup?”

All in all, it seems that more and more engineering students are interested by the startup world and it feels great :)




Start your company in college: a good idea?

This post was originally published on Medium.

French newspaper Les Echos published today a series of articles on student entrepreneurship. According to the article, 24% of new company founders in France are below 30 years old and 9% of them are below 25. In 2002, only 20% of founders were below 30. While the explanation of this new trend is relatively easy to find (more and more role models a la Mark Zuckerberg, using the auto-entrepreneur status to do freelance jobs, a desire of Generation X to be more in control of their lives), I wanted to take some time to reflect on starting a company while being in college.

When I started StartUp42 accelerator 2 years ago in partnership with EPITA, it was obvious to many that most of the projects we selected would be founded by EPITA students. In reality, and since we’re open to all, EPITA applications represent more or less 20% of all applications received and just half of them are founded by students (i.e. have not yet graduated at the time of application). Nevertheless, over the past 4 batches, we consistently selected at least 1 student startup per session (EPITA or not). Here is what I found out.

Why College is the perfect time to launch your startup

  • The trade-offs of starting a company are definitely lower: at 21, you don’t have a family to feed, a loan to pay back or already high living standards. So living of noodles until you startup grows and working nights and weekends will not affect much your lifestyle
  • The fear of failure is also lower: no one will ever blame you if you fail because, hey, who can blame a 20-something to start a company. More experienced people might fear for their reputation in the marketplace and difficulty to find a new job in case the startup fails
  • Everyone wants to help (sometimes not necessary the most helpful though)
  • With hundreds of other students, teachers, researchers, you’re in a perfect micro-climate to test your idea before releasing it to the world

Why College is not the perfect time to launch your startup

  • As very well said by Paul Graham in his recent guest lecture at Stanford (and subsequent essay), “starting a successful startup is similar to having kids in that it’s like a button you push that changes your life irrevocably […]. You can do things in your early 20s that you can’t do as well before or after, like plunge deeply into projects on a whim and travel super cheaply with no sense of a deadline.”
  • You only come up with ideas to change your life (I mean your student life) and miss out on an enormous amount of other business opportunities
  •  Some people want to take advantage of you, since they think you’re young and unexperienced (and they will probably succeed)


Well I believe the answer is inside yourself and, as summarised by David Cohen in his Do More Faster book: “if you can quit, you should”. In other words, if you can’t stop yourself from starting your company, do it!

Publicis M&A

Publicis Groupe, one of the “Big Four” agency companies (and headquartered in Paris), announced last week the purchase of a 20% stake in Matomy Media Group, an Israeli digital media advertising company. Since it was the second Publicis acquisition that week, I started to dig into their M&A activity. Here is what I found out:

  • Very interestingly, none of these deals concerned technology companies. The companies were for the most part acquired for talent or regional reach
  • None of them were located in France. On the other hand, 7 out of the 22 companies were located in South Africa

I must admit to be really disappointed by the absence of AdTech startups acquisition. Notwithstanding the Criteo acquisition rumour as well as Publicis’ CEO recent comments on the group digitalisation, this digitalisation is definitely not happening. At least in terms of M&A.

Startups: take some time to celebrate small successes

celebrateThis post was originally published on Medium.

Sometimes, success can seem very very far away for a young entrepreneur. You know exactly where you want to go, you see the big picture but the road to get there is still so very long and nothing moves as fast as you’d like.

While this situation is quite normal for young startups at the beginning of their journey, some entrepreneurs are so focused on the long-term goal that don’t actually feel their progress (since the goal is so far away). And, as an entrepreneur, if you don’t feel progress, desperation and depression are around the corner.

To fight that instinct, I’ve instaurated at StartUp42 a mandatory weekly event (called the weekly review) where the teams share their challenge, failure and success of the week. If they don’t have a success, they have to find one (even the slighest one) and when they do, the whole team cheers them (very support group, I know).

While this might seem useless, I believe cheering and celebration are very important moments as they help foster an event in one’s memory. After several weeks/months, when the entrepreneur starts to feel depressed again because the long-term goal is still far away, I hope he/she will remember these small successes and that their addition makes already some hell of a progress.

So entrepreneurs, wether you’re part of an accelerator or not, don’t be so obsessed by your long-term goal that you forget to see the road covered so far. Celebrate small successes!

Focus on the road, not the wall

I’m almost done with Ben Horowitz’s book, the hard thing about the hard things, but before posting a full book review I just wanted to share what I consider the best quote from the book:

Focus on the road, not the wall. When someone learns to drive a race car, one of the first lessons taught is that when you are going around a curve at 200 mph, do not focus on the wall; focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will drive right into it. If you focus on the road, you will follow the road. Running a company is like that.


Why you should care about the Top 250

Last Wednesday, while most of Paris startup scene was attending (the very good) Paris Founders Event, another event, attracting a slightly different crowd, was taking place: the 4th edition of the Top 250 french software providers.

While the event was covered by “traditional” IT media like 01net or JDN, it seems to me that it went largely under the radar in the startup circles. Unless I’m mistaken, I didn’t find much mention of it in startup media, neither did I see of lot of social medial shares from public startup figures. And it’s a shame.

Co-organized by Ernst&Young and Syntec Numérique (the biggest digital trade union in France), the event’s purpose is to highlight and promote french software providers successes. And successes there are: more than 9€ billion in cumulated revenue in 2013 and more than 6% yearly growth for these 250 companies! The organizers also awarded prizes to Scality (innovation), Intersec (international),  Focus Home (video games) and FinalCAD (audience award). All these companies started out as startups, sometimes never raised external funding, and are now making serious revenue and kicking asses internationally. Intersec for example, created just 10 years ago, made €11,5 million in revenue last year and has 12 offices worldwide.

So why not talk about them? Of course, selling (mainly B2B) software is less sexy than raising funding from US investors, doing a KickStarter campaign or being acquired by Google. I get that. But, by overlooking the performance of these champions, young entrepreneurs may pursue the wrong objectives or replicate US models that don’t fit in France.

So if you’re all for french startups becoming big and making big revenue with not so sexy products, share this post!

Don’t build products for people you don’t know

This post on originally published on Medium.

This seems like common sense, right? Well you wouldn’t believe the number of young entrepreneurs I meet that fall into this trap.

Yesterday, young engineering students were pitching me their startup idea and all I could hear was: “We’ll add this feature, I’m sure some people will use it” or “I know it’s useless but I’ve seen it in other apps”.

The best recipe for failure is to build a product for people you don’t know. Even when you know very well the target audience, the amount of guessing is enormous at the start so imagine when you don’t!

Rethinking programming with EVE

Light Table co-founder Chris Granger has announced last week a $2,5M seed funding for a new project called EVE. In a nutshell, EVE wants to bring the power of computation to everyone, not by making everyone a programmer but by finding a better way to interact with computers.

On the surface, Eve will be an environment a little like Excel that allows you to “program” simply by moving columns and rows around in tables. Under the covers it’s supposed to be a powerful database, a temporal logic language, and a flexible IDE that allows users to build anything from a simple website to complex algorithms.

Several big-name investors have gotten behind EVE: Y Combinator president Sam Altman, Sep Kamvar and Andreessen Horowitz have participated to the round. It’s very interesting to see A16Z as an investor of EVE. This makes perfect sense with their previous investment in IFTTT which allows users to create “recipes” in which an action on one service can trigger an action on another entirely different service.

I’m absolutely amazed by these new projects (check out also Stamplay) aiming at making the power of computer programming accessible to (almost) everyone. With software being omnipresent in our lives, I was worried that just one type of people (computer programmers) had to power to shape how we interact with connected devices. Now, people with diverse backgrounds will be able to program computers. I think it’s good for diversity.

On a side note, the geek inside me is a bit sad to see the level of abstraction going up with programming. I’m part of generation who learned programming with assembly and C and really got to the bottom of it. All the new languages and IDEs will still leverage these low-level languages but I fear that less and less CS engineers will master them, driving scarcity with engineers who do.

People don’t buy shitty products

A common theme within engineers is to think that sales and marketing (understand here bullshit) can make people buy products they don’t want. While I do agree that to some extent, people might from time to time succumb to a salesmanship or advertisement and buy something they don’t want, they will realize it at some point and regret the purchase. But we’re talking here about rare occurrences. As a general rule, people inherently never buy products they don’t want or shitty products.

This engineer’s impulse is one of the reasons I started to give my Sales and Marketing class at EPITA. During this class, when debating with the students about people’s motivation when they buy products, I would always ask the same question: would you buy a shitty product even if the salesman is very convincing or you’re seeing a lot of commercials for this product? The answer was inevitably no. So who buys shitty products? Other people? Come on, most people are smart and want the best for themselves. It’s contemptuous to think that people, other than you, are dumb enough to buy products they don’t want.

In my quest to change that perception, I found a new ally: designer Philippe Starck! In the below video (in French), the journalist is arguing (26:05 in the video) that because Starck is a sweet talker and a fashionable designer, people buy his products no questions asked. Here is Starck’s answer:

There is contempt for society in what you say. Do you really think that because I’m a good speaker people buy my products? No. People buy products because they’re good. That’s all. You can say all you want he’s good, he’s good. If it’s a shitty product, people won’t buy it.

Hello :(

Hello Show OrangeOn October 2nd, Orange held its Hello Show event to unveil their latest innovations and show their strategy. The show can be replayed entirely here, Olivier Ezratty wrote a very extensive review of the show on his blog (in French) and you can also find a short review by RudeBaguette (in English).

My general feeling about the innovations unveiled is not really good. While they preach for open innovation, Orange can’t really stop developing solutions internally. I’ve worked with Orange in the past and I’ve never seen a company so caught up with the “not invented here” syndrome. The result? It seems to me that Orange is playing catch up with a lot of solutions that already exist in the market like with Orange Drive (Waze, Maps), Mobile Connect (Dashlane) or Homelive (Archos).

Concerning Homelive, a box to control the connected objects in your home, it’s competing directly with the Home by SFR box released 2 years ago. And given the amount of commercials I’m seeing for this product right now, it seems that it’s not selling as much as expected. On a side note, with the big success of connected devices with machine learning capabilities (like Nest‘s products), I really don’t get why we should have to go on our mobile to turn on the heater or turn off the lights… It should be done automatically.

All in all, and even if they say otherwise, the message sent to startups by Orange is not very good: innovate, we’ll look at it and develop it internally.