#12: Anne Ravanona

Episode 12 - Anne Ravanona - Opportunity Loss: Closing the $300 billion global funding gap between men and women

Key Points:

  • Anne is on a mission to get more women entrepreneurs funded

  • Need to close the $300 billion funding gap between men and women

  • Help women understand the funding system, including the language, the biases and how to navigate the system

  • Change the funding system to provide fair and equal access to funding

After a successful business career, when Anne hit 40 she asked herself what she wanted to do with her life. The answer was a resounding “help female entrepreneurs.” This is when Anne created Global Invest Her.  

We’ve all read the stories about low funding for women but Anne is stepping up to build a network of women to help other women entrepreneurs. The funding gap between men and women is a whopping $300 billion, which is enormous. Anne’s mission is to close that gap and teach women how to navigate this complex system: one with ever-changing players and rules.

Successful female entrepreneurs help other women who are seeking funding by explaining their own journeys and how they were successful in the process. Change is coming, but only slowly: we’re still a long way off from equal funding, despite women being 51% of the global population.

Anne walks us through some of the brutal statistics and why most of the investment world is missing out on so many great ideas. The “opportunity loss” numbers are not easy to quantify but it seems hard to believe that businesses are fully realizing their potential when so few female  startup founders receive funding and even when they do, the amounts are generally lower.

While there are a few positive examples of existing investment funds, what’s really exciting today is the number of new funds created by women that focus on funding and assisting women.

As depressing as the current statistics can be, there’s good reason to be hopeful for something better moving forward. As Anne tells us in the episode, anyone wanting to team up to address this issue needs to talk with her so they can collaborate and create that better environment that we’re all demanding.

#11: Robin Lepercq

Episode 11 - Robin Lepercq - The evolving click-and-mortar model

Key take-away points

  • Created after leaving an IT services company, noticed the inefficiencies of the market

  • Freelancing was small compared to other countries but growing rapidly

  • Pivoted from a broad offering to a very narrow market

  • Strong focus on the market and focus on delivering high quality so very selective

  • Building a community for high end, technical freelancers

  • Opting for organic growth rather than raising funds

After working for years in IT services, Robin was let go. A situation like that is rarely welcomed or ideal when you’re raising a family, but thanks to the incredible French system, Robin was able to transition from this tough situation into launching a successful startup - FreelanceRepublik -  that has an abundance of assignments. Not a bad place to be for a young startup.

The idea came about after collaborating with businesses and seeing how the process worked with developing projects and applications. The traditional model was struggling due to high costs and very long cycles for hiring IT teams. He could see that the future was definitely in empowering top freelancers who wanted interesting jobs where they could learn and grow.

One of the great things about the French safety net is that the system provides a strong layer of support for people who lose their jobs. Robin used this structure to help get FreelanceRepublik off the ground. It provided him with the help he needed during that period so he could try one model, before pivoting to what exists today.

What he learned during this process was that having a razor-sharp focus helped the company offer the best possible service both to companies and to freelancers. By staying narrow, he got to know his market and his market got to know him. Robin makes sure that FreelanceRepublik keeps a strict quality standard, so he’s been able to easily find missions for talented freelance developers and project managers.

Moving forward, he wants to evolve to have more click and less mortar in his click-and-mortar startup, though there will always be a need for a least a little mortar in the business of high-end recruitment.

#10: Tamara Brisk

Episode 10 - Tamara Brisk - How to successfully break into the French market

Key take-away points:

  • Tamara was experienced in consulting, real estate & startup cultures

  • WiredScore was created in NY to highlight high end internet readiness for office space

  • French market is largest in EU, third largest in world

  • To succeed, it’s critical to study & adapt before jumping in

  • Commercial office space is highly centralized in France & well organized

  • Challenges remain:  slow hiring process which might hinder growth

  • Global clients helped open the market, French clients adopted quickly

After working in France for years, Tamara Brisk was frustrated with her career options in France. So, she moved back to the US to join a cool new startup in San Francisco. Equipped with an MBA from a top-tier US program and a high-end consulting background, she wasn’t afraid of the risks associated with joining a startup the way she had seen in France. Tamara is North American, so shifting gears comes relatively easily to her.

But as exciting and fun as it was living and working in California, there was still a special draw for her to Paris. When the opportunity popped up to lead a hot new startup into the French market, Tamara jumped on it. The new company that would bring her back to Paris was only a few years old, but it fit with her previous experience in the real estate business, only with a tech angle.

The New York based startup, WiredScore, originated from a program started under Mayor Bloomberg, who was looking for something that would be a selling point for businesses in New York City. The point of the project was to provide a ratings certification system for high-end fiber networks in office buildings.  A strong rating would make an office more attractive to global businesses who were looking for office space.

For any company operating in the office space market, France is critical: it’s the largest market in Europe and the third largest in the world. Despite its reputation for being a challenging market for startups, Tamara explains why France is extremely well suited to a company such as WiredScore, and why Paris in particular is so full of opportunity.

Like any smart business person, Tamara thoroughly studied the local market first before launching WiredScore here in Paris. The conditions in France are ripe for adopting this innovative tool, and WiredScore could not have found a better fit for building out the business.

#9: Timothée Rebours

Episode 9 - Timothée Rebours - Seald: Not your father’s encryption product

Key take-aways:

  • Formed team with complementary skills during UC Berkeley program

  • No interest in working for a large company

  • Always loved encryption, sought an easy answer to a serious problem

  • More secure for large organizations, consultants, going to the cloud

  • Paris makes good business sense thanks to lower costs, BPI & ecosystem

  • French businesses are more engaged with startups

  • Focused on building base in France, then take abroad


Ten years ago, students often dreamed of hopping into the corporate world following graduation.  It was safe, it was comfortable and that’s just what one did in France.  While it can still make sense for many, more young graduates want to dive straight into the startup world.  Sure it’s tough and there’s not the security blanket of a big company and a big team, but for people like Timothée and his co-founders at Seald.io, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

The idea behind the encryption product was one that started years ago for Timothée.  He always had a strong interest in security and encryption so when he needed to create something for his graduate studies program at UC Berkeley, he thought back to his childhood idea of encrypting his dad’s email messages and the ongoing problem of sensitive data being encrypted.

Another continuous challenge is making it easy.  As a kid, Timothée would explain to his dad the dozens of steps he could take to secure his emails. His father was already interested in the concept, but Timothée knew that all those steps would make it impossible to implement in the corporate world.  

To bring all this together, Timothée joined up with Mehdi Kouhen and Maxime Huber to form the initial team. Each brought something to the table and together they delivered a really nice, easy-to-use encryption solution that protects sensitive data on email and beyond. It’s hard to underestimate the importance of ease-of-use, whether it’s one or even zero-click functionality.  It’s a core focus of the team.

The end result for users is a product that makes it easy to properly encrypt sensitive information that’s being distributed via email, Dropbox, or other tools.  For companies moving sensitive data into the cloud, they too now have a solution to sleep well at night.

Seald.io has enjoyed market success with early-mover accounts in France, where they’re close to customers and have received helpful impact.  Timothée asserted that large French companies are changing and are engaging with startups better than in the past.  This is indeed a welcome sign and we’re thrilled to hear it.

The benefit for Seald.io and the rest of the French tech startup world is that it’s easy to build our your initial product offering with local customers and then take it on the road to other markets.  It’s an enormous expense for startups to have to travel to another country - this means train or plane tickets, hotels, etc - when getting started, money that could be better spent on building out the product and the team.

On the subject of future growth, Timothée gave high marks to BPI and the rapid help they provided.  It’s hard to underestimate the positive impact BPI has had for the startup world.  As for launching in Paris, when San Francisco or London could have been an option in the past, he sees the benefits of setting up in Paris over the rest.  Timothée says that the cost in France is lower for developers and the overall support structures for startups has improved dramatically.

Once the team is comfortable with its initial product, they will explore market expansion, but only after they’ve properly studied and understood those other markets. An unwise decision of jumping in headfirst could be a fatal move, so besides a smart product, the Seald.io team is also making some smart business decisions.

Delivering an easy-to-use encryption product that can protect sensitive data has been a market challenge for years but Seald.io is building a tool that will finally make this a problem of the past.

#8: Olga Egorsheva

Episode 8 - Olga Egorsheva - Social media content that looks like you

While working for a major brand covering Asia, the Middle East, and Russia, Olga came to the realization that the image databases available simply did not provide what she was looking for.  Most of the available stock photos were Western European or US-centric; fine for those markets but not very relatable for people outside of those areas.

Those stock photos failed to connect with customers, which inspired Olga to find a solution that would use real photos from real people, living all over the world.  Her goal was to build something more authentic and more diverse, so brands could better connect with their markets. Clients demanded high quality, easily searchable and ready to license content, so Lobster implemented a machine learning-driven solution.

A recurring theme throughout our discussion is the focus on highlighting ease while delivering high quality content. Lobster focuses on ease when it comes to their users’ experience, as well as their choice to headquarter their company in London, as opposed to Paris, Berlin, or other startup-centric cities.

Olga takes us through how Lobster built up their business by balancing the influx of investor money while growing the team. Adding new employees who fit well can be a challenge, but Lobster has had a lot of success with interns who have grown into full-time positions as the company has expanded. Theirs is a multi-cultural team spread across an impressive three countries, and they’re looking for more growth going into 2018.

It’s especially interesting to hear Olga’s thoughts on why Lobster chose to take investor money versus growing organically. She also discusses how and why her go-to sources for advice have evolved over time. There are definitely lessons to be learned throughout our discussion, including some of the challenges that Paris faces with startups who are fatigued with the bureaucracy. This is an opportunity to hear why a cool new startup - that has French connections - chose to locate and build in London rather than Paris.

Startups everywhere can learn from Olga, as she builds out a company that is innovative, exciting, diverse, and international. In addition, there’s something to learn here for countries and cities focused on building up their startup communities.

"Content Natives: Finding and Sourcing Visual Content", Olga Egorsheva, CEO and Co-Founder at Lobster, from Data Natives 2015 

#7: Edouard Alligand

 

Episode 7 - Edouard Alligand - Techies are terrible listeners, and other fake news

In 2008, Edouard Alligand decided to make a career change, which is normal for most people at some point in their lives. The problem?  He moved into the banking sector...in 2008. Ouch. That’s a tough market to break into in the best of times and in the worst of times, the transition was difficult.

It was during that time that Edouard noticed that stocks were especially volatile and big money was made and lost because of that volatility. Through talks with customers in the banking market, he noticed that the systems being used could not keep up; so he applied his background in math and system programming to address the issue.

While working with one particular client, he built a new database that was able to run computations on thousands of CPUs.  Making this work would be the difference between financial traders making or losing money, and the stakes were even higher in the wake of the financial crisis.

Out of this chaos, QuasarDB was born. It helped that the initial product was built based on the needs of a client, but Edouard realized that this tool would be useful beyond just that single client, so he raised money, product-ized it and built an early model to sell to others.

Edouard’s story is smart and enjoyable as he walks us through how he leveraged assistance from Business France and IMPACT USA to build out QuasarDB and enter the US market. While Edouard is a very serious person, he also has fun along the way. Launching a startup comes with enough stressful days, so it’s essential to learn how to laugh through them.

Another key point to note is Edouard’s assertion that yes, France has a deep talent base for developing tech products for global customers. That said, the business market in France is lagging behind other countries. It’s an important point and one that we hear from many startups focused on selling to big accounts. French business is too slow moving, they want to build rather than buy and negotiations can be painfully long, if they even work.

For a startup, having prospects who spin their wheels only to not buy anything is a progress-killer. If your early stage startup is trying to build a local market before going elsewhere, it’s a very big risk trying in France compared to engaging with prospects in other markets such as the UK, Scandinavia, or the US. Imagine the possibilities if more local companies here invested in startup technology!

In the case of QuasarDB, they did find local customers but they also learned that prospects elsewhere were more open to new technology companies and engaged with them as a serious partner. Deciding to focus on markets outside of France became an easy decision to make for Edouard.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned here on so many subjects - product creation, listening to customers, obsession with quality, moving to the business to the US, working with an accelerator and more - so you’ll probably want to listen a few times to soak it all in. Edouard has the industry experience as well as proven success, so he’s a wealth of information for all.

#6: Cassandra Delage

Episode 6 - Cassandra Delage - Changing recycling behavior in France, office by office

After completing her Bachelor’s at McGill University in Canada, Cassandra moved to France to pursue her Master’s degree in entrepreneurship at HEC.  During her internships there, something jumped out to Cassandra: Compared to her experience in Canada, French offices were very far behind in terms of recycling behavior and technology.  The waste and attitudes had to change, for the sake of the environment.

Instead of accepting this recycle-free zone, she decided to do something about it.  In addition to her degrees from impressive schools, Cassandra also has the drive to get things done; after creating her first company as a teenager, she knew she’d found her calling as an entrepreneur.

Her latest business is Plast’if, a hyper-local recycling machine that addresses the problem of recycling in offices.  For starters, it collects and separates plastic in the office - water bottles, dishes, bottle caps, you name it - and then melts and transforms that plastic, which is then used to print 3D objects of your choice.  Definitely a cool idea.

While sorting, melting, and printing are at the core of Plast’if’s functionalities, what makes their technology special is that it encourages responsible behavior.  Office teams can compete and win rewards for recycling more.  Rewarding people reinforces the good behavior, which in turn encourages and builds the habit of recycling.  So far, the response with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) teams has been very positive in the Île-de-France region.

The key to Cassandra’s success?  Networking, followed by more networking, served with a topping of extra networking.  Having the support and mentoring assistance from Microsoft Ventures and others is great, but there’s no replacement for pounding the pavement and meeting people.  As she tells us, each new conversation gives her new ideas that help Plast’if move forward, so there’s a lot more networking ahead.

Cassandra also shares about the friendliness and camaraderie she’s come across that are prevalent in the French startup ecosystem.  It’s something we at OuiStart Media have experienced ourselves and most people we meet say the same thing. While the French sometimes have a reputation for being standoffish, our guests’ experiences tell a different story.

Maybe it’s because the startup world here is still early and growing, but people here are willing to help.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help - including asking us! - and if you can, be generous with others who need it. That kind of community building is just what’s helped Cassandra to forge Plast’fi in a new-to-her environment!

#5: Hind Elidrissi

Episode 5 - Hind Elidrissi - French problems, French solutions

Coming out of one of the top business schools in France, Hind had plans to create a startup and take the world by storm.  And then Dot-com went Dot-bomb and like many other aspiring entrepreneurs, Hind put those dreams on the shelf and joined a big company.  It was the sensible thing to do and much more secure than the collapsing Internet world.

Back then, creating a startup took more than just a good idea: you needed lots of cash to buy equipment (the hardware alone to run your servers could easily be well into six figures). So Hind hunkered down in the steady world of insurance, but she didn’t give up on her big dreams.  She took on new projects within the global company and learned a lot

Hind is clearly super smart, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of smart people out there who aren’t cut out for the wild world of startups. Thanks to the calmer environment of a big corporation, she was also able to focus on improving her people skills and developing a better EQ. According to Hind, learning a trade is possible in a relatively short period of time, but developing people skills is a never-ending process. In a business landscape littered with Tech Bro jerks who can’t grasp the basic skills required to engage with others, Hind stands out as a true role model.

After extensive study and following lectures at The Family, a startup incubator and accelerator in Paris, she took the leap and created Wemind. While their core product has remained intact since the beginning, they’ve pivoted to add different components. Their initial offering, while important, wasn’t building significant enthusiasm among her target market, so Hind did what good entrepreneurs do: she listened. And listened a bit more. And then some more until she truly understood what her market wanted.

Hind’s can-do spirit and people skills shine through in our conversation with her, and confirm that her choice to set out to become a startup CEO was the right one. She studies extensively to learn about the market dynamics, listens to her target audience, and then executes.  It’s no wonder that at launch she had 15,000 prospects lined up and ready to buy.  

Watch this space because there’s a big future ahead for Hind Elidrissi and Wemind.

#4: Sébastien Couture

Episode 4 -  Sébastien Couture - Building the future with blockchain

As much as everyone in Startupland talks about disruption, let’s be honest: there’s not as much disruption out there as there’s cracked up to be.  However, however...blockchain is one of those areas that may be living up to the hype.  We sat down with one of the co-founders of Stratumn, the highest-funded blockchain startup in France.

Sébastien is a great example of someone who proves there’s more than one model for being a successful startup entrepreneur.  As his professors described him, he’s “atypical”: he’s both a self-taught developer, and has a degree in marketing and communications.  What’s more, he was educated in Canada as well as in France.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Sébastien walks us through how he got started in the blockchain world (including launching the very successful Epicenter blockchain podcast) and how the relationships that he’s developed over time have helped Stratumn grow from a vision to a leading blockchain infrastructure business with two rounds of funding.

For technical founders who don’t like glitzy marketing, there are so many lessons to be learned here.  Sébastien is big on relationship development, building a community and listening.  In a world full of so many more pontificators than listeners, he provides some valuable lessons in how to build your business with open communication channels between you and your users.

In addition, we hear about both the upsides and the challenges of building a startup in Paris with a team that looks like the UN.  Communicating across cultures is not always easy, but embracing the challenge is certainly paying off for Stratumn.

There’s so much helpful advice here, you’re going to want to listen to this a few times to get it all.

#3: Leo Vesperini

Episode 3- Leo Vesperini- Beyond Mythical success

Pour la version française, cliquez ici

One argument that we hear in France a lot is that France builds many great things but they’re terrible with marketing and companies often struggle to promote their great offerings around the world.  What we learn today with Mythic Games founder Léonidas Versperini is that bien sûr, tout est possible.

Following a successful publishing career writing about board and tabletop games, Leo saw the increasing difficulties of being in the print industry and shifted gears into the game market itself.  Thanks to his broad network of fellow game enthusiasts and craftspeople around the world, Leo put together a truly global team to build an enormously successful Kickstarter campaign, with more to follow.

Anyone who listens to Leo will quickly hear his passion for what he does. He’s also a naturally gifted salesperson.  Leo listens to his customers, embraces their feedback, and then exceeds expectations. This is the way business should be done.

Following a successful partnership for the creation of Mythic Battles: Pantheon, Mythic Games learned many helpful lessons and is moving forward with a second Kickstarter campaign for their new game, Time of Legends: Joan of Arc.  (SPOILER ALERT: France still defeats England in the Hundred Years’ War.)

It’s hard to listen to Leo talk about his company and not get excited.  And for good reason! They’re doing exciting things and marketing in exciting ways! For those unsure of what a startup founder - regardless of industry -  sounds like, this is it.

You can follow Leo's Kickstarter campaign here

#2: Phil Waknell

Episode 2 - Phil Waknell - The Perfect Pitch

Before diving into startup storytelling, we wanted to first step back and focus on one of the most important parts of startup creation.  You could argue that it’s not as important as the concept itself, but without a pitch, moving forward is going to be a struggle.  

For starters, you need to pitch the idea to others to get them onboard with your idea.  You need to pitch others - or even amongst yourselves - to do a lot of work to build a prototype so you can go out and pitch others, to get customers or raise money.

Pitching doesn’t come naturally for most so for many, it’s such a painful and forced process, that there will be only one pitch.  Talking with potential partners?  Here’s our pitch.  Potential investors?  Oh good, here’s that same pitch.  Prospects?  You got it, here’s the pitch.  It’s difficult coming up with that pitch masterpiece so surely it works for every situation, right?

If you thought that your pitch wasn’t all that important and that you only needed one, you really need to listen to our guest Phil Waknell, Chief Inspiration Officer at Ideas on Stage.  Phil has coached countless people for pitching, including students at some of the Grandes Écoles in France, startup incubators such as NUMA and Share-It at StationF and numerous corporate accounts including Microsoft, EDF, Orange, Sanofi and beyond.

Phil explains the critical components that are needed for your pitch as well as why you need not just one pitch, but many.  If you want to have a successful pitch, each pitch must speak to your specific audience, which is important to consider beyond just your pitch, as you grow your business.

Learning this process is often more difficult for technical founders, who put more value on the technical aspects of their startup rather than the marketing side.  It’s true your technical solution needs to be solid, but it’s a mistake to undervalue the critical nature of your pitch.  If you fail to connect with your audience, it’s going to be difficult to get the to listen to your cool new offering.

Remember, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all pitch.  In fact, as we will discover during our podcasts, there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all in the startup world.  We always need to know our audience and speak to them, not a generic person.  Nobody explains this better than Phil, so enjoy!

#1: Intro

 

Episode 1 - Intro - The many roads to success

A few years ago it was said that George W. Bush claimed that “the problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.”  Even though he didn’t say this (and sure, we had to confirm this on Snopes because it does sound like something he could have blurted out) it’s fair to say this was the general stereotype by many outside of France and even some inside France too!

So how true is this today?  While being a startup entrepreneur is not as much a part of the culture in France as it is in the US, everything is changing.  Those who used to rush off to London or Silicon Valley are now seeing that yes, it’s possible to stay in France and enjoy success.

Even the word “success” is loaded because there is no single right answer.  Success is whatever you define success to be.  Is it being rich?  Is it doing something positive for the world?  Is it finding work-life balance?  There is no right answer, it’s whatever you want it to be.

Along those lines, how do you achieve success with a startup?  Do you mirror Silicon Valley, where financial success is plentiful?  Despite the claims of some, there really is no single path to success.

Can other parts of the world learn from Silicon Valley.  Of course, but there is plenty of both good and bad.  Does one model from a specific region in the US translate everywhere?  Hardly!  Even in the US there are many models and many startup success stories in places outside of Silicon Valley.

Before jumping into the many great discussions with startup people and industry experts, we want to provide you with a brief introduction to ourselves and what we will be talking about moving forward.  Instead of bloviating or pontificating, our goal is to engage in fun and interesting discussions with startup people.

From our perspective, listening and learning from others is the best way forward.  Maybe your focus is different from ours or our guests, but listening to others can help move forward with developing your own success.  Even when we choose another path, listening to others helps develop our own methods.

When you’re a larger company and have plenty of money available, it’s easy to find experts and get advice.  When you’re getting started and money is tight, access to experts is much more difficult.  By listening to others who have gone through this experience, you can hear that others have faced exactly the same issues as you.

We hope that it will help you think more about the decisions you make, these discussions have already helped us change our mind on a few points.  Keep an open mind and learn along with us.