la french tech

Pierre Lebeau, CEO and Founder of Keecker

King of Convenience: Pierre Lebeau, Founder and CEO of Keecker

Life as a solo founder, trusting your creativity, and solving the big problems

Pierre Lebeau never considered himself an entrepreneur; an intrapreneur, maybe, but not someone who would set out on his own to build a standalone product. He didn’t think he was creative enough. In his seven-plus years at Google, he worked on products like Earth, Voice, Analytics, and more, always with a guaranteed and immediate user base of millions. There, he learned that if he focused on solving the big problems, he’d never have to worry about a market. 

The idea that finally turned Pierre from Googler to Xoogler was what came to be known as Keecker. It’s a voice-enabled robot who combines entertainment, communication, and monitoring into one smooth, mobile robot who follows you around from room to room, projecting YouTube workout videos, checking that you haven’t left windows open, lulling you to sleep with the sound of the ocean, and much more. Specs are as follows: Android-based, app-controlled orb (iOS or Android) loaded with a 720p projector, 4.1 speaker package including subwoofer, multiple web cameras and proximity sensors, Chromecast, voice control and a stripped back Android interface powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon quad-core processor and hefty 12Ah 300Wh lithium-ion battery offering six hours of continuous movie watching (Wired). 

Founding Solo

For years, Pierre kept a log of some of those “big problems” that he observed, a varied list of industries and products that he felt could be improved, as well as things he just didn’t like. It was precisely by going over this list of problems once again that Pierre was hit with the idea for Keecker. Pierre says, “This product is solving about three or four or five things that I had listed on the list. And everything was kind of pre-crunched, and then the unblocking element was that one sentence, ‘What if I put a projector in this?’” It was an idea stronger than any he’d ever had, and it came to him while riding home one night on his motorbike: 

And from that just one sentence, it just like it was kind of an enlightenment and then I was driving my scooter and everything kind of came in the right place at the right time. So, in five minutes I really had everything about this product… I started to draw things. Two days afterwards I woke up at 2:00 AM and typed 10 pages of stuff to explain, to draft pretty much what this product was about. And that document? Everybody reads it when they enter the company because it's exactly what we're trying to do, still today… So it was very, very clear and really kind of strong, like strong enough to wake you up and to say, ‘Well, I have to write it down because I'm just going to go crazy if I don't.’ And then also strong enough to say, ‘Okay, I'll stop Google and I'll start that.’

Pierre set about bringing his vision to life. Fully committed to his lightning strike of an idea for Keecker, and armed with years of experience as a product manager and working with startups at Google, he started on his entrepreneurial journey. Initially, he wanted very much to have a cofounder along for all of the hard work and endless decisions that would inevitably arise. However, when no one appeared, he decided that he’d rather travel alone than wait for a partner who might never materialize, squandering his passion and vision in the process. He was determined, experienced, and comfortable enough financially to go after his vision alone, aiming to swim but knowing that if he sank, he’d better do it quickly. 

“But still in the end by yourself, and the hardest thing is to kind of get the energy to go and push again when you're really low and kind of get up again and continue.”

He knew the value of having a sounding board, and initially found community in a group of entrepreneurs in France, all working on a broad variety of projects spanning industries and technologies. He views this group as a kind of “AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) for entrepreneurs”: “It just allows you to share, because you are very much by yourself, so it's good to talk to people that have similar difficulties.” As Member #4 of Hardware Club, Pierre joined another kind of entrepreneurial group, one which focuses on building a strong network of hardware founders who can help one another with problems many of them share. Particularly as a solo founder, he found comfort and a great deal of assistance in being part of such a focused community.

“And if someone comes in along the way, then that's great. But I'm not going to get married to someone just because I need to get married, because it just turns into a divorce most of the time." 

Pierre worked for a time with a young engineer to familiarize himself with the electronics and hardware involved, which had, until then, never been his area of expertise. The first five years of Keecker weren’t easy (building a startup never is), but Pierre’s laser-focused vision remained his North Star, guiding him and Keecker through their first hires, the creation of their initial prototype, a three-and-a-half-year building process for their next iteration, and the loss of time and resources from working with an ill-suited production partner. He set out to build Keecker at a time when consumer robotics was still a new field, and was able to get traction and funding from exhibiting at CES in 2014, despite only getting their prototype working for the very first time at 3AM the opening day of the exhibition. 

Here to Entertain (and much more)

Pierre’s main goal with Keecker was, and remains, to simplify technology for its users. While the robot allows users to throw parties with mobile speakers, move from the living room to the bedroom to continue their Netflix-and-chilling, and teach their kids about the solar system on their ceilings, it does much more, too. Keecker’s built-in sensors, cameras, and programmable platform allow it to travel around the mapped-out area of the house, to check for windows left open while you’re away, to detect anomalies and ask you about them. 

Keecker also allows for the removal of some little-used devices from the home, as it’s able to move the technology from one place to another: “It starts with the fact that you don't have to have a dozen devices everywhere and in every room, all the time, fixed, gathering dust and not being very useful for 95% of the time: cords, cables, power extensions, all this kind of crap, things that just take up your visual space.” Essentially, Keecker can take the party to where you want it to be, and take it away when you’re done. 

In addition to all of the great use cases for Keecker at home, they’re helpful in other collective environments, too: 

Where we wanted to focus on is simplifying shared technology, so we don't focus on personal technology like smartphones or headsets… but really on things that belong to a group... that's the same thing with Keecker, it belongs to a house, or a business, or team. About 30% of our customers are businesses; we've worked with hotels, with businesses that want to have solutions for video conferencing, and projection, or presentations, etc. For a meeting room… you could always book Keecker as a resource and then say (to Keecker), "Hey at that time, be there". Then business owners don't have to equip all these meeting rooms with very expensive fixed devices. And then at night, the Keecker can be a kind of security guy, it can also move around. So the value is interesting for businesses.

While it might seem like there would be a myriad of privacy concerns with use of a shared technology such as Keecker, Pierre notes that most of the voice commands one can give the robot don’t trigger any security issues: “There's nothing that goes up on the cloud, whether it's voice or cameras, etc., unless it's really activated… if you just go and ask (Keecker) to go to the bedroom, the voice section is local, it doesn't go up in the cloud… similar to the camera, it doesn't really record anything.” This differentiates Keecker from a Google or Amazon product, which functions primarily on the cloud. 

Bumping into walls

Of course, building Keecker has not been without its challenges. Apart from all of the difficulties inherent in designing a robot that can maneuver around and map a space, serve as home entertainment system and office assistant, and keep an eye on security, Pierre and his team are focused now on issues like scalability and distribution. By changing their manufacturing partner, they were able to significantly reduce the price of each Keecker unit from upwards of €4000 to €1790. In his initial 10-page document, Pierre had set a target price for Keecker of $500, and this still remains a goal. Keecker distributes mainly in Europe for now, as it’s closer to home for them. They’re present in more than 30 stories, including Fnac and Boulanger, major electronic chain stores in France, and in Harrods and Selfridges in London, as well as independent retailers throughout France that sell high-end consumer electronics. One of their major challenges now is to increase distribution in Europe and worldwide. 

Building the future, quietly

“Today, people don't have a problem of not being friendly enough with the machines. It's not a problem that really exists. Maybe in the future it will, but not today.”

Behind Pierre’s studious, spectacled gaze lies a mischievous twinkle and a keen eye for the long game. One of the major errors he sees in consumer robotics today is makers who attempt to create a need that doesn’t (yet) exist; building robots who’ll be friends with their owners, according to him, is not where the market is. He differentiates Keecker from products that might initially be construed by competitors, saying, 

We wanted to build a solution for people. And initially it was solving home technology, which is giving you a screen, sound sensors, and security wherever you wanted, freely without cables and all that. And it just turned out that it was a robot… I don't care about speaking to a machine, I just want it to do something… Today, people don't have a problem of not being friendly enough with the machines. It's not a problem that really exists. Maybe in future it will, but not today.

He again states the importance of solving the “big problems”, and emphasizes that those must be real and present issues that people struggle with. Building solutions to those problems allows for the inclusion of extra technology that can sow the seeds for new interests and consumer demands, which is how he sees some of today’s best-selling products:

It's very much like your smartphone. Initially you bought it because it was a phone, and then you had all these apps, which were cool. And now it's kind of the opposite, people buy it for the apps and they randomly use the phone. And it’s very similar to Alexa and Echo. Echo was sold as a wireless speaker that had some talking and intelligence in it. It was very smart because it addressed the need of people wanting to buy wireless speakers. The voice stuff, if it doesn't work, you don't care because you've got the wireless speaker. It turns out that people now don't even see that as a wireless speaker, but really as a voice assistant, and it really amazes people. And now it's becoming its own category. But selling it just as a voice assistant would have been a big mistake.

His advice for other startups in the consumer robotics space? Don’t fall into the trap of trying to invent markets for technology that’s still a few too many steps down the road; instead, solve people’s current, pressing problems, and quietly introduce cool, innovative bits under the radar. (This advice pertains to entrepreneurs in the software space, too!) 

Challenges of funding hardware

“We're a platform for software that resides on a physical product that is hardware.”

Pierre notes that the rules of funding for hardware startups are very specific, and that many funds choose not to fund hardware companies because they don't really understand the business models. He says that it’s often easier to find funding in Asia, as hardware is a more visible and fundamental business there, whereas in Europe and in the United States, there are fewer hardware startups, and more of a focus on services driven by software. Pierre points out that those business models are very dependent on traction, users, and acquisition, while simultaneously light on working capital because they rely just on people and machines. Hardware, on the other hand, requires the people, the machines, as well as a factory setup, working capital to buy components, tools, etc. 

Although hardware models may require a great deal of investment up front and are slower to iterate on, according to Pierre, once established, retail channels and their resulting sales can essentially become self-perpetuating recurring revenue for the business, without much active work required. Barriers to entry are higher in hardware, which can be a positive element for companies that have successfully established themselves as leaders in their markets. Interestingly, Pierre considers Keecker to be a hybrid model: 

We're more of a software company in terms of team and what we do as a focus, but we design our own hardware in order to make sure that the software that runs on it is good enough, and both are very much intertwined. It’s very much like Steve Jobs used to say, that there's initially no differentiation between hardware and software, it's just a global experience. And that if they're designed together, they can really create value. That's what we do, because we're a platform for software that resides on a physical product that is hardware.

This global view of the software and hardware together make Keecker’s design more seamless and elegant. Keecker also allows users to develop on its platform, to effectively customize their own machines. 

Advice from the virtual trenches

When asked what wisdom he would share with hardware founders just starting out, Pierre says the following: 

You have to be very passionate and motivated, really believe in it. Design and integrate the hardware and software together so that you can follow the manufacturing each step of the way, and as part of one team. Don't waste your money with consultants or third-party design houses, because they'll cost you more and they'll waste your time; just focus on getting the right people. And think twice about investors. They're very, very difficult to find in hardware. The main difficulty is to be able to handle and have an understanding of hardware and software, and funding all of that together as one. You have to be resilient.

“You’re never really satisfied.”

Pierre defines success as being proud of what you’re working on, knowing that you’ve achieved something. For him, this meant getting a “sufficiently good” product out on the market, a product that his team can now focus on improving and refining. He knows that it’s not finished, and it likely never will be. But “as soon as you can feel proud of something that you’ve done, whatever the metrics you’re considering, it’s an element of success.” Certainly, no one would begrudge Pierre for being proud of his team of nearly 30 people, who’ve built a sleek product that portends of more utility and style in the future to come.

#17: Marion Chapsal and Ken Homer

Episode 17 - Marion Chapsal and Ken Homer - Collaborative conversations to build the office we all want

Key Points:

  • Instead of blame, bring everyone to the table and involve all of the stakeholders

  • Men and women need to work together to rebuild the community and to create a different culture

  • Training should focus on identifying agents of change within organizations, then creating allies

  • Before starting to address gender inequality, it’s important to listen and understand the issues

  • Programs need to work on both the individual level as well as the collective

  • To start addressing gender equality, we need to ask everyone how they would like their environment to be

The startup world has not been immune to some of the negative revelations that have come from the #MeToo movement. Stories implicating startup founders, teams, and investors have abounded. The startup world likes to think of itself as a modern, forward-thinking group of people but as we’re seeing, that is not always the case.

Soon after the start of public discussion about the #MeToo movement, we invited Marion Chapsal of Ideas on Stage and Women on Stage to join us in the studio to speak about gender equality, or as we have today, inequality. As a woman and as a coach, she’s witnessed this for years, so the emergence of #MeToo came as no surprise. Marion believes that as bad as the stories have been, the moment highlights an important issue and gets it out in the open, so at least now everyone can talk about it.

Marion recently teamed up with Ken Homer of Collaborative Conversations while working with a particular client. The idea behind their co-training sessions is that in order to seriously address gender inequality in organizations, they had to include everyone in the discussions. Both genders need to listen and be heard. They wanted to start a dialogue rather than continue a blame game.

This episode is a bit different and it’s not about a startup, though it’s a subject that is important to address. We can all do better and we all need to figure out what we want our future to look like, whether we’re in big companies or small startups.  

The #MeToo movement isn’t going away anytime soon and we believe this episode provides everyone with something to think about. If you’re a startup founder, do you want to be ahead of the curve and build a team that truly represents your market and is forward-thinking? Or do you want to be part of the old way of thinking that startups are supposedly disrupting?

#16: Ethan Pierse

Episode 16 - Ethan Pierse - Entrepreneur is not a dirty word

Key Points

  • Founder of Borderless Ventures, partner in new Silicon Valley fund targeting deep tech

  • Engineering education, career started doing digital marketing & corporate training

  • Business activity between France, Southeast Asia and the US

  • Sees confluence of positive events in France coming together today

  • Being an entrepreneur is now cool, which helps build ecosystem

  • What is Ethan looking for with startups? Idea needs to be great but the team has to be great to build real value and full potential

  • Team is critical to success of startup!

  • New book coming out on corporate innovation - Chief Startup Officer

  • Why France is a hotbed for deep tech

Ethan Pierse spent years working in the US as a successful digital marketer before moving to France, where he initially did similar work until four years ago when he started helping French startups gain access to US investment capital as well as business development. This effort then led to working with Singapore and Hong Kong, where French expats make up a significant community.

Today, Ethan’s splits his time between Borderless Ventures, which helps startups, investors and corporates access opportunities between the US, France and Southeast Asia - as well as a new Silicon Valley venture fund that is investing in AI and Industry 4.0 deep tech.  This new fund is based in the US but investing in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in Israel and Southeast Asia.

In this episode, we discussed why France and why now, and Ethan clearly explains the confluence of events over recent years that has positioned France as the place to be. The French government has been promoting entrepreneurship and improving the visibility of French startups outside of France. They’re pushing hard to drive this change and the results are starting to show.

One big change Ethan comments on is that younger students today really want to be entrepreneurs, which is a radical departure from years ago when so many wanted to work for big organizations or the government. Today, it’s cool to be an entrepreneur-- which, as he mentions, can cut both ways. Ultimately, it’s still a business and as fun as some of the perks of that business can be, they’re just that: perks.

Listen as Ethan explains in very clear terms what investors are looking for when they are considering a startup. We also discuss how startups interact with corporates, including the positives and the negatives on both sides. Yes it can work out well, but startups can easily waste valuable time and collapse if they chase the wrong corporate partnerships. If big corporates want to be part of the future, they urgently need to be serious about engaging with startups. For more on that subject, keep an eye out for Ethan’s new book, Chief Startup Officer, coming out soon. Our podcast discussion with Ethan wraps up as he discusses why France is well positioned for the Deep Tech wave of startups that will be disrupting organizations around the world in the coming years.

Ethan is very active on social media, putting out a ton of great content, so follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook,  He’s also a regular on BFM Business and once you start following him, you will quickly see why!

#15: Eva Peris

Episode 15 - Eva Peris - Once Upon a Dating App...

Key Points:

  • Dating market has been around for a while, first online and then apps, but market has been evolving

  • Met Once founders soon after product developed

  • Once’s concept was based on addressing dating app inefficiencies, including wasted time wading through countless profiles & embarrassment of everyone seeing their profile

  • Once’s founders are French but launched in UK

  • Post-Brexit & following Macron’s victory, Paris became a more interesting place to relocate

  • Breaking into a crowded market requires something solid & a new idea

  • European markets more skeptical of the new and different, compared to US consumers

Breaking into a crowded market can initially sound like the worst idea in the world.  You have to be crazy to even think such a thing, right? After all, there’s often a reason that a market isn’t crowded. A crowded market can actually mean that there’s a lot of attention and potentially money in addressing that particular market’s problems. Look at what our previous guest Edouard Aligand has managed to achieve with QuasarDB.

Eva Peris had already worked for happn, another dating app, so she had some experience in the market. While many of the online sites were past their prime and Tinder was the market leader, users were looking for something different. Swiping through so many profiles wasn’t for everyone and for many, the thought of exposing your profile to thousands of people didn’t sound like a great idea either.

The big question then was how to succeed in such a crowded market, where the competition has both market share as well as very deep pockets. Eva was hired as the Deputy CMO at Once to build out their marketing plan, and they’ve enjoyed considerable success both with building a customer base as well as raising multiple rounds of funds. In this episode, she explains how Once differentiated themselves from the competition and why they’re enjoying so much success.

What’s also interesting is Eva’s experience working in London both pre and post-Brexit, and Emmanuel Macron’s successful bid for the French presidency. London was once the undisputed leader in Europe for startup talent thanks to its international community, but the tide appears to be shifting and Paris is looking better than ever moving forward.

One of the perks of Paris’s fast-changing startup scene is that after three and a half years with a market-changing startup like Once, Eva was recently hired by Ironhack as the VP of Marketing.  In her new role she will be overseeing the global marketing for the top coding bootcamp. This says a lot about the dynamics of the fast-changing Paris startup scene, where opportunities for internationally experienced professionals are increasing by the month.

#14: Jean-Francois Morizur

Episode 14 - Jean-Francois Morizur - CAILabs: Bending light for better network bandwidth

Key Points:

  • Born in a research lab at Laboratoire Kastler Brossel, created partnership with the university for license

  • Found new application for shaping light - can expand fiber capacity by 400%+

  • Working with SAFRAN, who also led the latest round of financing

  • No longer need to rewire older fiber, saving time, money, and complexity

  • Sell via integration partners, expanding globally

  • Currently hiring for many positions in engineering, commercial & internships

The initial research lab tests were hoping to find uses for manipulating light for the field of microscopy, though the joint research teams from France and Australia ultimately concluded that no, it was not going to work. Thanks to one of the professors at the Laboratoire Kastler Brossel, Jean-François had kept in contact with the team and was convinced that despite the results of the initial study, something interesting could come out of that research.

It may not have yielded results for microscopy but instead, that research provided the backbone for what became CAILabs, a startup that works to shape light, which can provide enormous time and money savings for existing fiber networks and beyond.  

The business case for CAILabs is immediate and obvious: instead of replacing existing, older fiber LAN networks in factories, hospitals, etc - a process that can be painfully long, requiring significant paperwork and an often challenging process - customers can instead implement the CAILabs product, which can reduce bottlenecks for local networks.

Jean-François Morizur is yet another example of a startup founder in a very technical market who has an amazing ability to explain his solution in easy to understand terms for mere mortals.  (Edouard Alligand, CEO of QuasarDB who joined us in Episode 7 was another.)  He is of course a very deep technical person - he has a PhD in quantum optics, after all - but he’s also a smart business leader who is highly engaging.

During our discussion he explains their target audience and their plans for global expansion, including the age-old question of whether to put the US office on the east coast or the west coast. It’s a topic worth spending time exploring, rather than rushing into a choice to move out west just to be in the Valley.

Moving forward, CAILabs is seeking to hire new members for their team, both in engineering and the business side of the company now that they’ve secured a new round of funding.  They’re also getting a lot of customer traction, so there is a lot of opportunity here for people interested in working on a very innovative solution with smart people.


#13: Damien Courbon

Episode 13 - Damien Courbon - Swapcard:  Bringing efficiency & engagement to events

Key Points:

  • The event market was ripe for disruption & innovation

  • If you wait until you arrive at an event to organize, it’s already too late

  • Attendees seek more efficiency, so planning ahead makes more sense

  • Events are very expensive and there’s a lot of competition, so organizers need to show better metrics to win business

  • Swapcard sends team members to events to listen and learn, so they can improve

  • Seeking to build an international team, so hiring more foreigners

  • Focused on team happiness and engagement

  • Moving forward, exploring predictive analysis & more international expansion

f you have ever attended a trade show, you’re familiar with the challenges: You want to go to important sessions but it’s also a great time to meet in person with others in your business.  

If you’re a vendor, you spend countless weeks trying to figure out who will be there for networking, since your company has invested a significant amount of money to be there. If you’re an attendee, your company has sent you there at great cost as well. And if you’re an event organizer, you need to show metrics of success to keep and grow your user base.

Swapcard saw the inefficiencies of the market and built an app that brings more value for vendors, attendees, and organizers alike. You can plan your event in advance, including important networking meetings, without scrambling during the event to find people who you need to meet. Swapcard lets you plan and prepare for the event, including scheduling your meetings. The end result is a much more productive event and metrics that show the benefits of attending.

Damien and Swapcard are focused on satisfaction and improving the overall experience. To do this, they make sure their app is easy and quick to use so that their users actually use it! As obvious as that sounds, it’s astonishing how many businesses seem to forget about this.

In this episode, Damien explains how the company is growing, including hiring more people from abroad and expanding their market reach. The tricky balance moving forward is maintaining the company culture during this growth, so they’ve been focused on finding new team members who will be able to come in, work hard and keep the same team spirit.

Because Swapcard has plans to grow internationally, the culturally diverse team will be its strength for building into new markets as well as new ideas. This diversity is a positive trend we’re seeing increasingly these days in French startups, and we expect to see a lot more of it moving forward.


#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.

#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, 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. 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 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 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 is building a tool that will finally make this a problem of the past.