13 hot French entrepreneurs under 30

I’ve been wanting to do a post on this topic for a while – because whenever someone tells me that it’s insanely difficult to launch a start-up in France, I chuckle to myself and think: “Hey, if 20-something-year-olds are doing it fresh out of school, it can’t be that hard, right?” I also have recently noticed that becoming an entrepreneur from a young age is becoming more à la mode – so here is my list to set the record straight.

Hot or not?

The trouble is there are actually a lot of young entrepreneurs out there. This list is insanely far from exhaustive and is just a few names that I think are likely to stick around for a while. As the entrepreneurial community is predominantly male, I should also probably clarify that by “hot”  I am referring strictly to their start-ups. After all, this is not my attempt to be the Franco-version of Valleywag. PS. You’ll notice that I’ve chosen 8 companies and 13 names.

1. Jonathan Benassaya & Daniel Marhely (Deezer).

The Deezer boys are behind one of the hottest – if not the hottest – online music company to come out of France. While they are still incredibly young, Daniel (25) and Jonathan (29) kicked off their entrepreneurial careers in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Yep, Daniel was still a teenager at the time.

2. Eric Bennephtali (MediaStay).

As the story goes, this 26 year old started his internet career in middle school. He then went on to drop out of school at the age of 13 to launch the internet performance marketing company we currently know as MediaStay – which is also the publisher of games sites like Kingolotto and Grattages. Yes, that makes another one for the drop-out club!

3. Ronan Pelloux & Julien Mechin (Creads).

The 25-year-old team is behind the online participative ad and logo creative platform, Creads, that gives internet allstar Gilles Babinet’s Eyeka a run for its money. Oh, and the 2-year-old company already counts international offices in Spain and Japan.

4. Simon Istolainen (PeopleforCinema, MyMajorCompany, Architurn…).

Yes, he’s been an entrepreneur since 2008 and the 25-year-old is already on his 3rd company (he just announced Architurn, after MyMajorCompany and PeopleforCinema). The participative investment platform model seems to have been very good to him, in both the music and film distribution spaces. But my favorite part about this kid’s success story is that he studied the farthest thing from entrepreneurship and tech in school: that’s right, anthropology.

5. Céline Lazorthes (Leetchi).

Leetchi is the first company of this 27-year-old lady and she’s already got big names like Oleg Tscheltzoff, Jérémie Berrebi and Xavier Niel backing her platform for group gift purchases. Nice.

6. Stéphanie Pelprat (Restopolitan).

The 26-year-old founder of a French company, Restopolitan, that dares to compete with OpenTable has entrepreneurial energy spewing from her veins. As she’s got a few more tricks up her sleeve, she’s not likely to disappear.

7. Boris Saragaglia, Paul Lorne, Jérémie Touchard (Spartoo).

The Spartoo trio (Boris pictured) started right out of school, back in 2006, when the sum of their ages was less than 75 (I’ll let you figure this one out). Today Boris (27), Paul and Jérémie run the très successful French/European equivalent to Zappos. These kiddies also scored €12 million in January. Hello, Jeff Bezos?

8. Hadrien Gardeur & Loic Roussel (Feedbooks).

The 26-year-old team (Hadrien pictured) started their digital publishing/distribution platform, Feedbooks, back in 2007 with a very international vision. The company definitely knows what it’s doing in the English-speaking market, as does Hadrien who is brilliantly bilingual.

More than Mark Zuckerberg.

There are definitely numerous companies that I could add including the boys at Owlient, Ykone, Cafédelabourse or the coed team over at Likiwi. And another one that almost made the list: Benjamin Bejbaum from DailyMotion. Feel free to add more youngster entrepreneur names that come to mind in the comments.

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Best of French Start-ups on YouTube

Ah, I should say best of French start-ups on DailyMotion, shouldn’t I? Truth is, I wanted to use DailyMotion videos but a lot of the content wasn’t on their site. Tsk tsk French start-ups for not supporting each others’ businesses! Then again, in this Google-dominated internet world, who can really blame them.

YouTube, iTube.

I just thought I’d do a quick post on 5 of my favorite YouTube videos from French start-ups.

Deezer. (@deezer)

This is hands down my favorite French start-up video on YouTube. It tells the story of Deezer’s creation, the legal obstacles they had to overcome with music on the internet. Great music, great story, great animation.

Regioneo. (@regioneo)

This video probably lacks a little punch (maybe could use a background tune?) but I still really like it. Sorry to any non-French speakers who can’t understand it. Essentially, it explains Regioneo’s platform and was the video used to launch their crowd-funding campaign. I think the presentation is simple and quite well done. And another one that deserves a mention here is Pearltrees(@pearltrees) – although the video definitely could use a bit of music as well. Great animation though and nice accent!

MXP4. (@theremixculture)

Maybe cool videos are easier to make for music companies? MXP4 does a fantastic job at presenting its platform in an original way with a terrific French artist, Pony Pony Run Run.

Submate.(@submate)

The start-up may be brand new but the first time I saw this video on their website I was absolutely sold – what a great and upbeat way to introduce the platform. French start-up DelivrMe (@delivrme) that lets you receive a package anywhere has a terrific video along the same lines as well.

Appsfire. (@appsfire)

Ha, this video cracks me up but Appsfire does a very good job of bringing cool and geek together to launch their App Awards competition. Low-cost creativity. I like it.

And obviously I have to give all-time creative credit to Meetic (@meetic), even though their adds were on TV and not strictly on YouTube. But hey, there’s more material to playwith in the online dating space.

Chain reaction: French cookie cutter business models

It happens a lot. An innovative business model will work really well for one market and new companies will adopt the same model and simply apply it to different products and services. Essentially what Amazon did for books and Zappos did for shoes.

And it ends up working like a chain.

So what kind of cookie cutter business models are popular in France?

1. Vente-Privée (@ventepriveeactu)

Everyone is familiar with this French success story by now. When people caught on to the business model, the online VIP private sale model got applied to just about every product you can think of. French companies like VoyagePrivé (@voyageprive), BeautéPrivée (also owned by VoyagePrivé’s parent company), BonPrivé (@bonprive) and ShowroomPrivé (@notontwitter) sprang up – and there are a few more undercover that are likely to go live soon.

PS. Vente-Privée’s Twitter account is even VIP only.

2. Velib’

Another model that I see as a developing chain – and only recently made its cross-over into tech – is the Velib’ model, whereby a customer can essentially rent a durable good for a short period of time and allow others to use it afterwards. While the idea may not be uniquely French, the model came out of Velib‘, the public bike rental system in Paris. After seeing Velib’s success, the model was applied to cars with Autolib’ in Lyon in hopes of replicating a local Zipcar. The model finally made its transfer into tech with Weblib’ (@weblibSAS), which offers netbooks under the same system in select locations.

Behold, the internet.

While obviously it can also be interesting to take models like Etsy, Groupon or Foursquare and try to rebuild them for different niches, what I particularly like about these 2 models is that they crossed over to the web from a non-tech space.

Pardon my French

The French for some reason get a lot of crap about their English. Ok, it’s got a little ring to it but that’s not really anything to write home about.

Accents are charming. Period.

What’s not charming, however, is limited market reach – which you unfortunately get if you’re going to limit yourself to a non-English language. I can’t even count the number of times I have discussed the topic – if you want to go global in today’s world, you kind of have to speak English, too. Duh.

Dictionary bilingue.

I actually think that French start-ups understand that they need to be bilingual. France has made remarkable progress, linguistically – and the TechCrunch Paris event that was held entirely in English last week goes to prove it. Plus, I think I’ve brought up before that there are numerous local start-ups, like Silentale, that don’t even have French on their websites.

I still, however, stand by Deezer’s French Twitter account – which was attacked by Robert Scoble last year at LeWeb. Seriously, would Deezer have 11 million users if their Twitter didn’t address the local population? Don’t think so. I sound like a broken record…

Unpronouncable.com

So while French start-ups are definitely beginning to think more global – they should also make sure their company name doesn’t handicap them. After a conversation I had earlier with someone at Advent Venture Partners (funded French companies like DailyMotion), it became more than apparent that French companies may also be limiting their growth by selecting English-unfriendly names. And yes, English speakers are particularly good at butchering beautiful French names – like Vente-Privée, or anything with a “privée” in it for that matter. But on the flip side, this type of name may work in the luxury industry, as French names carry a certain marketing weight that English names never will.

But hey, this isn’t specific to France. Another example of a company that may eventually have a pronounciation identity crisis is Germany’s Qype – or even Xing (can we not just put a “z” in it already?).

Dismoiou (Tellmewhere) is one of the few French companies that I’ve seen that has actually gone out and translated its name for the respective markets. I find this to be another interesting approach that Dismoiou has actually executed very well.

Shame on you, Steve Jobs.

And no – American companies are not fool-proof either when it comes to internationalization and language. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked how to correctly pronounce “Linkedin” in France (it’s leenkt-in).

But one thing that really shocked me was the iPhone (yes, I dare to criticize the almighty Empire) – which is surprisingly French-unfriendly given its particularly wide adoption in France. Ok, so it’s no secret that typing on the iPhone keyboard requires ridiculous talent. But for French speakers wanting to include accents in their emails or texts, it’s essentially game over. It may seem minor but the devil is in the details. I don’t know what lousy or malicious engineers designed that layout for Apple – but they surely weren’t French.