The French A-list

I get lots of local entrepreneurs contacting me, wondering who exactly in France has money in the bank. So just like with the Le Best of French Blogs post that I wrote-up a while ago, it’s perhaps time for a French A-list (or angel-list). Well, here it is kids. These are some names  (in no particular order) that I’d want to be talking to if I was looking to fund my company in France. Obviously, some of these people are also behind funds like ISAI, Jaina and Kima but that doesn’t mean they don’t also invest à titre personnel.

1. Oleg Tscheltzoff.

The CEO of stock photo giant Fotolia, Oleg is honestly one of the few people I’ve met that can just tear a business plan apart. He’s funded over a dozen projects this year, including Dealissime, Leetchi , Restopolitan and PeopleforCinema.

2. Xavier Niel.

Xavier is arguably France’s hottest angel. And don’t just take it from me – an article published in le Journal Du Net in May claimed that he’s invested in over 150 companies, including Leetchi, OpenERP and Deezer. Damn. I mentioned him in an earlier post as one of the 9 French entrepreneur names to know. And if you don’t know him by now, he’s not only the mastermind behind Iliad/Free and makes-up half of the Kima Ventures team with Jérémie Berrebi.

3. Jérémie Berrebi.

Naturally, if I’m going to mention one half of Kima, I’m not about to ignore the other. Berrebi is also a very active investor. Even if he isn’t physically based in France, I’m impressed by what he’s managed to do for local startups from Israel. He’s personally invested in companies like Kwaga and Architurn.

4. Marc Simoncini

Meetic’s current CEO and founder of Jaina Capital is perhaps somewhat less active than Kima’s Niel and Berrebi but still amongst the French investor elite. He’s backed companies including Ouriel Ohayon’s Appsfire, Catherine Barba’s Malinea and Zilok.

5. PKM

The famous face behind Priceminister (acquired this year by Japanese Rakuten for €200 million) is also part of the “entrepreneurs investment fund”, ISAI. He’s one of the many investors in Pearltrees, Novapost and YellowKorner.

And the beat goes on.

There are obviously many more names that I could add to the list, including Kelkoo/Wikio-founder Pierre Chappaz, Vente-Privée founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Allociné’s Jean-David Blanc and miore. However these last few appear to be somewhat less active in terms of investments than those listed above. Deezer’s Jonathan Benassaya is also an up-and-coming business angel to add to the list.

Too many cuisiniers.

One thing that I’ve noticed lately is that more and more of the French business angels are coming together for collective investments. Recently, Restopolitan (essentially the French Opentable alongside the likes of LaFourchette and TableOnline) announced a €1 million round with what’s being called the investor “Dream Team”: Oleg Tscheltzoff, Marc Simoncini, Jacques-Antoine Granjon, Jonathan Bennasaya…pretty much the whole gang, quoi. The photo below didn’t happen to go unnoticed on Facebook or in the press either – it’s Restopolitan’s founder, Stéphanie Pelaprat, surrounded by the company’s beautiful bank account. But still, many people are wondering if too many A-level cuisiniers or investors will spoil her startup soup.*

Young Money.

In honor of the theme of our recent TechCrunch France event, the “young” generation of web entrepreneurs and services oriented towards the 15-25 age-range, I’d also like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to 2 of the younger business angels in the space: Fotolia’s Thibaud Elziere and MyMajorCompany’s Simon Istolainen. I don’t think either of them are giving Xavier Niel a run for his money just yet, but it’s definitely nice to see the younger generation giving back to the entrepreneurial community. I could probably also include Berrebi in the youngster investor list too.

Feel free to add additional names to the comments.

*In English, the expression uses “soup” and in French the expression uses “sauce”.

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If you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong

Summer is finally here and Paris looks more than ever like San Francisco’s winter months of June, July and August. Sure, I get a kick out of seeing the tourists freak-out because the sun is MIA and they’re wandering the streets in their beach clothing. But what I’m actually referring to is the local start-up environment, which continues to dramatically improve on a daily basis. There are tech events left and right (yes, EVEN IN THE SUMMER) and I honestly can’t keep up with all the funding that’s being announced. Silicon Vallée, is that you?

But if you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong.

(Note: the lyrics do not reflect my current sentiment.)

Maybe this stems from (rather silly) “Euro-trip” tradition, where tourists take something like 2 weeks to “visit Europe” – thereby only having enough time to stop in 1 major city in each European country and obviously neglecting half of the continent. Fortunately, Paris usually makes it to the top of the list but the rest of France goes ignored. If you ask me, that is a HUGE mistake. Oh, and the same can be said for the start-up community.

Enter Province.

In French, anything en province (not to be confused with Provence in the South of France) refers to the territory outside of the Paris region.  And truth be told, I have been quite pleasantly surprised with the tech activity en province, which is unfortunately less visible than its Parisian counterpart. Ok, sure, the Paris region still has the largest number of start-ups, VCs and business angels (population: 12 million?) but that doesn’t mean that other cities don’t have vibrant start-up communities.

Knock knock Nantes.

Yesterday I was in Nantes (yet again!) for a start-up event, Web2Day, which is organized by the local start-up organization Atlantic2.0 (@atlantic2). I discovered that some 100 start-ups (ok, web agencies included) take part in this organization. Yep, that’s quite a few start-ups for the city that makes-up only a fraction of Paris. Ok, Atlantic2 is actually a regional organization, but still. Oh, and get this: rumor has it that our beloved Startup Weekend seems to be headed there next! Also, what I found interesting as well is that there is somewhat of a trend in the online tourism and voyage space , which seems to be a result of Times Europe ranking Nantes as the top European tourist destination a few years back. Ha, that ought to shock those Euro-trippers.

California dreaming.

Then the South of France (Marseilles, Toulon, Nice, etc) seems non-negligible as well. What is it, the sun?  Nantes isn’t exactly on the coast but it’s not far from it either (think Palo Alto to Santa Cruz). I’m actually headed to a start-up event in the beginning of July in Marseilles and there are actually a few events in the South of France that I’ve missed and/or won’t be able to make. Remind me again, who started that rumor about how the French don’t work in the summer…?

Even Napoléon has a start-up.

Yes, I have confirmed that there are even a few start-ups in Corsica (I am still waiting for them to invite me :p) and surely the DOM-TOM as well. But even if Corsica is paradise on earth, it may seem somewhat counterintuitive as to why anyone would want to have a start-up outside of Paris. After all, being farther from the Parisian hub of VCs, business angels and start-up community could only complicate things, right?

More than Sarkozy’s bank account.

Ah, let’s not forget that this is France – and not the US. It may be what some consider to be the land of high taxes but it is also the land of public funding. In fact, many start-ups get initial funding via State grants, public loans, etc. And while Paris may have the highest concentration of Fortune 500 headquarters after Tokyo, it is still ranked amongst the most expensive cities in the world (last I checked). Translation: if you need money, go where the competition is less fierce for public funding and where the costs are lower. If you want to come to Paris, there is always the TGV.

Paris, je t’aime moi non plus.

At the end of the day, Paris is just like Silicon Valley in the sense that working in Paris has a certain prestige amongst the local community. It’s the local hub, true. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t absolutely dynamite start-ups en province.

Smart Money: French companies get creative with funding

I’m considering starting a weekly tradition where I give a shoutout to a French company that is doing something I find particularly innovative. Well, this week that company is Lyon-based Regioneo – who launched a user-investment campaign, which I detailed in TechCrunch Europe.

Why is there no translation for “bon appétit” in English?

In case you are unfamiliar with Regioneo, they’re essentially the French equivalent to Foodzie. I thought the idea behind Regioneo was dynamite even prior to this week’s innovative investment initiative, because obviously local artisanal foods in France have an appeal and quality that their American substitutes don’t.

Have your cake and eat it too.

But as much as I like their platform, I’m applauding the innovative way they decided to raise funding this week – which brought them to just under €50,000 in 5 days. Plus, not only did Regioneo raise money, but it brought together a group of high-profile entrepreneurs (or “ambassadors”) to support their cause. Money plus marketing. Yum. Translation: they can have their cake and eat it too (avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre, en français).

Keep your friends close and your investors closer.

This is not the first company, however, that is leveraging social means for funding. In fact, FriendsClear is another example of local company that is putting a new spin on investment; the P2P lending platform is oriented specifically towards investors and entrepreneurs. Maybe something for Sprouter to consider?

Investitude.

Surely if Ségolène Royal was allowed to make-up words during the last presidential campaign, local entrepreneurs can also invent their way out of roadblocks. In Silicon Valley where it rains VC money on Sand Hill Road, entrepreneurs are possibly less-likely to get creative with funding. And while funding in France is not the monstrosity that everyone makes it out to be, the local VC scene is simply less developed. Which is why I’m sure we’re likely to see more innovation in this space along the lines of what Regioneo and FriendsClear are doing.

Le Seed: FCombinator and the TechEtoiles

Last week, Zlio’s Jérémie Berrebi and Iliad’s Xavier Niel announced the launch of their new seed fund, Kima Ventures, which I wrote about in TechCrunch Europe. Kima’s aim is to invest between €5,000 and €150,000 in 100 start-ups within the next 2 years.

Uh, that’s a lot of seed.

There’s been a lot of whispering about whether or not this is a good idea. How on earth do they plan to manage 100 companies, let alone make that many investments? With something like 52 weeks/year, Kima would need to make roughly 1 investment per week to reach their goal.

A dime a dozen.

Personally, I don’t really understand the criticism. It isn’t exactly raining seed money in France. And while Niel and Berrebi may be more occupied with making investments than actually managing them, entrepreneurs will have the added benefit of working with 2 of the hottest names in French tech – and their networks. What’s not to like about that? And the relationship comes with a check – better than lining-up at OSEO, no?

Two of a kind.

Funny enough, Marc Simoncini of Meetic announced the launch of a similar seed fund, Jania Capital, only several months before (be sure to check out their gorgeous website). If nothing else, I think France’s seed situation is about to dramatically improve.

FCombinator and the TechEtoiles.

The one model that seems to be locally MIA, is the YCominator or TechStars-type model: also known as mentorship with seed money.  Obviously there is Seedcamp, which is pan-European, but what about a YCombinator program for France? The Founder Institute, which just launched its Paris program, offers the mentorship component without the seed. So until someone decides to put this system into place, Kima and Jaina are essentially the next best thing for seed funding in France.

The Truth: (Young) French VCs ARE on Twitter

In an earlier post, I applauded the French VCs that I found on Twitter. Turns out a majority of the French VC adoption of Twitter  is from the younger VC crowd. I’ve included them in my FrenchVC list on Twitter but here is a quick look at who they are.

Serena Capital

Has funded companies like Creads.org (@creads), Augure (@augurerepmgmt) and RSI Vidéo Technologies (@notontwitter). 

Young VCs from their firm on Twitter include: Marine Desbans (@mdesbans) and Jean-Baptiste Dumont (@jbdumont)

Ventech (@ventech_vc)

Ventech has a gorgeous portfolio and includes companies like Viadeo (@viadeo), Bonitasoft (@bonitasoft) and Awdio (@awdio_usa).

The just launched their official Twitter account last week – the same time as they announced their investment in London-based Muzicall (@muzicall).

Their young VC: Mounia Rkha (@moumsinette)

Alven Capital

Another VC firm with a very impressive portfolio, including MyFab (@myfabfr), Companeo (@companeo), MobileTag (@mobiletag) and more.

Their young VC on Twitter is: Jeremy Uzan (@jeremyuzan) 

Elaia Partners (@Elaia_Partners)

The only other firm with an official account, as far as I know. Another very nice portfolio, with investments in Criteo (@criteo), Goojet (@goojet) and WyPlay (@Wyplay). 

The account is run by their young VC, Samantha Jérusalmy.

**Feel free to let me know if I’ve left anyone out.

Why am I applauding these guys?

I think they’re definitely leading the way in terms of new technology adoption and are changing the face of the stereotypical, traditional VC. Also, as many of the new media-related products are oriented towards a younger crowd, having a younger VC on the team works nicely as they can also play the role of a beta tester. It’s nice to see that French VC firms are not only realizing the benefit, but actually implementing a mélange of the age-range.

Who is still MIA?

If I’m not mistaken, most of the bigger more well-known French VC firms are still nowhere to be seen! Sofinnova, Innovacom, Partech and the likes…

I’m Putting My Money on MyFab

Sequoia and Benchmark, you may want to listen. Jeff Bezos too.

MyFab: THE next hot start-up to come out of France.

First off, let me say that I do not write this for just any old company and it is very likely that this will be the only post of its kind for a long time. I normally would be inclined not to broadcast something so incredibly favorable about a particular start-up – but MyFab is just too damn good for me not to do so.

Now, I’m no expert but personally I think MyFab is going to be the next-best-thing to come out of France – start-up wise. That is, if it isn’t already.

iWhat? MyWho?

The company is French but first made a splash in Silicon Valley in the summer of 2009 when they closed a €5 million round, including funding from BV Capital. MyFab’s unique e-commerce model is an on-demand platform that lets users buy high-quality products directly from manufacturers. Translation: up to an 80% price reduction on incredibly chic  furniture, jewelry, etc. The site also makes use of a “voting system” whereby their customers can vote for future products to be made and receive a addition discount on the items once they go into production. I think it’s just brilliant.

First Vente-privée, now MyFab.

French e-commerce must be doing something right. Vente-privée made headlines a while ago with the potential $2 billion Amazon acquisition. I’m pretty sure MyFab won’t enter the US market and go unnoticed either.

A few other unique e-commerce business models have caught my eye as well – including Sokoz and Voyagerpouruneuro.com – which integrate a timed or game-like aspect into shopping.

France e-commerce businesses may’ve had a bit of a slow start but looks like it’s getting ready to take off…

Check out my lastest article in TechCrunch Europe on MyFab’s US launch and follow MyFab on Twitter: @MyFabFrance (in French) or @MyFabGermany (in English)

The Truth: French VCs ARE on Twitter

One of my first posts was called “France, Meet Twitter” where I happened to very slightly criticize French VCs for their absence on Twitter.

Well, I take it back.

I discovered some very high-profile French VCs on Twitter, namely Guillaume Lautour (@G_Lautour) of AGF Private Equity. Even though I haven’t come across the Twitter accounts of anyone from Partech International, Sofinnova or Innovacom, it’s nice to see that there are French VCs making the move. Still, after the Founder’s Club event I went to on January 26th, only 2 of the 7 VCs I met had Twitter accounts (either personal accounts or accounts for their firm).

But wait, there is another pleasant surprise: the young VC.

Now here is where I get really impressed. There seems to be a younger generation of VCs in France and this generation is definitely active on Twitter. I’ve stumbled on youngsters from 360 Capital Partners, Alven Capital and Ventech for the moment, and I’m sure there are more to come.

So we can trash 2 stereotypes.

First, of the French financial services sector being over hierarchical and second, of there being no French VCs on Twitter.

Check out my French VCs list on Twitter and feel free to make suggestions for VCs to include.