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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Trying to Make Sense of the French Job Market

Yesterday, Marc Thouvenin (Regioneo founder) posted a tweet that caught my eye:

“Can interns make good community managers” with a link to this blog post by Benjamin Rosoor of Web Report.

Traditional recruitment meets realtime web.

For anyone that can’t read French, Rosoor’s post argues against younger employees – and more specifically, interns – doing the job of community managers. Naturally, you don’t want your average slacker representing your company and your brand on live, social internet. But Rosoor’s post ties in the fact that the job of a community manager isn’t well defined and that many companies don’t put a lot of money on the table for their social media strategy. The result: putting an intern behind the Twitter account could be fatal.

But aren’t we forgetting something?

I think that Rosoor’s post raises a good point – that community management is in fact an important job that should be given to someone with a good grasp of the product, the company, the business, the industry and what have you. And if the person is to be trusted with such an important task, it should be reflected in their paycheck too, no?

But the issue should not be reduced to a question of age or experience.

This is a typical mistake I see in traditional French recruitment practices. The French torture themselves at school (believe me, I am living it) and get diplomas from top universities. But when they graduate, nobody trusts them with anything because they lack experience. What on earth kind of ridiculous logic is that? 10 years of experience to become an engineer? Forget it. I’d understand if it involved a History major trying to become a brain surgeon but that is usually not the case. Plus, how is anyone supposed to get any experience if even as interns they are reduced to doing purely trivial tasks?

Is “trust” a four-letter word?

Maneuvering new web applications may come more naturally to the younger Web 2.0 generation. Would it be so wrong to perhaps trust someone with less experience? I’m sure that with a little training and a bit of trust, the right candidate would hardly set-out to ruin a company’s reputation on the internet.

The French Evolution.

Fortunately, I do feel as though the French tech job market, in particular, is evolving – embracing Twitter, Facebook and the likes for recruitment purposes, thus finding a younger, geekier candidate pool. But it is still not necessarily the norm.

Need experience? Start a company.

Starting a company has possibly become the answer to unemployment and entering the over-hierarchical job market. Once more people realize that online community sites – like Facebook, Deezer, Creads, etc. – were founded by 20-something-year-olds, perhaps they’ll reconsider giving someone with less experience a community management (or other) role.

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…