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)

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French start-ups that got VC funding in January 2010

I think the VC community in France had a promising start for 2010. The month of January included the launch of the Paris Founder’s Club and tech innovation cluster System@tic launched its investment club with 17 VC firms.

In addition,  quite a few start-ups got funding, including (and obviously not limited to):

eYeka (@eyekafr)

 This company likes to call itself the “leader in consumer engagement”, which translates to leveraging user-generated content to advertise for large brands. Their clients include big names like Coca-Cola, Nike, FootLocker and they have offices in the UK, France and Singapore. They scored €3 million from I-Source and their original investors (which include Ventech :p). More info on the round of funding can be found here.

Spartoo (@i_love_spartoo)

The “French Zappos” – and European leader in internet footware sales – got €12 million from Highland Capital Partners, Endeavor Vision and their former investors. The company, funded by 3 youngsters, gets over 4 million monthly uniques.

More info on their series B and their quest to be the next Tony Hsieh can be found here.  

IJENKO (@Ijenko)

If anyone’s familiar with Silicon Valley-based iControl, you can almost think of IJENKO as a eco-version. The company was founded in 2008 and is finally out of beta. Their platform helps individuals be more eco-friendly at home, by allowing them to keep track of their energy consumption while at home and away.

The company scored €2 million from I-Source, Direct Energie and Bouygues Telecom Initiatives. You can find more details in French here.

Invest in a Start-up = Reduce your Taxes

Yes, that’s right my friends; while Silicon Valley was over there spreading rumors that it’s impossible to score VC money in France, the French government got a little creative.

Since 2007, French tax payers can lower their wealth tax (ISF) by investing in a company.

French taxpayers can now reduce their wealth tax by up to 75% via making an investment of €50,000.

In the beginning, it wasn’t obvious if any magic had been made; were French tax payers going to go knocking directly on the doors of companies they wanted to invest in? And how were emerging start-ups to sniff out the money?

Et voilà, le VC: what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine.

That’s right, who better to play the intermediary than a VC.

And now for a little name-dropping.

One example of a company that was recently funded this way is Proxi-Business.com, a French e-commerce solutions platform, which scored €1.15 million (I might cry if I convert this to dollars) at the beginning of this week from a company called Audacia.

Audacia has also funded companies like French organic e-commerce site, Brindilles.fr, IT security company, ASP 64, and a few more.

And they’re not alone. France’s darling start-ups DailyMotion and Deezer – which both scored funding in October 2009 – have received funding from AGF Private Equity, who raised over €35 million in June 2009 through an ISF campaign. Not too shabby if you ask me.

So who is laughing now?

Ok, ok. Maybe this scheme hasn’t dramatically changed the investment practices of local VCs (yet!). But it certainly looks like VCs aren’t agnostic with regards to this new resource (here is a non-exhaustive list of French companies that received VC funding in 2009).

I Love2Recycle: Cellphone Recycling à la Française

It’s all about being green.

Inc. Magazine published an article last month on San Diego-based ecoATM, a start-up developing kiosk or ATM-like machines where people can deposit their old cellphones for cash. Sounds like a brilliant idea. I remember seeing a company that wanted to do the exact same thing at a Silicon Valley Launch event last year (or maybe it was them).  

Best part: the ATM still gives you cash.

For ecoATM, a used Blackberry or iPhone goes for $50 to $55. They estimate around $12.2 billion worth of used phones are just sitting in people’s drawers, waiting to be cashed-in.

Not so fast.

Why lug your phones around to track down one of these silly machines when you could just slip your phone in the mail? With the machines, there may also be the added possibility of a technical slip leaving you with a little less cash than you bargained for.

2 sites that do the trick: Love2Recycle and MonExTel.

France’s Love2Recycle.fr (Love2Recycle.com) is an inititaive put forward by LaPoste and Anovo, buying used phones for up to €250. Users log-on to the site, select the phone they want to turn in, send it and then receive their check in the mail.

Another site that works in a similar fashion is MonExTel.com. The company behind the site, Recommerce Solutions, buys the phones, which are then repaired by Ateliers du Bocage and resold.

Oh, and of course there is always the Telcos.

Bouygues Telecom, for example, is launching their mobile phone recycling program on January 18. Although mobile phones recycled through their site will go to MonExTel.com.

Great short term solution?

I think that telephone recycling solutions are terrific in the short term. But wouldn’t it be a little more green if companies encouraged consumers to change consumption habits althogether?

Solde.com

In France, there is no Black Friday. There is no “after-Christmas” sale  or “end of the year clearout” sale. 

Instead, there are the semiannual “soldes.” AKA the fixed, 5-week sale that takes place in January/February and again in June/July. And January 6  is the first day of the winter 2010 sale.  

A study published by the Centre for Retail Research in December 2009 stated that 58% of French would be hitting the January sales, spending an average of €159 each. That’s an estimated €34.8 billion to be spent in the first weeks of 2010 – want me to convert that to dollars for you? 

So what better way to take advantage of the “soldes” than online (or via a mobile device)?

No obeying store hours and no lines. And you can even shop from outside the +33 country code. Score – or as the French would say, youpi!

E-commerce has been on a steady rise in France, as the French are by no means shy when it comes to buying online; in November, MediaMetrie confirmed 23 million French e-shoppers  during the 3rd trimester of 2009 (1 million mobile shoppers during the same time period). And 63% of French confirm that they buy online simply because it’s more practical.

There are a myriad of local e-commerce sites selling everything from foie gras to Sarkozy’s watch (though not his wife – at least, not that I’m aware of). 

Still, stats reveal that the French prefer to buy less food and more technical products online, making this the leading product category for online sales. Tourism and travel is a very close second.

Where are all the eyeballs?

Top-ranking e-commerce sites in France in terms of monthly uniques throughout 2009 include: eBay, PriceMinister, Amazon, Cdiscount, La Redoute, Fnac, Voyages-sncf.com, 3 Suisses, Vente-privée, Pixmania, Kiabi.com, Rue du Commerce, Carrefour, Mistergooddeal and Eveil et Jeux.

Looking for a few more names? A more complete directory of over 430 local e-commerce players (700 websites) can be found on the FEVAD’s (fédération e-commerce et vente à distance) website here. Additionally, the FEVAD’s selection for the best e-commerce sites of 2009 can be found here.

Any idiot knows that sales + e-commerce = business.

So what does the scoreboard look like for e-commerce sites in the upcoming weeks? Well, during the first week of the semiannual sales in summer 2009 alone, the FEVAD announced a 7% increase of online sales (and a 10% increase during the first week for the winter 2009 sales). With an estimated 9% of the total sales during the January soldes to done online, e-commerce sites should be raking-in around €3.1 billion.

Oh, and you’re wondering how solde.com figures into all of this?

 The domain is currently on the market for $30,000. Now that’s ironic.

To anyone looking for a bit more info on the European e-commerce scene in English, ACSEL (association pour le commerce et les services en ligne) has a terrific publication, which can be found here.