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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Have You Seen Me? 9 French Entrepreneur Names to Know

Talk to anyone from Silicon Valley about French names in hi-tech and you’ll systematically get the 3 same answers: Loic Le Meur, Jeff Clavier and Pierre Omidyar – if you’re lucky.

But how about French entrepreneurs in France?

In an earlier post I suggested putting French entrepreneur success stories on milk cartons to remind us all of the home-grown sensations. So why not take a minute to consider 9 home-grown French hi-tech names-to-know ?  The list is ideally in some type of order, but then again not really.

Gilles Babinet.

This man is a French serial entrepreneur to know – creating his first company at age 22 back in 1989 (a few years ahead of Zuckerberg?). Some of his success stories include Absolut (acquired by Euro RSCG) and Musiwave (acquired by Openwave and later Microsoft). He recently co-founded 3 hot start-ups including Eyeka, Digicompanion and MXP4.

Jérôme Rota.

This guy is the mastermind behind DivX – the technology and now the company. While he later went on to co-found DivX, Inc. in San Diego, California, Rota initially developed the technology back in 1998/1999 in Montpellier as a 20-something-year-old. But I don’t need to convince anyone that French engineers are la crème de la crème, do I?

Roland Moreno.

Yes, ok, it’s not exactly hot off the press but it’s far from trivial. Wonder why France is so ahead of the US when it comes to electronic ticketing? This is the French face behind the invention of the smartcard in 1974 – now used in just about everything. The following year, he went on to launch Innovatron. And last I heard, he gave everyone a scare in 2008/2009 with rumors of a risky health situation.

Xavier Niel.

The co-founder of Iliad (who has the ugliest website ever – not like it matters) is part of the reason I pay far less for internet in France than I ever did in San Francisco – but I’ve applauded his contribution to the invention of triple-play Freebox before. In addition to Iliad, he also co-founded WorldNet, which was bought by KapTech (Neuf Cegetel) for €40 million in 2000. He recently co-founded seed-fund, Kima Ventures, with Jérémie Berrebi. Oh – and if I’m not mistaken, he’s also part of the college drop-out club. Nice.

Pierre Chappaz.

This guy was not only of the co-founders of Kelkoo (acquired by Yahoo) but has also been behind the successes of Wikio and Netvibes.

Yves Guillemot.

Guillemot is one of the 5 faces behind France’s video game giant, Ubisoft. The Guillemot brothers have also founded a number of additional companies (7 total) – including Gameloft and Guillemot, which both went public along with Ubisoft.

Marc Simoncini.

Another serial entrepreneur to know. Simoncini, like Babinet, founded his first company in 1985 at the age of 22. His first real success came with iFrance, which was sold to Vivendi in 2000. He then went on to create Meetic, which has done a great job at blowing everyone else out of the European online dating market and bought Match.com’s European activities last year. Like Niel, he also recently launched a seed-fund, Jaina Capital, with Michel Kubler.

Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet.

The brother of the current Minister of Digital Economy, Kosciusko-Morizet is one of the co-founders behind e-commerce success, PriceMinister. He, too, got an early start – launching his first company in his (incredibly) early 20’s.

Jacques-Antoine Granjon.

Anyone that gets a €2 billion acquisition offer from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (and additional offers from Gilt and eBay) should definitely make the list – 47-year-old Jacques-Antoine Granjon is the long-haired founder of French success story Vente-privée.

Educate me.

Did I miss someone uber important? There are definitely another 50 people I could easily add. The list is obviously far from exhaustive and highly influenced by my non-expert knowledge. Feel free to add to the comments and enlighten me.

Wikipedia Initiative: Plan B

This is a quick follow-up on the Wikipedia initiative, which has proven to be quite interesting.

Yoocasa: my guinea pig.

Some companies are simply too young for Wikipedia. My first start-up to join the cause, Yoocasa, was removed after only a few hours. Sad, but true. Which is surprising because I have seen many companies on Wikipedia that don’t have any reason to be there other than they have made their own page (one SF company in particular I am dying to put here but then I’d be responsible for their page getting deleted).

A few things to remember.

Anyone that has noteworthy clients, references, stats or stories should have no problem being on Wikipedia – as long as they include them. Remember that Wikipedia is about links. It is a lot easier to delete information that is just floating by itself than something that is tagged in additional articles and perhaps includes additional links.

A little linkage.

Take for example French company Musiwave that was acquired by Microsoft for $46 million. No Wikipedia page – not even in French. However, if you search for Musiwave founder Gilles Babinet, he has a page. Naturally, one would assume then that all the companies he has been involved in (Eyeka, MXP4, Digicompanion) would have their own page as a result. Wrong.  The only one to have a Wikipedia page is MXP4 and it isn’t even linked to in his article.

2 sides of the same coin.

All the company links in his article (with the exception of Microsoft) link directly to the company page – which is another way to leverage Wikipedia for marketing. But in the case of Eyeka, a Wikipedia page was created and removed – because it was apparently considered to be too much of an advertisement.

Easier said than done: the French exception.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: French companies perhaps have to be somewhat more careful than others when creating Wikipedia pages because they are more likely to get accused of being advertisements. Kind of like what happens in the metro to innocent poster ads.

Obvioulsy we didn’t see Eyeka’s page before it was removed – it could’ve very well been inappropriate for Wikipedia. But this is perhaps why French companies should definitely pay extra special attention to what info they decide to include and how they link the page to other pages.

Now for Plan B: Crunchbase.

I still encourage all French companies to try Wikipedia because a deleted page leaves you no worse off than before. But for anyone that is in search of a Plan B, apply to Crunchbase – which is likely to be a little more friendly to baby start-ups than Wikipedia.

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.