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”.

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.

Under the radar: Are some French companies hiding?

Somehow, the conversation always ends up on which Silicon Valley companies are MIA in France.

A week or two ago, Deezer’s Jonathan Benassaya posted this comment on Twitter:

Opentable actually launched in France in 2008 and ironically their product didn’t take off – so I am told. French restaurants were too traditional to go electronic with their reservations at the time.

I agree. But apparently the situation has changed since 2008 and there are actually a few French companies in this space already: LaFourchette, Restopolitan and TableOnline.

Aside from OpenTable, another name that gets brought up frequently as potentially MIA in France is Mint. But guess what – ISWIGO is doing a pretty good job of covering that domain locally.

So why were these names under the radar?

Ok, perhaps some of it is Silicon Valley’s sexy name that seems to dwarf foreign competitors. But French companies may also have different communications strategies than American companies. I noticed, for example, that La Fourchette and ISWIGO are absent from Twitter (PLEASE correct me if I am wrong!). I’m probably starting to sound like Robert Scoble but Twitter is free and makes lots of noise – I don’t really see the point in saying no.

Wait, it gets worse…

Worse than not having a Twitter account, however, is not having a press kit available on a website. Restopolitan happily offers me a subscription to their newsletter when I sign onto their site but doesn’t have a press section? Don’t get me started on the other info missing from the website. The same goes for ISWIGO and La Fourchette isn’t really that much better.

Good noise, bad noise.

Are French companies somewhat more conservative, as a whole, when it comes to communication? Is this due to the fact that mess-ups and blunders are less tolerated in France than in the US? Do US start-ups differentiate less between good noise and bad noise? How would a French company have handled the release of Beacon? Or the Kevin Smith incident with SouthWest on Twitter?

All eyes on the SNCF et the RATP.

If there is one group that consistently takes a lot of flack from angry customers, it’s the French public transporation groups – the national SNCF and the Paris RATP. These two organizations have teamed up and done a fabulous job with Blogencommun – a blog that keeps commuters updated and responds to concerns and complains about strikes, construction, problems, etc. Blogencommun is also on Twitter (@blogencommun). I think this is one terrific example of a French group taking the web 2.0 wheel to help control and communicate regarding mess-ups.

Now all they have to do is release an English translation for the poor tourists…

A Few Noteworthy French Music Start-ups

Midem (@midemnetblog) – the music industry’s largest international event – is taking place in Cannes, France from January 24-27.  So, why not take a look at some rather interesting French music startups…

MXP4 (@theremixculture)

The company has created an interactive music platform – which lets listeners personalize and mix their favorite tracks – with €6.5 million raised to date from Sofinnova and Ventech. CEO Albin Serviant (@albinserviant), who is also EVP and GM for Vivendi Mobile Entertainment, spoke at Midem last Wednesday about business models for music applications. Details on what he discussed can be found here.

Awdio (@awdio_usa)

A Webradio network lets users stream music live from clubs and venues around the world. The company was founded in 2007 by Vittorio Strigari (@awdiovitto) and has raised €1.5 with Ventech since 2007.

Deezer (@deezer)

France’s hot little music start-up that is was run by youngers Jonathan Benassaya (@JBenassaya) and Daniel Marhely (@blogmusik) and is, quite frankly, way better than Imeem. Benassaya is reported to have left the company,  which closed a second round of funding in October 2009 and has raised €12.2 million to date. Troubled waters?

JiwaMusic (@jiwa)

They may be still in Beta but they’ve signed with Universal and look like they may be getting ready to try and take on Deezer. Oh, and they’re also looking for good people to join their team.

 Musicovery (@needstogetontwitter)

A so-called interactive webradio that works like a moodring. Huh? They’ve been around a little longer than the others, since 2003. The man who runs the show is Vincent Castaignet (@alsoneedstogetontwitter) and they’re apparently not VC-backed.