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.

Will work for food, er, ticket resto

I’ve lived with a Googler.

So I know – just like the rest of us, as it’s not exactly a secret – that working at Google comes with a lot of free goodies: discounts on tons of services (ZipCar, AT&T internet, etc), that lovely SF-Mountain View charter bus service, on-campus lectures, dry cleaning, babysitting, you name it.

Oh, and of course, the food.

The best way to spot a Googler is by their fridge, since they never have anything in it (other than NakedJuice and the occasional Google take-out box).

But is everyone in Silicon Valley just working for food?

The NY Times published an article in December about the opening of Facebook’s fancy new kitchen – despite the recent Valley relapse on dining establishments – as a continuation of the 1950’s tradition started by HP to breed company loyalty and acquire talent. Thus working at a high-profile tech company comes with a fat paycheck, label and belly – the “Facebook 15″‘ is apparently what the kids are calling it.

Obviously, not every Silicon Valley company does this – even if they can afford to (the NYT article points fingers @ Lucasfilm, Autodesk, Apple and Cisco, in particular).

Now, in France “company loyalty” isn’t exactly synonymous with “food”.

There are maybe a million theories, articles and books on why the French are thin and the Americans are fat. Well – and by all means correct me if I am wrong – but maybe this has something to do with it.  The French may enjoy their food but I don’t exactly see French companies having in-house fancy foie gras competitions. But maybe do-no-evil Google will change that.

Vive le Ticket Resto?

In France, the absence of a (less grandiose) cafeteria means the Ticket Restaurant system, which is like a meal coupon provided by French employers that is only valid for the purchase of food (ideally prepared food or restaurant food). The employer pays a portion of the “Ticket Resto” (usually a minimum of 50%) and the employee pays the other portion. Ticket amounts usually venture around €10.

Why not just opt out for cash?

The Ticket Resto is not exactly man’s best friend. While many restaurants and grocery stores accept them, not every place will reimburse you if you don’t spend the full amount of your ticket. A lot of restaurants will also put a cap on the total number of tickets you can use to pay (2 in most cases), to keep customers from saving them up only to penny pinch on a fancy meal. But if you prefer to opt out for cash, tough luck.

Then again, Ticket Resto money is fortunately exempt from all taxes. The idea behind this is that food money should be non taxable. That equals happy employer and happy employee. Plus no receipts for TurboTax.

Ticket Resto’s website also provides a simulation on how much employers and employees save with different schemes and different numbers of employees. Here’s the link in French.  

No,”Ticket restaurant” is not French for “disloyal employee”.

People are always bitching about the downsides of the French labor laws, as if every entrepreneur was only out to fire the people s/he hired. Now, this may sound outrageous but the majority of French employees are probably keepers (valid you have some kind of recruitment process in place). Thus, no local companies are competing on who can dish-out more to run a Benihanas and an A-list tech company simultaneously, just to keep their top French engineers from going to work down the street.

So, is Mark Zuckerberg making you fat?

Maybe. He may be serving you organic chicken on recycled plates but that doesn’t mean Michael Pollan doesn’t have anything to say about this. Although Pollan was an invited speaker at the Google campus so maybe he is picking his battles.

And if he’s not making you fat, he might be making you lazy. After all, too much of a good thing may very well put our beloved Facebookers into a post-déjeuner food coma. Loyalty at the cost of efficiency?

PS: In France, people on the street beg for cash, cigarettes – and ticket restos.

As they’re only valid for food (no alcohol), you don’t need to think twice before helping someone out.