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.

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Bienvenue en France: Welcome to Exitland

Alright, it’s high time we set the record straight. I met with yet another French entrepreneur this morning that seemed to think France was void of decent exits. Well, guess again.

Have you seen me?

In the US, whenever a child or a person goes missing, his or her face shows up on a milk carton (or at least, it used to). Perhaps we should do the same with French companies –  not because they are MIA but because French entrepreneurs seem to forget that there are home-grown companies that make acquisitions. Ok, maybe French companies are somewhat less carnivorous than Microsoft and Google, but that doesn’t mean their acquisitions get to be ignored.

So, let’s take a minute to look at some fairly recent opposite-direction acquisitions from French Exitland:

1. Vivendi.

French Vivendi threw $18.9 billion at Californian Activision in 2007. Let’s not forget they also own American Universal Music Group and 20% of NBC Universal. Not too shabby…

2. Publicis.

A step down from the billions but still a rather heavy price tag: France’s Publicis spent $530 million to acquire Razorfish from Microsoft in August 2009.

3. Dassault.

In 2005 and 2006, French Daussalt went on a shopping spree spending $413 million and $410 million on American Abaqus and MatrixOne respectively. And in case you missed it, they also just spent $600 million to acquire the PLM activities from a little American company called IBM. Hot.

And the list goes on…

French entrepreneurs: stop trashing your own turf.

French entrepreneurs love to tell me that Americans are good at selling themselves and the French are – well, not. Ok, point taken – Americans are possibly the closest thing to genetically modified salespeople. It’s almost weird. But why the French continue to trash their own turf is beyond me. Plus, half the statements French entrepreneurs make about the French techosphere are either founded on thin ice or gross exaggerations: “France is the third world of tech”, “there is no real tech ecosystem in France”, blah blah blah. Oh, the irony. 

Want to see the third world of the tech industry? Go to Wyoming.