Tag Archives: France

More (interesting?) data about French unicorns

A month ago, I published data about French startups. I had been surprised to discover that access to data about private companies was finally possible for free in my dear country. So I looked at some (famous) French unicorns with an interest in the shareholder structure and how much money they had raised overall, as well as in their seed and A rounds. You will find the detailed information in a pdf in the bottom of the post.

But before moving on to this analysis, I want to mention an excellent article on seed fundraising, which gives advice and quite rich information. It is in French though and is entitled La levée de fonds seed ou amorçage. So here are the results:

In this first table, I just had a look at their age and fund raising. To give simple rule of thumbs, about the ones which are still private, they are about 5 to 15 years old, they have raised about €200M, with seed rounds of €0.5M and A round of €2-3M. The market capitalization should be (by definition) above one billion euros, but apparently this is not always the case (let us say that the value of a private company is a very volatile metric!) and the ratio of this value to amount raised seems also to be 5 to 15…

I then looked at how much dilution the seed and A rounds correspond to as well as the age of the companies for these rounds. Again, not taking outliers into account, both the seed and A rounds seem to induce a 25% dilution, therefore, with rounds of €0.5M and €2-3M respectively, the value at seed is about €2M and at A round is €8-12M. Finally the startups are less than 1-2 years old at seed and less than 4 years old at A round.

The last table is about the shareholding or equity structure as well as some data about the founders. The founders keep 25-30% of their startups, investors have 60-65% whereas employees have 5-10%.

There are about two founders per startup, they are surprisingly often below 30 with a median and average age of 29 and sadly with not a single woman.

Equity List – French Unicorns

Access to French startups data

I should have known sooner about new rules on data about French startups. In the past, you had to pay on sites like societe.com or Euridile to get filing documents of private companies from the register of companies. This is the past! Now it is possible to access this data for free. And this is great news. So my favorite exercise which consists in building cap. tables of startups, which had become a habit for companies going public, for Swiss companies in certain cantons like Zurich or Basel, or for British companies thanks to Companies House is now possible in France with Pappers.

I obviously tried with some of the current famous private startups. I failed with Dataiku, probably because it moved to the USA, but could build some partial tables for Doctolib, Mirakl, Alan, Ledger and BlaBlaCar. It is far from perfect because you need to read many documents. I had to go through 68 ones for BlaBlaCar. I did not go into the details of stock options, granted or exercised. But I could get the info about the founders and the funding rounds. Here is a summary:

and here are the individual tables. QUite fascinating to see the recent trends in France through 5 examples:

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 5

This new episode of Philippe Mustar’s book relates to the history of Criteo, a startup already mentioned on this blog here and there.

For once, I disagree slightly with a quote from the book (which is not from the author): “The profile of the team formed by the three creators of Criteo is a perfect example of the one described theoretically by Kathleen M. Eisenhardt (Professor of Management at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program) as “the best it can be.” Kathleen Eisenhardt, based on a lot of research on the subject, defines (somewhat mechanically she herself admits) what a great team is:
– it initially consists of three, four or five people. If there are only two, it is not enough because there are so many things to do in a start-up and above all, being two does not offer a wide enough diversity of opinions, of points of view. If there are six, seven or eight, it is no longer a team, it is a group whose management and coordination take too much time.
– it is multidisciplinary and transversal, that is to say it combines skills in engineering, marketing, finance. But, these skills must be real, that is to say not based only on a diploma, but on actual experience.
– it includes people who have already worked together, this is an important asset because the creation of a start-up is made up of stressful situations, which are easier to share with people you know.
– finally, and this is more surprising, the “best teams” are those which have people of various ages, not only young people in their twenties but also others who have more experience. This often allows you to see different aspects of the same problem.
For Kathleen Eisenhardt, teams that meet these criteria are the ones that perform best. ”
[Page 199]

As much as I can agree if we talk about the management team, I believe that at the time of creation, the founders have different pedigrees. As I wrote in my own book in 2008, “A start-up is a baby created by its parents – the founders. They are responsible for its development and to help it adapt to an evolving world. It does not mean that a founder has to give up control of his start-up. Would a parent give up his child just because he has no experience in feeding and educating? Is the analogy of little value? There is also a responsibility in succeeding in the development. Experts will be used, medical doctors, teachers for the child, professionals, and consultants for the start-up. The Google founders kept such “ownership” during the company’s growth. Eric Schmidt has become CEO but he is more a partner of the two founders. Start-ups seldom develop that well and investors sometimes have to make tough decisions when they take away the “parent” power from the founders. Investors do not like to do this in general and only do it when they consider it absolutely necessary. This is an ideal world but everyone knows reality is more complex”. And I could add, two parents is probably the ideal model.

On the other hand, I fully agree with the sources of innovation: The sociology of innovation has shown that the sources of innovation, like those of the Nile, are multiple and sometimes difficult to identify. It also pointed out that ideas for new products or services are the most common things in the world, and even that they are always bad, always poorly framed and approximate at the origin. As Bruno Latour says: “All important discoveries are born ineffective: they are hopeful monsters,“ promising monsters ”. [Page 251] and the French text by Latour http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-92-PROTEE.pdf . [A short parenthesis about Hopeful Monsters, a term I knew only from one of my favorite novels, and I blogged about it here.]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 4

Following two previous articles here and there and there again about this very interesting book, here are a few more lessons.

About selling a product

Expliseat is as rich as DNAScript in lessons especially about the description of how 3 young people with no experience in the field will find and bring together the skills to design, produce and sell. We also see one of the founders leaving the ship without the adventure stopping and finally page 186: During these years, Benjamin also learned that the only economic argument (“we make you earn money”), and more broadly those which are purely rational, are not sufficient to convince the customer:

“If you come up with a purely rational product, it’s not a good product, because the buying process isn’t one hundred percent rational. It was important for us to understand this. With the […] then the […], we said: “this is the best […] on the market”, but for the customer, the best […] is also a [product] which is beautiful, which one desires, which inspires confidence … It requires commercial work on the product to make it attractive. The end goal is that people no longer just buy a [product], they buy [our product], something that is beyond the product, they buy a brand, an industrial experience, a purchasing experience, a customer experience, an after-sales service… This is typically what you do when you buy an iPhone, you don’t buy a phone, you buy an Apple, you buy an experience, well it’s the same thing in industry and B2B ”. [Pages 194-5]

The “process of innovation”

What surprises about this story is the apparent mix of genres: the [product] is not yet certified, nor realized and entrepreneurs are already selling it. We are witnessing a real whirlwind in which the team experiments, manufactures, sells, tests, collaborates with various actors, negotiates certification, modifies the project, transforms the [product], changes alliances, partners and market, goes back, takes a detour to a research laboratory abroad, develops a new prototype… We are far from the classic model of innovation, a linear model where distinct stages follow one another: research, then experimental development, prototyping, industrialization and, last step, commercialization. In such a process, the customer or user is passive, she or he enters at the end and the only room for maneuver is to accept or refuse the innovation.

This linear process is a kind of relay race where the end of one stage marks the start of the next stage; and, within the company, each of these steps is the result of a different department: research department, design office, production department, then marketing and commercialization … This sequential vision has been widely criticized by literature, whether it is evolutionary economic theories, the sociology of innovation or the management of technology.

About the market

Expliseat seems to be coming at the right time in their [market]. Often companies with their innovation arrive too late or too early in the market they are targeting. The Greek word kairos [1] qualifies this moment, it is the time of the right moment, the instant of the opportunity. [Pages 195]

[1] The Greek god Kairos is the winged god of opportunity, to be seized when it passes. He is represented by a young man who has only a tuft of hair on his head. As he passes nearby, either you don’t see him, or you see him and do nothing, or you reach out and grab his hair, thus seizing the possibility, the opportunity.

I’ll let you explore the author’s use of the Scrabble metaphor to show you that there is no real innovation process out there, nor opportunity there, but permanent construction from next to nothing.

About decision making under uncertainty

The founders’ ability to act is found in particular in the multiple choices they are faced with, and in the variety of options available to them. For what type of aircraft can this ultralight seat be produced? What form should this take? What materials to use? Which shareholders to bring into the capital? Where to install the company? Should we do it or have it done/outsourced? Which subcontractor to work with? Which research laboratory should be mobilized to solve a specific problem? Which engineer to recruit? What modifications should be made to the structure of the seat? With which industrial partner to enter into an alliance? Which business strategy to choose? Which business model to adopt? At what price to sell the seat? How to organize the business? Etc.

Along with the diversity of actors that we have highlighted, the process I am studying is also populated with a multitude of choices. These are many options that entrepreneurs explore. Here too, they are as much technical as they are economic, organizational or social. The story of Expliseat is the story of an expedition, its actors engage in unknown territory: which options to choose, which to close, which to open or re-open? “To govern is to choose”, says the maxim of the Duke of Lévis. Many options explored in this story lead to dead ends, others that will be exploited lead to failures, and finally others lead to success – and one could say, after the fact, but only after the fact, that “it was the right choice”. [Pages 203-4]

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 3

Here is episode 3 of my reading Entrepreneurship in Action by Mustar after episode 1 and episode 2.

I would like to mention what I consider an amazing coincidence in comparing two pages of Mustar’s book and the Google following short video.

There Larry page gives tips including:
Tip 2: There is a benefit from being real experts. Experience pays off.
Tip 3: Have a healthy disregard for the impossible. Stretch your goals.

About tip 2: “We worked on Google for many years at Stanford before we started the company. And that was a pretty nice position to be and we understood sort of all aspects in search. We talked about the search companies for many years. We really knew a lot about what’s going on. They can do that pretty cheaply, right? It’s just your labor, right? You can invest a year or two or three years and really learn something very, very well before you start having hundreds of people working on the problem.”

About tip 3: “I went to a leadership seminar once in Michigan where I came from and they have this great slogan which is, “Have a Healthy Disregard for the Impossible.” What this means is that, you really stretch goals that you’re not sure you can achieve but are sort of reasonable. You don’t want completely outlandish goals either. In fact one thing that I didn’t quite realize when I was starting Google is that it’s often easier to have aggressive goals. Now what that means is, a lot of time people take very specific things they want to do because they think they’ll be easier to attain. What happens if you’re being more specific, smaller markets and that kind of thing, you also get less resources.”

which I compare to pages 120-21:

About expertise: “To respond to these multiple questions, the trio meets many actors: “It was also important to speak very quickly to customers and experts in the field.” […] The team conducts a competitive watch to understand the positioning of the three major producers, but also the smallest that share the remaining 20% of the market. “I did all the fairs to understand how the sector works, how prices are fixed, what are the innovations in progress”. The objective for the trio is to differentiate its offer as much as possible from that of its future competitors.”

About the impossible: “During this period, as in the years that followed, many voices tell them that what they plan to do is not possible, that if we could […] the large companies that dominate the market would have already done it, that the development of industrial equipment is long and expensive and that they are subject to a tatillon certification process that the composite materials they hope to use will never pass. Last But Not Least, how young inexperienced and totally ignorant engineers of the sector could succeed in the giants of the sector, their tens of thousands of employees and their armies of experienced engineers.”

A final message from the founders of Expliseat which I find also very interesting: Unlike the entrepreneurship manuals which advise teams of founders to divide up the functions very early on, at Expliseat, during the first year of the project, the three entrepreneurs play all the roles at the same time. “Everyone does everything”. This is the formula they liked to repeat then.

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action – episode 2

Entrepreneurship in Action by Philippe Mustar is a really good book, as I had hinted in my previous post.

I just finished reading the analysis about DNA Script which I found very convincing. More than 70 pages describing an adventure which is built by moving forward often blindly, and with a lot of uncertainties. You learn by doing very often. Here is the concluding page which will hopefully make you want to read the full chapter.

Through discussions with them, the creators of DNA Script never gave the feeling or expressed the fact that they took any risks. Sylvain only sees risk as an opportunity cost for the entrepreneur: “the cost of time spent working on a project that may not work when we could have spent this time on another job or another project that would have worked better”. Thomas distinguishes between two types of risk. The first is linked to the psychological perception of failure, particularly by the entrepreneur’s entourage, which still exists in France but is declining. This type of risk was not very present for him. The second is the material risk.

“Normally, if you do things right, the material risk to each individual’s assets is well protected – even if sometimes entrepreneurs do stupid things. The material risk for people like us was having to find a job. That is all”.

Which wouldn’t have been difficult for the three engineers.

Becoming an entrepreneur, always according Thomas, is not so much taking risks as “getting out of your comfort zone”, and this in at least three areas: the need to learn, the responsibilities to be assumed and the amount of work to be done.

First of all, the first-time entrepreneur will have to learn a lot of things in a wide variety of fields. “You have to want to learn, to feel that your day is completed when you say to yourself that you have really learned things.”

Then, you must face strong responsibilities.

“In large companies, executives who hold important positions remain very protected by the organization; some have cost their companies huge amounts of money without real consequences. Conversely, Sylvain, Xavier and I, if the business goes badly, we are directly responsible for the job of the employees of the company, as well as for the money of our investors. Both have trusted us. This is a big responsibility. The company is a legal person, which has an interest that may be different from the interest of the manager or that of any of the employees. We are responsible for this legal person because today, without us, it cannot be autonomous. You have to constantly ask yourself: what is the best interest for the company?”

Finally, the entrepreneur must step out of his comfort zone, especially on the amount of work he has to accomplish. “There’s a monumental amount of work, all the time, at every moment, on very different things, it’s a huge mental load. They say success is 10% talent and 90% transpiration, that’s right.”

Philippe Mustar – Entrepreneurship in Action

The newspaper Le Monde just published an article about a recent book by Philippe MustarL’entrepreunariat en action. Ou comment de jeunes ingénieurs créent des entreprises innovantes. (Entrepreneurship in Action- Or how young engineers create innovative companies.)

The beginnings are very interesting as the following extracts show: “These stories underline that the creation of an innovative company is an experimental process for which no one knows in advance nor what will be the results or the point of arrival, nor even what knowledge and skills are needed to carry out this experiment. Unlike many stories and “cases” of business creation, where these tests and trial and error are forgotten, where the finished house is presented without the scaffolding that allowed it to be built, the reader is invited here to enter into these experiences (with not only their successes but also their dead ends and failures), and into the fabrication of the technical or economic content of these innovations (contents which, as we will see, are inextricably linked).” [Page 11]

And furthermore [Page 13] “[The book] does not provide recipes or a list of recommendations, it rather seeks to make processes and mechanisms intelligible, and thereby to make them more easily mastered by those who are are preparing to start a business.”

Then on page 27, “Except that I defend the idea that finding or creating opportunities, and exploiting those opportunities are not two separate moments and are part of a single movement.” with the following footnote: “As early as 2004, Per Davidson in his work Researching Entrepreneurship (New York, Springer) criticized this separation and insisted on the interweaving of the phases of discovery and exploitation. He will also sharply criticize this notion of opportunity. Another important criticism attacks the pre-existence of opportunities that would be discovered by entrepreneurs, Sharon Alvarez and Jay Barney argue that opportunities are built by entrepreneurs and that they do not exist independently of them. For this constructivist perspective, opportunities cannot exist outside the imagination of the entrepreneur of his future world. Alvarez S. A. and Barney J. B., 2007, “Discovery and Creation: Alternative Theories of Entrepreneurial Action”, Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, 1: 11-26.”

The first part is devoted to a biotech startup seeking to produce synthetic DNA, DNA Script. I found there convincing testimonies as to the complexity of situations. For example:

“Yes, it’s a much better idea to make shovels rather than trying to dig. It is better to sell shovels than to be a gold digger because the likelihood of you finding a vein is extremely low. Whereas you are sure to sell shovels to anyone looking for a vein. Yes, let’s make a tool that will allow all gold diggers to dig faster, deeper and more easily “(Sylvain). [Page 45] Here is a tough first choice that will impact the creation of final value and whose decision is not as simple as these entrepreneurs seem to say…

“I meet a lot of entrepreneurs who only see these aspects: who is going to be the CEO, how we are going to dallocate the shares … all of this in reality is incidental, like the logo or the name of the company. What is needed above all is the concept and motivation, we have to agree on a professional life project together: is this really what we want to do? Why? What are our motivations? What is everyone’s commitment to the project? And it’s only after you see the details, the percentages, the miscellaneous stuff. It’s important to do this really well, to have a process even to do it.” [Page 47] Other critical topics, on what is essential vs. incidental because an entrepreneur cannot do everything at once.

Exciting and to be followed!

Researchers and entrepreneurs: it’s possible! (part 2)

A second post about this enlightening book after this one. A multitude of quotes that make this book really fascinating. The importance of the human component; entrepreneurship is not a science after all. The experience of the field probably counts as much as the academic knowledge, the adventures are unique in spite of their common features. Here are some new examples:

“The first meetings with investors are dialogues between human beings: they will see in you the person who takes risks, who has the ability to develop a strategy and execute plans. Three major criteria are of interest to investors: the team, in particular the CEO [Chief Executive Officer] who creates and inspires the company on a daily basis, and then the product and size of the potential market.”
Pascale Vicat-Blanc.

“It is essential to open your idea, your project as soon as possible. The upstream contacts are very rich and can be quite simple”. Stéphane Deveaux. [Page 43]

“The creation of a company is first and foremost a work of definition and development of an offer and the positioning of this offer in the market”, explains Éric Simon. “I met a company that was immediately very enthusiastic. We had to solve many technical challenges that we had not encountered in the world of research. [But this first big client] led us into a dead end. […] I stood firm and remembered that even if you have an important client, you must immediately diversify so as not to be at his mercy.” [Page 55]

While market research and marketing training are often present in incubators, know-how is sometimes difficult to transfer. Researchers-entrepreneurs insist on the importance of the field. “So we did a lot of interviews, visits to customers, prospecting to really know our market. This is the best market research compared to buying ready-made studies.” Benoit Georis, Keeno [Page 61]

There arethen discussions about the relative importance of public and private investors, a phenomenon so specific to France. Yes an exciting book!

Researchers and entrepreneurs: it’s possible!

Here is a book that I just discovered about stories of startups in the French digital field, those from Inria, the national institute (for research in computer science and automation) dedicated to digital sciences. It’s written in French ans is entitled Chercheurs et entrepreneurs : c’est possible !

I have read only a few pages so far but the quotes I read are so meaningful that I cannot help but extract some examples:

“Our friends were creating their business in Silicon Valley, like Bob Metcalfe with 3Com or Bill Joy with Sun. I had toured groups I knew on the other side of the Atlantic, at MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, explaining our project to them, their positive reaction reinforced the idea of getting started.” Silicon Valley was often a source of inspiration …

“What interested me was not doing research in itself, it was advancing technology to solve real problems. We had more and more funding; we have made satellite configurators for aerospace, ports, buildings and a strategic simulator for nuclear submarines” says Pierre Haren, the founder of Ilog. The product yes, but above all for customers …

“By definition, [we were] a high-tech company. [… but] As in any creation, at the beginning, we do everything even cleaning the floor! We took care of the commercial approach, of the optimization of the offer, and even of the premises. When we take care of a society, we are never quiet, we never take it easy. Whether we are ten or ten thousand people, the person in charge is always in the mine,” according to Christian Saguez, founder of Simulog and he further adds “My first advice to hesitant researchers is to take the step of creating without seeking comfort at all costs. You learn life and it’s all the beauty of doing business. With Simulog we had to invent everything and the model worked.”

There are many great lessons: I will certainly finish it soon. Thanks to Laurent for the gift 🙂

PS: I use that post about Inria entrepreneurs to mention Entrepreneurship Support at and around Inria as of October 2019

Steve Jobs in Paris in 1984

My friends at INRIA just mentioned to me a short but great interview of Steve Jobs by French Television in 1984, when he was asked if France could have similar start-ups to Silicon Valley. Here is his answer:

Even if you hear more the French translation, you can hear his voice too:
– Research level is good but concrete applications seem to be a problem, and this is an important step for innovation
– This is coming from a lack of companies ready to try
– The risk is seldom taken by large corporations, but by small ones
– You need many small firm with talented students and venture capital
– You also need champions you take as models, that enable saying “innovation is this”
– There is a more subtle problem, a cultural one: in Europe, failure is serious. If you fail in Europe right after university, it follows you for ever. In the USA, we keep failing all the time.
– What you also need is a solid software industry, because software is the new oil. You need hundreds of small firms and then you can dominate an industry.
– You need talented students, a good understanding of technology and encougare young people to create small firms.
– It’s all about private initiative. Big companies should not interfere, neither the government should. We should let entrepreneurs own it.

Thirty-five years later, is the situation different? And if he was still alive, would he say the same things? I let you judge …