There’s a new trend in the French startup ecosystem: the rise of so-called superangels, often highly successful entrepreneurs themselves, who pool together funds and resources, and invest in the early stages alongside VCs.
This is obviously a good thing.
France doesn’t have a great reputation as a startup hub, and part of the reason is a lack of early stage financing, especially early stage financing from really experienced investors with an appetite for risk.
These new superangels all have very successful track records as entrepreneurs and business angels, have built companies that are the leaders in their markets, and are determined to take risks in the early stage and make it work.
Marc Simoncini is one of the most successful web entrepreneurs in France. After founding several IT services firms in the 1980s and 1990s, he founded i-France during the dotcom bubble, one of the first French community websites (think GeoCities), and sold it at the peak. In 2002, he founded Meetic.com, which is the leading dating site in Europe and went public in 2005.
He started his own fund, called Jaina Capital, with a pledge to invest 100 million euros in early stage startups.
In an interview to FrenchWeb.fr, Simoncini has spelled out Jaina's investment thesis:
- the fund will be a hands-on early stage investor, and is not afraid to invest at the idea stage, before there is a product or a business model;
- because they are hands-on, they will invest mostly in France, sometimes in Europe, but not outside Europe;
- they will build synergy around their startups, helping them pool resources and ideas.
We covered their launch: Kima Ventures is an international seed fund that wants to invest in over 100 startups at the seed stage. Their launch went well: they received over 100 applications in their first 24 hours of operation.
Since then they've announced investments in group gifting service Leetchi and crowd-sourced iPhone apps developer Labotec, and have more yet unannounced.
The reason they're so hot is because of the two talented entrepreneurs behind Kima.
(Full disclosure: I helped launch Kima Ventures.)
Jérémie Berrebi founded net2one, a forerunner of Google News, in the 1990s and survived the bust to sell it to a big media group. He then founded create-your-own-online-shop startup Zlio. He's an angel investor in a staggering number of startups. Originally from France, he now lives in Israel, and is well plugged in in both countries.
Xavier Niel, with a net worth clocking in at around $4.5 billion (yes, billion), is with little doubt France's most successful technology entrepreneur.
He is the founder (and still the leader) of Free, France's most successful ISP, which has always been a disruptor and an innovator in the market, being first to market with broadband internet, VoIP, triple-play offerings, and so on. Right now Free is building out its own fibre optic network so it doesn't have to pay France Telecom, the main telco, for its wires, and has successfully lobbied for its own 3G mobile phone licence. It is largely thanks to Free that France is perhaps the country outside Asia with the cheapest, most high quality internet access. Notably for a rich guy in France, Niel remains pretty popular thanks to his loud stances for net neutrality and against boneheaded French laws that try to regulate the internet.
Niel has also made a name for himself as an angel investor, investing most recently in Twitter inventor Jack Dorsey's über-hot startup Square.
ISAI works sort of like New York's Founder Collective: several experienced entrepreneurs as partners, and a small full-time team. It's a pretty star-studded team (and 3 out of their 4 partners are HEC grads like me, which gives me some hope).
Jean-David Chamboredon manages ISAI on a day-to-day basis. He's a VC by training (a consultant before that), and his track record includes SeLoger.com, the leading French real estate website, which is now a public company, and other successful startups including PriceMinister. He used to have a really good blog, but it's been mostly left in abandon.
PKM, as he is often referred to, is the founder and CEO of PriceMinister.com, the second biggest e-commerce site in France, and the European leader in guaranteed buying and selling (the Half.com model).
Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux made his name as an entrepreneur by starting The Phone House, a bricks and mortar phone retailer which was sold for a big number to Carphone Warehouse, an even bigger British retailer. He then started Virgin Mobile France, France's first MVNO.
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