Start in Paris is the Parisian answer to the New York Tech Meetup. Each month, 5 startups get 5 minutes to demo a product to an audience, which then votes for the startups. Beforehand a guest speaker, most often an accomplished entrepreneur, speaks for 10 minutes, and afterwards there’s an open mic session.
Laurent Kretz and Jonathan Benoudiz, the founders of Submate, organise the event, which is already a huge success. Already startups that presented at SIP have gone on to raise venture funding, and this moved they moved to a new venue to fit all the attendees (it was still packed, standing room only).
It’s a great community event that gives a good look at the early stage web scene in Paris which, as we’ve noted, is growing very impressively.
Here’s what went on and what startups were pitching.
Phil Checinski is the founder of CitizenSide, a site that lets people post news-related photos and videos and sell them to media outlets.
They bootstrapped the site for a long while and had trouble attracting funding. Here are some anecdotes he shared:
- An entrepreneur they expected to get an angel investment from offered to acquire the company outright for a six figure amount. The founders would have had to work for him with no equity in the company. Not hard to turn down.
- Their business is based on people snapping photos and videos with their cell phones. A prominent VC in a meeting (before the iPhone) assured them that he knew people higher up at a big phone company and that cameras on phones were on their way out. No kidding. Sadly, he wouldn't name the VC (we tried to ply him with beer).
- The founders finally turned to Agence France Presse, the third biggest news agency in the world, for a strategic investment. They were two weeks away from running out of cash when the negotiations started. The negotiations lasted for six months. But AFP bankrolled them for that time in exchange for a no-shop, but no other rights, fearing someone else would invest.
- Checinski was refreshingly open about the valuation of the company. They raised a little over a million euros for over half of the company, which is a low valuation, but it was pretty much that or go bankrupt. And Checinski waxed rhapsodic about the value that their AFP partnership has created in terms of sales, distribution, etc.
The second startup to present was LooknBe, an iPhone app that lets friends rate your outfit. Sounds very similar to US sites Fashism and GoTryItOn. They launched two months ago and already have 2000 members.
Syllabs was an interesting one. They have a semantic engine that automatically generates text out of metadata. They sell this service to e-commerce sites to increase their search engine ranking and convert sales better.
It's not sexy, but it's a real issue for most websites that rely on search engine traffic (i.e., most websites), and it's a hard technological problem to solve.
KelQuartier was also very interesting: the company aggregates tons of data sources to give granular data about each neighbourhood, for example if someone is looking to move and wants to know more about a certain area.
The founder showed off his very polished product in a live demo. The team manually divided France into 42,000 (!) individual neighborhoods about which they aggregate data to help people decide if they want to move there.
While we were impressed by the technology, it seems like 'a solution in search of a problem' to us: aggregating all this data is nice, but why not use that to build a hyperlocal news or social product instead of just a database that people can look at once in a while?
FriendBet is a social network for gambling. Ah, Europe! Over here online gambling is leeeeeegal, and it's also big business, as the red-hot Betfair IPO attests.
FriendBet is trying to differentiate itself from the cash-rich gorillas in the market by being a social network around betting instead of a straight gambling site. So you'll be able to take and dare your friends to take bets around sporting events, and soon, anything at all.
(They joke that in the UK, where they are active, the only thing they won't let you bet on is the Queen's death.)
MakeSense.org is a launching-soon warm and fuzzy idea: it's a place where social entrepreneurs can challenge each other to help each other out. A developer might do a project for a designer, a designer for a business person, etc. For free or for money, but for social entrepreneurship projects. It's like a different twist on Kickstarter.
After the presentations, the 150+ people in attendance got on their smartphones to vote online.
And the winner is...
We don't know what it was that night that made the notoriously difficult, business model-oriented, Paris tech community feel warm and fuzzy inside, but they voted for the social entrepreneur.
The founders of MakeSense got a free original cartoon from serial entrepreneur, amateur cartoonist, and Paris tech scene fixture ffixx. And more importantly, interest from lots of investors right about now.
It wouldn't be France if the event wasn't followed up by beers and cigarettes at a neighbourhood bar.