People often ask me what it takes to become an entrepreneur and make money.
It is the wrong question. Few entrepreneurs have succeeded when money was the initial driver. Obviously, any business must make money, to pay its employees and deliver a return to shareholders, but for most successful entrepreneurs, this was not the initial question. First and foremost, successful entrepreneurs are convinced that the world can become a better place with the product or service that they will provide, so the first question should be “How am I going to change the world I live in?” Money only comes next, and it’s as a consequence, provided everything goes well. This is true whether you want to build the next Google, or open a bakery around the corner.
Once you have this in mind, persistence is the key to success. A good entrepreneur is one of those stubborn persons who sees no limits to what they can achieve. You will hear people saying, “it’s impossible,” “you are crazy,” “it’s never been done,” or “it’s too risky.” Scepticism is a true hurdle and one you will have to face on a daily basis. Despite this, I am not saying not to listen to those surrounding you but rather to trust yourself. If you think you can do it, then guess what? You probably can! I made the mistake of not trusting myself once and recruited a general manager for one of my businesses in the United States to let him run the group. The truth is I should have created a team and trained them myself. By communicating directly with them, I am convinced we would have been more successful! The paradox of the entrepreneur, is that you need to be (at the same time) very stubborn, and very open-minded.
It also means that a successful entrepreneur is one who learns fast from his failures and acts on them. It’s ok to experiment; it’s fine to make the wrong decision. Things can go wrong. Don’t be scared! However, you can’t make the same mistake twice. You must learn from it. Of course, the bigger the business, the more difficult it is to change things because you are taking a larger and larger team with you. If you change your mind every day, they won’t know where you are leading them. “Experiment and fail fast” is one of the key rules of success.
For all this to come together, you also need to ensure that you choose your market carefully. There’s no bigger sin for a startup than to go after a market that does not exist or never will! The market need not be explicit, but there needs to be pent up demand. There was almost no market for Uber when it launched, but as soon as the service was offered, people recognized a service they did not dare dreaming of. There needs to be a market and it needs to be big for your story to get big; it’s as simple as that.
Finally, make sure that you surround yourself with good people. Alone you may go faster, but together you go further! Entrepreneurship is hard, it is demanding, it takes time and courage. You need to work hard and it will take up most of your life. There will be ups and downs. So, it’s good to have someone you can share this with. On the other hand, it is not acceptable to keep someone on-board who is not performing simply out of loyalty. I would argue that it is a common reason for businesses to fail! So, surround yourself with the correct persons and be stronger together. This requires constant communication and the ability to say everything, even the tough things.
I am often asked whether it is easier to raise money in Silicon Valley than in Europe. The simple answer is no, it is actually harder! There is more money in the Valley, but there is also more competition. French and European investors have a lot of money available from seed-stage to growth capital. The reason to go to Silicon Valley is not the money per se, it is the ambition. In Silicon Valley, you are in an ecosystem that has no limit in terms of ambition, and one that has many role models who have succeeded. When you are there, you feel that you could be one of them, and perhaps succeed in this way.
Traditionally, French investors have been shy and have not provided enough capital for French startups to adequately compete with ambition in the global economy, this is a pity as many very good companies ended-up being sold to early by lack of ambition of the investors. But this is changing, thanks to the FrenchTech initiative and BPIfrance. Scality has investors from France and from Silicon Valley, and it is working very well. France is becoming a startup nation, and the successes of Neolane, Criteo, Talend and many others are examples that allow all of us, as French entrepreneurs, and French VCs, to dream bigger.
One of the tough laws of the startup world is that is it necessary to let the weakest fail to identify the fittest and finance them through growth. It is tough, but it is how you make a whole generation of successes.
Entrepreneurship is full of contradictions. It’s a balancing act, between stubbornness and clairvoyance, sufficiently funding the fittest while letting others fail – and all this whilst working to make the world a better place!