The new prospectors Silicon Valley
Location: California. These entrepreneurs to conquer the web with, in their luggage, an idea, a project, a start-up . and unfailing optimism.
Fabien Degaugue is not at his first attempt. He has created and sold a website for businesses when it launches in 2006 PeerPong, a search tool based on social networks. At the time, the young entrepreneur originally from northern France has the ambition to create “the next Google” nothing less. But he soon encounters a primary reality, that of money. He toured the Parisian bankers and business angels, and those seeking major European Business School Admissions. Despite his best efforts, he managed to raise 200,000 euros, a sum largely insufficient to fund all the research prior to the launch.
Bored by the ambient nervousness, he decided to try his luck in Silicon Valley, Mecca digital entrepreneurs. A decision he has not regretted: excited about the project, the first person he met in California sign a check. Finally, in three years, it will raise 6 million and will resell PeerPong in 2009 for a tidy sum does not wish to reveal. “What is impossible is possible here in Europe,” says he.
A unique ecosystem of its kind. As Fabien, there are thousands, from all countries, to migrate to the legendary Silicon Valley. A true gold rush 2.0. Last year, nearly 50% of new startups in San Francisco Bay were created by foreigners: Indians and Chinese for the most part, but also Europeans. And the French are not lagging behind, since they are the first European community there. The profile of these new gold diggers? Large schools of graduates of engineering or business aged 25 to 35 years, coming up with a business project or just an idea.
For here, they know that dreams can turn into reality last year, San Francisco has invested nearly $ 11 billion in start-up, five times more than Tel Aviv, his most serious competitor, and twenty times more than the entire french territory. It must be said that Silicon Valley is a unique ecosystem: 6,000 high-tech companies are located in the region; almost all of the digital giants (Google, Apple, Twitter .) are installed; Investors in venture Business School Admission and business angels willing to finance start-ups jostle, and the top-flight engineers trained in prestigious universities in California Stanford or Berkeley.
For adventurers of modern times, it is also an opportunity to tackle the huge US market. All have in mind examples like Instagram, a start-up of 13 people founded by a Brazilian, who was bought nearly $ 1 billion by Facebook in August 2012. The jackpot! “Where, in France, you would win 10 times your bet, here, for the same effort, you multiply the 100,” said Carlos Diaz, who resold BlueKiwi, his start-up, a big consulting firms last year (see our slideshow by clicking on the image of the article).
When fate gets involved . Before jumping into a plane to the American West, our entrepreneurs, most of them already found a concept or developed part of their application or their website. And they saved enough to last a few months time to find an investor or first customers. Some even got a little help from fate, like Vincent Van Poll: the Dutch 28 years working for several months on the project start-up when his wife landed a job at the consulate of the Netherlands, in San Francisco.
Others, without planning anything, decide to try their luck at the Nicolas Guerin image. This young man of 35, a native of Biarritz, was improvised contractor in San Francisco after unsuccessfully attempting to break into Hollywood as a film editor, occupation he exercised in France. He learns on the job development and the fundamentals of a business, and working on several projects in parallel. It created Strobbr, a sort of Instagram that allows for interactive sequences pictures, he hopes to sell to Nike and Red Bull.
A cruel world. But disillusionment can also be part of the journey: the kingdom of the startups, there are many called but few are chosen. Since the crisis of the “dot-com” in 2001, investors have become more fussy and looking for companies able to generate cash quickly. “It’s so cruel, it works a bit like Hollywood, says Carlos Diaz. Sometimes the script sucks, but the company is funding because it has a star in his team – a former vice chairman of Twitter, for example. Conversely, good business ideas can not find investors because they are not visible enough. ”
But for entrepreneurs, it is urgent to quickly find funds to keep because the cost of living in the bay is very high: San Francisco is the third most expensive city in the United States. “I pay 6000 dollars a month to stay with my wife and my two children,” says Carlos Diaz. As for wages, they are prohibitively expensive: over 100 000 per year for a young developer just out of school. “Engineers of the valley are spoiled for choice, there is a shortage here. Result, it is not uncommon that they’ll drop out after two weeks is more elsewhere offer them, “says Nicolas Guerin, who is committed to working with freelance engineers based in Paris. Vincent Van Poll, in turn, delegated the design and development of its site to a team located in Bolivia.
Cockroaches and “warriors”. In everyday life, it is the ongoing cost-cutting: “It’s simple, says Vincent Van Poll, as soon as my partner submits a new expense to me, my first instinct is to say no, we’re talking about hours . development or small innocuous purchases “the less fortunate are using all kinds of tricks: they sleep more per room, go to free lectures to enjoy the buffet, affecting unemployment benefits or the RSA until French authorities realizing and writes off . Some go into “warrior” mode and go to sleep secretly in their local “coworking” to save rent. “A lot of people have given up on projects similar to ours, but us, we take. We will not die, it is the cockroaches! “Laughs Jeremy Melul cofounder Jogabo, an application dedicated to football fans (see our slideshow by clicking on the image of the article).
A good way to support themselves is to make developer of services for third parties. Nicolas Guerin and spends half his time to his start-up and the other to build sites for US companies. Fortunately for the Gold Digger 2.0, in Silicon Valley, the opportunities for professional meetings are legion: “meet up” (conference-workshops offered by the spaces of “coworking” and incubators) “demo days” ( startups outputs an incubator present their project in three minutes by my watch), “hackathons” (collective challenges available to developers with a reward to the key) . Even in bars, just turn your head to hear people discuss their project.
Entrepreneurs Inn. When he arrived in San Francisco, there is a year, the Dane Christian Hansen knew no one and had no specific project. “It was crazy to come like that shrinking violet, admits he. But I met many people in the same situation as me and the people I meet me offer help spontaneously. “He also chose to stay at Startup Basecamp, a special hostel contractors, which it can exchange with other miners Web. But young designers do not they fear being bitten their idea when they speak? “An idea is worth nothing. What matters is to realize and especially to distribute “Nicolas Guerin slice. Here, we do not hesitate to approach the big hitters, those who have “cracked the code” as it says here, super angels, entrepreneurs and successful managers at Google or Facebook. Even if the business model does not convince them, they usually take the time to be interested and to give their opinion.
Greyhound Racing. The tasks are to manage multiple and entrepreneurs do not count their hours. At Jogabo, while Pierre-Guillaume Herveou focuses on the code and Mehdi Djabri on design, Jeremy Melul must support everything else. It recruits trainees, animates the user community, develop marketing application, meet investors . Time is against them, because every day that passes sees the cash reserves decrease. “In France, as start-ups receive a lot of aid, Labradors are created: they have the silky hair, but they are a little slow. Here are produced greyhounds: to go fast, you have to have an empty stomach, ‘says Carlos Diaz.
Make fast and not very well. The concept in vogue in recent years is the “lean start-up”, which is developing as quickly as possible each “brick” of his project for the immediately confront the return of users. At Jogabo, it takes about two weeks to design a new feature. The team then observed if members use it if that’s the case, they improve, otherwise they drop. “We must be the puzzle, make it work, . We sell the project properly rearranged, once it is affordable,” explains Jeremy Melul.
Given the pressure and workload, stress rises quickly. Each uses his trick to evacuate. Pierre-Guillaume Herveou goes every day to the gym with a developer friend who works in the same space of co-working. Nicolas Guerin practice surfing in the morning before going to work. Mehdi Djabri will recharge to the mosque in the evening, on returning from the office. The project’s success also depends, and especially by a collective spirit foolproof. We must stick together without being discouraged and put it frankly, without fear of offending the other, to avoid wasting time. “The team is more important than the project,” said Christian Hansen.
To all these concerns is added that the right to reside in the United States. The gold miners usually start with a business visa, which is obtained relatively easily but is only six months and is renewable only once. For this reason, Jogabo team will soon move to Buenos Aires, with no certainty to return one day in San Francisco. Foreign entrepreneurs are using all kinds of tricks to be able to stay in the US. On the advice of his lawyer, Nicolas Guerin has become trainee of his own company. This solution, at the limit of legality, allowed him to stay a year and a half there. Then he took steps to clinch an investor visa. Valid for five years, sesame required to invest at least $ 100,000 in a US company. Nicolas has therefore placed in his own business profits of a year of consulting, which he added $ 50,000 of personal savings. Besides his return trips to the Embassy of the United States in Paris, or attorneys’ fees, of $ 5,000. “A real obstacle course,” says he.
If, despite all the administrative and financial difficulties, our gold miners hold out is that they all share a belief they will sooner or later find it rich. Nicolas Guerin has yet to the idea that his start-up could well crash. Not enough to deter. “I met some guys who have failed five times before successfully,” he tempers. The serial entrepreneur has the sequence of ideas: he wants to develop a site where foreigners would share a hotel room to compete with Airbnb. Beta versions are already online.
No rest for the wicked. For those who manage to make an “exit”, that is to say, to sell their company, touching a nice gain, the gold fever does not fall, on the contrary. Having experienced the full cycle of start-ups, creating resale through fundraising, they can Business School Admissionize on what they have learned. “It goes much faster the second time,” says Fabien Degaugue, which was launched a year ago in a new entrepreneurial adventure. Convinced that “email is the end of life,” he designed Instaply, an SMS communication platform between customers and businesses available yet in the United States, France and Belgium (see our slideshow by clicking image of the article).
He has already collected $ 500,000 and “preparing to raise more in a few months.” His friend Carlos Diaz, who sold his company BlueKiwi for € 20 million last year, could afford an extended vacation. But even before the acquisition has taken place, it had already launched Kwarter, an application that allows exchange between supporters and win prizes while watching a game on TV. “We’re the only ones on the niche . maybe because it has no interest! The future will tell, “said the French, at the head of fifteen people. Breaking the gold fever is not easy .