Review of Start In Paris – a recurring Paris startup event

May 25, 2012
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Start In Paris is a quasi-monthly Paris event where people get together, and startups pitch their ideas. Started by Laurent Kretz and partner-in-crime Jonathan Benoudiz, the format is inspired by Laurent’s experience with New York Tech Meetup while living there. They also have a successful mobile startup together called FreeApps365. Bringing the event format to Paris has been a big success. With a claimed attendance of around 300 (but estimated by others to be more like 200), and consistent sponsor money, it’s a win for both organizers and attendees.

Let’s take a look at the format of the event in detail. First of all, since it’s in a bar, the beer flows all night, and there are tables and chairs all around. If they can find someone, an established entrepreneur does a long-ish talk about their successes (and failures too sometimes!). After that, we get to the heart of the event: the startup pitches. 5 startups, 5 minutes each, and 2 minutes of Q&A.

Then, the voting happens. This is by SMS – archaic but it seems to work. The window for voting is only a couple of minutes, and Laurent claims about 200 sms’es come in in that time, meaning 66% of the crowd bothers to vote. Pretty good!

The winner is then announced, and then it’s drinking time!

The next question is, what’s in it for the startups, except the glory and the fame? Is this a launchpad for success? The record is mixed.  Laurent is eager to point out some of the teams that pitched that went on to become happily funded: Dealissime, Vinobest, LouerUnEtudiant, VoitureLib, Jimmy Fairly, Joshfire Factory, MyWittyGames, Social Shaker, Curioos, Prixing. But he also stresses that pitching at his event was only one small element in the success of these companies.  Sadly, there’s no investor crowd nor press coverage of the event, so startups cruising for that kind of networking you are in the wrong place.

Next, let’s take a closer look at the actual pitches. Five minutes may seem short, but in the world of pitching, it’s a life time! Usually, the teams spend their entire allotment of time to talk about their product.

At the accelerator where I work, we teach our startup teams two kinds of pitches: the one minute version and the five minute version. The five minute version talks about a lot more than just product. It starts with a (brief) team introduction.  Then the problem (‘pain point’), the proposed solution, the business model (‘how to monetize’ – ads, freemium, subscription, affiliation, own the transaction, etc), and finally the special sauce (‘how we do it better than the rest’). In five minutes, it’s easy to cover that entire story. It leads to fast-paced, information packed, and ultimately, informative, pitches. I find myself wishing for that format, whenever I listen to the Start In Paris pitches. Laurent, however, strongly disagrees. He thinks the event should be a forum for people that are excited about their idea, and the “boring stuff like a business plan belongs in an investor pitch”.

Is Start In Paris a money machine?

They are happy with the fact that the costs are covered, but it’s certainly not making them rich. With their new sponsor structure, where sponsors sign up for at least 3 events at a time, they don’t have to spend their time chasing new sponsors as much. As for expansion, they are starting to bring the event to other cities, like Lyon.

When asked, Laurent says he is excited about the event just the way it is. But he gets really fired up when he talks about his own startup, FreeApps365. With 200,000+ downloads, 10 million push notifications and growing exponentially, they already dominate the French Android app recommendation market. He also talks excitedly about their humble beginnings and how they practiced Lean Startup principles by building their first app in a matter of days and iterating quickly based on user feedback.

A quick review of the startups from the most recent Start In Paris:

Betkup: A sports betting platform. With huge potential in a large market, the most critical element is to be a licensed platform, which they are. But they seem to be part of a larger corporation, so not really a startup.

Captch Me: The new trend to turn traditional CAPCHA fields into advertisements has blown over to France from the US. Is it garantueed to work as well in France as it does in the US? Hopefully. The European cloning business may not be glamorous but there’s solid money to be made.

Mention: I *try* not to call them a Qwerly clone, but it’s really hard. Qwerly went for a solid B2B model that provided a very nice early exit to Max Niederhofer. But Max deliberately stayed away from the B2C market, and for good reasons – there’s no money is to be made there! Let’s hope Mention will do better.

Keemix: Their slogan is “Keemix allows you to gather loved content from the web, mix it into your own custom-designed pages, and share it to inspire your friends and colleagues.” I can’t tell if that makes me think more of Tumblr  or of Pinterest, but they’ll have a tough time differentiating themselves from that.

Weddiz: After spending four minutes of their five explaining how hard it is to organize your own wedding, the whole audience knew what was coming in the remaining one minute of their pitch: a marketplace for wedding related services! But do people shop for their wedding photographer or their wedding location on a website? And do the transaction through the platform, as they propose? I got a headache just thinking about how hard it would be to sign up 200 good wedding locations in Paris and have them agree to a 10% transaction fee, let alone all the caterers, photographers, and the numerous other services that would all have to agree to be listed. In the dot com days, this would’ve raised $40 million and they would’ve hired an army of sales people, but those days are over. Others pointed out how easy it would be to bypass the platform once you’ve chosen your selections.

Conclusion

Start In Paris is a fun, one-of-a-kind Paris event that fills a very broad and specific need: the need for entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs to get together and catch up. The startup competition, while fun to listen to, is a poor predictor for success. The unstructured pitches also give a poor view of the quality of the startup. So in short, you should definitely come, and catch up with your friends and make new ones! But don’t expect to see a parade of winners on the stage. Do expect to be entertained!