France’s Cloud Startups (series): Introducing Clever Cloud

Jun 6, 2012
Vote on Hacker News

This series of articles exploring the various innovations going on in the Cloud by French startups. Last week, Tariq Krim went into great detail about his latest venture, JoliCloud. This week, we hope to do the same:

Clever Cloud, founded in 2010, is a platform as a service (PaaS) startup based in Nantes.  I recently caught up with Clever Cloud’s co-founder/CEO Quentin Adam to discuss what they’re up to and what their plans are for the future.  Quentin is a serial entrepreneur (he founded his first venture at 19!) with impressive ambitions to establish Clever Cloud as a innovator and leading, global cloud computing player.

Tell me about Clever Cloud.

Clever Cloud’s focus is platform as a service (PaaS).  We’re currently in beta phase with a smaller scale release and are planning on releasing  more broadly later this summer.  From our perspective, we believe that (today’s) hosting services can cause companies several problems.   First, at the moment, companies buy or rent service at a fixed rate of consumption, but their consumption varies over time.  Second, all of the economics around hosting are based on watts. We all know this has a big impact on the environment as it is now known that servers now create more CO2 than cars.  So the problems around hosting are consumption (oriented), ecological, and financial.   In addition, the complexity of infrastructure is also becoming more of a problem.  This complexity is creating more hidden costs for customers as (technical) teams are focusing more of their time on managing servers rather than working on primary activities such as supporting or building new products, features, etc.  Managing servers requires focus on security updates, stability, performance, etc.  This is not (and should not be) the main focus of the team.  We think in many companies don’t want to deal with day-to-day problems of managing all of this.

Clever Cloud is the response to these challenges.  With Clever Cloud you build your app,  put it on our cloud platform, and you don’t have to worry about the potential problems that can arise from managing this on your own.  So developers can focus on developing and operations can focus on administering servers rather than managing them. One of the cool things we do too is that we watch in real-time the consumption of each application and you pay for this consumption.  This is unique (vs other suppliers). Only Google does something similar with Google App Engine.  We also have a very innovative way to charge for this consumption.  We created a unit called ‘drops’, which is essentially measuring computer energy.  When an application runs, we count the number of drops used.  It’s like a car…you fill your app like you fill a car.  The application runs and consumes drops like your car consumes fuel.  Also, our customers don’t have to edit their app to run on Clever Cloud.  This is different from what else is out there such as App Engine where you have to  edit it to make in run on their platform.

What is your vision for Clever Cloud?

Our real goal is to make the first hosting marketplace in the world.  When people think that they need a service to host their app, we want people to come to Clever Cloud, buy some drops, and put their app on our platform.

Who are your primary competitors?

Our biggest competitors are split in 2 sectors.

1) First you have the giants:  Google App Engine, which only works for Java and Python and, as I discussed requires you to edit your app for it to work on App Engine and Microsoft Windows Azure which is a practical product, but only for .net applications.

2) Next you have the startups and there are a lot of interesting ones such as Jelastic (Germany) which is very good product for Java, Cloudbees (Switzerland) who also have a good Java product but don’t seem to be as focused on  user experience, Dotcloud (US) who’s founders are French but launched in San Francisco,  Appfog (US), and  Heroku (US, owned by Salesforce.com) who to me are the people who invented PaaS and have a very good product.

However, in my opinion, there are not enough competitors in the market as there’s not yet enough selection for users.  I think that in order to have a significant growth in the (cloud) market, we need more competitors.

What are your plans for expanding internationally?

We want to expand very quickly internationally.  At the moment cloud computing infrastructure is US based compaines, such as Amazon.  We want to build a European cloud with cloud infrastructure that is European based.  We want to find a way to develop a solution where Europe can be competitive (in this market).  We want to expand internationally in Europe, particularly UK and Germany as fast as we can.  Of course, we want to also quickly expand in the US as it is important to be where innovation (in cloud computing) started and is focused (at the moment).  In the IT world, big companies succeed b/c of the reseller model.  So for us, to expand it’s important to build a reseller network.  In cloud computing, some companies are trying to move away from the reseller model, but I don’t think this is the right.  IT models are different in each market, so without a reseller approach we’d need to launch with big local commercial teams.  We cannot do that, so we want to build a reseller network.

Any other French cloud computing companies that find interesting?

There are many French companies doing interesting things in the cloud space, although not many in PaaS.  In PaaS, you have Bearstech and Enovance who are also doing PaaS.  In France though, many of the most interesting things going on are in SaaS focusing on one task rather than PaaS.  This is basically because developing infrastructure is very costly and raising funding is very difficult.  So, instead, French cloud firms are developing on the SaaS layer.  In fact, several of these are built around Amazon Web Services as there is not yet an alternative, France based solution. This is unfortunate as this makes us, yet again, dependant on US infrastructure (and solutions).

Do you anticipate that when you launch more broadly you’ll focus first on French companies and try to convince them to move to your platform?

We’d like to focus on French startups very quickly and we certainly would like to convince them to move to our platform.  However, we need to make sure we have the right approach as good customer management is important. First we’d like to establish some partnerships and alliances with startups in order to spread the word more broadly (about Clever Cloud) and be efficient about how we expand.

As you mentioned, infrastructure is very expensive.  How are you able to financially manage the development of Clever Cloud?

First, it is important to say that one has to be careful about this point because in France businesses often have a big dependence on subsides. I don’t want to be dependant on that. I want to build something strong on our own as much as possible.  We have a another business called Unicorn4IT which focuses on the service layer of the cloud. We use the revenue we generate here to help fund the development of Clever Cloud.

What are your thoughts on Andromède?

When you look at Andromède project you have the french government giving a lot of funds to big companies.  To me, the project doesn’t seem very technically interesting.  It’s essentially an attempt to ‘build Amazon’ but it’s very expensive and not very innovative.  The funding could go to startups, even a smaller amount of money, and startups could help build something cool and innovative.  So again, the French government is giving money to the same (big) companies.  In my opinion, this is not the way to build something innovative (in the cloud space).  Of course when we are a small company we cannot prentend to have large infrastructure, but with more support from the French government and venture capital, we could build something bigger and more innovative.

Do you think they’re will be a change in approach with the new government?

I think Jean-Marc Ayrault will be a good prime minister. I think the new government, under him, will have a change in approach as I believe that they’re probably less connected to big companies. In Nantes Jean-Marc Ayrault did a lot of great things for innovation here.  For example, we have a great incubator here which is very efficient and we have funds provided for innovation.  I am, however, less familiar with Fleur Pellerin’s background and the government is very new, so it is a too early to have a clear view on what they will do.  I will say that I didn’t see anything during the campaign about the infrastructure layer or the platform, but I do know there are some good things going on this at the European layer.

Some might assume that because they’ve decided to be based in Nantes, the founders’ ambitions for Clever Cloud would be limited.  That assumption is obviously completely off-base, as it not only massively underestimates Quentin’s grand ambitions to create a service that puts France and Europe on the cloud/PaaS map, but also (as we’ve recently discussed), underestimates Nantes’ rapidly growing, highly impressive ecosystem that helps innovative startups such as Clever Cloud succeed.