Here are New York City’s 10 Hottest French Startups – 2014 Edition

Sep 9, 2014
Vote on Hacker News

The following is a Guest Post from Martin Mignot, a principal at Index Ventures in London where he looks after the French startups and entrepreneurs. You can follow him on twitter @martinmignot and his blog unvalidatedlearnings.com Since I wrote about NYC’s 10 hottest French Startups, the local scene, which was put under the spotlight by the #FrenchTouch conference, has significantly matured. More than a year after the original list was published, I took advantage of a 2-weeks trip there to check up on last year’s winners and come up with a new selection for 2014.

Half of last year’s batch have successfully reached their next milestone:

  • Sunrise raised a $6m Series A from Balderton, completed their cross-platform offering with the launch of their Android and web apps, and integrated with 3rd party APIs (Songkick, Tripit, Evernote, etc.), bringing them one step closer to achieving their vision for the calendar of the future.
  • Sketchfab raised a $2m seed round from BaldertonPartech and continued growing their audience and asset base to more than 100,000 3D models. More importantly, Alban and his team have remained the best people to invite to a party: they went on to 3D scan the guests at a French entrepreneur meetup we put together with Kenneth from Gertrude.
  • Freshplanet raised a significant (but undisclosed) round from IDG and Crunchfund to keep on expanding the Songpop franchise (with Moviepop the first sequel).
  • We at Index poured more money into server-monitoring startup Datadog, participating in a $15m Series B round led by Openview Partner.
  • And CheckThis found real traction with their selfie-inspired app Frontback, and raised a $3m Seed round from Valley A-listers including Mike Arrington, SV Angel and Alexis Ohanian (and yes, Index Ventures)

Let’s wish the same success rate to this year’s cohort, which tends to be slightly more mature than last year’s, reflecting a trend for successful Series A stage companies with global ambitions to use NYC as their first port of call to launch in the US from France. And while marketing, advertising and entertainment remain the most obvious and best represented sectors, the scene is definitely not limited to them. 

Here is the 2014 list in alphabetical order: 

AdoreMe

AdoreMe Not your typical tech startup office party

Morgan Hermand-Waiche uses an interesting analogy to explain the AdoreMe concept and its founding story: “If you were to open a good pizzeria in Paris, you’d have customers, no doubt. Well, it’s the same with lingerie in the US: if you can offer good quality and fashion-forward pieces at low prices, then you’ll have customers piling in. Because there is so much pent-up demand, given that Vitctoria’s Secret is an almost monopoly in customer mind-share, and it’s very expensive and slow-fashion. So this is a much bigger prize than a pizzeria but it’s also much more difficult to pull off: you need to order large quantities of highly specific SKUs, a year in advance, and size and fitting make it a very risky exercise, especially when you have no capital to begin with, which was definitely my case when I launched AdoreMe right after spending all of my savings on an Harvard MBA”. 

Less than three years after launch it looks like Morgan managed to pull it off: according to Inc., AdoreMe is one of the 50 fastest growing companies in the US, with hundreds of thousands of orders to date, and raised $11.5m, from funds including Upfront Ventures, White Star and super-angel Fabrice Grinda, who all bought into the company’s straightforward ambition of building the Zara of lingerie. 

Bandsintown

With his €1.2bn exit of Club Internet to T-Mobile in 2001, Fabrice Sergent is the community’s original sugar daddy. After, as he put it, making his first money importing US technology into Europe, he decided to switch the model on its head 10 years ago and setup shop in NYC to export French mobile savoir-faire in the US through his Cellfish Media holding, which focuses on serving music and sports fans. In September, the company regrouped all of its activities under the Bandsintown brand – the name of their well-known concert discovery app, which boasts 12 million users and is adding about 450,000 new users per month, on top of an ad network that reaches 120m music fans worldwide.

Clarity Ad

One of the many strong companies in Luc Hardy‘s roster (alongside Lending Club and Pret d’Union, amongst others), ClarityAd provides advertising operations automation and security software for display ad creatives. They help AdOps Teams automate a lot of the tasks they are currently doing manually (be it catching non compliant/broken ads that can affect campaigns execution, or malware infected ads that will hurt the audience) and also bring the same real-time operational & security quality assurance to programmatically placed advertising. The team of six is already working with Havas, Adform and OpenX, and is starting to sign up large enterprise accounts.

Cord Project

Evernote Camera Roll 20140901 195409

Thomas Gayno with a case of early morning bad hair day at Egg in Williamsburg

I met Thomas for breakfast at Egg, a Williamsburg eatery as impeccably designed as the Cord app he demoed to me there. His premise is simple: voice communication was left behind and it needs to be reinvented, especially given the upcoming boom in wearable devices. It is hard to diss such insight coming from someone who spent the past 8 years at Google, and the last 5 at the Creative Lab working mainly on Google Glass. 

The app is a beautiful as it is minimalistic, a living testament to the design skills of Thomas’ cofounder and former colleague Jeff Baxter, the Creative Lead at Google Creative Lab. With a rockstar team and big ambitions to build an audio-based communication platform for the wearable era, it is not surprising that Cord has managed to attract a syndicate of high-profiles French and US angel investors and early stage funds, who have been financing the 4-people company to date. The app just launched on iOS and will be one to watch closely.

Dashlane

Hot from the press with a $22m Series B round led by Bessemer, Dashlane, the password and identity management company co-founded by Balderton partner and Business Object cofounder Bernard Liautaud three years ago, seems perfectly positioned to ride the wave of privacy concerns born off large scale identity hacks and NSA snooping online. Emmanuel Schalit, has relocated to New York a few years ago while the tech team remains in Paris, where the company was founded – a common setup for many “French” companies in NYC.

Ezakus

Ezakus‘ latest round of investment (€2.5m from IDInvest) at the end of last year had for explicit purpose to expand the commercial effort in NYC, from the company’s original base in Bordeaux, and Christophe Camborde, its CEO and co-founder, has relocated here full time since January 2014, because, in his words, it is “the best place in the world for adtech”. Their “pretargeting” advertising solution is rumoured to be one of the most advanced predictive technology in the adtech space, and with its team of successful repeat entrepreneurs (they sold Steek to FSecure for $40m in 2009) Ezakus is widely regarded as a potential Criteo in the making. It will be interesting to see if their strengthened NYC presence helps them breakthrough in the US. 

Novapost/PeopleDoc

With its $17m Series B round led by Accel, Novapost(Peopledoc) may have raised slightly less than Dashlane this year but this does by no mean mitigates the achievements of Jonathan Benhamou and his team. Over the past seven years, they have transformed the company from a France-focused document digitalisation player to a global actor in the HR management space as a whole – serving large US clients including Starbucks and Motorola. This may not be the sexiest company of the lot, but they are addressing a real pain point felt by very large organisations who are ready to pay for it.

Placemeter

Evernote Camera Roll 20140819 173122
Florent Peyre, co-founder of Placemeter, happy at the Gertrude+Index party

Placemeter may well be the most deeply technical company of the batch: they have developed a computer vision algorithm that allows them to create actionable data out of any public or crowdsourced video feed. The demo on their website shows how they can automatically detect pedestrians, cars, buses, vans, cabs, etc. from low-quality video streams like traffic cameras. They already work with customers like the City of New York9/11 Memorial Park and the Downtown Project, bringing them insights about footfall and behaviour at their physical location, potentially changing the way urban planners, real estate developers or retailers approach their business. Longer term, the goal of the company is to index the physical world. They raised a $1.7m Seed round led by heavyweight VC NEA, and if the rumour has it right, may be close to a significant series A round. 

Synthesio

Evernote Camera Roll 20140819 173320
Loic Moisand means business, here at the Langham 5th Avenue

Synthesio had only raised $2m in its seven years of existence, but they decided to accelerate with a bang earlier this year with a $20m Series B round led by Idinvest – a fund not shy of making big bets on what it believes to be large winners. And all the indicators seem to point to the right direction: the company’s social monitoring platform serves 300+ large enterprise clients globally and is growing very fast, both through new clients and upsells. Alongside Sprinklr and Netbase, Synthesio is one of the few survivors in a booming but historically crowded space. Loic relocated to NYC 3 years ago and has now built a strong managing team around him here, mainly in sales and account management, and is aggressively hiring.

Videodesk

Olivier by scanfab on Sketchfab

A 3D version of Olivier Coste, scanned by Sketchfab’s founder Alban Denoyel 

Another one of the high-profile French B2B companies (Olivier’s cofounder, Igor Schlumberger, previously co-founded Prestashop and Leguide.com) relocating their top management to NYC to reach the next stage. Husband and wife Olivier and Mathilde Coste are currently working from the WeWork coworking space to test the demand from the US market for their intelligent video chat solution, which has already been used by 5,000 businesses, including a Fortune 100 company in the US. 

Conclusion

I concluded last year’s list with a quote from Julien Nakache (who now joined Oscar, the next-generation health insurance company) pointing out that NYC acts as a great filter for ambitious French entrepreneurs, and it feels like this year’s batch is really bringing that point home: being deeply rooted there was instrumental in Novapost, Dashlane or Synthesio raising such large expansion rounds.

Combining development and operation teams in Paris with a heavy commercial, marketing and biz/corp dev presence in NYC seems to be the preferred organisation, and an effective way to develop great products in a cost-effective way and distribute them on as large a market as possible.

And with master connectors such as Pierre Reboul (EBG), Benoit Buridant (French Founders), Luc Hardy and Fabrice Grinda all based here and actively helping French founders launch or expand their startups on this side of the Atlantic, it seems inevitable that New York will keep on strengthening his position as the bridge between Europe and the US for French entrepreneurs. I cannot wait for next year’s crop of new companies. 

BONUS: