Toulouse native Marc Rougier sent a lightning bolt through the French Tech ecosystem last November when he announced he was leaving Silicon Valley to become a venture capitalist in Paris.
Over the course of a couple of decades, Rougier had carved out an impressive record as one of France’s most successful serial entrepreneurs. Now, after spending several years in San Francisco, Rougier had decided to return to France to become a venture capitalist. He would be filling the role left behind by Marie Ekeland who had departed Elaia Partners to lead its €120 Million Seed Fund.
Rougier will be talking in-depth about his journey from the stage on April 22 at Rude Baguette’s Founders event in Paris. But I caught up with him in advance to talk about the transition and what motivated him to make this major change.
From the outset, he made it clear that it was not an easy call to make.
“I’ve been traveling around a lot my whole life,” he said. “But I really love France for what it’s good at. And I love to see the tech ecosystem evolving from the outside. Still, Silicon Valley is a love affair. To go back to France, it was a difficult decision.”
Most recently he had co-founded Soop.it in Toulouse, but eventually left for San Francisco when the company expanded to the U.S. Before, that, he co-founded Goojet, where SIGFOX CEO Ludovic Le Moan was also a co-founder. He also co-founded Meiosys, which was acquired by IBM. But he was itchy for a new challenge, and the role of becoming an investor seemed like an exciting leap.
“It hasn’t been done that often in France for an entrepreneur to become a venture capitalist,” he said.
And as other French entrepreneurial ex-pats have noted, the culture around startups seemed to have shifted in recent years. Rougier said more and more university students seemed to be catching the startup bug. And they were becoming less afraid of failing, more willing to embark on an inherently risky career choice.
“In France, there’s traditionally a strong desire to be secure, to be safe economically,” he said. “I found the French people were risk takers from an intellectual and an artistic point of view. Now what I see is that more of these young people are okay to try to take these risks at work.
“It’s more socially accepted to be an entrepreneur. When i was an entrepreneur initially, people thought I was crazy.”
This has been accompanied by an increase in venture capital, a growing number of startup accelerators, and more entrepreneurs like Rougier coming back with money and ideas and experience to share. And, he said, the French government has adopted a more positive outlook toward startups.
But, Rougier is also clear-eyed about the challenges that remain if France truly wants to realize its startup potential.
First, he noted there is a problem what he terms “older money.” He still sees conservative business leaders more willing to tuck their money into safe assets like real estate. He wants to see more of them bankrolling young, feisty entrepreneurs.
And the second is exits. There needs to be a more robust system for companies buying, being bought, or going public to both validate their success but to also grow the capital that can be plowed back into startups. That also includes more of these old-line companies buying young startups, both for the technology but also to infuse themselves with a more innovative culture.
“What we’re seeing now won’t be sustained if you don’t complete both ends of that chain,” he said. “But there is an opportunity here to do something special. And I’m excited to be here and playing my small role to make it happen.”