For the 3rd year running, I’ve been spending part of the summer in NYC, meeting with the budding French entrepreneur scene there – and putting together an updated list of my 10 favorite upcoming startups.
The past 12 months have been eventful for the laureates of the past two editions:
- Sunrise was acquired by Microsoft for $100+m, a great deal for co-founders Pierre and Jeremy (and their early backers), who are already reinvesting part of that money into the local startup ecosystem and seeding the next generation of entrepreneurs there
- Sketchfab raised a healthy $7m series A from French VC Matt Turck, a partner at FirstMark and the first port of call on the East Coast for many French entrepreneurs
- Placemeter raised $6m from NEA & Qualcomm
- We at Index doubled down on Datadog, by leading a $31m Series C round, which helped them acquire NYC-based big data analytics Mortar Data
- AdoreMe reached further milestones, with the launch of its nationwide TV campaign helping it reach#14 in Inc5000 Fastest growing company‘s ranking
Now, on to this year:
A familiar face to anyone who has been following the French tech scene for the past 10 years, Fred Montagnon relocated to NYC less than 2 years ago but has already become something of a local fixture. After selling Overblog to Ebuzzing, and a long stint at the video adtech company, he’s staid loyal to the space with his new startup Secret Media. Its pitch to publishers is simple and punchy: you’re getting screwed by ablockers who affect more than half of your traffic in certain countries (Germany for eg.), we’ll help you bypass them and serve the ads your advertisers paid for. They do this by encrypting the calls to ad servers so that they become undetectable to adblocking technology. While he admits the first year was slow, he’s seen the market sentiment shift radically in the past few months, with some significant legal wins for AdBlock Plus in Germany and, more importantly, the announcement by Apple of adblocking extensions in iOS9, helping publishers realize that things are not gonna get better and that they will need to do something about it.
Another product of France’s adtech (and maths) expertise, and another startup focused on helping publishers make the most of the switch to programmatic buying (their clever tagline reads: “Why should the buy-side have all the fun”), Adomik has developed a sophisticated pricing algorithm for display advertising. Backed by Elaia and Iris in 2013 to the tune of €1.3m, and already working with most big names in France, they decided to set up shop in NYC earlier this year: Nicolas Schueller, the CEO and cofounder has been commuting back and forth, while they’ve hired Jonathon Schaevitz, an experienced adtech exec, to build a full-fledged team there.
While Alven-backed Dataiku has built a reputation in Paris for having assembled one of the best big data team in the country, their CEO and cofounder Florian Douettau has now resettled in NYC to sell their tech expertise to the US market. Their visual studio is a one-stop shop for data scientists to clean, analyse and visualise large data sets – an appealing value proposition for the least sophisticated companies who are starting with their data mining efforts. As the market matures, how they compete against specialised solutions is an open question. But for the meantime, sales are growing nicely and the client list is getting interesting (Blablacar, Aramis Auto, Showroom Prive, etc.).
Part of Techstars, like their illustrious predecessors Sketchfab and Placemeter, Unique Sound is another play on the “unbundling of Craigslist” trend (which marketplace expert Fabrice Grinda, another notable NYC French exilee, eloquently wrote about on his blog), focusing on the niche of music composing. Their pitch is simple : video is exploding as a commercial/professional format but there is no easy way to get custom music scores produced to match the visuals. Unique Sound goes through the process of sourcing, vetting and giving a storefront to select music composers, of various genres. They also manage the payment and licensing, their main argument to avoid being bypassed by artists once they have found a client on he platform. This pitch and their early traction convinced Isai, Foundry and Felix to lead a $1m Seed round.
Gigwax plays in a somewhat similar space and underlying market trend: it allows party organisers to book DJ online. While it may sound like a niche, CEO Amaury Meunier reckons it is a $17bn market in the US alone, whether in bars or at private functions; a number growing exponentially as the prices of DIY music software and hardware keep on coming down. But this explosion in the number of “living room DJs” comes with its own challenges : especially, it makes discovery and quality control harder. So if you don’t want to have your future wedding party ruined by an impromptu play of Les demons de Minuit, you may want to check Gigwax out.
After coming to fame for his work as an aid and online campaign manager for Nicolas Sarkozy between 2007 and 2012 (he’s behind the creation of the Conseil National du Numérique among other things) Nicolas Princen decided to move to the entrepreneurial world and to set up his startup in NYC from the get go. Glose is a beautiful social reading app for mobile and tablets – not too dissimilar to the now-defunct Readmill – which allows users to read, highlight, share and discuss quotes from the 500,000+ books on offer on the platform. As more and more people move on to reading straight from their mobile, the utility of such an app is unquestionable – whether Glose can offer a different enough experience to Amazon, Apple or even Wattpad, will be the big question here.
Another well-known French serial entrepreneur who has fallen in love with NYC and decided to make it his permanent base is Ilan Abehassera. The founder of Producteev (which he sold to Jive Software in 2012) jumped straight back into entrepreneurship after the expiration of his lock-up period – this time with a hardware + software proposition. His first product is a tablet mounted on a plastic and metal mold, running on custom Android, which he describes as a communication hub for the family home. It replaces the age old fixed line phone with an intuitive touch screen, mainly targeted at the two extremes of the family demographics: the children and their grand-parents, who can use it as a simple, direct, one-to-one communication channel (using Ily’s proprietary app). While it is addressing a real need today (which Ilan has experienced first-hand with his own children and parents), it is likely that in the long run the grand-parents of tomorrow, who are the parents of today, will own and be very comfortable using WhatsApp and other messaging platforms on their own devices, and may not be so attracted to a more stripped-down/constrained experience.
Another member of Techstars 2015 Winter batch, Keymetrics plays in a similar space to Datadog, but with a focus on performance monitoring for node.js apps. Offered as a SaaS tool, it is based on PM2, a popular open-source website manager, which has already been downloaded more than 1 million times, and is growing rapidly, piggy-backing on the rapid diffusion of node.js itself. Alexandre Strzelewicz, the CEO and founder, who wrote most of the code on his own, moved to NYC to attend Techstars, while most of team remains in Paris.
Armed with a cool $5m stash freshly raised from ISAI, Sublime Skinz is now squarely focused on replicating in the US the success it’s had in France selling its technology, which allows advertisers to easily create skin campaigns, and publishers to run compliant and high-quality skins on their websites at scale. While skins (the large animated images that appear around the core content of media websites) may sound like a relatively niche advertising formats, Sublime Skinz’s strong growth in France has proven that their is real demand for their product today. Whether they can replicate their early success in the US, and in a world where a growing part of the traffic comes from mobile and/or is behind adblockers, will be key to their future success.
Voice Polls (ex Poutch) (OK, he’s technically Belgian)
I first met with Melchior, Voice Poll’s CEO and founder, when I went to visit Fred de la Faille, the founder of Frontback, in the hip loft they used to share in Brooklyn. While Frontback pivoted (it was called CheckThis at the time), died, and was later reborn, Poutsch followed a slightly less tumultuous path, moving its polling platform from B2C to B2B, with the launch of Voice Polls. This new product offers companies a low-cost and frictionless way to poll thousands of consumers globally. For example, it only took him a couple of minutes to find out that a tiny majority of people thought that Blablacar sounded like a good name for a car sharing app (sending me a 10-page poll report on ride-sharing and Blablacar was the clever hook he used to get back in touch). While there are many actors in the space, Voice’s years of experience with consumer polling online, and the large member base they accumulated while operating Poutsch, should hopefully give them a sufficient edge to differentiate.
Since my first list 3 years ago, the French entrepreneurial scene in NYC has developed nicely. Most of the companies mentioned before are still active there – people tend to fall in love with the city and stay there for a while, as shown by the repeat entrepreneurs in this list (Secret Media, Ily, Voice) – and they have been joined by a steady stream of newcomers, be it young first time entrepreneurs attending Techstars (Keymetrics, Unique Sound) or more advanced B2B startups who have found product-market fit in France and want to start selling to corporate America (Dataiku, Adomik, Sublime Skinz). With its relative proximity to Europe (5-6 hours time difference, 8-hour flight) and concentration of capital and large corporate accounts (especially in the media/advertising space), NYC has become a natural choice for French and EU startups opening their first overseas office. So if you are considering expanding or resettling there, check organisations like FrenchFounders: they are here to help you navigate the scene and make the most of the local entrepreneurial diaspora.
On October 28th, Rude Baguette is organizing its quarterly Paris Founders Event at the Hotel de Ville in Paris. This edition will focus on the connection between the Paris & NYC Startup scene. Register today!
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