At its heart, The Family is a story about three people who shouldn’t be working together. When you compare our backgrounds and interests on paper, mine and those of my co-founders, Alice Zagury and Nicolas Colin, you’d be forgiven for wondering exactly how we fit together. I myself started out very young as an Entrepreneur, and began to invest in Silicon Valley in 2010. But I found out something as a inexperienced investor, which many young investors discover: namely, that what I found to be large sums of money — because it was my personal money — was, to the businesses that I was investing in, not really a large amount of money at all. And that was frustrating, as it seemed to me as if I had more to offer them than just a small — for them — amount of money.
Then one day I met Alice, and things clicked. She was an artist at heart who found herself in the world of technology as the head of Le Camping, which would eventually become part of NUMA. When we met, I brought up the idea of starting a private fund together, and that idea is the first element that distinguishes The Family from all the other organizations in the sector: we’re a 100% private firm, we don’t take public money, and we’re very proud of that fact.
At that point we convinced Nicolas Colin, who had Entrepreneurial experience in internet marketing as well as having worked in the Finance Ministry, to join us. The three of us brought our different experiences and competencies together, and that mixture is at the heart of The Family.
We are not a fucking incubator
We like to be outside of the labels: we aren’t an incubator, we aren’t an accelerator. We’re creating a new space in the system, as a long-term, strategic and minority shareholder. We’re trying to bring as much added value and support as possible to our portfolio of startups, staying with them and helping them as they grow. The end result of that is that, unlike most of the rest of the ecosystem, we’re not obsessed only with the beginning of startups.
That’s important, because in France the word “Entrepreneur” was for a long time a four-letter word. 10 years ago, upon hearing that I was an Entrepreneur, I had people say to me, “Ah, yes, it’s hard to find a job out there.” It was seen as a fancy way of saying that you didn’t have a real job. Now, things have changed a bit, and being an Entrepreneur has a certain cachet to it, it’s almost like being a rock star.
But the problem with that is that the entire ecosystem has become obsessed with just one thing, beginning startups. Incubators, accelerators, the only thing that they’re interested in is pushing more and more people into the technical category of Entrepreneur. Now, though, those Entrepreneurs don’t need as much help beginning, but rather help succeeding as a startup. And that’s infinitely more difficult.
Startups are a very long shot
Why? Because it takes much more effort over a longer period of time. It takes a startup somewhere between 7–10 years to really develop, to the point where it has a repeatable, scalable and profitable business. And that’s our ultimate goal, that’s our mission. That’s what we’re trying to develop, not just cycling through a new bunch of startups that never go anywhere after the first six months.
Repeatable, scalable, profitable
Those are the three things that we’re looking for in startups. And to find those startups, we concentrate on the Entrepreneurs and what they can bring to the ensemble of The Family, rather than on a simple dossier or call for projects. You don’t enter The Family for three months, or for six months. You enter The Family as an Entrepreneur, you enter it for a project, but you stay in it over time. The calendar doesn’t run out on you. Your first project might run out. You might decide that being an Entrepreneur isn’t for you. But The Family is there for the long term, not the short term.
We aim at the long term because we aren’t trying to just be a hotel for startups. We aren’t worried about making room for new entrants. We’re aiming to change the culture and the ambition for startups, to take them out of that three-month timeframe and put them in the mindset of a successful business. So we might have a corporate form, since we’re a business as well, but our attitude has the form of a partnership.
All of this is needed because Entrepreneurship is only going to keep growing as a form of labor. We’ve entered into a new era that has new rules, new opportunities, and new players.
Why is this Entrepreneurial age different?
Prior to this, the idea of scale always meant a worse experience for the user. As a company or a service grew larger, more people were able to access it, but there was a decrease in quality across the whole system. The Entrepreneurial age, on the other hand, is an age that not only permits us to prevent a decrease in quality, but we’re even able to increase the quality at scale, in the end giving users a better product. That challenge of serving users at the highest level of quality is the challenge that defines how Entrepreneurs compete in the marketplace.
For example, why has Uber been working so hard to build up its monopoly across the globe, for a taxi service that is at its heart extremely local? It’s because we are now driven by the necessity of providing a high quality of service to users no matter where they are located. The Uber user experience is unified, increases in quality as it expands, and so it wants to be universal: that’s the mark of the Entrepreneurial age.
Young vs Old
This new age is the first time in the history of the world when, to paraphrase Mark Zuckerberg, the young are teaching the old. And that’s because there’s been a paradigm shift with digital technology, one that isn’t simply reinventing the “obvious” — the internet, marketing, information systems — but one that is able to completely transform all industries.
Developing an Entrepreneurial mindset is taking part in that transformation. The younger generations have clearly seen that the traditional systems aren’t working, that there are no more guarantees. That lack of guarantees has shown them that it’s just as valid to create their own job as it is to go searching for someone to hire them. Being an Entrepreneur is a way of embracing unpredictability and turning it in your favor.
Creating a Black Swan Factory
That’s why The Family positions itself as a black swan factory. Black swans are those unpredictable, paradigm-changing events and companies that completely reform the ecosystem. We’re actively looking for those black swans, all of those great ideas that to the outside world look like bad ideas. At this point, all of the good ideas that seem like good ideas are already in place. The real game now is to find those ideas that people think can’t work, those ideas that people laugh at, and to nourish the people who have those ideas to the point that they can make everything become real, exploding onto the scene and changing it forever.
Entrepreneurs who can think this way have a huge advantage, because they have everything to gain and nothing to lose. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? An idea doesn’t work out, people forget about it and we find something else to work on. There’s no harm in that. But what’s the best that can happen? The best that can happen…that’s our focus. That’s what we’re working on every day.
Lead or Die
Finding those people and ideas is easier as a leader, and that’s The Family’s goal: we want to be one of the market leaders in European venture capital, a complement to the best VCs out there. Doing that has meant adapting our structure to European realities, not American realities. We place a premium on the services that we can provide, not simply on the capital we can bring forward. Over time, capital has become more available, but effective services that help startups to grow are still very rare. It’s easy to give capital to a startup, it’s hard to give them specific tools that push them toward earning that coveted black swan status.
Concentrating on furnishing tools to Entrepreneurs also allows us to invest our money in talent, not just in projects. Why? Because it’s hard to win on your first startup. It’s a little bit easier with your second try. By the third one, if you keep pushing and learning, you can maybe find the right formula. That’s why we want our money and our efforts to be aligned with Entrepreneurial talent, not just singular projects.
Throughout Europe, we need to create an environment in which becoming an Entrepreneur is a real and clear pathway. An Entrepreneur who comes into The Family finds that pathway, and options arise from it. They don’t just have one shot: if what they’re doing gains traction, starts to grow, and eventually becomes a market leader, great. But if it doesn’t work, they are in an ecosystem where Entrepreneurial talent can be recycled, either by finding a new project or by attaching themselves to a project that is in its growth phase.
Learning Together: Build Friendships
We have a network of Entrepreneurs, but our real value is in continuing to train even more Entrepreneurs who will be part of an ever-expanding network, thus giving us more and more possibilities to find the success stories of the 21st century.
Our focus on people is why we don’t bother to provide any office space for our startups. The explosion of coworking spaces in Europe completely missed the point. Europe mistook the coworking space as a condition for innovation, rather than a consequence of it. It’s the people inside that were the drivers of innovation, not the space itself. We are concentrating on the first part of the equation, developing the people, rather than the second part, which will take care of itself over time.
It’s also why we try to discourage the typical form of mentorship that you find in Europe. Just because someone has a successful business doesn’t mean they’re able to give startups any worthwhile advice. Making a few million in the restaurant business or as a top lawyer doesn’t qualify someone to advise an Entrepreneur interested in SaaS. And too often we’ve seen mentoring become a way of patronizing Entrepreneurs and encouraging them to take fewer risks.
Freedom is THE key value
Instead, Entrepreneurs should be left free, enabling them to take risks and grow up in a healthy and awesome way. Creating a vibrant community of Entrepreneurs requires letting lots of Entrepreneurs make lots of mistakes. If you’re afraid of making a huge mistake, you won’t grow as an Entrepreneur. Taking a chance and trying something new is the only way to know if you’re right or wrong. And then all of those mistakes, all of those chances, they become part of the ecosystem, they’re used as examples, they’re part of forming the next generation of Entrepreneurs. And that’s the only way to move from an immature ecosystem to a mature ecosystem.
This sense of community and trying things together is why we have the Fellowship. It’s why we believe that, “Partying is a serious matter.” Spending time together, having fun amongst your peers, all of this is what leads to new encounters, new experiences and new successes.
So as long as you’re running your startup, as long as you’re doing everything you can to be an Entrepreneur, as long as you’re finding the next new idea when the last one didn’t work, you stay in The Family. Startups are businesses that are held together by the will of their founders. No one is coming along and pulling the plug on your startup, except you as the founder. As long as you’re showing your determination as an Entrepreneur, you’re part of The Family.