NUMA x Partech Ventures: Insights on International Scale

NUMA Scale Hub is NUMA’s program dedicated to international startups looking to scale in France, in partnership with SNCF and Google, at Station F.

It’s been already 3 months that NUMA has settled in Station F, managing the Scale Hub Program, a business launchpad dedicated to international startups that aim to launch their startup in France and in Europe. To celebrate, NUMA recently invited Reza Malekzadeh at Station F for a special event on international scale. General partner at Partech Ventures, Reza Malekzadeh has built his career and reputation by joining early stage ventures and leading them to a successful exit, but also by working in large groups to help them transition to new business models. Based in San Francisco, Reza is also leading the vibrant French Tech community there.

This event was a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to have a discussion with Reza Malekzadeh and Damien Roch – Managing Director of the NUMA Scale Hub – on the startup and VC scene in France and in the Silicon Valley. Here are some useful insights on scaling abroad.

Scale internationally: pros and cons

There are different reasons that may push an entrepreneur to decide to launch its business abroad. For early stage startups, the main driver is primarily revenue growth. Going abroad means entering a new market → acquiring new customers → increasing sales → and filling up the piggy bank at the end of the day. Internationalization is also a good way to sustain a competitive advantage upon some competitors (eg. by creating international alliances to get access to complementary assets). Finally, entering a new market may be a great opportunity to increase a company’s capacity to innovate (eg. by adapting the technology to local markets, or hiring new talents locally).

But some costs and risks have to be taken into account when going abroad, especially for early stage startups. Before making such a decision, it is worth analyzing carefully that 1) the startup owns the required resources to go there (eg. a lot of startups crash when settling in San Francisco because they didn’t take into account the high cost of living there), and 2) that it is a good investment opportunity, and not just a business one (eg. having an office in Morocco does not mean that it is logical to make business there, maybe the market is not adapted for the product at all).

Silicon Valley: a dream for French startups?

There are a lot of advantages to settle a business in the US, not only regarding the size of the market (4 time zones, 320 million people), but also regarding practical business aspects (one currency, one language). Also, it is worth mentioning that being in the US is not only a great opportunity, but also often a prerequisite for success. Indeed, it is very rare for IT startups to succeed in the US without having a local presence in the country. For example, French founders from Criteo or Talend went to the US before achieving such a high level of success. When it comes to the Silicon Valley, one cannot deny the incredible opportunities the ecosystem offers, having a concentration of the main tech players in one and unique spot (Facebook, Google, Apple…). It is then very easy to do business with them, as the teams are already there.

Yet, of course it does not always make sense for a startup to settle in the Silicon Valley – nor in the US. Having an addressable market there is fundamental. Also, one could think that the Silicon Valley is the-place-to-be when deciding to settle in the US, but once again, it depends on each business. For example, OVH decided not to go in the Silicon Valley but rather to Virginia because it was a better opportunity for them to settle there.

Timing is everything

When is the right time to scale abroad?” is a recurring question from entrepreneurs. The majority of startups that show up in the Silicon Valley are not ready for it, and they eventually leave the next year back to their home country. This is very unfortunate, because they could have avoided this situation if they had done their proper “homework” upstream (ie. considering all the necessary resources). On the other hand, taking its time can be a wise decision. For example Intuit waited for more than a decade before rolling out to France as it was a complicated market to tackle from a regulatory standpoint. Finally in hyper growth market, waiting could be  damaging as Uber that arrived too late on the Chinese market to compete with well-established and local Didi.  So, what is the good strategy? As building a house, the first step is to create solid foundations. First, it is important for any startup to concentrate on its home market to validate its product-market fit and gain experience in its own country. Once done that, it is also crucial to have references that can be leveraged hereafter. This is particularly true in the US, where having a good technology is not enough, the storytelling is the key: people buy stories, not products. Any reference, use case and proof of concept will be valuable assets when raising funds.

In the end, the main advice when scaling internationally (once prepared for it), is to focus on one market and then expand little by little, because it is very hard to be everywhere at the same time (eg. multiple law regulations). Regarding France, the country is currently offering a very positive ecosystem for international entrepreneurs to settle in, and for investors to come and acquire local companies (even American VCs are investing in French startups, which is very rare!). The Silicon Valley is now looking at this promising transformation with great attention (Station F, new Presidency, French Tech initiative…), so let’s surf the wave!

You have a question about startup internationalisation? You want to meet us? Send us an email at [email protected] or come to us anytime at the NUMA Scale Hub at Station F (CREATE zone, block 7, 2nd floor).

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Achieving Global Growth: NUMA x the Google Growth Accelerator

NUMA recently invited its long-time partner Google at Station F to share scaling methods and digital tools with entrepreneurs who want to scale their business. This was the first event of a long list organized by NUMA at Station F, and there is more to come soon!  

Guest speaker was Remy Bendayan, working in Dublin at Google Growth Accelerator for French startups that have reached market fit. Google Growth Accelerator is part of the Start-Grow-Scale initiative launched by Google to help start-up at various stages. It is a special team at Google dedicated to startups which are looking for a rapid growth on Google AdWords, Analytics, YouTube and other Google products.

NUMA’s Scale Hub program at Station F is a business launchpad for international startups to launch their startup in France and Europe. NUMA has been partnering with Google for years in order to offer the best expertise to early tech startups. Here are some useful tips to grow and export your business!

Think BIG!

The first thing to do when exporting and growing your business abroad is to think about all the opportunities of growth and gather as much information as possible. There are plenty of tools to help you identify your business potential, here we give you some.

When entering a new market, you have to take into account lots of elements that may differ from one country to another. For example, regarding consumer behaviour towards payment methods, consumers in France will have radically different attitudes compared to their German neighbours. Besides local demand, you also have to carefully target your audience and analyse local competition. And never forget about optimizing your UX, localizing your website/app and providing global customer care!

Once you have validated your product/market fit, you can also consider Paid Acquisition as part of your growth strategy, but be careful: it requires a lot of cash! So be sure to be ready before implementing it.

Useful tools: Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, Similar Web, SEMrush, Adwords, Test My Speed, Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics.

Be patient!

You can’t buy a product you don’t know, and turning your audience into potential customers is a process that takes time – lots of time. Before all, you need to understand and define your audience and build an adequate conversion funnel. First, you have to connect with your audience and raise awareness about your product/service. Then you have to make potential customer think about your product/service, and finally make them interact with you and care about your product/service before becoming loyal customers.

As you won’t display the same message to someone who has never heard about your product/service, and to someone who has already subscribed to your newsletter, it is very important that you segment your audience and target each group differently. And because today’s customer journey is very complex and fragmented (mailing, video platform, display, SEA, retargeting…), it is crucial for you to adapt your message and use different channels available and different strategies (eg. by using growth hacking) to have the best impact on your customer: target the right person, at the right moment, with the right message. All those strategies have to be carefully designed in order to acquire new customers. It is also very important that you allocate the right resources here (financial, human, technical…) if you want to be successful.

Building a smart conversion funnel is a crucial step to prepare first activation and reach new customers so do not rush in, take your time!

Be smart!

It’s now time for optimization! Tracking is the key for growing your business efficiently. Work on your CPA (Cost Per Acquisition), define KPIs for each stage of the conversion funnel, pick up the good channels and tools for you to use. It is also very important to define a good attribution model, meaning which percentage you attribute for each step of the customer’s journey when acquiring a new client. There is not one ideal attribution model but plenty, so pick up the best one for your business and then stick to it (eg. the last channel before purchase).

When deciding to export your business abroad, some tools can be particularly useful to give you insights about markets per vertical, growth or behaviours such as Google Consumer Barometer and Google Market Finder.

Part of a global strategy to help entrepreneurs build successful companies, Google has recently launched a platform listing all of their “products, insights, and community programs, to support those who move things forward”: https://startup.google.com

You have a question about startup internationalisation? You want to meet us? Send us an email at [email protected] or come to us anytime at the NUMA space (CREATE zone, block 7, 2nd floor).

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Pizza with a CTO — NUMA x Ideaphora

Ideaphora enables students to take notes and organize material, connect ideas, analyze information, and apply their knowledge — all in one screen. By building and sharing knowledge maps, students develop higher order thinking skills, critical for college and career readiness, while teachers are able to visualize their students’ learning.

  • Founders: Anil Arvindam, Mark Oronzio
  • Founded: 2013, incorporated in the US
  • City: Portland (Oregon, USA)/ Bengaluru (India)
  • Funding: 40k$ seed from angels + undisclosed investment from Brainpop
  • Company size at time of writing: 5 + part timers
  • Tech team: 1 CTO, 2 Java software developers, 1 JS/Web designer. Looking for JS developers.

What’s on your Biryani ?

Paneer Makhani Biryani — This CTO Pizza took place in Bengaluru, India. In our concern of staying local, we grabbed some Biryanis instead.

Anil Arvindam, CTO Ideaphora Inc.

Let’s talk about you

I pitched him the idea, and Mark entered as a co-founder in 2013. We still hadn’t met yet, everything was done over Skype.

What’s your background?

Before Ideaphora I co-founded an education assessment startup (Edcite), where I wrote code and set up the dev team. Before that and for several years, I did a mix of technical consulting and being an entrepreneur in residence, since 2002. I first moved to Bengaluru to work for a chip company around that time, and before that I worked in the Bay area for Pacific Broadband Networks.

Beforehand, I worked for about 10 years in Tampa (Florida) for Home Shopping Network, because my background was in digital video, with a low level chip design CS degree. I was part of the team that made HSN go from an analog to a digital signal.

How did Ideaphora start?

When I was an entrepreneur in residence, I worked on a digital video startup to extract highlights of sports events automatically (we were mostly focusing on cricket games). But we ended up being unable to raise any funding and I started looking at educational videos.

When watching videos, one wants to take notes and always have to go back and forth between the screen and your notes — you might end up losing information in the process. Then when you go back to your notes, you can have a hard time finding again the time in the video they belong to. That’s where the idea of Ideaphora came from, as we didn’t find any pre-built solution. So we came up with the idea of applying concept maps next to videos to take notes in a visual and spatial way, which our brains remember more easily.

In 2009, I started researching a viable business model for the idea and put together a business plan. But concept maps are still an alien concept to the majority of the population. In 2013, I spun off from Edcite to start Ideaphora full time. I spoke to a friend who knew some people interested in investing, and he knew somebody who had a background in concept mapping and edtech: Mark! I pitched him the idea, and he entered as a co-founder in 2013. We still hadn’t met yet, everything was done over Skype.

Brainpop was really interested in the project and funded the first product, so we were able to grow the team up to 7 people.

In a few words, what is you job now?

I focus on getting the next round of funding and sign-up contracting partners. I’d like to be more focused on tech yet, but there’s no time for it and I trust my lead developer to do the job. Mark is doing the same thing in the US, basically, while I’m doing it here in Bengaluru.

Has it changed since you started?

At the beginning, it was all code and architecture design. The first 2 years were about pure technology, as we were building the app for Brainpop. We then started to work on our own application (we own the IP) with its own set of unique features.

The last 6 months have clearly been focused on fundraising and pitch decks.

 

 

The stack of an EdTech company

 

When you tell developers in 2017 that they’ll work on core Javascript, they are not always qualified

What’s your stack and why this choice?

The front-end is pure Javascript, with Fabric as a drawing/canvas library. For the rest it’s pretty simple Jquery/Bootstrap code.

The Backend is a bit more complex, with Java Spring and a semantic engine to analyze educational content — PDF documents, speech transcripts etc. We basically extract text and images, and run them through a machine learning/natural language processing engine to extract key phrases that are presented to the user in synchronization with content.

We store all that in a Cassandra database, as most of our data is represented as big JSON objects. Cassandra was chosen because it handles big chunks of data, with fast writes and a free licence.

Have you changed anything in your stack yet? Why?

We want to move to a front-end framework because it’s easier to hire people. When you tell developers in 2017 that they’ll work on core Javascript, they are not always qualified since they are used to having a framework do the heavy lifting for them.

We’ll also implement a UI framework like Kendo UI or similar, along with a charting framework. The mobile app is also soon going to be a consideration — for now, we’re using PhoneGap.

Have you ever faced a crisis? How did you solve it?

We had a database crash after we mistakenly removed some tables in production. We had strong backups so we were able to put everything back up in less than 24h.

The incident happened on a Friday night, so we were back up and running on Monday morning, without any customer noticing!

 

Your CTO life

In India, nobody teaches children how to learn. That’s a gap we‘re here to fill.

What’s your hardest challenge at this time?

Getting the next funding round! We’ve been talking to a few potential customers about the long-term value of what we’re trying to achieve, but it’s a very long process and we need to stay alive during that time. A few investors see the concept as a vitamin, as a note-taking solution. But we are more than that — we are teaching children how to learn effectively so they can understand better rather than just remember well. Nobody in India is doing this with technology that spans all subjects.

But our main issue right now is to get our customer validation in India. Once we do, it’s going to be easy to go back to investors.

Your biggest responsibility?

Same thing — Making sure we have enough money to keep going. Then, making sure we stay one step ahead of the customers’ needs. There’s a great tech lead who is also our product lead, so I can stay focused on the architecture and fundraising.

Would you change anything you did since the beginning?

When we launched, we directly made it a premium app, which you had to pay for to use. We should just have made it a freemium from the start, and we’re only making the switch now, and working on a compelling business model.

Investors like having a lot of users, so we need to raise our user base before going for premium features.

 

The people at Ideaphora

Can you describe your tech team in a few words?

Our head of software has 15+ years of experience in Java development, and is pretty much strong in everything. I found him on HasGeek while he was consulting for a few other startups. The other back-end engineer has 4 years of experience, and the front-end has 2.

Anything specific you are looking for when hiring?

The ideal is somebody who wants to work because they dig the project. I want to see some sort of passion about changing the education system, and a willingness to work hard and learn new things.

There are lots of people that are only searching for a salary, and stock options are not particularly enticing to these folks. They’d rather work for a big corporation and build a resume on brand value rather than cutting edge technology and work.

It’s slowly changing because a lot of people got laid off from big corporations and turn to startups for a more exciting adventure.

 

Let’s talk about the future

Where will Ideaphora be in 2 years?

If all goes well, my dream for India is that millions of kids will be able to learn on our app, directly from home. We will make Ideaphora a core part of learning in India.

The biggest challenges you’ll face to reach this point?

We would like to work with the government, which is hard unless you have the right contacts. We’re also hoping to work with special needs schools (i.e. for hearing impaired people, children with cerebral palsy and autism)

Our biggest issue is that most people don’t know what concept maps are. So we first need to teach them about that before they can understand how powerful our product can be.


 

Article written by Alban Dumouilla and originally published on CTO.Pizza

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Beyond the Pitch: my week with 5 African startups — by Raphaëlle Neyton

“Awesome”, “Engaging”, “eye-opening”, “inspiring”, “intense”, “exhausting (but in a good way)”: when you get these kind of user feedback, you know that somehow, you got it right. That you had an impact. Mid-June I had the opportunity to spend a full week with 5 startups from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya and Senegal, for which I organized a 1-week bootcamp at NUMA.

During this week I think that I heard each of these startups pitch about 20 times. But beyond their pitch, I want to share some of my understandings of their entrepreneurial journey and the realities that they face in their respective countries.

Our mission at NUMA is to help tech entrepreneurs solve the global challenges of 2030. We are convinced that solutions will come from everywhere, that’s why we have opened offices in Moscow, Mexico, Casablanca and Bangalore, alongside our development in Paris, Berlin, New York and Barcelona. We also believe that solutions to the most urgent problems in low income countries (traffic jams, food and water crises) will most probably stem from homegrown entrepreneurial communities.

So when the French Development Agency published a tender to organize a 1-week bootcamp for 5 African startups that were all addressing crucial problems, NUMA had to answer this opportunity!

Yes they were right, this week was intense… During this bootcamp I decided to focus on several key aspects of an entrepreneurial journey:

  • Team: at NUMA we often say that we would rather take on a killer team with a weak product rather than the opposite… So of course building a great team was one of our key focus for this week, with 1 session with our head of human resources to challenge their team set-up and a very important session on the definition of a long-term vision, company culture, and OKRs (objectives and key results)
  • Product: then of course, having a strong product cannot harm a start-up. So on the product side, we organised 6 master classes on technical subjects such as growth hacking, communication and branding, finance and 1:1 meetings with our CTO who shared many tips and advice on their technical developments. They also benefited from the insights of the head of Google Campus London that met with each founder individually
  • Network: we leveraged our network and organised tailor-made meetings depending on the specific sectors and needs of each startups including meetings with Doctors Without Borders, University Paris Descartes, Tiler Systems, and of course 1:1 meetings with potential investors. 32 individual meetings were organised in total.
  • Funding: two of these startups had already raised a seed round and were thinking about raising a second one… the others knew that at some point, talking to investors would be on their roadmap… so I organised meetings with Orange Digital Ventures and Partech Ventures, that had just announced the creation of special vehicles to invest in African Startups.
  • Fame / Spotlight: I also organised an open event to talk about the African tech scene from a very hands-on point of view. 120 participants attended this event, during which the startups shared their own experience of entrepreneurs on the ground.

 

                          1:1 meeting between Farida Kabir (OTRAC) and Sarah Drinkwater (Google Campus London)

 

Big problems lead to impactful solutions

Digital entrepreneurs identify a problem worth solving and explore different solutions by talking to their potential users, collecting feedbacks and iterating. When entrepreneurs come from very emerging countries, the problems that they face in their daily life are often much more acute than in more developed countries… thus leading to very impactful solutions.

As an example in France, a startup in the field of mobility will develop incremental innovations (how to make public transport smarter, more efficient, less energy-intensive etc.), with a marginal impact on people’s lives. In emerging countries the problems will rather be how to build a public transportation system from scratch. With an expected impact that can make the life of millions of people better.

Looking back at these 5 African startups, they all address ambitious problems and come up with impactful solutions.

  • Gifted Mom (Cameroon) aims to reduce infant mortality in Africa through remote mobile support to pregnant women and young mothers;
  • FarmDrive (Kenya) aims at helping smallholder farmers access credit and thus strengthens food security in Kenya;
  • OTRAC (Nigeria) improves the quality of the health system in Nigeria through online training;
  • Mo’Go (Ghana) solves public mobility issues in Ghana through a car-sharing app;
  • and Weebi (Senegal) helps small shop owners keep track of their customers expenses and understand their patterns of consumption, thus helping these shop owners professionalize their activity.

This confirmed my expectations: entrepreneurial communities in emerging countries are not scared of tackling super ambitious challenges.

A lack of African role models: where is the African mentor scene?

One striking learning is that most of the 5 entrepreneurs I met are quite isolated: they lack mentors to challenge them, other entrepreneurs to shape their vision and give them hope that they can succeed. Without this network, giving up can be quite easy.

In Paris, NUMA has built over the past 17 years a network of 250+ experts, mentors, successful entrepreneurs that are used to mentoring startups. I tried to give these 5 entrepreneurs access to key mentors (serial entrepreneurs, mentors from Google for Entrepreneurs, former employees of Twitter and Indeed) to shape their vision. Now the real issue is how to create these networks in their home countries. There is no reason why African entrepreneurs should look for role models abroad.

Entrepreneur in Dakar or in Paris: the challenges are the same…

African startups face the same issues as French startups and their challenges are the same as the ones the 8-startups in the NUMA acceleration program face: how to recruit the best people and build a strong company culture, how to focus on one-single solution, how to acquire more users, how to talk to investors.

 

… Resources are not

Some of the resources (networks, mentoring, expertise, financing) that are available on a daily basis to French entrepreneurs are game-changers for other startups that do not evolve in the same environment. According to the startups, one of the most valuable sessions was the workshop on growth hacking delivered by Brice Maurin, founder of Deux.io. Farida, the founder of OTRAC told me “I knew that all these tricks existed but I had no idea that I could actually use them for my startup”.

 

After the bootcamp: what happens next?

It was great to host these 5 startups for a whole week in Paris. I learned a lot, and I think that this week also broadened their horizon. Yet, this week was only a surgical action in their entrepreneurial journey. The question that the French Development Agency and other international finance institutions should address is how to structure strong entrepreneurial ecosystems in these countries. Entrepreneurs in Cameroon, Senegal, Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries will not all have the opportunity to come to Paris, London or San Francisco. We need to help the development of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems in each country, to truly help these entrepreneurs to grow in the long-run.

=> Want to become a mentor for entrepreneurs based in emerging countries? Contact Raphaëlle

=> Want to learn more about the Challenge Digital Africa and to stay updated about the 2nd edition ? Read here

 

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Our first international Demoday : 12 startups from 4 differents NUMAs

Trybe, Dockbit, Vitcord, Hijiffy, Lokatrain, Goodeed, Ma Coiffeuse Afro, MaSmartHome, Energy Square, Vaonis, Syos, MySender, FilmarketHub !
All of these promising startups share at least one common point : they have been through a NUMA accelerator program and are now raising their series A round.

The scene: it’s 6pm in London, the startups have honed their pitches, investors are ready to listen attentively, and it’s time for NUMA’s first international DemoDay, hosted by Google Campus London.

 

The NUMA acceleration methodology : mission, vision and execution

As explained by Romain Amblard, Global Acceleration Lead for NUMA and Pep Gomez, Chairman of NUMA Growth (Barcelona), all of NUMA’s seven highly-selective acceleration programs (Barcelona, Bengaluru, Casablanca, Moscow, Mexico, Montpellier and Paris ) work with “mission-driven” entrepreneurs choosing to address global problems through tech-based solutions.

 

For NUMA, being an entrepreneur means 3 things :

Addressing a current or future global problem

Our entrepreneurs are “mission-driven”, which means they are not “mercenaries” who only detect market opportunities, but people compelled by a deep and sincere reason to embark on an entrepreneurship journey. Often, this drive comes from a problem they have experienced personally..

Building a vision to deploy the right solution

An entrepreneur’s vision is their ability to project their solution/product in the future, and extrapolate its impact. It is their fuel allowing them to engage others as their company grows, including employees, mentors, investors…

Being fully dedicated to executing their vision

Maintaining a consistency between vision and execution is both extremely powerful and incredibly difficult. Challenges might include refusing a customer who brings “bad traction” or constantly tweaking a business model to adjust to market changes, increasing competition or barriers to entry.
Objectives by objectives, KPIs by KPIs, these entrepreneurs are fully dedicated to building companies that achieve their long-term vision, and reaching scale.

 

Our first international Demo Day : 12 startups from 4 differents NUMAs.

Being accelerated by NUMA means being part of an international community, since we have acceleration program in 6 countries and 7 locations : France, Spain, India, Mexico, Morocco and Russia. It is not simply addition but multiplication of opportunities for our startups. So it was time to gather everyone in the same place, and to make them meet europeans and londonians’ investors.

 

 

The pitches

Trybe  is an SaaS enabled marketplace for independent chefs to set up, manage, and promote an online food business. They are building the world’s biggest restaurant, with locations in every corner of the globe.

 

Dockbit turns complex software deployments into simple and manageable workflows. They bring teams together by empowering them to ship code better.

 

Hijiffy connects guests to hotels through Messaging Apps. They provide the first messaging as a service with personalized automatization, as a way to reduce friction in customer communication, improve service, and drive more revenue.

 

Goodeed democratizes online donations for non-profits. They’re building the first worldwide community of donors that mobilizes instantly, and for free.

 

Ma Coiffeuse Afro connects masters of afro hair with people who struggle to find a hairdresser. Their vision is to make health and beauty simple for people of color.

 

MaSmartHome makes it easy to create a customized and evolutive smart home. They turn any home into the home of your dreams.

 

Energysquare has developed brand new technology that charges any device placed on any flat surface.Their first product is an intuitive charging surface for smartphones, that can be installed at home or in your office.

 

Vaonis has been founded in 2016 by two enthusiastic astronomers who met during their aerospace studies , Vaonis designs intelligent astronomical instruments, starting with the world’s most compact telescope.

 

SYOS disrupts the industry of acoustic musical instruments making by offering musicians a 3D-printed custom mouthpiece,-based on an algorithm linking the musician’s desired sound aesthetics and the geometry of their instrument.

 

My Sender is a platform that aggregates all communication channels between companies and their clients.

 

Filmarket Hub is the AngelList for the Film Industry; an online marketplace to connect film projects in development with production companies and financiers around the world. It is Europe and Latin America’s leading platform

 

Vitcord creates contagious live stories. Real-time collective memories are created, by enabling video-mixing of life’s best moments from different points of view. Vitcord transforms, for the first time, a community of viewers into re-actors, and contributors.

 

You can find out more informations on our dedicated website !

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Pizza with a CTO — NUMA x OpenClassrooms

Every week, Alban Dumouilla, NUMA’s CTO, will have a Pizza with a CTO from different stages companies to talk with them about their roles, constraints, management issues… Let’s get started for this first article, we are hungry.

OpenClassrooms is an online learning platform for vocational training, providing courses in IT, technology, entrepreneurship, and digital skills at large, in English, French, and Spanish.

  • Founded: 1999 by Mathieu Nebra & Pierre Dubuc as le Site du zéro
  • City: Paris, France
  • Funding: 8.5M€
  • Company size at time of writing: 60
  • Tech team composition: 14 in the team(back, front, integration, QA, UX)

What’s on your pizza?

Tradimento: Tomatoes / Mozzarella fior di latte / Prosciutto cotto / Egg at ZAZZA, 18 Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 75010 Paris

 

Romain Kuzniak, CTO at OpenClassrooms

You and the CTO job

“The time I can spend coding is a good indicator of the efficiency of our workflows.”

Tell me a bit about your background

I’m originally a sound engineer. I worked for different recording labels and studios for about 4 years, but music is a bit too random when it comes to money. I got into coding by building a website for my band and finally studied programming at Paris 5 University.
I then worked for a few tech services companies on a lot of interesting projects, some of them really big, that made me level up in professionalism. After 2 1/2 years of it, I headed to a hiring firm and found OpenClassrooms that were searching for developers.

How did you join OpenClassrooms?

I had a Java background and the site was already in PHP, so the match wasn’t an obvious one. But at the first interview, I surprised myself imagining the future of the product, new features, what could be possible, etc. Things were starting pretty well, and I got hired.
I joined a team of already about 10 to 12 people, as a developer. I started taking the lead on quite a few things, as I was more experienced and was the first one in the team with a significant professional experience.
I then slowly migrated towards the CTO role, organically.

What do you consider your current job to be?

I’m mostly a facilitator for tech and product — I try to help everybody to work in the best conditions, find talent, get the best tools for the job, use the best workflows, etc.
The rest of the job is about project management, decision making with the founders and still quite a bit of programming (30 to 50% of my time). The time I can spend coding is a good indicator of the efficiency of our workflows. More time to code means that everything else went faster.

Has anything changed for you since you started?

The job changes every 3 months, because the company changes every 3 months. There’s no way to get bored while working at OpenClassrooms as it’s constantly evolving.
An example is when we decided to onboard quality mentors on the platform. Managing a community of dedicated mentors is a bigger deal than adding a few options on the site: it completely changed the organization and the thought process around the new vision.
I’ve also been trying to give more and more autonomy to the developers in the team. I used to keep an eye on everything, but I learnt to delegate.
I’m more of an experts’ manager than anything else now, I guess.

 

Let’s talk about tech

“It took us 6 months to restore all the functionalities of the site after breaking everything during the migration to v4.”

 

What’s your stack and why?

Symfony and everything that goes with it, on AWS. We go through a different company that manages our servers because we don’t consider devops being part of our core value. We used to manage everything, but it wasn’t the best use of our time.
On the front-end, we use React, with some parts of Jquery/JqueryUI still around. We’re currently building our mobile app in SWIFT, and we are closely looking at Progressive Web Apps for the future.
We can’t really switch technologies to follow the trends, we need robust ones because of the 3 million UVs on the site.

Have you ever had to change your stack?

Nothing huge. I joined when the site was already at its third version and at the very beginning it was a homemade framework. I migrated to Symfony 1, then Symfony 2 and React.

Have you ever faced a crisis?

Yes, and a huge one. A month after I joined, we released the v4 of the site, that wasn’t well tested enough. Everything worked well on our dev machines, but shit hit the fan when we went live because of the traffic.
We had to shutdown functionalities of the site that we reopened slowly — forums reopened first in readonly mode — over 6 months.
Since then, we got a lot more professional. We thoroughly test everything, and iterate a lot with small deploys. We can deploy up to 50 times a day, so nothing can really break the entire site.

 

The CTO life

“We’re were we are now because we failed when we needed to”

What is your main responsibility as a CTO?

Everything needs to work, always. I’m responsible for the product experience in general, that I manage with the founders.
One of my biggest responsibilities is to know when to say no and find the minimal iterations to reach a specific spot where we want to be. For example when we started onboarding the mentors, at the beginning everything was done through emails and Google Hangouts. When we validated that it worked, we actually built the feature.

Anything you would want to change in what you did in the past?

Nothing. We have a fail fast take decisions fast mindset. We are where we are now because of this attitude, because we failed when we needed to, and we learnt.
Learning from your failures is in our DNA, as long as the failures stay reasonable!

The people at OpenClassrooms

“I’m not telling them enough, but they are amazing people.”

Describe your tech team in a few words

Kindness is the first word that comes up to mind. And they are good, like, really good. I have complete trust in every single one of them.
What really spots me the most at OpenClassrooms is that we work on a product that makes sense, that helps real people. But building this is being part of a full human experience with the team. There were and will be hard moments, but everybody pushes each other to the top.
I’m not telling them enough, but they are amazing people.

Any hiring tip?

I pretty much know after a few minutes if I’m going to extend an offer or not. An informal discussion is everything it takes to know the attitude of somebody.
I end up asking very specific tech questions during an interview, in the hope that the candidate won’t be able to answer. I then measure how they react about not knowing. Are they going to try to bullshit me? Or just let go and say they don’t know? Or try to work with me to get more details?
If you’re going to work every day with somebody, you might as well want to be able to trust them fully.
The last thing I’m looking at is rigor. I’ve learnt from my experiences that it’s not something you can teach to somebody. They either have it or not. So I prefer to figure if they do beforehand.

 

Article written by Alban Dumouilla and originally published on CTO.Pizza

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Pizza with a CTO — NUMA x Doctolib

Every week, Alban Dumouilla, NUMA’s CTO, will have a Pizza with a CTO from different stages companies to talk with them about their roles, constraints, management issues… Let’s get started for this article with Nicolas De Nayer , VP of Engineering at doctolib !

Doctolib is an online and mobile booking platform that helps to find and a specialist doctor nearby and make an appointment.
Founded: 2013 by Thomas Landais, Ivan Schneider, Steve Abou Rjeily, Jessy Bernal, Franck TETZLAFF, Stanislas Niox-Chateau

  • City: Paris, France
  • Funding: 54.3M€
  • Company size at time of writing: 304
  • Tech team: 40 (from 5 a year ago)

What’s on your pizza ?

Eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, gorgonzola at a small shop near Parc Monceau

 

 

You and the VP of Engineering Job

“I like to compare myself to the motor oil in a running engine”

Where do you come from ?

I come from an engineering school, then worked at OCTO Technology for some time as an architect, agile coach and tech lead. I’m a tech guy first, but I work on methodologies quite a lot.
I then moved to San Francisco to work for Viadeo for a bit more than 2 years to see something else than consulting, before coming back to France and starting at Doctolib.

How did you join Doctolib?

Doctolib was already about 100 people when I joined, mostly non-tech. We had 2 front-end freelancers and a back-end intern, and Ivan and Jessy (note: the founders) were working on the entire stack.

These two are ridiculously good and efficient and they tried quite a few times to grow the team but it didn’t work too well. It’s like catching a bullet train at full speed, you needed to get on board and deal with it, which doesn’t really work for everybody.
They knew they had difficulties when it came to onboarding and they needed a VP of Engineering to take care of the team’s integration. That’s where I came into play. My goals were to scale the tech team, hire fast and right, build feature teams that would become autonomous.
There’s a lot of methodologies and responsibilities that I needed to move around, as at the time only the founders were pushing to prod. That didn’t scale. At all.

So what’s your job, exactly?

I like to compare myself to the motor oil in a running engine. Real tech people can get trapped in their tech stuff, and forget to communicate — which is absolutely vital for a team to function.
We don’t want tech rockstars that don’t chose their fights and just play around with technology without thinking about the impact.
So that’s my job : I need to know enough about the stack to dive in when necessary, but I mostly see everything from a higher point of view to make sure everybody works at their best and is happy about the job.

Has your job changed since you started ? How ?

A lot. Really a lot. At the beginning it was mostly about showing by example: I would work with the team and show how things should be done, and it was great. We spent 4 months on continuous integration, 4 months on product processes, 4 months on interfacing needs, etc.
Then it became pure management — the type that makes a person grow in their job. Really time consuming, and really necessary. It was doable because of the limited number of people in the team.
When we started growing the tech team, I had to find relays that would do this job in their smaller teams, and that was quite a challenge, because we wanted to keep a flat hierarchy.
My job is basically to take the great vision of the founders and help them share it to the rest of the company — by showing it to my team in a clear way.

 

Tech tech tech

“Tens of thousands of doctors and some hospitals use us, and if Doctolib is down they just can’t work”

What’s your stack ?

Rails, React, and RxJS with a bunch of custom code. We’re not hosted on AWS because we have legal needs that make us run on servers hosted in France, that are cleared to manipulate health data.
We chose this stack because the cofounders are ridiculously good at Rails. And it’s a pragmatic choice for the web.

Have you had to change it since you started?

We run a big monolithic app, on Rails and Postgres, and we used to run all the search on the full-text search capabilities of Postgres.
We made a big switch to Elasticsearch, because with the growing load, the production environment was becoming slower. The migration complexified our stack, which we didn’t like — you need new expertise — but was necessary.
We have a Postgres expert that will join the team soon — maybe we’ll be able to go back to full-text search in the database with the right performance.

Have you ever faced a crisis ? Site down or something ?

We run on small hosting providers, so they don’t have Amazon’s SLA. Some things can be down a bit from time to time.
Now that we’re getting big, it’s a real issue: tens of thousands of doctors and some hospitals use us, and if we’re down they just can’t work. So we’ve built a passive datacenter that replicates all the data and that can take over if the first one fails.
In theory, the failover should take a few minutes. Last time it happened, it took us longer that than to come back online — need to reheat the caches, reroute DNS, recreate VPN and IPSec tunnels, etc.
So there’s still some work to be done on that side!

 

The VP life

What’s the hardest thing in your job, right now?

Build a rockstar team, and define what we mean by “rockstar”. There’s a certain mindset that we’re searching for and that is not easy to find: we’re not here to make the web change, we’re here to use the web’s best practices to build the best product.
But when you hire the best tech people around, they can have a tendency of wanting to build the best technologies, and not necessarily the best product.

What is your most important responsibility?

Align all the devs on the vision of the founders. I came to Doctolib for the vision, and I knew I would be helpful at communicating it to others team members in an explicit manner.
So I need to keep that balance between having bright, very exigeant cofounders and not over-controlling everything. When you don’t control everything, some errors might slip in, and it’s OK. My job is to make sure these errors are as small as possible, and that is achieve by all being on the same page.

If you had to change something you did since you started?

Use more case studies to share the vision of the founders and their way to build products. Technology is an enabler and not an end by itself, and we are not taking enough time to show what that really means — with concrete examples.
So we’re being reactive when there’s a problem, and we should change that to being proactive.

 

The Doctolib people

“Never lower the bar. For somebody to join the team, they have to be better than somebody currently in the team.”

Describe your tech team

When you have good and bad devs in a team, productivity issues arise. The developers we have in the team belong to the top 1%, if not the top 1‰.
Our tech team is already brilliant, and can become magical if the product vision really settles in

What is the main thing you are looking for when hiring?

Pure tech level and pragmatism.
I used to spend 50% of my time interviewing during the first 6 months, to grade tech tests. Now we have somebody that takes care of tech HR.

A hiring tip?

Never lower the bar. For somebody to join the team, they have to be better than somebody currently in the team. I often ask the junior guys if they think the person they just interviewed is better than them.

 

You’ve talked a lot about vision

Where do you see the company in 2 years?

The tech team should be about 60 people, and fully autonomous. My goal is to become useless! When I talk about autonomy, I talk about product, performance, crisis management, security, architecture, etc.
We’ll also be the incontestable leader in Europe.

What are the biggest problems that you will face to get there?

Address all doctor’s specialties while keeping the product simple and intuitive. They all have specific needs, but we’ll have to find a way to stay focused.
Interconnecting with software packages that hospitals currently use is getting harder and harder as well, because the technologies might be old and very slow to move.
We’re already at our fourth version of the interconnection platform to keep simplifying it!

 

Jobs : https://www.doctolib.fr/jobs

Article written by Alban Dumouilla and originally published on CTO.Pizza

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Start-ups: apply 365 days a year!

As we launch the selection process for the 9th season of the acceleration programme, we have introduced two big novelties: we are moving from 2 to 3 batches per year, and you can now apply all year long.

The growing drive for entrepreneurship in France and the success of our acceleration programme have resulted in almost 3000 start-ups submitting their applications to NUMA in the last five years.

Our programme’s selection process had not changed since its creation in 2011. Following an in-depth study of these many applications and in order to better meet your challenges and ours alike, we have decided to implement some changes.

Up to now, our year was punctuated by short periods of calls for projects during which applications were received from start-ups wishing to join our programme. We are keeping our traditional pace of several batches per year but from now on, you can submit your project at any time, starting now.

Another significant change: we are moving from 2 to 3 four-month seasons per year.

Our method is the same, only the selection process is changing

Our acceleration model per four-month season has amply proved its effectiveness. The cohesion between start-ups in the same season is a major lever for each of them. The programme’s intensity over a defined period also significantly boosts their development.

Our model and our methods therefore remain unchanged. We are simply increasing the number of seasons, from two to three per year, and making the selection process continuous.

This means that the new selection process takes place in three phases:

  1. Submission of your application on-line at any time 
    To submit your application to us, you must complete a questionnaire of around fifteen specific questions via the apply.numa.co site. This questionnaire is then assessed in the following days by the acceleration team and experts in the NUMA network, in France and abroad (entrepreneurs, technical experts and specialists in your industry).
  2. Selection for individual interviews
    You will receive word within four weeks at the most, informing you whether you have been selected to continue the process and present your project in front of a panel. The following week, you will meet a panel made up of NUMA members and experts selected specifically in line with your application.
  3. Confirmation of your acceptance 
    You will be informed in the following days about the outcome of your application and your possible acceptance onto the next season. If you are accepted, you will enjoy a close relationship with NUMA and its teams until you join our programme.

Crucial selection

We carefully select the start-ups that have been making up our batches for eight seasons now. Out of the many applications we receive, only a small number of start-ups join our programme following a very stringent selection process. This highly selective method is a strong pledge of the quality of our assistance. The best start-ups and the best mentors create the best programme over the seasons.

The entire team is passionate about the selection process which involves the broader NUMA ecosystem and its alumni. We review hundreds of applications and are fortunate to meet many teams, all of whom are highly motivated. This work is also gruelling due to its scale. We know that making a selection mistake could impact the destiny of a structure and of course that of its co-founders.

For each season, we select around 15 start-ups. We fill the places on the season gradually through regular panel sessions. Please note that if we fill the season during the first sessions, applications do remain open for the following season.

To conclude, we encourage start-ups not to wait until the last day before the start of a season to apply. We have more time to review applications from start-ups who submit early. This responsiveness also tells us a lot about your ability to take action quickly. Rest assured that many other criteria come into play when assessing your project.

Well-honed selection criteria

We are often asked what makes a start-up stand out and which are the prominent qualities of the start-ups we select. The thousands of applications that we have reviewed have enabled us to increasingly fine-tune our selection criteria.

The quality of the application

The quality of the application is as important as the application itself. The care taken in presenting your start-up can be decisive. Fiodor Tonti, one of our Resident Experts, has written an excellent article “How to apply successfully” on this subject. To gain an understanding of the required level of quality, we also recommend that you read the article from the Zero to Heroes blog.

The quality of the team

This criterion is both the most important and also the most difficult to assess: personalities, aspirations, knowledge, focus, leadership: all these individual facets come together to make dream teams. It is important to note that we do not accept teams with a single co-founder or in which the main co-founders are not invested full-time. It is impossible to make progress quickly enough without a full team.

The team’s full availability

Full-time presence is required. We do not accept teams who cannot be on-site, in Paris, for the four months of acceleration. The programme only works if the founding team is fully present.

A technical co-founder

You must be able to iterate your project and to grow very quickly. To do this, the active and constant participation of a technical profile is essential.

The project’s potential and market approach

We carefully consider the level of relevance with which the team has validated a demonstration of interest from its users: user testing, MVP, iteration.

The level of knowledge of the current, past and future competitive playing field is part of this demonstration. Who are the competitors? Which start-ups have already failed? Why did they fail? What is the maturity of the different players? What are the entry barriers? In short, all the factors that let you be sure that your company is going to revolutionise the market.

Knowing how to adapt, to be flexible, to understand your market: this is what we recommend to you, and it also applies to us.

If you would like to benefit from the assistance offered by our acceleration programme as early as season 9 starting on 20 June 2016 :

> APPLY NOW on apply.numa.co <

We can’t wait to find out about your project.

The NUMA Acceleration Team

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#FounderStories: Renaud Visage, co-founder of Eventbrite

This time, we are honoured to welcome Renaud Visage, co-founder and CTO of Eventbrite, who agreed to take part in our “Founder Stories”. Over an evening, Renaud Visage shared with us his incredible experience and answered questions from the start-ups in the acceleration programme.

Like many others, Eventbrite’s story started with an encounter: that of Renaud Visage, with Kevin and Julia Hartz, in San Francisco in 2006. What followed is totally extraordinary. At the time, many on-line ticketing platforms existed for major gatherings such as sporting events and concerts. However, there was no service to create, organise and manage more intimate events. That is how Eventbrite came about.

Leveraging this opportunity, the three co-founders developed their product, mainly used for tech events in San Francisco’s Bay Area. The service was simple and free of charge. Its rise was meteoric. “One of the keys to our success is the virality of our product. Each event organiser brings users to the platform. These users then create their events. Almost one third of event organisers on Eventbrite are former participants”.

Eventbrite joins the Unicorn Club

In 2008, the time came for the first venture round: $1.5M. The rounds then continued at a dizzying pace – $6,5M in 2009, $20M in 2010, $50M in 2011, $60M in 2013 – until in 2014, the start-up completed a round at $60M, which valued the company at over one billion dollars, thus ensuring its entry into the prestigious “Unicorn Club”. The total amount of the successive venture rounds represents the impressive figure of $200M. When asked by an entrepreneur why they didn’t raise a higher amount earlier on, Renaud Visage advised: “be careful not to be too greedy at the start. If you raise a lot of money, it makes it very difficult to justify your value at a later date”.

While the trio held out for two years, they started to hire in 2008. Eventbrite now has 550 employees and offices in eight countries. “You are bound to lose some of the spirit of camaraderie when you jump from 3 to 550 employees, but we maintain an excellent atmosphere in the teams. It’s very important to us. A company’s culture comes first and foremost from its employees. Select them carefully,” he advised NUMA’s start-ups.

Eventbrite also knows how to pick its support. Its Board of Directors includes Sean Moriarty, former CEO of TicketMaster, and Lorrie Norrington, former Chairperson of eBay Marketplaces. “Their experience is a significant asset”.

International strategy

Renaud Visage insisted on the platform going global as of 2011. He was the main driving force behind this. With his persuasion skills, he started to install Eventbrite on the European market in 2009. “First, focus on your product. Perfect it. Then go global as soon as possible.” The multilingual website was created in 2011. A key moment, according to its co-founder. The start-up then had offices in eight countries (USA, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Holland). Through this platform, events were organised in 187 countries!

Ten years on from the start of this venture, Eventbrite has sold more than 200 million tickets on-line, the equivalent of $5 billion in ticketing sales. “I don’t suppose you need the money anymore… Why do you carry on?” asked an entrepreneur. “Why did we create Eventbrite? I like to think that we help people to get together. We facilitate meetings. I created this company out of passion. I still have that passion ten years on”.

Our warmest thanks to Renaud Visage for coming to advise the start-ups on NUMA’s acceleration programme. We wish them all similar successes!


To recap:

  • For ultra-fast development, think of a product that is intrinsically viral.

  • Do not raise too much money at the outset. It would be subsequently difficult to justify the company’s value.

  • Pay special attention when hiring your first employees. They are the pillars of your corporate culture.

  • Think about global expansion from the outset.


A few key dates and figures:

  • Date of creation: 2006

  • Co-founders: Kevin Hartz, Julia Hartz and Renaud Visage

  • Employees: 550

  • Total amount of venture rounds: $190M

  • Tickets sold: 200 million

  • Website: http://eventbrite.com

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#FounderStories: Nicolas Brusson, co-founder of BlaBlaCar

Recently, we caught up with Nicolas Brusson, co-founder of BlaBlaCar, as part of our Founder Stories meeting forum for NUMA Paris start-ups. It was quite simply an honour to welcome one of the greatest icons of French entrepreneurship to our premises.

Does BlaBlaCar still need an introduction? If you have been living in a cave and have suddenly turned up in a city, “BlaBlaCar connects people who need to travel with drivers who have empty seats”. And, incidentally, BlaBlaCar is the global ride-sharing leader (if this term means nothing to you, go back to your cave). 

The company is present in around 20 countries, boasts no less than 25 million users and has raised several hundred million Euros for a market capitalization that sends chills down the spine.

Other than that, how are things going Nicolas?

From 0 to unicorn

Nicolas’ arrival at NUMA has an amazing magnet effect. A Slack and a few announcements on the various floors are enough to gather quite a crowd. Who would miss the visit of the man behind the most amazing French success story of the last twenty years?

Nicolas happily sits on the sofa on the third floor, in front of an audience keen to learn his tips for success.

Stubble, trainers, jeans and cotton t-shirt: this sober look conceals a very unique adventure.

It all started with a love story. Nicolas lived far away from his girlfriend and was looking for a way to visit her at little cost. At the same time, Frédéric Mazella wanted to visit his family over the holiday season and came up against a lack of transportation. At first, they thought of a service that would enable employees in the same company to share a journey and the expenses incurred.

From then on, the magic was quick to happen: passengers and drivers rushed onto the platform, originally known under the name covoiturage.fr and which constantly evolved into the current version.

Of course, it would be totally naive to think that this story ran so smoothly that it never encountered difficulties. The company’s figures read like a crazy rollercoaster ride prior to its current success.

Nicolas tells us that, faced with difficulties, himself and his co-founder managed to find the energy to start again, and to move even closer to users to offer an experience that significantly meets their needs.

Nico’s tips

  • If you think you have a good idea, step up a gear, raise funds and go global. It is highly probable that others have had the same idea, and only those who can operate on a very wide scale will win the race.
  • Find the right co-founder. Yes yes, of course you know that already. Here’s one more story that should urge you along in your quest.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the legal details. Yes, it is important but it should not hinder international expansion. “JUST GO FOR IT”.
  • Surround yourself with mentors, good mentors, the best. A good piece of advice could make all the difference.
  • Push back the limits, always think further, bigger, faster. 

Thank you Nicolas for taking us on this very invigorating ride!


BlaBlaCar: key dates and figures

  • Launch date: September 2006
  • Last venture round: $200 million
  • Audience: 25 million users – 10 million travellers per quarter
  • Employees: 500
  • Facebook fans: 4 million
  • Website: https://www.blablacar.fr

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