France has a reputation for producing technology heavyweights, and some of the nation’s brightest entrepreneurs attended the La French Touch Conference last week to meet with investors and tell hundreds of audience members how they got their businesses started.
The New York event focused on developing meaningful relationships between the French and American tech communities, ultimately looking at technology from a global perspective.
“Two French pitfalls are fragmentation and failing to promote our successes,” Fleur Pellerin, secretary of state for foreign trade, tourism and French nationals abroad, told an audience June 26. “Today’s economy no longer has local economies. This is particularly true for technology. It is essential to think global from the very start.”
The event kicked off with a presentation by the world-famous Dominique Ansel, creator of the beloved Cronut, a deep-fried croissant with filling in the middle and frosting on top. On June 27, startups pitched their ideas to investors.
“We believe in French tech,” said Luigi Lenguito a merger and acquisition director at Dell. “These entrepreneurs are growing and disrupting the technology.”
One of the panels at La French Touch examined the intersection of fashion, food and technology. Participants included Morgan Hermand-Waiche, founder of e-commerce lingerie company AdoreMe; Nick Taranto, cofounder and co-CEO of online food delivery service Plated; Meryl Job, CEO of fashion marketplace Videdressing; and Craig Kanarick, CEO of Mouth, a marketplace for indie foods.
Why their models work
Hermand-Waiche, Taranto, Job, Kanarick discussed why their companies fill a niche in the tech space.
Videdressing launched in France and subsequently expanded to Germany, Italy, Belgium. Switzerland, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.
“Fashion really deserves its own vertical,” Job said. “The market is perfect for this kind of model.”
Taranto and Kanarick came to similar realizations about their food startups, as they noted interest in healthy, homemade foods over processed foods.
“People are taking greater interest in what’s in their food [and] what they’re buying,” Kanarick said. “They want to buy from artisanal vendors instead of big companies.”
This movement toward greater awareness of food ingredients began three years ago, he noted.
Taranto’s inspiration for Plated came from ordering food through Seamless, the online-delivery service that is now his company’s competitor.
“I was working on Wall Street, ordering Seamless twice a day, and I put on 25 pounds in six months,” he said. “I thought, there has to be a better way to eat that is better on the environment and on your body.” His company provides users portioned ingredients and recipes so users can make meals themselves.
Challenges for startups
Taranto and Kanarick admitted that foods’ perishability is a challenging part of their businesses.
“Food changes from when it gets from vendor to door, and it’s not easy,” Taranto said.
On the user-experience end, Kanarick said Mouth’s online checkout system doesn’t store users’ credit cards because his business uses a lesser-expensive third party to process that data. But some users might be used to convenient one-click checks like Amazon has.
“One of our challenges is being able to get the individual, little features on larger sites for us at a lower cost,” he said.
Fundraising, the good and the bad
Fundraising has also proven difficult for Taranto and Kanarick, as there are very few food-oriented venture-capitalist firms. A divide exists between people who understand technology and people who understand food, the two contended.
In Job’s case, she said it took Videdressing more than three years to get institutional funding due to a deficit of funding in Europe.
“There is this Darwinist ecosystem in Europe, and you have to be a super company to get funding,” she said. “A lot of great companies just won’t make it because of funding gaps.”
Given the competitiveness, however, the very best startups succeed in Europe, she said.
“It forces you to be much more creative when money is hard to come by,” she said. “After bootstrapping for three-plus years, now we have 3 million visitors per month.”
Job’s story of perseverance complemented the advice Taranto gave entrepreneurs in the audience at the end of the panel discussion, when he animatedly quoted Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”Tags: Business,Entrepreneurship,Tech Culture,Technology