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A lesson for entrepreneurs in France

As President George W. Bush is rumored to have famously (and shamefully) stated, “the problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur.” (Of course, that is a French word).

For those who think that entrepreneurs cannot succeed in France, think again. As Marc Simoncini, founder of Meetic (a dating website) proves, it takes smarts, determination and vision, but the landscape in France is evolving and although the country is not as capitalistic and entrepreneur-driven as the US, it is improving.

The Economist profiles this remarkable entrepreneur’s rise, fall and rise again, with pertinent commentary on entrepreneurship in France. Excerpts are below.

Do you have stories of success and/or failure in starting a business in France?

Lucky in love
A serial entrepreneur shows France how to love, and how to fail
Face value: Marc Simoncini Dec 9th 2010 | PARIS | from PRINT EDITION

WILD and passionate lovers are much admired by the French establishment. Wild and passionate entrepreneurs, not so much. Marc Simoncini, the founder of Meetic, Europe’s biggest dating website, is therefore something of an outsider. His career has seen more ups and downs than the romances he helps to spark. “I have been poor, very rich, ruined and now very rich again, at least on paper,” he says…

…Apart from Meetic, he has invested several million euros in Winamax, a poker website. (His partner in the deal is Patrick Bruel, a singer and professional poker player.) Last year he set up Jaina Capital, a fund through which he plans to invest €100m in five or six French start-ups over the next two years. He already acts as an angel investor for several young online companies. And he recently launched a television show in which he introduces an entrepreneur in a few minutes every day.

After his spectacular rebound Mr Simoncini feels drawn to philanthropy. Next autumn he will launch a private internet school in Paris. His aim is to create an ecosystem for aspiring online entrepreneurs, teaching them the tricks of the trade and perhaps helping them raise capital.

Mr Simoncini frets that entrepreneurial success is frowned upon in France. But he concedes that it has become easier to create a business. There are fewer bureaucratic hurdles than before, and the bursting of the internet bubble has reduced the stigma of failure by making it commonplace. Recent reforms have re-energised France’s entrepreneurial culture, says Frédéric Iselin of HEC, a French business school, who has also been an internet entrepreneur. Yet Timothy Bovard of INSEAD, a business school near Paris, insists that anti-capitalist thinking is still pervasive. Mr Simoncini has not forgotten the lessons of his yo-yo career. “If tomorrow the French state votes a law that prohibits internet dating, I will be poor again,” he shrugs.

  1. December 16th, 2010 at 19:14 | #1

    Ah! The joys of doing business in France. The new Google tax should remind businesses that France is not a business friendly or at least a startup friendly nation. BUT many still make it and flourish.
    Le Web 2010 was a great showcase of the bright and engaging entrepreneurs who live in France.

    However as long as half of the working force are civil servants, there will always be the need to levy taxes on entrepreneurs to pay them. Yep, I just received the new tax CFE in the mail today.

    • December 16th, 2010 at 19:21 | #2

      Thank you John for reading and your very pertinent comment about doing business in France. I believe 22% of the workforce are civil servants, not 50% but that’s still significant. I hope the situation continues to improve for entrepreneurs. Good luck and happy holidays!

  2. December 16th, 2010 at 19:40 | #3

    Well it depends what you count as civil servants, officially only 7mil fonctionaires, but then if you look at people who get paid thanks to taxes (bus drivers, SNCF, Poste, etc…) the number is much higher.
    In any case the issue is more with the fact that the number as increased by 40% since the 80s and half the state budget goes into paying them.
    No holidays here! I am not a fonctionaire so I have no paid leave.

    Merry Christmas to you.

  1. December 21st, 2010 at 10:02 | #1

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