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The Family’s Pan-European Ambitions
European Straits #33
Four years ago, Alice Zagury, Oussama Ammar and I founded The Family. It was initially designed as an investment entity to nurture ambitious France-based entrepreneurs, from the very start all the way up to their building an empire. We would take a small equity stake in startups we like, solve problems met by entrepreneurs at the earliest stage, help them pass critical inflection points, and deploy more capital along the way.
Among many other things, we had two main motives for launching The Family:
We wanted to work with entrepreneurs, not financiers. Our ambition was to build a business on the investing side but none of us really had the taste or patience to go through the pain of a 3-year roadshow to raise our first fund. For us, it was critical to serve entrepreneurs from day one and design our business based on their actual needs rather than replicating what French venture capitalists had been doing for years. This is why The Family used to mostly look like an accelerator (and benefitted from Alice’s experience managing one before The Family).
We were convinced that ambitious entrepreneurs would only succeed if we improved their environment. Startups are not isolated entities that succeed on their own. More than mature companies, they’re unable to succeed without a strong and healthy ecosystem designed to help entrepreneurs do the heavy lifting and grow at the largest scale possible. Hence The Family was not designed to work solely with entrepreneurs: another mission has always been to reach out to key stakeholders such as investors, large corporations, government, and academia.
It’s always too early to claim victory, but we’re already very proud of what we’ve accomplished in the French ecosystem. We’ve contributed to elevating the level of ambition among French founders. We’ve enlarged the pool of venture capital that startups within The Family can access by building strong and trusted relationships with non-French venture capital firms. What’s more, the value of our portfolio companies is now worth over a billion dollars: we passed this milestone a few months ago and it convinced us that it was high time to go up to the next stage.
Two years ago, we already knew that The Family should expand internationally. There were two main reasons:
First, early stage investing has become a global market with an ever-increasing level of competition. And you cannot compete at that level if your operations are confined to only one country. If we wanted to keep working with the best and most ambitious entrepreneurs, Europe had to become our playing field.
Second, it’s simply easier to change a domestic ecosystem if you can also influence it from the outside. Whereas a local player can only go so far, a pan-European entity has more levers and more clout when it comes to advancing the cause of tech startups in every country. It’s about being better positioned on a larger playing field.
Expanding in Europe seems like a simple enough idea. However, implementing that vision is a difficult challenge. For two years now we’ve been in exploratory mode: some of us left France to enlarge our perspective (including my moving to London, where I’ve been living with my wife and kids). We briefly operated a local office in Barcelona, then closed it down for lack of ambitious entrepreneurs. Finally, we decided that operating at the pan-European level required that The Family be present in London, Paris, and Berlin—the three major startup ecosystems in Europe.
We’re now ready to go on to the next phase: growing an integrated infrastructure that relies on those three cities as strong pillars. Each of the three offices is to be managed by a senior member of our team, whose mission will be to own the local ecosystem: Erika Batista (The Family’s first employee) in Paris, Hugo Amsellem (another veteran) in Berlin, and Naim Taleb-Dumortier (whom we more recently hired as CFO) in London. Another group will operate certain functions at the pan-European level, including a small, agile team in charge of scouting and reaching out to ambitious entrepreneurs all over Europe.
Future issues of this newsletter will also share news of The Family’s development and describe the state of the European startup ecosystem. In the meantime, let me simply conclude by stating the strategic goals we’re pursuing in our current effort:
The Family is to be known by ambitious European Entrepreneurs as a radical brand and an attractive value proposition.
Our infrastructure is to be designed to facilitate our startups making the most of the three cities and expanding beyond their domestic market.
The Family must become a go-to point for every stakeholder willing to address challenges related to technology at the pan-European level.
Here are a few of our writings to go further on The Family’s pan-European ambitions:
Reflections on expanding at a global scale in the digital economy: The Digital World Is Not a Flat Circle (by me, October 2015)
Thoughts on how languages make it complicated to operate at a global scale: The Power of the Tongue: English in the Digital Economy (by me, January 2016)
More details about what we do, from the inside: So … What Is The Family? (three parts, by Oussama Ammar, February 2016).
The Family’s secret long-term master plan: The New Berkshire Hathaway You Haven’t Noticed (Yet) (by Oussama Ammar and me, July 2016)
A recent update on The Family’s expansion in Europe: Once Upon a Time… (by Oussama Ammar, May 2017).
Warm regards (from Paris, France),