You created the organisation that ultimately became BlaBlaCar in 2006. Now, eleven years later, how do you think the environment has changed for people who want to start a business?
A lot of things have changed. First, thanks to accelerators and other incubators, there’s now an ecosystem in place that offers access to financing at every stage of a project. That’s a real, factual, concrete change that we can all see. There’s also been another change on the level of personal experience: basically, you no longer need to hide the fact that you’re launching a start-up from your parents. Today, being an entrepreneur is something that’s socially acceptable – even desirable. Now, whether or not everyone who sets out to start a business is ready to accept all the consequences of that decision is a different story.

How do you get beyond that?
It’s an understatement to say that people are bewildered. The hardest thing, in my view, is when you look at the people who are closest to you, and what you see in their faces is something like… compassion. That’s not an easy experience. At moments like that, unless you have a total, gut-level faith in your project, you can’t make it work.

Is knowing how to surround yourself with the right people a key entrepreneurial skill?
Oh absolutely, that’s one of the three basic skills. You also need to know how to formulate a product for a given market, and arrange the financing for your project.

Despite what must be a very busy schedule, you’re taking the time to share your experience as an entrepreneur – you’re going to sponsor the 2016 group of Réseau Entreprendre Paris laureates. Why are you making that commitment?
You’re undoubtedly familiar with our motto at BlaBlaCar: Share More, Learn More. For me personally, I’ve never met someone who didn’t have something to teach me. It’s true that you then have to make that work, with a very full schedule, so you look for effective methods or channels for offering help. From that standpoint, an organisation like Réseau Entreprendre, with its annual groups of laureates, offers a setting that is conducive to that kind of interaction. I also try to post regularly on LinkedIn, where I can share the lessons I’ve learned and talk about my core convictions.

 

Past Réseau Entreprendre laureates have been responsible for multiple successful businesses. ManoMano, My Little Paris, Michel et Augustin and a host of less familiar companies have created dozens, if not hundreds, of new jobs. Where do these entrepreneurs find the energy to make their company grow? How do these men and women reinvent themselves day after day in order to capture new markets? What advice can they offer on achieving growth? Let’s meet some ambitious entrepreneurs from the Réseau Entreprendre community.

1 – The entrepreneur’s vision :

As a result, the ability to generate sustained growth depends above all on a strong vision that reflects your personal convictions. David Rebeyren, founder of RS Développement and a Réseau Entreprendre Provence laureate, emphasises the importance of this strategic thinking : ” Having a vision and knowing where you want to go will help you stay the course when times are tough.” . Philippe de Chanville, co-founder of ManoMano and a Réseau Entreprendre Paris laureate who now heads a company of 170 employees, agrees: “Growth comes from quality of performance, so you have to hire the right people to carry out your growth plan”.

 

2 – Collective energy: at the heart of growth

The difference beetween an entrepreneur and a someone who launches out on his or her own? The collective adventure !

“Initially you specialise in something (sales, finance, etc.), and later that changes as you become the company head and have to think about leadership, strategy, vision and so on. Obviously the top manager sets the course on this group adventure, but without some collective momentum, everything would come to a haltPersonal accomplishment is only possible as part of a group”, says David Rebeyran. Thierry Géant , a partner at Visconti says : ” Entrepreneurs needs to create a base set of values that will provide a foundation for the entire team. That’s an essential step, because when a workforce shares the same values, that breeds confidence. And when the team has that confidence in itself, its individual members will defy the waves and stay united.”

3 – Challenging yourself to think even bigger than before!

Once you’ve achieved growth, how do you maintain it and find new sources of growth? The best way to ensure growth is to be thinking nonstop about your customer.  The advice that Thierry wants to give to every entrepreneur :  ” Success involves the ability to bounce back. You may get things wrong, but you need to fail quickly in order to bounce back quickly. Afterwards, you need to look back at what you did (even when things are going right!), because that’s how you make progress.”

Insofar as this collective strength is a key to success, it’s essential to learn how to surround yourself with the right people. That’s the basis for the support that Réseau Entreprendre offers in its Ambition programme, which creates the conditions for a helpful dialogue between the entrepreneur and the experienced executives at his or her side who can help with decision-making. It anticipates the governance issues that every growth entrepreneur must eventually confront. For Pierre-Yves Gomez, professor of strategy and director of the French Corporate Governance Institute, “Governance is nothing more than the corporate bodies that allow a company head to gain more confidence”.

 

 

Charline Goutal, founder of Ma P’tite Culotte,talks about tje early days of her compagny and her mentoring.

“I needed to take a step back. My Réseau Entreprendre mentor, Philippe Delalande, provided a very valuable outside perspective that helped me gain more insight into my business.” What she remembers from those talks with an experienced executive was having a kindly listener. “It’s very rare to have someone whom you can confide in completely. Philippe understood me without ever being judgemental. He helped me find answers to my questions”.

Philippe Delalande, her mentor, member of Réseau Entreprendre Paris, is a retail expert. “Charline’s business was very innovative and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to convince customers. But she knew where she wanted to go and she had an extremely well-designed marketing plan. What I was able to provide was a broader perspective and some financial advice.” After 2 years of mentoring, Philippe Delalande says :” even while i was giving advice, i learned a lot as well.”

 

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