The Family: settling scores in the kingdom of the start-up nation

In choosing the name The Family when creating this famous start-up companion in 2013, Alice Zagury, Oussama Ammar and Nicolas Colin, the three co-founders, had a talent… Over the years, this iconic figure of fledgling nation in fact managed to gather around her a real community. But today she lives another obligatory passage of the family sagas: internal heartbreaks. Alice Zagury and Nicolas Colin, two of the co-founders, accuse the third, Oussama Ammar, of having embezzled around three million euros. Several legal proceedings have already been launched against him in February and March. And the case is now experiencing a new twist. According to a press release published on Wednesday, May 25, by The Family, management now suspects that Oussama Ammar used these funds to invest in a luxury property in Normandy. An additional complaint has been filed in Paris and further legal action is in preparation in England and Wales.

This “divorce” between the three co-founders, made public last March, was more than surprising. Despite criticism from investors a few months ago, the trio seemed, as in the early days of the adventure, as united as the five fingers of a hand. It is necessary to say that these three strong personalities allowed to give a new life to this model, unprecedented in France. In exchange for a stake, The Family offers turnkey support to start-ups to accelerate their growth. The structure can also boast a series of great successes among the approximately 100 youngsters followed, with nuggets such as the Heetch VTC app, the Captain Train train ticket sales platform or the PayFit payroll management solution.

The “Tech Guru”

And in this well-oiled mechanism, everyone played an essential role. The dynamic Alice Zagury, former director of the start-up accelerator Le Camping, was the rural woman, a great connoisseur of the French ecosystem, the serious Nicolas Colin, enarque of the Finance Inspectorate, the architect of the project, and the pedagogue Oussama Ammar , sometimes described as a “technology guru”, has professed his vision of entrepreneurship at many conferences. A talent addition that allowed the Family to assert themselves in front of the stage French technology. “I was part of the Family’s first fundraising: they had a very interesting way of training and connecting people, they understood everything on a human level”, says Frédéric Montagnon, an investor in the first hour. At the height of its glory, the premises of the rue du Petit-Musc, in the 4th arrondissement of Paris, have seen the political and economic gratin, and even the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, received by Emmanuel Macron in 2015 .

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Last fall, however, Oussama Ammar announced her departure from The Family and her desire to return to the “world of Web 3”. The simple touch of someone who has the gift of feeling the trends that need to be surfed? The revelation at the end of March of a complaint filed by several Family companies for “breach of trust, forgery and use of forgery” against him sheds new light on this hasty departure and this desire for a change of scenery. He is suspected of having embezzled around three million euros from certain SPVs (Special purpose vehicle), a somewhat barbaric acronym for a “club” of investors who get together to put their marbles in companies. An activity developed by the Family since 2014, along with supporting start-ups. “We wanted to meet the expectations of the first shareholders of the Family, who were looking for investment opportunities”, explain the managers.

A property in Normandy

Initially limited to young shoots backed by the start-up accelerator, SPVs were gradually extended to larger pieces such as the Stripe payment solution, the essential Airbnb or SpaceX, the space company Elon Musk. Problem: almost 3 million euros earmarked for investments in these technology companies were transferred by Oussama Ammar to his personal holdings, and “from October 2020 to September 2021, despite repeated requests from everyone working in the Family, we did not receive any clear answers to our questions: neither the slightest documentation nor proof that the goods were acquired”, explains Alice Zagury. In short, not everyone knew where the millions of pocket investors had gone, hence the first legal process initiated.

After several weeks of auditing, The Family today brings new elements. “Suspicions are increasingly clear, given the information available, as to the fact that these amounts may have actually been used for other purposes, namely the financing of a prestigious real estate project in Normandy (…), as well as various fees and unjustified expenses,” the statement said. Management also reportedly discovered other “illicit transfers for the benefit of Osama Ammar and his personal assets” from other SPVs. “We focused our attention on the Domaine d’Ablon, and more particularly on the expensive construction site of a prestigious residence called Petit Manoir, which is about to be completed and whose total cost is estimated at more than 2 million euros. property belongs to a company controlled by Oussama Ammar. However, the construction schedule coincides exactly with the period in which numerous controversial transfers were made from the SPV bank account now managed by the Family in the Cayman Islands. These are the elements that we wanted to send to the public prosecutor in following the first complaint filed”, Ivan Terel, lawyer for the complainants, told L’Express.

“An ubiquitous shortcut,” protests Christophe Delaune, manager of Domaine d’Ablon, which brings together prestigious suites and residences near Honfleur, in which The Family is also a shareholder. An activity still quite far from the shoots in which the guide usually invests. “The project seduced them, and back in the day when everyone got along, that wasn’t a problem,” he says. “Oussama fell in love with the location and the concept of high-end hotels and decided to help the owner develop the area “how a start-up develops”, counting on the family”, explain the current managers on their side. ONE “love story” with the premises that will continue for Oussama Ammar, in a personal capacity, with the creation of a company that buys land adjacent to the property to build the luxury property referred to in the Family’s accusations, the Petit Manoir.

A “movie character”

Contacted by L’Express, Oussama Ammar declined to comment on the merits of the case: “I don’t have much to say to you. This is a case that should be resolved in court and not in the press. I will just remind you that the injured shareholders have a contract with the Family and not with me. There is a legal person who blames me unilaterally instead of taking responsibility. Therefore, I will defend myself at the pace of justice and not the media court .” This case is not the first setback with justice for the man who describes himself as a “film character” on his Instagram account. In 2018, Osama Ammar was already in court for “breach of trust, forgery and use of forgery”. Facts that date back to the time when he was director-general of the young shoot Be Sport, a social network dedicated to sport. But after the civil part dropped out, Osama Ammar had “only” been convicted of a false invoice for 5,000 euros. A juvenile mistake, he has claimed many times, but which now questions certain investors about the trust placed in him by the other two co-founders. “Prior to fall 2020, management had no reason to suspect misconduct or gross negligence on the part of Osama Ammar in The Family,” the leaders responded.

serial problems

A case that comes on top of a series of other problems that plague the Family. For several months now, some investors have criticized the lack of management transparency, a governance they consider insufficient and the management of some SPVs. Last subject of dissatisfaction: liquidity. They feel they don’t know when they can get their money back. According to them, the Family’s economic model, based essentially on participation in start-ups, and generating little income (only through the organization of events or the structuring of SPVs), would be insufficient to cover the group’s operating costs. “And to this is added today a crisis of confidence”, estimates Frédéric Montagnon, now very critical of the functioning of La Familia.

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Unjustified accusations according to the management, which believes that it only comes from a minority of dissatisfied. “If there was a bit of rock’n’roll management at the beginning, like any start-up company, things have improved, communication efforts have been made, there are no problems in more than 85% of the SPVs (62 in total), and the The value of our start-up portfolio is now over 50 million euros”, respond to the managers. It remains to be seen whether the Family will be able to recover after this storm.


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