William Simonin, from start-up Vivoka de Metz for “Forbes” magazine

At 29, William Simonin, co-founder of Vivoka, is one of the most promising French entrepreneurs of his generation. Photo Week

“Indefinable,” said a childhood friend of his. Always with an “A, B, C and D” plan. An excellent business strategist, William Simonin, founder of the start-up Vivoka, which develops voice assistants, has just joined the Forbes France ranking, which lists the 30 most promising leaders under 30 in the country.

“In business, he reminds me of a chess player”, sums up his childhood friend, Laurent Graziani. On the chessboard William Simonin, founder of Vivoka, has a few rudiments, “no more”. But when it comes to his Metz-based start-up, the 29-year-old expertly advances his pawns, always having “plan A, B, C and D”.

The American magazine Forbes, an international reference, is not mistaken, valuing the fine strategist and even included him in early November in its ranking that lists the 30 most promising leaders under 30 in France. A tour de force.

The Vivoka Adventure

Year 2015: A dorm in London, some friends and Iron Man on TV. The decor is set, the adventure of a slightly crazy project starts here. “Watching the film, we immediately wanted to ‘buy Jarvis’, the assistant to the hero Tony Stark, to equip our own apartment with a voice recognition system. Since it didn’t exist, we created it. We speak five times faster than we write. There is nothing simpler than the voice, ”he recalls. Because there is nothing more complex than creating a business. “Entrepreneurship, until we experience it, we cannot know what it is. At first we thought we were aliens. Google, the current king of the market, was not even positioned yet.

Today, the innovative company equips companies with voice recognition systems in 42 languages, has 30 employees and operates without an Internet connection. The extra soul that allows Tom Thumb Metz to exist against the American colossus, which cannot do without the web. With all this, William Simonin is at the origin of several other companies (90 employees in total) with his brother Owen.

rare breaths

Not so much in the morning, William Simonin investigates appointments from 9 am. Top start of a dantesque day, which ends just before midnight. And that, every day. He develops Vivoka: his workhorse. “I don’t see it as a job, it’s a passion. I’m back from South Korea, I was recently in Dubai and I’m leaving for the sixth time for the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas (the world’s largest exhibition dedicated to innovation, editor’s note). Vivoka is 100% my agenda. ” Understood. But there are still precious “off” moments to avoid burning your wings.

William Simonin was inspired by Iron Man’s voice assistant to design his voice recognition solution. DR photo

The young man allows himself a little height when he gets his private plane pilot’s license, under no circumstances would he sacrifice Saturday morning sleep and doesn’t hesitate to put on boxing gloves for a session. It is yet to breathe that he appears once and for all at the head of Netflix and the Suits series. He is bitten by it. “Mainly because of the mentality. » Understand: the state of mind. “The message of this fiction is that it doesn’t matter how you get there, what matters is the result. 🇧🇷

The breaths of fresh air finally materialize with a few nights… cigars. “We are talking about management issues, financing…”, confides Michel Onfray, a faithful companion of these rare moments, with whom William Simonin lived for several years. Arguments around entrepreneurial considerations always pay lip service. This, even the “holidays” can not do anything about it.

Vacation, I forget everything?

Every August, William Simonin returns to his roots near Bastia, in the village of Moriani. The opportunity to mute Vivoka’s voice on short occasions. “I check my email five times a day. But at the beach it’s always better. “Incorrigible. Work with your feet in the water, ok. But on the island of the beauty queen of his heart, the entrepreneur listens to himself, looks forward to more realistic activities. In addition to family, in Corsica William Simonin reconnects with the friends he knows since childhood. They also grew up. Regardless, the years pass, the pala tournament maintains a good-natured spirit. “Every year, we organize a Basque pelota tournament with friends. We attach great importance to this because depending on the results, we have to assume the jokes of the whole class for twelve months, until the next edition. »

It’s because he knows how to be provocative, William Simonin. And the others give it back to him. It is enough to see the laughter of its collaborators when the photos that should illustrate this portrait are taken. A handsome player, the leader is amused by this, sends back gleaming glares of malice in the direction of the scoffers.

“Value does not wait for number of years”

Because “Vivoka is a start-up and we really have that mindset. We don’t count the hours, but he’s always in a good mood”, reveals the businessman. A united team that allowed the innovative start-up to go through setbacks without ever ending up boring and even radically changing course. “Before Covid, we were developing voice assistants for hotels. When everything closed down, we revised the entire economic model. That’s how we started developing the “Voice Development Kit”, our custom voice assistant software for businesses. “A big pivot that can be explained. “William perfectly illustrates the expression ‘for well-born souls, value does not wait for number of years'”, says Michel Onfray. We would almost forget, but William Simonin is not 30 years old. The Forbes economic magazine ranking is there to remind us. Not enough to stop him from always having “one step ahead, when Brother Owen is more fiery”, as his childhood friend points out. Nor is he a follower of “post-il” despite his digital start-up. Nor scratching the song Sacré Dollar des Missiles, released in 1964, on the guitar bequeathed by his grandfather who found a good place in his office. Finally, William Simonin remains “indefinable”, as Laurent Graziani concludes.

The business world and him

“Personally, I am not a fan of telecommuting. I like my collaborators to be there because their opinion is very important to me. I listen to everyone, including when a developer has an idea about the commercial aspect of Vivoka. We try to create a pleasant working environment. This allowed us to bring employees from Corsica, Tunisia and India to Metz. More generally, I think that in France entrepreneurs are easily discouraged. When someone has an idea, we often object to the fact that it would already exist if it were such a good plan… Too bad. 🇧🇷

his book

“”The art of starting 2.0” by Guy Kawasaki. He is an Apple evangelist who gives very interesting clues to get started in business when you don’t have a network. »

his movie

“I don’t see how it could be anything other than ‘Iron Man.’ This movie is now part of me. The whole Vivoka adventure starts from there. 🇧🇷

his restaurant

“Le Pampre (place de Chambre in Metz). Its closure really saddens me. We ate well there. And above all, I shared excellent moments there, in good company. 🇧🇷

his bar

“Then it is more complicated. I went out a lot when I was very young, since I was 14. Today, I have less time. I don’t really have a favorite bar, but you can find me at Mojito Bar, Place de Chambre in Metz. 🇧🇷

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