Milan is a popular location for automotive, fashion and financial players. But, no offense, the Lombard city is not yet known for being a haven for startups. However, this is where Eric Mignot, founder of insurtech + Simple, has recently set up shop. A choice dictated by economic reasons.
“Italy is a market with great potential. At the same time, it’s a complicated market, where you have to meet the right people at the time”, observes the businessman who bought three companies in La Botte (in Rome, Milan and Genoa).
To succeed in this bet, Eric Mignot estimated that an installation in Milan would be a strong signal sent to the small Italian companies that he seeks to attract. “It’s always best to see eye to eye,” he insists.
The boss, however, has taken care to appoint an Italian general manager who will run operations alongside him. A way to avoid traps. And although English is the language of business, he started taking Italian classes to better integrate himself into the local landscape. “I didn’t know a word”, recalls this 50-year-old man who has lived in Latin America (Mexico, Argentina) for ten years.
a growing phenomenon
In recent years, French startup bosses have increasingly moved abroad, reflecting the dynamism and growing ambitions of French tech nuggets. Benjamin Fabre, founder of Datadome, a solution that helps companies protect themselves from cyber attacks carried out by robots, has already left, for example, for New York.
“We needed to add leadership in the United States”, he deciphers. The leader, which raised US$35 million in 2021 during a funding round led by an American fund (Elephant), has managed to strengthen ties with its American customers who represent almost 50% of the young company’s revenue. “Having the boss on the job is the greatest proof of our commitment to the market”, he observes.
Benjamin Fabre is far from the only tricolor entrepreneur to survey the Big Apple’s business districts. There he meets the leaders of Contentsquare, Botify, AbTasty, Aircall, Dataiku or even CybelAngel, who founded their company in France before crossing the Atlantic.
“I chose the United States because, in cybersecurity, France is a small market. To be world champion, you have to be American champion. Half of the world’s cyber expenses are here”, underlines Erwan Keraudy, leader of CybelAngel, who was one of the heads of French Tech invited by Emmanuel Macron during his state visit to Washington.
Arriving in a new country is not always easy. Jonathan Cherki, the head of Contentsquare, never made it a secret that he needed time to adapt. He was particularly surprised by the ability of some US officials to exaggerate in interviews. Benjamin Fabre is impressed by the difference in managerial culture. “It is important to be trained! “, he pleads. Before moving in, he also recommends “talking to as many people as possible” at the site to achieve a smooth landing.
The Advantages of New York
New York attracts for many reasons. The city is home to most of the East Coast’s big investors and is an ideal springboard for anyone dreaming of a Nasdaq IPO. A goal that Datadome has in mind. It’s nice to live there – especially when you have significant financial resources – and the French or bilingual schools are numerous. What matters to entrepreneurs with children.
The 6-hour time difference to Paris is another advantage. “The issue of a San Francisco facility did not arise because the time difference is a major constraint on operations,” specifies Erwan Keraudy.
Romain Moulin, co-founder of Exotec, has just moved to Atlanta (Georgia). A less sexy city than New York on paper, but one that “has a solid supply chain industry, an affordable cost of living, and a solid and growing talent pool,” we explain in the industrial unicorn. Exotec already had an office in Atlanta and maintains long standing relationships with a prestigious local research center (Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines). The Atlanta airport also makes traveling from one coast of the United States to the other easy.
For companies that want to become leaders in Europe, conquering Germany is an essential step, but considered difficult. That’s why Malt boss Vincent Huguet chose to open an office in Munich himself. There, he was able to pilot the acquisition of Comatch, a platform for independent consultants. This mission accomplished, he returned to France.
Even when living abroad, French employers never forget the country of origin where they keep some of their employees. “I come back once a month”, says Erwan Keraudy. For his part, Benjamin Fabre makes the trip once a quarter. “We have to make complex trade-offs: on the one hand, we want to create a quality relationship with the different teams. On the other hand, we don’t want to burn tons of COtwo for a one-hour meeting”, he argues.
An experience abroad is usually stimulating, especially when the company is just a few years old and has already toured the domestic market. Eric Mignot speaks of a “questioning” that feels like a new beginning. In addition to the professional appearance, the boss is bewitched by Milan. “I’m still in the honeymoon phase,” he says. He would even see himself living there “for the next ten years”.