All posts in “France Newsletter”

Health insurance startup Alan covers meditation app subscription

French startup Alan wants to be a bit better than your good old health insurance. That’s why the company is trying something new and now covers part of your Petit Bambou subscription.

Petit Bambou is a popular meditation app. It’s a sort of Headspace, but with French content. You download an app, put your earphones, close your eyes and follow the instructions. Meditating ten or twenty minutes every day should help you feel better after a while.

The basic course is free and you need to pay a subscription to access more content. It costs €7 per month or €60 per year.

In France, health insurance companies usually cover your bills when the national healthcare system already pays for part of the bill.

For instance, if you get X-Rays for your arm, the national healthcare system will pay for part of the bill, and your health insurance will cover the rest. Usually, if something is not covered by the national healthcare system, your insurance company won’t cover it either.

But Alan wants to differentiate its offering and add more stuff. The Petit Bambou offering is just a test for now. You can get €25 back if you subscribe for six months or a year. It only works once. But Alan is thinking about turning it into a recurring offer if people like the feature.

Zyl is now a nostalgia-powered photo app

AI-powered photo management app Zyl is going back to the drawing board with a streamlined, more efficient redesign. The app is now focused on one thing only — resurfacing your old memories.

Taking photos on a smartphone is now a daily habit. But what about looking back at photos you took one year, three years or even eight years ago? It can pile up quite quickly. Zyl thinks there’s emotional value in those long-forgotten photos.

Before this update, Zyl helped you delete duplicates, create smart photo albums based on multiple criteria and collaborate on photo albums. In other words, it was a utility app.

But when the company started talking with some of their users, they realized that one feature stood out and had more value than the rest.

Applying those AI-powered models to your photo library is a great way to find interesting photos. But nobody was really looking at them.

When you open the app, you get a view of your camera roll with your last photos at the bottom. There’s also a big green button at the bottom. When you tap on it, Zyl creates a satisfying animation and unveils an important photo.

If you took multiple photos to capture this moment, the app stitches together those photos and create a GIF. You can then share this Zyl with a friend or family member.

But the true magic happens if you try to get another Zyl. You have to wait 24 hours to unlock another photo. The next day, the app sends you a notification when your photo is ready. You can always open the app again and look at your past Zyls in a new tab with your most important photos.

Unlike Timehop or Facebook’s “On This Day” feature, Zyl doesn’t look at your social media posts and focuses on your camera roll. Zyl isn’t limited to anniversaries either.

Just like before, Zyl respects your privacy and leaves your photos alone. They’re never sent to the company’s server — Zyl uses the same photo database as the native one on your iPhone or Android phone so it doesn’t eat up more storage.

Over time, the app could give you more options by leveraging facial recognition and the intrinsic social graph of your photo library. Maybe you want to see more photos of your brother as his wedding is coming up.

And that notification can be a powerful nudge. I keep opening the app and sharing old photos. Zyl is a good example of the combination of something that you care about combined with an element of surprise.

Skello raises $6.9 million for its staff management service

French startup Skello just raised a $6.9 million funding round (€6 million) from Aglaé Ventures, XAnge, Jean-Baptiste Rudelle and existing investors Thomas Landais, Guillaume le Dieu de Ville and Gilles Blanchard.

The startup is helping bar, restaurant and hotel managers keep track of all the shifts and staffing issues. Skello uses a software-as-a-service approach to help you save time on pesky admin tasks.

After setting up your rules, you can easily generate shifts. Waiters, receptionists and other staff members receive their schedule via email and SMS. Employees can also request shift changes, say when they’re unavailable and make sure everything is taken into account.

At the end of the month, Skello can generate detailed reports with bonuses, leaves, etc. Everything is then exported to payroll solutions. And of course, Skello helps you visualize how much you’re spending on staff, if you’re keeping costs under control and more.

There are many companies trying to do the same thing. But in reality many bars and restaurants still rely on Excel. Chances are it works quite well if you’re running a small business. But it doesn’t scale well. 30,000 employees are now using Skello every day. Alain Ducasse, Planet Sushi and AccorHotels’ Ibis are using Skello.

With today’s funding round, the company first wants to expand to new categories, such as retail and healthcare. Skello then plans to expand to other European countries.

Emmanuel Macron meets with the French tech community

Emmanuel Macron came to France’s ginormous startup campus Station F to talk to the French tech community. The event is organized by La French Tech, the government initiative to promote and foster the startup community in France.

Station F director Roxanne Varza first took the stage to introduce the event. She announced that there will be more startups in the Fighters Program. Station F has created this program so that entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds get a chance to relocate to Station F.

La French Tech new director Kat Borlongan then talked for a few minutes about the public initiative. “My firm belief is that La French Tech should operate just like all the startups in this room today,” she said.

According to her, it means that La French Tech should think about its users first, have a data-driven approach, and test and iterate.

Emmanuel Macron gave a very short speech and then held a Q&A sessions with tech entrepreneurs. This is a surprising format for Macron.

He mostly reassured entrepreneurs that things are changing and France is on the right path. He announced that the French Tech Visa would be simplified by March 2019.

Some entrepreneurs said there were paying too many taxes to hire talent in France. Macron refuted that. “I like to compare a researcher in Harvard with a researcher in France,” he said. “[In France], school is free and excellent, healthcare is free, there’s a retirement system. On the other side, there’s nothing.”

He also promised stronger antitrust rules at the European level. Tech giants sometimes dominate in Europe living no room for competition.

Macron finished by saying that tech companies also need to promote France’s system. They need to pay fair taxes, they need to think about tech’s effect on society. “I know one thing, the system will implode if you’re not responsible enough,” he said.

Things have changed in just over a year. When Macron first came to Station F for its grand opening, it was shortly after the elections. He was a popular President.

Now, most people dislike him, just like his predecessors François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy when they were in office. According to a source, he even thought about canceling today’s event given that he’s about to appoint some new faces in his government.

But Macron built his reputation on the so-called startup nation. He first became a public figure thanks to a grassroots approach built on top of the startup community. That’s why the startup community is still overwhelmingly in favor of Macron’s policies. And yet, there’s now a clear divide between the startup nation and the middle class at large, who think the President is out of touch and doesn’t care about them.

Devialet unveils an ambitious new speaker

French speaker maker Devialet is arguably manufacturing some of the best sounding all-in-one speakers on the market, but they’ve always been too expensive for the average customer. With the Phantom Reactor, the company is releasing a cheaper speaker that still sounds great.

At €990 ($1,137), Devialet is going for a wider audience of music fans who have enough disposable income to look beyond your average Bluetooth speaker.

But pricing is just part of the story. The Phantom Reactor is also much more compact than the original Phantom. It is four times smaller and weighs 10 pounds. It’s still quite heavy, so you won’t be able to pack it in your suitcase when you’re flying for vacation.

But you can now put it on a shelf, unplug it and move it to the kitchen, etc. In other words, you no longer have to dedicate an entire table to your Devialet speaker. And as you saw in the photos, it definitely looks like a Devialet speaker with its egg-shaped design, but much smaller.

Fortunately, the company tried to compromise as little as possible when it comes to sound. Devialet has worked for three years on this speaker to produce the same sound quality in a smaller package. “We had to reinvent everything to release this product,” co-founder and CTO Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel told me.

When it comes to specifications, the Phantom Reactor features a tiny touch panel at the top to control the speaker. It connects to your phone or computer using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify Connect or UPnP. There’s also an audio jack. Chromecast Audio support as well as the ability to pair multiple speakers will come later with an update (you probably can already use multiple speakers with AirPlay 2 though).

There’s no microphone and Devialet doesn’t plan to support voice assistants on its devices directly. “We are completely focused on sound quality. We want to be platform agnostic with Apple, Amazon or Google. Our idea is that we want to make our speakers compatible with all the protocols from those companies — but our business is sound quality,” CEO Franck Lebouchard told me (former CEO Quentin Sannié wasn’t around during our meeting).

If you’re into voice assistants, you can always find a workaround. For instance, you can buy an Amazon Echo Dot and plug it to your Phantom Reactor. Let’s see if the company adds HomeKit support and other smart home features in the coming months.

Given that Sonos has taken a U-turn and integrated Amazon Alexa into its flagship speaker, I pushed a bit more on this front. “We have no plan today because it would involve a lot of effort to interact with Reactor to do your shopping. In the end, we’ll never be as good as Amazon,” Lebouchard said.

So the Phantom Reactor is just a damn good speaker, nothing else. “There’s zero background noise, zero saturation and zero distorsion,” Lebouchard said. And just like other Devialet speakers, it’s incredibly loud for the size of the speaker. During my fairly limited listening session, it sounded awesome.

It takes advantage of Devialet’s patent portfolio, including its unique sound amplification technology, a mathematical model that lets you push the speaker to its physical limits and the iconic piston-powered woofers.

But Devialet isn’t just a speaker manufacturer. The company has licensed its technology to other companies, such as Sky in the U.K. A couple of years ago, the company wanted to put a “Sound powered by Devialet” sticker on all your electronics products, from your TV to the speakers in your car.

“Phantom was the first step to make our technology accessible,” Lebouchard said. “Phantom reaches tens of thousands of people today. We’ve crossed a big milestone with the Sky Soundbox and we now reach hundreds of thousands of people.” And with the Phantom Reactor, the company hopes to reach even more customers.

The company told me that Devialet will follow all options. There will be new in-house Devialet products as well as more licensing deals. Lebouchard gave me a ‘no comment’ on the Freebox rumors though.

The Phantom Reactor will be manufactured in France near Fontainebleau. The company has built a brand new factory and expects to produce a speaker every 49 seconds.

There will be two versions of the Phantom Reactor, a 600W model for €990 and a 900W model for €1,290. Pre-orders start tomorrow and the speaker will be available in many consumer electronics stores (also on Amazon) on October 24th.