All posts in “France Newsletter”

Zenaton lets you build and run workflows with ease

French startup Zenaton raised $2.35 million from Accel and Point Nine Capital, with the Slack Fund, Kima Ventures, Julien Lemoine and Francis Nappez also participating. The company wants to take care of the most tedious part of your application — asynchronous jobs and background tasks.

While it has never been easier to develop a simple web-based service with a database, building and scaling workflows that handle tasks based on different events still sucks.

Sometimes your background task fails and it’s going to take you days before you notice that your workflow stopped working. Some workflows might require so much resources that you’ll end up paying a huge server bill to get more RAM to handle those daily cron jobs and performance spikes.

And yet, many small companies would greatly benefit from adding asynchronous jobs. For instance, you could improve your retention rate by sending email reminders. You could try to upsell your customers with accessories if you’re running an e-commerce website. You could ask for reviews a few hours after a user found a restaurant through your app.

“We work hard to make it super easy – as a developer, you just have to install the Zenaton agent on your worker servers. That’s all. Specifically, you’ll no longer have to maintain a queuing system for your background jobs, there’s no more cron, no more database migrations to store transient states,” co-founder and CEO Gilles Barbier told me. Barbier previously worked at The Family and Zenaton is part of The Family’s portfolio.

Zenaton is already working with a big client and handles millions of workflow instances for them. You can try Zenaton for free if you execute less than 250,000 tasks per month. After that, plans start at $49 per month and you’ll pay more depending on how much RAM you consume with your workflows.

For now, you can integrate Zenaton with a PHP and a Node application, but the company is working on more languages, starting with Python, Ruby and Java. It’s clear that the product is still young.

But it sounds like a promising start. If you have a small development team, it could make sense to use Zenaton and a workflow-as-a-service approach.

Back Market raises $48 million for its refurbished device marketplace

If you’ve tried selling your old smartphone on a refurbishment website, chances are you ended up with a dozen browser tabs comparing prices. French startup Back Market is taking advantage of this fragmented industry to create a marketplace and aggregate all refurbishers on a single online platform.

The startup just raised $48 million (€41 million). Groupe Arnault, Eurazeo, Aglaé Ventures and Daphni participated in today’s funding round.

Back in May, the company told me that it was working with over 270 factories. Back Market has generated over $110 million in gross merchandise volume over the past three years. The service is now live in France, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Italy. The company just expanded to the U.S.

“Before, refurbishment was just a thing for tech savvy people and tech bloggers,” co-founder and chief creative officer Vianney Vaute told me. “With Back Market, it becomes a mainstream alternative.”

Working with multiple factories is also a competitive advantage when it comes to pricing, fail rate and quality assurance. Back Market has an overview on the industry and can choose to work with some partners and leave underperforming ones behind. The startup needs to build a brand that consumers can trust.

While smartphones and laptops are the most prominent products on the homepage, Back Market also accepts game consoles, TVs, headphones, coffee machines and more. Back Market also sells Apple products refurbished by Apple itself.

Now that smartphones have become a mature market, many customers aren’t looking for new and shiny devices. Some customers can be perfectly happy with a phone that was released last year or two years ago. It represents an opportunity for Back Market and the refurbishment industry as a whole.

Exotec Solutions raises $17.7 million for its warehouse robots

French startup Exotec Solutions raised a $17.7 million funding round (€15 million) from Iris Capital with existing investors 360 Capital Partners and Breega also participating.

The startup has built an automated robot called the Skypods to optimize e-commerce warehouses. It’s easy to forget about it when you click on “buy now”, but there are a ton of people walking through endless aisles of products every day to pick up your next order.

Exotec is selling a complete solution to replace part of your warehouse with a robot-managed area. France’s second biggest e-commerce website Cdiscount has been experimenting with Exotec and now plans to buy more robots, racks and stations in the coming months.

Skypods are low-profile robots that can carry a standardized box and bring it back to a human operator. But the Skypods don’t just move on flat grounds. They can move up and down a rack and grab a box from the shelves.

This is the most visual part of Exotec, but designing efficient logistics software for automated warehouse solutions is arguably even harder. The startup promises few errors and the ability to add more racks and robots without having to stop your fulfillment center.

With today’s funding round, the company plans to build and sell a thousand robots by 2019. It’s clear that e-commerce companies won’t switch to Exotec overnight. Many companies face huge spikes of demand during the holiday season for instance. So they need to make sure that it can handle a lot of pickups during the most demanding times.

Other companies, such as CommonSense Robotics focus on smaller warehouses and groceries with a warehouse-as-a-service approach. Overall, automated fulfillment centers seem like the future. Warehouses are constrained and predictable environments. And this is perfect for automated systems. Now let’s see who is going to grab more market share in this space.

Lendix raises $37 million for its lending marketplace

French startup Lendix has raised a new funding round of $37 million (€32 million). With this new influx of cash, the startup has one goal in mind. It wants to become the leading lending marketplace of Continental Europe.

Idinvest and Allianz are leading the round, with CIR SpA (De Benedetti’s holding firm) also participating. Existing investors Partech, CNP Assurances, Decaux Frères Investissements and Matmut are also participating once again.

As of today, people living in France, Spain and Italy can sign up to lend money to companies established in those three countries. But the startup is already working hard to expand to the Netherlands and Germany before the end of the year. Next year, Lendix plans to operate in 7 countries.

And it seems like it’s becoming easier to launch new markets. There are now quite a few users and institutional investors on the platform. Lendix doesn’t need to attract Dutch users to start lending to Dutch companies. French, Italian and Spanish users are already willing to put some money in Dutch companies. It’s a true European user base because everybody uses the same currency.

With today’s funding round, it’s going to be easier to launch in Germany. “When you want to open in Germany — and that is our current plan — it’s harder to recruit if you don’t have a German brand name behind you,” co-founder and CEO Olivier Goy told me.

That’s why Allianz is going to be more than just a financial backer. For instance, the insurance company is going to promote Lendix to its corporate clients so that they think about Lendix if they need to borrow some money.

It’s another proof that Lendix doesn’t want to be a French company that operates in other countries. The company also has opened an office in Madrid and another one in Milan with local teams.

Lendix is still a drop in the bucket compared to traditional bank loans. But the company wants to differentiate its product offering from regular banks as much as possible.

Right now, when a company requests a loan, the company’s algorithms are going to work on a basic credit scoring. After that, somebody calls the company to ask a few questions. The Lendix team can focus on more specific information.

“We also have developed a tool called Iris,” CTO Benjamin Netter told me. “It is going to become the biggest intelligence database for European companies.”

France is leading the way when it comes to open data. You can now access the registry of commerce, the identification number database and important incorporation events. But it’s a mess if you want to access this data. There are different file formats, and the same database uses different fields depending on the region of France.

Lendix has been parsing all this data to turn it into an actionable database. This way, Lendix can get a clear overview of companies that apply for a loan.

The company doesn’t plan to stop there. You could use Iris to detect some fraud patterns. For instance, a person could keep incorporating new companies and shutting them down quickly.

Eventually, you could reach out to companies before they need to apply for a loan. Netter mentioned a restaurant called Street Bangkok. They’ve opened three restaurants over the past six months. It’s clear that they might need some money at some point to invest in new restaurants. Lendix Iris could spot those patterns.

Lendix is still nowhere near as big as Funding Circle. But the company thinks there’s enough room for multiple players in this space. Both can grow at the same time by competing with traditional banks.

And it starts by being faster than a traditional bank. Companies get a rate within 48 hours. “Our goal is that you should be able to get a rate within half a day,” Goy said. Banks will have a hard time giving you an answer so quickly.

Disclosure: I share a personal connection with an executive at CNP Assurances.

Startup studio eFounders is gaining some serious traction

European startup studio eFounders is slowly but surely building a portfolio of successful software-as-a-service startups. The company is behind some of the most promising enterprise startups in recent years.

Over the past six months, six eFounders startups have raised $120 million in total, with Front and Aircall leading the pack with a $66 million and a $29 million round. Spendesk raised $9.9 million. Forest, Slite and Station raised seed rounds.

Some of them also attended Y Combinator’s most recent batch. Finally, Technicis acquired TextMaster for an undisclosed sum.

If you don’t know the eFounders model, it’s quite simple. At first, the core eFounders team comes up with an idea and hires a founding team. In exchange for financial and human resources, eFounders keep a significant stake in its startups.

After a year or two, startups should have proven that they can raise a seed round and operate on their own. This way, eFounders can move on to the next project and start new companies.

eFounders currently lists 14 companies on its website. In addition to the ones I already mentioned, there are Mailjet, Mention, Foxintelligence, Forest, Hivy, Folk, Upflow, Briq and Illustrio.

Based on this list, you’d think that eFounders has a nearly perfect track record. But eFounders had to stop a couple of projects, such as PressKing and Muxi. Illustrio seems to be on pause right now as well.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that eFounders has cooked up a secret playbook for software-as-a-service startups. More importantly, it’s also clear that eFounders managed to attract some talented entrepreneurs to lead those startups and transform them into their own startups.

Overall, eFounders companies have raised $175 million in total, have 100,000 clients and 500 employees. Together, they generate $50 million in revenue. eFounders itself has raised $11.4 million.

It’s going to be a long play for eFounders as the company only generates revenue when there’s an exit or a secondary market transaction. As long as startups keep raising more money, eFounders doesn’t get anything, and its stake gets diluted. It’ll only make money when there’s a significant acquisition or an IPO. But the valuation of eFounders’ portfolio also keeps growing, so the outcome looks more and more positive.