Sébastien Bencherqui, ESSEC Alumnus, Entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of Bubblz, shares his entrepreneurial adventure.
Bubblz is a young, innovative start up, a French software developer specialised in process management and a pioneer in the digitalisation of company processes. Created in 2013, when founder Sébastien Bencherqui was still a BBA student, the company provides clients with an intuitive SaaS platform that makes it super-simple to supervise, secure and analyse various workflows in order gain in performance and productivity. Moreover, Bubblz enables fields of activity and expertise within an organisation to configure their own application without the need to embark upon tricky and time-consuming encoding. This is a feat. Not least because Sébastien Bencherqui was far from being an IT wizard when he started the firm five years ago. His journey is not only one of following an entrepreneurial dream, but also one which highlights how business schools and universities can help to hatch tomorrow’s innovators and business pioneers.
Following a path not taken
‘It was while carrying out a first internship at the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignation that I had the idea to create Bubblz,’ states Bencherqui, at that time studying a Bachelor’s in business administration at ESSEC Business School, France. Through the internship – an essential feature of modern French higher ed that the school pioneered in 1993 – the budding entrepreneur was able to gain experience that fuelled the project. When the entrepreneurial adventure began, Sébastien Bencherqui decided to drop the idea of continuing on to a Master’s in Finance because he believed in his dream to become an entrepreneur. From the outset, he sought advice, also selling his idea and passion to ESSEC Ventures, the school’s in-house incubator and provider of seed funding to student entrepreneur projects. Regular monthly assessments, coaching and support led to the incubator becoming a founding financial partner. Today, having just closed a new round of fund raising, Bubblz is delighted to see the school renew its trust and investment in the company.
‘Jumping into the entrepreneurial adventure brings many risks,’ states Bencherqui. ‘I am, however, a believer in learning by doing. And when you develop a project like Bubblz you acquire experience – from the strengthening of expertise in subjects that are extremely technical – typically coding language – to strategy.’ Indeed, for young start-ups, there are a whole load of strategic, organisational and human resources challenges to face and overcome. And it is this that provides trial but also a wealth of adventure and experience along the path the entrepreneur takes. ‘At the end of the day,’ asserts Bencherqui, ‘you’ve got to be aware of and know the risks involved – and learn how to control them.’ He offers advice to the potential entrepreneur weighing up the risks. ‘In my opinion, the only real risk is financial, because having entrepreneurial experience sells extremely well on the job market, meaning that there are no risks linked to your potential career outside of your project. In five years I’ve been able to acquire skills that I could never have developed as an employee.
The second risk is reputational,’ he continues. ‘I’m used to saying that entrepreneurship is the long and winding road towards credibility. When we started we had neither team, money, nor product and especially no market! But – we had an idea! I recruited a team with whom we developed an initial product. Developing it took us a lot of time and we therefore had to find the financial resources to live out the time it took to generate our first, big turnover. We then realised that the first market we targeted wasn’t optimal. So we had to pivot and aim for a second market. It’s this second, more profitable, market that encouraged new financial partners to join us and enabled us to be where we are today.
Finally, you could think that going alone into starting up your own business is a risk in itself. But I don’t see entrepreneurship as a solo adventure. I work with two co-founders, external partners and a whole team who help me on a daily basis. Entrepreneurship means growing together. And building and structuring a team is what gives the most satisfaction and reward.’
Take the state as a partner, not an adversary
Entrepreneurship in France is often compared to an obstacle course in which young start-ups have to fight their way over hurdles and traps laid down by the state and its administrative bodies. But Sébastien Bencherqui sees things differently, and when asked if he had ever thought of turning to what is commonly seen as a friendlier system such as the UK or USA, he offers a little philosophy. ‘I don’t think there’s a good or bad administrative system,’ he answers. ‘I really see the state and the administration as partners and not at all as obstacles to slow us down. When you’re a tech start-up, the French state offers a lot of support through several scheme such as granting special status for young innovative companies or tax relief for research. Another example is the BPI (French public investment bank) which has a vocation to finance companies throughout their stages of development and which enormously helps companies to grow. However,’ he notes, ‘to benefit from tax relief, you need time,’ something that represented a real workload and kept him busy for 6 full weeks. ‘You’ve got to be able to devote yourself entirely to it for many weeks,’ he states, ‘but behind this, the advantages are so extraordinary that it’s worth taking the time. One of our shareholders, Xavier Niel, said that France was a fiscal paradise for entrepreneurs. Even if there may have been a little exaggeration behind this statement, in France we’re in a favourable fiscal environment.’
For Bencherqui, starting up a business in the UK was never on the cards. However, he did think about setting up in the US. ‘But contrarily to what we might think,’ he asserts, ‘the USA isn’t a start-up paradise. The North American ecosystem certainly has advantages in relation to the French ecosystem, notably the capacity to bring together private investment capital, or the fact of accessing a sole market of nearly 300 million people. This isn’t the case in France and in Europe, but the cost of work – that includes level of salary – is 4 to 5 times higher and employees are less loyal.’
Responsible businessdoesn’t necessarily mean CSR
We should always be aware of impact that is not only financial but also social. If Bubblz has trouble structuring a societal approach at this stage, the company is nevertheless aware and proud of supporting initiatives that are dear to it and that let it include the company’s technological skills. ‘Not so long ago,’ recounts Bencherqui, ‘a client came to see us with the idea of creating 1,000 jobs in the communication sector in the Ile-de-France region knowing that there were 60,000 job seekers. The client needed our technology and in one day we were able to deliver the French employment and careers office (Pôle Emploi) a Bubblz module which immediately enabled them to create 40 jobs. They now receive hundreds of job offers a day from recruiters joining the scheme and today, thanks to Bubblz, they can improve the flow of the entire job recruitment process. *
When asked to provide three universal tips, regardless of country or nationality, for the budding entrepreneur, Sébastien Bencherqui doesn’t hesitate: ‘I’ll give you three words,’ he says, ‘which for me summarise very well the challenges of the entrepreneur’s adventure: credibility, determination and humility!’
*For a practical insight into how to use the value-added statement as a CSR reporting tool for companies without a dedicated CSR process, read Prof. Adrian Zicari’s article The Fourth Financial Statement.
- Discover Bubblz
- Read about the ESSEC Ventures incubator and services
- Read about the FGV-NIP social incubator project
- Read about Marc-Alexandre Cartiant’s start-up experience in Japan
- Discover more backgrounds and success stories from ESSEC graduates by following their career path on the ESSEC Alumni website