One of the things that I love about journalism is how it just lets you meet cool people and discover cool projects. Such is the case with On S’arret A Manger (Loosely translate: Shall We Stop To Eat) a new French app being developed by a team led by Francois Millet. Francois worked for years in the world of finance with all sorts of big fancy companies like Merryl Lynch and Morgan Stanley, but now has decided to follow his passion – this app. On S’arret A Manger is essentially the French version of the app iExit. It allows you to find the best restaurants along whatever route you happen to be taking. Sure it’s a very French idea, but it’s one that the country needs given that there are laws against advertising restaurants on the highways. What follows is a conversation with a dude who is not only a genius but a surprisingly zen dude.
If you want to know more hit up Francois at: [email protected]
How the hell are you?
I’m doing well thank you very much. I’m impatient to go live. I’ve been working on my project for 18 months and I’m trying to find the funds to get an investor so I can go live in September without any problems or blocking steps. Outside of that I’m doing great!
What is it like trying to find an investor?
It’s very difficult in France. You have a project that you want to show potential investors. You get asked to present your project in front of a board of directors. As soon as you finish you get asked if you have any investors. I have already been through this process five times in Paris. Every time I was told the project was great and interesting but since I haven’t created my company people won’t invest. In France the culture is to invest on companies that have existed for a few years and not before. So if you are in the seed stage no one will invest. It’s the same with the banks which is a real problem. So my project has been welcomed every time but since my company still hasn’t been created no one is going to invest.
For you – can you describe your app?
The application is going to be a tool which is going to be a help for any kind of driver on the French Highway network in order to drive and find rest stops at every highway exit. For the moment such a tool doesn’t exist in France. On the French highway you’re not allowed to advertise restaurants in te name of road security. It’s totally forbidden. That’s why I know for sure that my app is going to work. Based on all of my market research people agree that this app would be very helpful in finding restaurants outside of rest stops because there is no tool to help them find it. As soon as this application goes live we will be alone on the market where there is an average us of 52 million vehicles per year. Plus – the main advantage of this business as well is that I don’t need to penetrate the market by 10%, 1% is already good. It’s a business based on big numbers and small amounts of cash. Bear in mind that the app is free for the user and the restaurant owner as well. The restaurant owner will pay me back a fee of 60 cents if I get him a customer .If I don’t he will not have to pay. It’s a win win for everybody.
Where did the inspiration for this come from?
It’s funny! Two years ago I went skiing with friends in the French Alps. We were driving and got hungry and somebody said, “Where are we going to stop because it’s going to be the same shitty rest stops!” There is never any choice, and that’s how the idea was born. I am married to an American and she found that the business already exists in the USA with an application called iExit. I have connected with this guy, but unfortunately he was able to launch with me, but his app has been downloaded a million times over the last few years.
To what extent does your hedge fund background impact your work here?
My knowledge is quite important in this new business because like you said I come from the world of finance. For building the business plan it’s been a great help for my associates to bring my skills regarding numbers and how to figure it out and provide billing structures.
Has that helped with investors?
It’s pretty separate unfortunately. It’s not in the culture for people to invest in a seed stage company. There is not such a culture here.
Why not launch the company elsewhere and then move to France?
To be frank I’m fully open about that. If tomorrow for example this article leads to somebody who is going to tell me, “Okay fine I’m ready to do that with you but you need to start in the USA.” I am totally open. I’m not stuck in my ideas at all!
Having spoken to a lot of people who do startups in France it seems like a terrifying clusterfuck…
Yep! Even if my English isn’t perfect I’m totally ready to go to the USA on my own dime if I can meet someone who is really serious about it and willing to listen to me present my project. It can be anywhere in the world. You have to understand me, this project is my baby and I believe in my baby. I live in my project. My project is me and I am my project. It’s going to go live. With an investor it would be better quicker.
Speaking of it as your baby… I’ve noticed you have an impressive team – how did you pull it together?
They are all pals! It was easy to speak about it with them! The people in the project with me are all convinced it’s going to work. In France the average time a French person spends eating at a table per day is an hour and forty five minutes! That’s not nothing. France is a country of good food!
What I wanted to move in to… something that struck me on our ride through the south of France was your theory of the five B’s… do you want to go in on that? I know it only works in French, but tranlate them…
Oh you mean, eating, drinking, fucking, dicking around and tanning? (Laughter)
How did you stumble into them?
That’s life, that’s all! Play hard, work hard that’s me!
How do you play hard?
Even though I’m nearly 46 I have friends, I like to drink and eat and go on weekends with my friends. When we all go out we get to go a little crazy, just like in Breaking Bad or the Hangover! I just drink though, that’s enough for me!
Has it ever been anything else?
For me, no! I smoke cigarettes only. Drugs are not for me. Bear in mind that in France it’s not allowed either.
To head towards the end… what are the next steps for you in the investor finding process?
In a perfect world, since I know you are going to write an article about this, someone will contact me about this and try to meet with me so we can do it. If that doesn’t work – you are already aware that the app is already being developed free of charge in exchange for shares in the company. This app will go live before the end of the year, but it’s true to say that if I had an investor with cash it would speed up the process of a lot so I could pay Cedric to do it full time. It would win me some time! With an investor it’s going to be better, quicker but without an investor I will do it anyway.
Do you have any final words of wisdom for me?
Persistence, belief in your projects, professionalism and integrity.