From our studio’s startups to our Core Team: mapping the eFounders mafia
From our studio’s startups to our Core Team: mapping the eFounders mafia
The concept of startup mafias was pioneered by Paypal and refers to a group of former employees and founders of a specific company that then went on to create their own companies. Startup mafias are a sign of a mature startup ecosystem, as it signals positive feedback loops where employees and founders are rewarded by their first startup experience, financially but also in terms of education and network, and then reinvest this money and knowledge into subsequent entrepreneurship experiences.
At eFounders, we know this first hand. We know that experienced talents/founders, an expert network and access to capital are key to the creation of successful startups. We know that so well that we decided to create a model around it: the startup studio. And so since 2011, we’ve launched over 30 companies according to this model, which you can say has had some success. But what’s much more interesting is that more companies have been launched by eFounders alumni that eFounders has launched itself. The eFounders mafia is now larger than eFounders itself.
Focus on the eFounders mafia:
- 40 eFounders alumni
- who founded a total of 46 companies
- and who raised a total of $437 million
Before diving in, it’s important we define what we mean by eFounders alumni. When eFounders launches a startup, we partner with co-founders and together with them we work hire a team of first employees and work altogether for 12–18 months to make the company independent from the studio. The eFounders team + founders/employees of the startup when at the eFounders office make up the eFounders alumni. For instance, the Aircall mafia has produced lots of companies, but we do not count all of their founders as part of the eFounders alumni.
In this article, you’ll meet the eFounders alumni that have started their own company, from an ex-Mention (eF13) employee that has built an AI tooling startup turned unicorn, to one of the first hires at Aircall (eF14) who’s in the early stages of building a customer relationship platform. We sought to get to know them better and uncover how their startups came to be, and what advice they have for aspiring founders. Here is what they had to say.
What did working at eFounders or an eFounders startup bring you?
A strong network 🤝
Clem Delangue worked at eFounders startup Mention between 2013–14, building its marketing and growth department from the ground up. He says that his time in the eFounders ecosystem allowed him to build a network of influential people that believed in him, and that would later help him launch his company Hugging Face. Indeed, studio Founder Thibaud Elziere and then-CEO of Mention Matthieu Vaxelaire joined his company as business angels: “they really helped me get off the ground with our first round of funding”, he says. The AI tooling startup is now a unicorn.
“They really helped me get off the ground with our first round of funding” — Clem Delangue, Founder of Hugging Face
Then there’s Chalom Malka. He joined Aircall in its early days, first as a business developer before climbing the ranks to Director of Sales of Southern Europe. He was at Aircall for almost 6 years, before taking the leap and founding employee management platform Siit. He says that “everything is a bit easier” thanks to the many contacts he made at Aircall. In his case, his network came in particularly handy when looking to find people to join his startup. “My two co-founders, Dimitri & Anthony, were both early Aircall employees. Recruiting for Siit was also made a lot easier thanks to my list of contacts, it certainly helped to have a lot of people in the field already know me and be able to recommend talent”.
As former co-founder of Spendesk, Jordane Giuly says “eFounders brought us tremendous value in terms of network. It helped close our first customers, hire our first engineers (the eFounders brand is much more powerful than random founders trying to launch something); and brought us a huge network of former operators that are today business angels”.
Tania Kefs, who was Aircall’s first employee, says the network she created there “gave [her] an edge”, particularly when testing the idea for her team events platform Jurnee. “When you’re building your startup, you have your value proposition, and then you want to test, test, test– on as many people as possible. It’s definitely come in handy to have such a large network of brilliant brains to pick from my time at Aircall, giving me their honest advice when needed”. The network that eFounders acquaints its founders with also extends to investors. Gilles Bertaux, who was a growth hacker at Mention back in 2014, specifically notes how he took advantage of this when launching video conferencing software Livestorm.
⬇️ Meet the rest of the eFounders x Aircall mafia
Lessons on shipping 🚢
Alex Delivet worked at eFounders Core Team as COO for 2 years back in 2014–15, before launching Collect, a data and document gathering platform. For him, working at our startup studio instilled in him the importance of continuously shipping a product, even if it wasn’t perfect. It may seem obvious nowadays, but at the time, it was a relatively new concept: people thought the product had to be 100% finished before going out to sell. eFounders taught him that, as he puts it, “a product is never finished.”
“Working at eFounders instilled in me the importance of continuously shipping a product, even if it wasn’t perfect” — Alex Delivet, Founder of Collect
Marc Delalonde also learned a thing or two about shipping during his time at an eFounders company. Fresh out of college, he worked as Aircall’s Lead Front-End Engineer for Aircall for several years, a period he describes as the “best time of my life”. Thanks to Technical co-founder Xavier Durand Technical, he came to realize that “you have to ship things that aren’t necessarily perfect, you have to ship quick and make compromises”. This advice served him well when building his own companies later on– most recently back-office solution Adminmate.
⬇️ Meet the rest of the eFounders core team mafia
Setting the standard ⚡
Rachel Vanier, who spent 2 years as eFounder’s Content, Communications & PR Manager, recalls how eFounders held itself to a very high standard and was meticulous in creating the very best product and design possible. “As I launched a ‘traditional’ brick and mortar business, being very knowledgeable in the SaaS industry helped me tremendously. It’s a true competitive advantage for me to know how to have a product-first mindset, how to automate tasks when 99% of people think it’s not possible, and how to leverage technology to help real-life issues.”
Moritz Dausinger, ex-consultant in the eFounders Core Team, highlights how being surrounded by talented individuals at eFounders helped him up the standard for his own startups, most recently feedback & customer survey solution Refiner, noting that “the model works well because eFounders manages to recruit fantastic people”.
Anh-Tho, who worked in strategy at Mailjet (eF11) and founded the YC-backed usage-based billing API Lago, describes her time within the eFounders ecosystem as a deeply enlightening one, commenting that “eFounders is the best school to learn everything about SaaS”.
⬇️ Meet the rest of the eFounders x Mailjet mafia
Bright ideas 💡
Tania came up with the idea for her business at Aircall. As VP of Customer Success, she was in contact with a lot of companies that were “struggling to keep employees engaged”, particularly as they became more globalize with offices spread across the world. “After identifying the problem, I became obsessed with building a solution for it”, and that’s how Jurnee was born, with its mission to bring employees together through team building that’s easy to organize, international and respects company policy.
Same with Gilles Bertaux, who got the idea of Livestorm.co when he was at Mention, when he had to benchmark tens of tools and realized there was a gap in the market.
Consistency & accountability 🥁
For Chalom, the time at Aircall also brought rhythm to his and his team’s work, which he’s put into practice at his own startup. “There was an operational rigour at Aircall, with regards to sales, strategy and execution. I learned how to consistently project and execute goals.” That dedication certainly paid off, with the company going from 6 to 500 employees by the time he left it. Tania also notes how Aircall taught her rhythm during her time there. “It’s just as important to sell your product properly and to be consistent with your rituals internally”. She cites Co-Founder & CEO Olivier Pailhès as a role model when it came to this learning, giving weekly updates on the startup’s performance to the entire team and setting sprints for goals. “Making our goals public taught us accountability, and we moved as a team to achieve them”.
“Making our goals public taught us accountability, and we moved as a team to achieve them” — Tania Kefs, Founder of Jurnee
Alex echoes these sentiments over in the eFounders core team. “An email was sent out to all of us at the end of each week, resuming what we’d accomplished, and celebrating the key accomplishments. It taught me to take ownership of my work, and be proud of what I’d done”. At Mention, Clément (Hugging Face) praises the autonomy that the startup gave him, with less hierarchy than you’d find at other early-stage companies. Having joined the startup as a Marketing lead, he was quickly given lots of responsibility and was trusted to open the New York office on his own.
⬇️ Meet the rest of the eFounders x Mention mafia
International environment 🌎
Gilles highlights the international environment that the eFounders startup exposed him to. “Mention’s multicultural, anglophone DNA was extremely influential in building Livestorm. For example, from the get-go we did all our communications at Livestorm in English, even though we were 4 French people at the beginning. I would say eFounders startups are much more international compared to the Parisian average”.
“eFounders startups are much more international compared to the Parisian average” — Gilles Bertaux, Founder of Livestorm
Clément (Hugging Face) shares Gile’s point of view. He notes that Mention gave him the opportunity to move to New York, which in turn allowed him to launch his startup across the pond in the States, arguably giving the company a boost from the beginning.
Jérémy Goillot was one of the first employees at Spendesk. He helped scale the business throughout the 5 years that he was there, overseeing its expansion to the US, before realizing his lifelong dream of founding his own investment fund Kara.Ventures, which seeks to invest in African tech.
“Unicorns are seen as this elusive creature that only exists in theory, but we actually lived it” — Jérémy Goillot, Founder of Growth.Talent & Kara.Ventures
He says that what sets working at an eFounders company apart, is that from day 1 there is extraordinary ambition. “The founders, Rodolphe and Guilhem, always had this goal to become a unicorn, right from the get-go. And to have actually experienced it: unicorns are seen as this elusive creature that only exists in theory, but we actually lived it. I think that brought me this immense sense of optimism, that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to.”
⬇️ Meet the rest of the eFounders x Spendesk mafia
What tips do you have for future founders who want to launch their own startup?
Start from a problem📍
When you’re working at a startup, you might come across certain problems. These pains- such as the difficulty of engaging employees in Tania’s case should be the foundation of your business. As Alex points out, “always start from a problem, never go searching for an idea”. Indeed, as Tania notes, it’s important to get out there and talk to people you want to sell to in order to verify that you have real, business-worthy pain that concerns others as well.
“Always start from a problem, never go searching for an idea” — Alex Delivet, Founder of Collect.
Learn as you build 🤓
While you should come with a certain level of preparation when launching your startup, Moritz stresses that founders should go in with a flexible mindset and learn along the way by doing: “you don’t have to know everything from the very beginning”.
Chalom echoes Moritz, highlighting how sometimes the most important step for a startup is simply, well, starting it: “sometimes you just have to jump in the deep end and start swimming. For a long time, I was held back by the notion that I had to have this ground-breaking idea for a business, when really I just had to believe in myself and get building. My approach shifted from ‘I’m going to build this company’ to ‘I’m going to build a company, no matter what’.”
Tania agrees, underlining that there’s never an ideal time to launch your startup: “validate your pain, have enough money on the side, and just go for it.”
“You don’t have to know everything from the beginning” — Moritz Dausinger, Founder of Refiner
Marc highlights how, especially as a solopreneur, it’s essential to adopt a learner’s attitude: “absorb as much as possible and get involved in various aspects of the business. I spend half of my time on tech, but then the other half on marketing — you’ve got to get your hands dirty in order to grow.”
Everyone has their own path🛣️
Anh-Tho advises future founders that “there’s no ‘right’ path for a founder– there are as many paths as there are people”. Tania adds that there are many ways to launch a startup: bootstrapping, raising funds, going into consulting. “You don’t necessarily have to go down the conventional fundraising route, it depends on the nature of the business you wish to build”. Case in point: Moritz, CEO of Refiner, who founded a small, bootstrapped company with no employees other than freelancers and no funding, and now boasts hundreds of fast-growing SaaS clients.
There’s no ‘right’ path for a founder– there are as many paths as there are people” — Anh-Tho, Founder of Lago
Alex adds that there can also be different types of entrepreneurs. Before embarking upon your entrepreneurial journey, he recommends asking yourself if you’re a starter or a builder. “Are you a starter, someone that likes to ship a small product to begin with, but doesn’t take pleasure in growing it?” he says, “or are you a builder, someone who’s good at developing a product, taking it to new heights, but struggles with the early stages and would rather initially buy on sites like MicroAcquire?”
Jérémy also highlights that you don’t have to fit a specific mould to become a Founder. ‘You can be an ex-Boston Consulting Group employee with years of experience, or you might just be a student with a big idea and the drive to fulfill it. Only you and your confidence in yourself can say what it takes to become an entrepreneur. No one else.”
Be prepared for the reality of building a startup ⚒️
Gilles stresses that being a founder isn’t for everyone, and that building a startup is a long, hard road filled with tough decisions and challenges. “The truth is that the vast majority of startups fail and it often takes a unique opportunity, such as joining eFounders, to truly have a shot at surviving long-term and building something on a larger scale”.
“Building a startup is not always glamorous” — Tania Kefs, Founder of Jurnee
Tania says that beyond the hype around unicorns and record-breaking funding rounds, “building a startup is not always glamorous”. Specifically, she emphasizes just how long of a journey building your businesses is “nowadays, it can take 18 months to build an MVP — and the startup may only start to take off after 3–4 years”. Marc points out that as successful as the eFounders startup is now, having reached unicorn and even centaur status with $100M+ ARR, the team at Aircall had to overcome many technical problems during its early stages.
⬇️ Meet the rest of the eFounders mafia