Interview with Catherine Nohra-China, president and founder of B2Cloud, a digital service and programming company specializing in consulting and auditing around Cloud computing.
[Emmanuel M]: Hello Catherine, first of all thank you for accepting this exchange. First of all, could you give us a quick overview of your career?
[Catherine Nohra-China]: I started in networks more than 20 years ago (oops that doesn’t make me younger!) as a consultant in France, UK and US, then within large IT groups, before creating my own company.
[EM]: Can you give us more details about your B2Cloud entrepreneurial adventure?
[CNC]: Yes of course. B2CLOUD was created in 2012 and incubated in the public technology park Atalante in Rennes after winning the Paris Start up contest. (This was well before the FrenchTech!).
The fact that we were incubated in a technology park allowed us to develop serenely from the start with an iterative and very pragmatic approach: continuous training (sales, finance, legal), innovation support for R&D and our intellectual property, consolidation of partnerships, export support. In 2015, the “Act for the World” prize awarded by the Technopole also enabled me, as a manager, to join the eMBA program at RSB -Rennes School of business-, which allowed me to complete my training in international finance and innovation management. Mastering all aspects of management is a crucial point to succeed in the entrepreneurial adventure!
[EM]: Can you give us some key figures on B2Cloud?
[CNC]: While we’re on the subject of numbers, the important thing for us has always been to never go looking for opportunistic financing. This allows us to have a very good debt/equity ratio (proportion of equity and debt contracted to finance assets); and to remain independent. We are a small, self-financed team of 6 people, with patents, and with + 2500% growth in turnover by 2021.
[EM]: How do you see your market evolving in the next 5 years? Do you have any plans to diversify?
[CNC]: I will be careful not to make risky forecasts, because my background as an entrepreneur has taught me that forecasts are by nature uncertain. History is written every day, as we meet new people and seize opportunities. Nevertheless, I think that the Cloud market will increasingly focus on networks. We have wrongly forgotten that the Cloud is a network! Beyond the pure Cloud players (hyperscalers), we are going to see a strong consolidation of the market in France and in Europe, benefiting the telcos (edge computing). As for our diversification projects, this is already the case, since we operate on 3 business models (consulting company, SaaS B2B recommendation platform and Innovation)
[EM]: As you know, my hobby is digital sovereignty. For you, how do you position yourself in relation to this theme?
[CNC]: It all depends on how you approach the subject of digital sovereignty. In a pragmatic approach (I like this approach!), in order to achieve digital sovereignty, you need to have full control over the skills. We must not forget that in the notion of sovereignty, there is the notion of superus, which means “above”.
Let’s take the example of Cloud computing, our area of expertise. France has lagged considerably behind the US, Northern Europe and Germany in terms of development. We see this every day. The proof is in the multiplication of partnerships between major French cloud players and US hyperscalers to strengthen their offers in public cloud or PaaS services.
On the other hand, in the fields of cyber security, AI and quantum technology, we have the means to assume this “superus” digital sovereignty, because France has the best skills in the world. So we need to find the right balance between the areas of sovereignty that are accessible to us and from which we can benefit when it comes to strategic and security aspects, and a “cooperative” approach for less critical areas, for which we do not have leadership.
[EM]: Is this a key theme in the life of your company?
[CNC]: This is not an end in itself. Our motto is to use and recommend to our customers the best cloud computing solutions and services that meet their security and reliability expectations. In essence, you should never put all your eggs in one basket and avoid technological lock-in.
We certainly favor European solutions as much as possible, including French ones. But if a non-European solution offers a better level of security, reliability, with the same level of compliance (RGPD, certifications…), we do not hesitate to use them and to recommend them.
[EM]: Is this a concern of your clients?
[CNC]: Clearly not. The concern of our customers is security. How to choose and use solutions that offer a good cost-security ratio.
[EM]: This is a theme that has emerged in force, notably via the PlayFranceDigital collective. Do you think this collective has succeeded in moving the lines? Generate a real awareness of our political leaders regarding these issues?
[CNC]: It is not up to politicians to make the lines move, it is up to the market and therefore to companies to take on this task. This must be done in a coercive action. If French (and European) vendors are able to offer global, high value-added digital solutions, users will definitely use them. Let’s take the example of Spotify, a Swedish company, which has taken over the music streaming market, well ahead of Apple music.
[EM]: From your expertise on cloud computing, what do you think of the government’s position that only the American giants have the necessary performance and functionality
[CNC]: In a very pragmatic way and from our experience in the market, this is partly true. The Americans have taken a considerable lead in the cloud. They have been investing heavily for a long time in PaaS, IPaaS and security and have an intense network of data centers around the world. But that’s not all. There is therefore a card to play for European CSPs and operators in their ability to provide standard, reliable infrastructures in a coherent approach to data sovereignty, as a foundation for security and innovation, for the most sensitive and strategic areas of activity.
[EM]: Are French players such as OVHCloud, Outscale or Scaleway really disqualified, or do they have assets that we can’t emphasize enough?
[CNC]: They have strong assets in reserve, but with an approach that is still too technical and not sufficiently business and time-to-market oriented (development cycle too long compared to the Americans). To regain the pool position on the market, we need to invest massively in value-added PaaS services and in security management, while remaining competitive. A real challenge !
[EM]: One idea to counterbalance the power of #MAGAF, would be to create a habit of hunting in packs and leaning on each other to build an ecosystem of sovereign solutions. Is this even possible ?
[CNC]: Working with each other would indeed be a good start. In fact, the real brake in France is cultural. For the Americans (as for the Chinese), the real strength lies in business and partnerships to grow the ecosystem and gain market share. It’s better to share a piece of the pie than to finish the leftovers…
[EM]: If so, what are the essential elements for success?
[CNC]: Adapt, collaborate, share… reinvent the way we do business.
[EM]: Digital technology is becoming more and more important in our lives, what do you think about the arrival of metaverses?
[CNC]: Computer history is an eternal restart. I remember these fictitious virtual worlds of the 2000s like Second Life. Not really a success. What has changed since then is the health crisis with the risk of a new retreat to less anxiety-provoking digital worlds. I’m not really a fan. I much prefer real social interactions.
[EM]: Among the other innovations to come, there is quantum computing. What do you think about it? Will France be there??
[CNC]: In France, we have the best researchers and specialists in the world, but we need the necessary financial manna to compete with the USA and China. If we “almost” lost the battle of the cloud, for lack of an ad hoc strategy, we should not make the same mistake with quantum technology!
[EM]: We are coming to the end of this interview, thank you for the quality of your answers. What is your conclusion and your perspectives?
[CNC]: I remain very optimistic about the future of digital technology in France and Europe. We have the skills, a diverse and varied ecosystem and still a lot of innovations to offer. We just need to learn how to work together and make the most of our differentiating factors.