[Emmanuel M] : Hello Patrick, I am very happy to be able to do this interview. It has been a while that we exchange through social networks. I saw that you had a “serial entrepreneur” background, can you tell us about your journey?
[Patrick de Carvalho] : I came from scientific and technical studies (I graduated in home automation in 1995, a rare thing at the time) but I am a creative at heart and branch out into marketing and communication, advertising.
My first job was to create my first company, a web startup in 1998 ! It was Planetepresse.com, the 1st portal for the French press with the sale of subscriptions: the equivalent today is the LeKiosk or Cafeyn application… except that at the time there were 300,000 Internet users in France with modems at 56 bauds / minute and that I therefore experienced my first “Startdown” with the bursting of the internet bubble at the end of 2000, beginning of 2001.
The entrepreneurship virus is caught, I will never leave the world of the web, the digital and my learning of resilience, failure and restarting is anchored in me from my first entrepreneurial experience …
I will then be an employee of an IT services company for 2 years and sent on a mission as a consultant at Orange France at an absolutely fantastic period when there is everything to build: we are at the beginning of 2001. In 2003, I returned to serial ” entrepreneur ”, I go back to“ my account ”as they say and I continue at Orange as a consultant, project manager, marketing product manager…
These years have been extraordinary for me and I have a really strong attachment to the company and the Orange brand, which allows me everything: autonomy, responsibility, we are pioneers in the web, mobile, multimedia services, etc.
My destiny as a “serial” entrepreneur is forged by meeting at Orange precisely the one who becomes the companion and partner of all future initiatives: Pascal ROCHE (this is the tech profile in our duo).
At Orange, we are at the forefront of the best in terms of services, mobile with considerable human, technological and financial resources. At that time, we feel that the web is and will be “mobile” and we decide with Pascal to create the 1st French mobile agency in 2006: WAYMA (WAY to Mobile Applications). My experience as a service provider and integrator begins. This is the era of the wap, of the first smartphones, of the “xhtml” for connoisseurs … The New Frontiers auctions are a world premiere on mobile, it is really fun!
We see the arrival of the iPhone sold exclusively by Orange in 2008 then the Apple Store and the revolution that goes with … mobile applications. Everyone wants it and it is pure madness.
We started from mobile but very quickly integrated a multi-channel and cross-device dimension and became an independent integrator with a strong differentiation: the marriage of tech and cutting-edge expertise with marketing and communication.
We are going to grow, gain weight, move to China for nearly 6 years with a sandbox that has no less than 750 million smartphones and casually from 2008 to 2020 we deliver nearly 550 customer projects in 12 years … for companies of all sizes, from startups to large international accounts and all over the world.
[EM] : Your new entrepreneurial adventure concerns Smanck©, a collaborative work solution. Can you tell us what triggered the idea of you getting into this type of tool?
[PC] : For brands, especially Orange, as well as for service providers, the development of mobile applications, web projects and business platforms is a very complex and difficult job. Project management, collaboration, tests, recipe, quality, delivery on time are issues of every minute for our teams but also with customers, partners … and as we say in the universe startups, that’s where there is the “BREAD”: the difficulty, the hard point, the pain …
And for years to come, we will suffer martyrdom because we suffer from the double difficulty of business and human processes plus market tools / solutions that do not fully meet our expectations and especially those of our customers.
We try all the tools all over the place: generalists, specifics, sharp ones, but the “Swiss Army Knife” is not found. Above all, we cannot “get on board” and get all our contacts (employees, customers, partners, etc.) to adopt the same solution. We spend our time juggling several solutions and doing the job of others, in terms of productivity and efficiency we are in the red.
It is then that we decide to stop being the poorest shoemakers and strong in our field experience, of our hundreds of projects carried out and delivered, we start developing a home software product.
We are inspired by SLACK and MANTIS (bug tracker) and it will give smanck© 😉
smanck© is intended to be a complete and integrated collaborative solution, very simple and very powerful at the same time completely customizable and usable by all.
[EM] : What do you think is really differentiating your offer?
[PC] : We are in the world of software as a service (SaaS) hosted in the Cloud. It is a hyper competitive industry and very largely dominated by Americans: there are hundreds of solutions. Most work in freemium mode, that is, a limited free version (in terms of its features) is available to everyone and then there is a range of options and paid “premium” versions …
As I indicated, for our part, we have tried most of the leading solutions and there is something that has enormously and really frustrated us: the difficulty, or even the impossibility of comparing the offers with each other in terms of functionalities, options. and therefore prices.
Freemium> premium operation is even worse than that as it generates frustration and a huge waste of time when you realize that you have reached the limits of the version you are using. You feel like you have been trapped (this is clearly on purpose, let’s not be fooled). Sometimes you have to start over in another more suitable tool so it requires several hours of work.
It is this aspect of competition that has really forged our differentiation at smanck ©:
there is only one price and EVERYTHING is unlimited!
No worries, all the features are included and available without any limits (neither duration, nor quantitative or other).
There are no hidden costs, no additional options to activate, no nasty surprises.
We do not take our customers hostage.
We wanted to inject very strong DNA into smanck ©.
Our mission is to unleash the productivity of businesses and professionals. For that you need a simple and unlimited offer.
[EM] : You are not the only French “player” in the field, and moreover you have to face the big American platforms or solutions. How do you meet the challenge? What are the great successes that you can highlight ?
[PC] : The challenges to be taken up are indeed enormous, especially since the French and American players are all 10 years old and more ! And above all, they have a lot more money than we do. But our advantage is that we have nothing to lose and everything to prove. We are the challenger, the rookie who rubs shoulders with the greatest champions not with disdain but with humility doing the best job possible. The French, as they say, have no money (no investor yet in our case) but we have ideas 😉
We are small, therefore very agile and flexible, unconventional and the “growth hack” is our daily weapon.
In a way, the challenge has already been met, at least in part, since we launched a French collaborative solution in the midst of Covid19 in a market that has hundreds of direct or indirect competing solutions. smanck © delivers the promise of a very competitive all-in-one solution on the price side that is powerful and simple at the same time and for all types of profiles / professions.
We are confident because our product design is the result of +20 years of field experience, “real life” as they say and our first customers are not mistaken.
Among the first successes we can mention the big gap between a professional photographer and artist (freelance), a communication agency or a well-known major account construction actor. Whether in terms of trades or number of users, smanck © by its extreme customization and adaptation proves the validity of our positioning and concept.
[Emmanuel M] : Can you give us some key figures that would give us a picture of the current status of your entrepreneurial adventure ?
[PC] : smanck © is too young on the market to give you figures. We launched the offer on March 15, making it completely free in solidarity and to make our contribution during the covid19 period.
Our French competitors have been around for 10 years and we fully intend to quickly become a player with several thousand clients.
In this SaaS sector, the benchmark value is the MRR (monthly recurring income) or ARR (annual recurring income). With the objective of several thousand or even tens of thousands of French-speaking customers in the world we will be in a story of several million euros, we hope, as soon as possible to continue investing in the product, but we are operating on a first objective of 3 years.
[EM] : What are your next projects for smanck © ?
[PC] : We have a very ambitious product roadmap. Coming after the others on the market, we need to be even more innovative and above all we want to have a real impact on organizations, teams and collaboration.
For this we must deliver at least at least the same functionalities as the best on the market – moreover we have integrated and offered video conferencing to smanck®, always in our spirit of unlimited – but this is not enough and we are working on key functions or killer features for Anglo-Saxon jargon …
Without betraying our R&D secrets, we have several ongoing projects based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to provide unparalleled experiences in the management of projects, teams, tasks and missions, etc.
All this with our DNA of making technology as transparent as possible, seamless and with people at the center …
[EM] : On April 9, there was a call from French digital players, to make public players and private decision-makers aware of the existence of a rich French ecosystem. What do you think of this initiative?
[PC] : For a few years now, we have already been aware of and invested in this with EFEL Power, which represented French software editors and already under the aegis of Alain Garnier, CEO of Jamespot. So of course we responded immediately to the initiative of April 9 which was launched by Alain Garnier, Pascal Gayat and Antoine Dubosq (in the order 😉)
We obviously support this initiative and have been particularly concerned as French digital entrepreneurs for years.
We do our part and try to have the maximum impact by playing together.
Without wanting to whine or complain, the forces involved are completely unbalanced and unfortunately, whether on the side of our leaders and public and state institutions or even decision-makers and buyers of French companies, the French ecosystem is never considered or even studied as a first option (with comparable services and quality).
I experienced it when I was a buyer on the big business side of Orange, I experienced it as a service and solution provider. And it is extremely serious because the whole “food chain” is a loser.
[EM] : We were all shocked by the government’s decision to contract Microsoft to host our health data. What do you think? Do you think that our mobilization makes it possible to move the lines?
[PC] : We were the first to protest and to relay this information on social networks, in particular by calling for action. For my part, I was just outraged. As a digital player, we take these things very seriously and we are also the first concerned by the notion of “privacy by design” of the GDPR and more broadly all aspects of hosting and data security.
Data is the fuel, the new black gold of digital technology: our rulers are ignorant of the matter and operate as if they were in the land of care bears.
There is a total dichotomy between the speeches, including from our president on digital technology and the actions taken on the subject.
We advocate independence and even digital sovereignty. It is a strategic emergency for our country.
The mobilization of French digital players made things happen and a complaint was lodged with the Council of State which however refused to annul in summary proceedings the decree expanding the prerogatives of this health database … there is so a lot of work to move the lines. But we must not let go, we must persevere because unfortunately, we digital entrepreneurs know the issues and what we have to lose.
[Emmanuel M] : We were able to see the role that ESNs (Digital Service Company) could play in advising companies on their choice of digital tools. And we have seen that they are often the privileged partners of the gafams. Do you think it will be possible to change their approach and that they could be the future vectors of sovereign solutions?
[PC] : ESNs are doing a lot of harm to the French digital ecosystem …
They are super formatted and play the game of their big customers. They do not take any risks and clearly favor the Gafams.
For that to change, I’m going to be a little radical, but yes I think they should have an obligation to represent and study a sovereign French solution first …
In the event of a minimum% not represented, the benefits, aids and other contracts received in particular from our government should be taken away or cut off.
A strong, real and effective sovereign policy does not require half measures.
[Emmanuel M] : Patrick, as you know we all have our definition of digital sovereignty. For you what does this concept represent?
[PC] : The concept of digital sovereignty is for me closely associated with freedom, independence. And I’m a staunch supporter of it, as an entrepreneur that’s a mantra.
I often joke that now if there was a war we just need to cut off the power and therefore the Internet and we would be totally helpless because absolutely everything now works with digital, connection…
In this global COVID19 crisis, digital sovereignty has been completely revealed as something essential. We have been totally dependent on Anglo-Saxon digital solutions. I find this extremely serious. This directly affects our freedoms.
Several science-fiction movies and series have shown scenarios that perfectly illustrate this notion. Except that we are in 2020 and it is no longer science-fiction!
We helplessly witness actions and decisions of Americans which confine us to a role of mere spectator.
In reality, on a nation state strategic plan, we are not independent, we are not sovereign, we do not control our destiny.
I am not afraid to say that digital sovereignty is the essential link in the entire “food chain” of our country. The economy, jobs, therefore purchasing power, and therefore the lives of all our fellow citizens are directly impacted by digital technology. There will be no turning back.
The United States and the Chinese are enslaving the rest of the world.
France’s digital sovereignty is therefore a duty, a necessity, the zero point of everything else…
[Emmanuel M] : Patrick we come to the end of this interview, what would be your conclusion ?
[PC] : I am a passionate entrepreneur, driven by action. I hope to share little pieces of spark with everyone who wants to move forward, to move this world, our world, to make an impact.
It’s about resilience, strength and will, mind … but also envy and pleasure. I haven’t worked for over 20 years because I love what I do. I’m doing my part.
My mantra comes to me from Nelson Mandela, it carries me and guides me in all circumstances, this will be my conclusion:
“I never lose, either I win or I learn.”