Home NewsEconomy Unlikely destinies (5)Marc Simoncini, a stupendous French business leader

Unlikely destinies (5)Marc Simoncini, a stupendous French business leader

by Jacques Trauman

We have to see what kind of dude we were dealing with when he was young. In high school, his French teacher, former French ambassador to Laos, one day tells his students an old Laotian custom, according to which, when two men court the same woman, they fight to death, the winner bringing a trophy to the damsel the virile parts of his opponent. Simoncini gets up then, and to everyone’s amazement, intones, imitating Jacques Brel the singer: (Je vous ai apporté des bonbons)”I brought you candy because flowers are perishable …”. The teacher, who also loved Brel, would later become his mentor.

Marc Simoncini was born in 1963. He lives in Marseille, where his father works as a young engineer for France Telecom. In his memoirs, Simoncini says (*): “I grew up in a building in Marseille, seven floors with sea view, fourteen apartments and ten nationalities. Each family had the key to the apartment of the others. No theft, no violence, kitchen smells in the stairwell and smiles in the elevator.

His parents moved to Chalôns-sur-Marne, then to Dijon, where, coincidentally, he attended the Lycée Carnot, the same one where René Han had met years before (“Improbables destinies (3): a Chinese in Burgundy “).

Little interested in studies, he was not a brilliant pupil , obtained his High School Diploma by chance on the limits, and found himself employed in the construction industry, behind a jackhammer. He then works as a handler in a warehouse where the time to use the toilet is regulated: “When the labor code regulates constipation, the end of a world is near.” To escape his banker from Crédit Lyonnais who harassed him because of his repeated overdrafts, he left to settle in the United States, in Connecticut, where he worked as a lumberjack in a ski resort, then became a gardener at a billionaire, Mike, who, with his Coca-Cola tap and his waterbed, is “ahead of everything and so behind on the rest“. As told Simoncini, “Mike burns his dollars like others will pray, so much innocence, it commands respect.”

Return to France. With the help of his father, a little desperate anyway, Marc Simoncini joined a school of computer scientists, the Higher School of Computer Science (ESI), located in Montreuil near Paris. Luckily, he is passionate about IT. But, as he says himself, “I’m not a very good programmer, I have too many ideas, I’m going too fast, I’m going all over the place, I’m not focused, not efficient and not organized“. So he will not pass his engineering diploma, but during an internship in a start-up, Energie-Videotex, which programmed for the Minitel (sort of French-French ancestor of the internet), he realizes of a fascinating detail: Energie- Videotex had developed a software which made it possible to play chess online, France Telecom was crazy about it and wanted to sell it to British Telecom.

During a demonstration, one of the so-called online chess player sends the following message: “Michel, very well hung, is looking for a free mare for wild rides …“. Amazing, none of the polytechnicians present could capture the importance of the message. No. Because the so-called “chess players” were only interested in the “messaging” function, which they used to exchange scorching messages. The engineers of France Telecom will then floor to avoid this kind of use, abusive according to them, whereas it should on the contrary be encouraged

A few years later, however, the “pink” messengers of the Minitel will bring in 40% of the turnover; but it took a crazy mind, foreign to all formatting, to think “outside the box” and immediately grasp the scope of Michel’s message.

This spirit will be that of Marc Simoncini.

You will be a start-upper, my son…

Emmanuel Macron, who wanted to make France a start-up nation, should read, if he has not already done so, the chapter which is entitled: “CTR, SA with a capital of 250,000 francs excluding taxes”; because Simoncini, at 22, found his way, he will be an entrepreneur.

He therefore created Communication Télématique Bourgogne (CTR), with “Bourgogne” in the name to please his main shareholder.

Social purpose: IT development for Minitel services. He’s got almost everything, computers are going to “explode”. However, developing for others is not a good idea. What you have to do is have your own idea and develop the others (so the other way around), but that, he doesn’t know yet.

He moved to Chevigny-Saint-Sauveur, a small Burgundian town located just 15 kilometers from Perrigny, where René Han had grown up (another coincidence), obtained a loan of 20,000 francs from his father and the contribution of a shareholder. benevolent. Any aspiring start-upper should also read this chapter to learn the unfailing enthusiasm and courage needed to find the money, the collaborators, to fight with the banks, to respond to calls for tenders in disasters, to lie to customers and suppliers, skipping his wages, losing his girlfriend, working 18 hours a day, and so on. But it works, he will have Radio 2000, La Montagne, L’Yonne Républicain as clients. Everyone wants their Minitel, and in particular the 3615 « rose »(pink). But soon everyone at their 3615 dial number, the competition becomes fierce, a large customer does not pay (a classic), and CTR must file for bankruptcy. First bankruptcy. Simoncini narrowly escapes a ban on management. Game over.

Until the age of 30, Simoncini, without ever getting discouraged, created companies, always linked to the Minitel, or even to the “pink” Minitel, companies that vegetate more or less and for various reasons. Without doubting for a moment, he leaves, fights like a handsome devil, searches for money, often from wealthy partners certainly, but wacky and even sometimes dishonest (he learns what a fake invoice is), even completely crazy; one of them was even shot in front of his building on Copernic Street in Paris near the Ark of Triump, with a bullet of 11.43 shot at point-blank range in the right eye.

What Simoncini experiences during these rabid cow years is the fate of all business creators, most of whom fail and give up (I know, I have worked with start-up companies for a long time). But not Simoncini. Because he does not give up, he is cracked and he has an intuition, a brilliant intuition: while everyone swears by Minitel, he bet on a new tool that starts and in which no one believes: the Internet.

 Follies and Lollies

“This is often the problem with people who have done too much study, they know, they look, but they see nothing.”

We are in 1998, Marc Simoncini is now 35 years old, and still no decisive success. He created iFrance, a website. We are in the middle of madness, in full internet bubble. We have to raise money to develop the business, so we’re going to see investment funds. Money is flowing freely, the valuation (« valos » in French financial slang), what they are worth of start-ups is delusional.

Miracle: Viventure, from the Vivendi group, values ​​iFrance at 40 million francs and takes 50% of the capital.
So here is Simoncini who, with a magic wand, finds himself at the head of 20 million francs to spend in the business, here he is – who owns 25% of the company – is worth, with a stroke of his wand magic, 10 million francs. On paper of course, because he is paid in Vivendi shares and he still struggles to pay his rent. In fact, after 15 years of trouble, Simoncini still does not have a round in front of him. But iFrance is developing at full speed.

A Swedish man, the company Spray, a delusional company populated by geeks who are just as delusional, in turn wants to buy iFrance for 100 million francs, paid in Spray shares of course (that’s still 25 million francs – in theory – for Simoncini) . The latter takes Spray for more crazy than him, he refuses. Meanwhile, iFrance is starting to make a splash: Patrick Le Lay, boss of TF1 (a major commercial French TV channel), receives him, François-Henri Pinault, Serge Weinberg, boss of PPR, the big bosses, the big fortunes, all want to meet him.

It’s crazy, everyone suddenly wants to be on the web. At iFrance, it’s madness: Libertysurf, a large Internet service provider, offers to buy them, this time for … 1.4 billion francs. This is absolute delirium. For those who don’t know what a bubble is, a bubble is it! Ernst & Young, LibertySurf auditors, are on iFrance premises to do their due diligence, that is, to inspect everything. On this, Jean-Marie Messier wants Vivendi ( he is the CEO) to also make an offer to buy everything. There are therefore two offers, two teams and two “due diligence” at the same time at iFrance … which changes its name to Idoo.

March 2000: it is Vivendi who finally buys Idoo, Simoncini becomes like a “zombie”, head in the clouds, he is rich, suddenly, he is worth 45 million €, a fortune still largely in Vivendi actions !!! (there will be a false rumor that he sold Idoo if expensive because he would have returned part of the funds to Jean-Marie Messier …).

Marc Simoncini doing the promotion of the Angell bike

O, LORD, GIVE US MORE OF MARC SIMONCINI

If Marc Simoncini had read the Constitution and applied the “precautionary principle”, he would have retired to profit wisely from his 45 million euros (before taxes I suppose). But he would have been wrong.

Under the terms of the contract, he must stay with Idoo for 12 months after the sale to facilitate the transition. He therefore participates in Vivendi’s management committees (where he is the only one not to be over-qualified: he did neither Sciences-po, nor HEC, nor Centrale, neither ENA, nor Polytechnique ( French elite universities), nor anything at all). This committee sets up the company Vizzavi, which is valued at 20 billion euros because this company, in principle, must dethrone Yahoo. In the end, Vizzavi crashes, that was to be expected.

Marc Simoncini is 38 years old, and with all his money, he borders on depression. Bored, what to do?

That’s when he came up with the idea of ​​creating a dating site. He thinks: the site must be connected, secure, paid and expensive, in a web world where everything is free !! You had to dare to do it, especially as the Internet bubble exploded, leaving behind many corpses on the road. But the site was born and it will be called Meetic.

2003: New disaster. Marc Simoncini had largely been paid for the sales of his companies, as we have seen, in Vivendi shares, but Messier was fired and the Vivendi share went from 120 euros to 9 euros. Who could have predicted it? In an instant, charged to Vivendi securities fund, Simoncini is ruined, he even owes 8 million euros to his bank, and in addition he undergoes a tax audit !!! Total failure, everything falls on him at the same time, the tax audit is absurd, and it is his second bankruptcy.

But Meetic nevertheless continues its course and grows visibly. Lightning success. Americans want to buy it, even Yahoo is interested in it. Simoncini refuses an offer at 40 million euros (which would have arranged his business well, but Simoncini is cracked, remember), and finally the AGF enter the capital !!!

Meetic has the honor to undergo at the same time a tax audit, an URSSAF audit ( some sort of French Medicare), a CNIL audit ( equivalent to Privacy shield in USA) , a control by the High Authority against discrimination and for equality, in fact 6 audits at the same time. Long live France, we wonder why the GAFAS are not French.

Meetic’s mad race continues: at that time, 80,000 French people connect to Meetic every evening. Simoncini decides to replicate the experience abroad.

2005: Meetic is floated on the stock market, shares are 12 times over-subscribed (12 times more demand than supply), and Meetic, which is now worth 350 million euros, can buy its competitors around the world. Marc Simoncini surrounds himself with people much more competent than him, except on a subject where he considers himself unbeatable: “idiots idiots”.

Finally, after many adventures, he sells to the American match.com his shares in Meetic, and, this time, he becomes for good, really and definitively … (very) rich

EPILOGUE

In 2014, Marc Simoncini entered the office of Michel Sapin, « enarque » with pink socks (former alumni of ENA, National School of Administration), Secretary of the Treasury of François Hollande.
Let Simoncini speak: “Michel Sapin … looks up, looks at me and exclaims:” Oh … a rich man “. I am surprised, I think: “Oh, an idiot …”. I keep it for myself. Alas”.

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