I am an entrepreneur, angel investor, polymath, student and lover of life. I write about whatever happens to be on my mind which covers pretty much everything and anything from entrepreneurship to life design, happiness, book reviews and much more.
I am originally from Nice, France which is a blessed place to grow up in. The weather is amazing. You can play tennis and padel every day. You can go skiing 1 hour away during the winter despite living on a beach. The food is amazing. The people are kind, and I lived at my beloved grandmother Françoise’s apartment with my amazing yellow lab Ucla.
I got my first PC in 1984 at the tender age of 10 and it was love at first click. I immediately knew we were meant to be together forever. I started building PCs. I built a Bulletin Board System (BBS) people could connect to via modem. I became obsessed with American tech entrepreneurs Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, following their adventures in computer magazines like PC Magazine and PC World and the business press. The US pulled at the heartstrings, and I knew I should pursue my personal destiny there, trying to live out the American Dream.
I ended up going to Princeton which I loved. I took classes in every discipline imaginable: molecular biology, Russian literature, the Peloponnesian War, the Roman Empire, computer science, multi-variable calculus and many more, while running a computer export startup, Princeton International Computers. I graduated Summa Cum Laude in economics in 1996. I was awarded the Halbert White prize, given to the most distinguished economics student, as well as The Wolfe Balleisen memorial prize, awarded for best thesis. I was privileged that both of my grandmothers came to my graduation despite their hate of travel.
I knew going into Princeton I wanted to be a tech founder. As a kid I harbored political ambitions but had already been disappointed by the political process. Seemingly gone were the days when the likes of Augustus or Hamilton could transform society for the better. It seemed petty, corrupt and corrupting. It’s inherently limited by national borders, and incapable of addressing the challenges of our time like climate change and inequality of opportunity. With delusions of grandeur, I felt that harnessing the deflationary and transformational power of technology was the more scalable and viable, not to mention fun, route.
However, when graduating at 21, I was still very much Sheldon Cooper: shy, introverted and socially awkward. I decided to become a management consultant for McKinsey & Company in New York. In a way McKinsey was business school, except that they pay you. I worked on my oral and written communication skills, public speaking skills, on business analysis, and teamwork. After two years, I had learned what I needed to learn was ready to become a tech founder.
In July 1998, at 23, I left to build my first venture backed startup: Aucland. When I joined McKinsey, I was worried I might miss the tech bubble, but it was still going strong. I picked to bring eBay to Europe because as an economist by formation, I loved the idea of marketplaces and bringing liquidity to opaque and fragmented markets. Having studied market design, I felt I knew how to solve the chicken and egg problem inherent in marketplaces of figuring out whether to start with supply or demand and how to balance them.
It was an amazing experience. I built one of the largest auction sites in Europe with millions in GMV and over 150 employees in 5 countries. Sadly, it turned out to be more of a learning experience than a real success. I went from zero to hero, back to zero again after the Internet bubble popped. I made every mistake imaginable: I picked the wrong VC, badly negotiated my stock purchase agreement, and made countless hiring mistakes. All in all, it turned out to be an extraordinary formative experience.
In 2001, in the depth of the tech depression, it felt like the Internet was only going to be a small niche thing. It mattered not. I was not in tech to make money, but to live out my passion. I loved creating something out of nothing. That said, given the new reality, with no venture capital available, I needed to build something capital efficiently that could be profitable rapidly. Having seen the success of ringtones in Europe and Asia, I decided to bring the concept to the US with Zingy which I created in July 2001 at the age of 26.
While the idea was good, it turned out to be extremely difficult to execute. There was no text messaging or billing system on mobile phones in the US. Music licensing was opaque and complicated and none of the rights owners wanted to license their music. It took years of knocking on their doors and persistence to get anywhere. I invested every penny I had. I borrowed on my credit cards. I missed payroll 27 times. I raised $1.4 million in $5 and 10k increments. Ultimately, I grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat when we hit profitability on August 15, 2003. We were saved! I could now scale the company the old-fashioned way: with profits.
It still feels like my most significant professional achievement. Even when I sold Zingy for $80 million in June 2004, at the age of 29, I was so busy scaling the company, that I did not have time to realize how transformative that was. I just bought a TV, an Xbox, and a tennis racquet. I continued to live in the same small apartment for many more years without changing much of anything in my life. Ultimately, we scaled from $1 million in revenues in 2002, to $5 million in 2003, to $50 million in 2004, to $200 million in 2005. It was incredible to scale from $1 to $200 million in revenues in 4 years having only raised $1.4 million and scaling purely with profits.
I stayed on as CEO of Zingy for 18 months after the sale. Ultimately, I was disappointed that the new owners did not let me use the profits to try to conquer the space and ready ourselves for the smartphone transition. I decided to leave to build my next venture. No longer capital constrained, I could go back to building startups and pursuing ideas I felt passionate about.
Marketplaces still pulled at the heartstrings. Craigslist had come of age and scaled in the US becoming part of the fabric of society helping people in all aspects of their lives from finding a roommate, to renting an apartment, buying a car or buying and selling anything and everything. However, I felt they were failing on their mission to provide a public service to humanity by not moderating their content to eliminate scams, spam, and prostitution, by not internationalizing, by not improving their UX/UI or going mobile. I reached out to Craig and Jim. I offered to either run Craigslist for free to address these issues, or to buy it from them, but got nowhere.
Ultimately, I decided to launch OLX, with the ambition of building a better version of Craigslist for the world. I partnered Alec Oxenford, the former CEO of Deremate, an eBay of Latin America I had helped launch while I was running Aucland. Backed by BVP, General Catalyst, and Founders Fund, we launched in 100 countries, essentially throwing spaghetti on the wall. Unfortunately, it proved too expensive to break the network effects of incumbents in Europe and the US. However, it really took off in Brazil, India, Pakistan, and Portugal. We first focused on these four geographies, before expanding and becoming the market leader in 30 geographies including Brazil and all Latin America, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Russia and all Eastern Europe, India, Pakistan and most of Southeast Asia, the UAE and parts of the Middle East. We ultimately grew to over 10,000 employees and 300 million unique visitors per month. In these countries we became part of the fabric of society, perhaps even more meaningly so than Craigslist in the US given the lack of payment and delivery infrastructure in most of these markets, helping millions of people make a living and find the things they needed.
To get there, we faced significant competition from Schibsted/Adevinta. Winning required hundreds of millions of dollars in TV advertising. Given the amounts of capital required, we partnered with Naspers/Prosus to fight an all-out war, which ended with a merger in our favor after years of intense competition.
Once OLX was all grown up, I found myself yearning for a new entrepreneurial adventure. I loved angel investing and building startups. I had already partnered with Jose Marin, another Deremate co-founder, to jointly evaluate angel investment opportunities. We created FJ Labs to further pool our investing and startup creation activities.
Over time, external investors started approaching us because they wanted exposure to what we were doing. This led to the formal creation of FJ Labs as a venture fund in 2016. Despite being a fund, we still behave like angel investors. We don’t lead, set terms, or take board seats. We decide whether we invest or not over the course of two calls in a week or so. We invest reasonably small checks relative to the lead. We see ourselves as founder friendly value-added investors. In other words, FJ Labs does angel investing at venture scale.
We ended being early investors in Alibaba, Coupang, Vinted, Flexport, Delivery Hero, and many more. To date we invested in over 1,000 companies and had over 300 exits which led Forbes to call me the #1 Angel Investor in the world.
After I left OLX, I decided to apply to same iterative principles to life design than I had applied to entrepreneurship. I wanted to find a more meaningful way to reconnect with friends and family as busy modern-day life takes a lot of the magic of those relationships away. I also wanted to optimize my life for passion and purpose. After a long multi-year iteration process with many failures and detours along the way which included a stint of couch surfing, living in Airbnbs, and spending a lot of time in the Dominican Republic, I ended up with my current life setup.
I split my time between New York, Turks & Caicos, and Revelsoke. Each location is idyllic, and each has a perfect season to spend time there. New York is a haven of intellectual, social, professional and artistic endeavors. You are stimulated beyond your wildest dreams and can interact with best and brightest of our times. It’s also perfect to be there in April, May, and early June and September and October. However, when you are doing, you are not thinking, and after two months of intense life in New York, I love to retreat to Turks & Caicos and Revelstoke.
Turks is a haven of peacefulness and serenity. While I work from there during the day, it’s the perfect place to read, write, meditate and be super healthy and athletic with kite surfing, wing foiling, tennis and padel. It’s also the perfect place to bring my friends and family for our annual Holiday Grindaverse gathering.
Revelstoke plays the same role in the mountains as a haven of back country skiing in the winter, and hiking, biking and camping in the summer.
The three locations provide a perfect base to which I add annual pilgrimages to Nice to see my family in late June or early July, Burning Man, and a new fun destination for a week or two every year.
I had always been resistant to kids as I felt my life was perfect. My friends who had kids seemed to disappear from my life. Whenever I met them would only complain about their kids. However, in 2019, during a Ayahuasca ceremony, I had a visit from my beloved grandmother Françoise. She told that while I was living my best life and fulfilling my life’s purpose, she felt I would really enjoy having kids. She said that I did not lead a traditional life and could be a non-traditional parent. My kids would be a fun complement to my life, rather than a substitute for it. I would take them kite surfing, heli-skiing and on crazy adventures. She also said I would love being a father and imparting everything I know to my kids.
She was so right. Having my son François (obviously named as an homage to my grandmother) has been an absolute blast. He is extraordinarily agreeable. He is always happy and smiley. He is willing to be manhandled and taken on crazy adventures. He never cries and has an awaken intensity that my mother says reminds her of me when I was younger. On top of that we really look alike at the same age.
After the passing of my beloved Rottweiler Bagheera, it took me a long time to be ready for another dog. In the same Ayahuasca ceremony during which my grandmother Françoise convinced me to have kids, I was visited by two white German shepherds. I had a fascination for John Snow’s white dire wolf, Ghost, but did not know the breed existed. From that moment on I knew I was meant to have one. Angel joined our little family in August 2023. She is sweet, super high energy and infinitely playful. She fit right in!
As my grandmother told me I should have both a son and a daughter, I am expecting a daughter Amélie (named after my mother’s grandmother) in a few weeks. The little family will then be complete and ready to go on all the adventures!
For more details on the above read:
- How it all began
- My friends and family are the best!
- Why I am leaving OLX
- FJ Labs’ Purpose
- FJ Labs’ Investment Strategy
- A framework for making important decisions Steps one, two, three, and four
- Update on the Very Big Downgrade
- Optimizing Life Post Exit
- Unlocking Productivity: Streamlining Your Days for Passion and Purpose
- It was Bagheera’s world, we just lived in it