Arnaud de Montille, co-founder of personalised jewellery brand, Merci Maman, discusses running a UK-focused business from France and how ‘Entente Cordiale’ between the two countries has helped that business thrive.
You may not have noticed it, but last year a UK business with a French name and French founders won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category. For me, this mix of ‘born in Britain’ with a European flavour perfectly encapsulates why now is such an exciting time to be an entrepreneur.
Of course, I would say that; in fact, I must confess…I am more than a bit biased. The business I refer to is Merci Maman the personalised jewellery brand set up by my wife in 2007 from our kitchen table. From those humble beginnings, today, we operate in three European countries and ship globally. We are also very proud to include the Duchess of Cambridge amongst our customers.
Of course, the journey from table-top start-up to Queen’s Award winner has not been without hurdles, but I firmly believe that we are living in probably the best entrepreneurial time in recent history. Thanks to this, the role of entrepreneur which is, so accurately at times, depicted as a lonely one, means that today challenges are rarely faced alone. Here are my tips on where to look for the right talent and support:
In the early days, the ‘pioneer’ label so often associated with entrepreneurs is very often an accurate one, but as soon as your business starts to grow the importance of recruiting people better than you, with skills that are complementary to your own cannot be underestimated. At our London headquarters we employ a team of 20 people. The mix of ages, genders and nationalities in one office gives our business a diversity of skills and ideas which I have no doubt has helped Merci Maman grow and to become a better business because of it. It is a daily reminder that the right talent and support can make or break a business.
As a French born entrepreneur living in London I was excited to find out about the French Tech. A movement that was launched by the French government in 2013 to federate, promote and accelerate growth in the French startup ecosystem worldwide. Through a network of 22 French Tech hubs around the world, including a vibrant one in the UK, it helps French entrepreneurs start up and scale up wherever they choose to reside. The London French Tech hub, for example, organises around 200 events a year, connecting entrepreneurs with top VCs, facilitating pitching, setting up panel discussions with top calibre experts that deliver sharp insights for entrepreneurs to learn from and network with. What started off as a French entrepreneurs’ event has quickly expanded to include VC investors and senior business decision makers of French origin, UK Francophiles, but also other London based entrepreneurs of multiple nationalities that potentially have something to offer French tech ecosystem and big time to the London tech start-up and innovation ecosystem more broadly. In short, when your country steps up, either through initiatives like French Tech or the French and British Chambers of Commerce the support and insights their events and programmes provide can be invaluable. Capitalise on them or your competitors surely will! – don’t really get this
Your Adopted Country
My wife and I recently moved back to France, to grow our European operations. We are so impressed with the help and support French Tech gives start-ups coming from other countries, hosting them in one of the 300 incubators across the country. Initiatives like The French Tech ticket help UK companies like Film Doo live and work in France providing office space, fast-track visas when necessary and most importantly, helping them to expand and access the European market. It is a great example of how your adopted country can also be a great source of support for a budding entrepreneur.
A professional network of like-minded individuals is invaluable. People whom you can bounce ideas off, discuss challenges with and share the pressures that inevitably fall on your shoulders. Again, for me French Tech provided this; affording an opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs and even to partner with them on cross-marketing activity in instances where we had complementary products and services. This type of collaboration keeps the moral high and ideas fresh. It’s also a great way to help you stay on top of your game on trends and developments that are working for your peers.
Your Friends & Family
When my wife set up Merci Maman I worked nights and weekends to help her with the business, while still doing my day job. Joining the team full time in 2013 genuinely felt like a reward for all that extra curriculum work I’d put in during the early days. Working with people you like enough to marry isn’t for everyone but no start-up can survive without the support of friends and family. Whether it is testing your prototypes, chipping in to dispatch a sudden influx of orders, taking your kids for one more playdate than is strictly fair, or just providing positive words of encouragement. Friends and family really are the unpaid cheerleaders of the start-up community.