The french accelerator, not the cult
The past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of videos of Oussama, a lot of parody as well, and a couple of posts from long time fans or detractors of The Family. I always feel the same when people talk about it.
I joined The Family in September 2013. When I resigned from my previous job, I was in a precarious position with a pretty heavy mortgage, no money in the bank, a third kid coming soon, and I knew that The Family was financially unstable. Yet I knew it was the right thing to do and the most dynamic organisation to join at the time, even though they had less than 3 months in bank to cover their costs.
It didn’t stop me because The Family had a very special energy , it was a concentration of daring people who weren’t scared to dream big, whether we talked about the team or the entrepreneurs we were supporting. With this audacity came ennemies, but it didn’t matter, we had good intentions. We kept pushing the boundaries with an aggressive equity model, bootcamps, the will to launch more initiatives, reach espace velocity and expand internationally ! If you talk to anyone who worked there, we were all very ecstatic about the perspective of building something big.
I left The Family in September 2015 to join Xavier Niel and his venture capital arm. At the time, I was in process with other venture capital firms and I already knew that I would leave the Family soon. Why ? Because I knew we were a dysfunctional organisation with too much internal resistance to succeed. And even though I was the fourth wheel (not the fifth…) , I didn’t have the ownership nor the decision power to make the necessary changes. And even in charge, I was not capable of running The Family. It’s just not my forte.
So what happened, concretely ? Whenever you start something new, you must build something people love aka find product market fit, then find traction and accelerate. In the meantime, you need funding from sometimes investors (until you become profitable) and customers, and obviously find a sustainable business model.
A lot of people wondered how The Family would find a sustainable, profitable business model. And it was a fair question. At several occasions, it seemed that we touched that perspective with our bootcamps and our events. So what did go wrong ?
It’s very simple, we were giving the perfect playbook to founders while we were ourselves making all the obvious mistakes :
Fit : entrepreneurs loved the energy, ambition and sense of belonging, they enjoyed the weekly get together, they were grateful to find support from time to time. But our process was loose, we didn’t have any clear agenda or program for them, and we didn’t fix it. It took many years for The Family to start batches, but it was already too late. People didn’t have anything concrete to love about The Family anymore… The Family became legacy as the french startup ecosystem grew up.
Focus : We pushed aggressively and didn’t reflect enough on our own flaws and how to build a sustainable business. We pushed on so many directions to generate more awareness and revenues. We were a team of creative builders, yet with an absence of clear narrative and concrete primitive. Our manifesto was fuzzy, we lacked diligence and consistency in action.
Accountability : We were unable to make Paris profitable, yet The Family opened offices in Germany, in London, in an attempt to demonstrate it was growing. In fact, it was an escape from reality. The Family owned Paris in terms of awareness but lacked legitimacy in the sense that how it was supporting founders was still questioned and the business model was still a work in progress. In terms of investor report, they were sent from time to time, included money raised as cash-in without the split between funding and revenue (just to give a short example…)
The Family didn’t need Oussama’s mischiefs to succeed nor to fail but he contributed to the high rise and the high fall of the organisation.
Oussama was able to tell stories better than anyone else and he quickly became this iconic symbol that most founders loved because he would make them feel special. He would be this reassuring figure with a very direct yet always smiling style. The people who hated him were either jealous of his notoriety, irritated by his lack of nuance, tired of his excessive behaviour or doubtful of his malicious practices.
The truth is that he went too far and it was a foregone conclusion. But everyone hoped that he would become more diligent, less on the edge of the rules as he would grow older. it doesn’t matter if the right counter-power could have changed anything or helped him become an adult, he has now become his own caricature instead of owning his mistakes. If only he had repented.
If you ask me whether money was stolen, the answer is yes. If you ask me to get into the details, I won’t because even though there are crispy stories and I believe that the people who worked with Oussama didn’t own their shit when they should have, I still believe in their very good intentions and I am not a tomb digger.
I would love to finish that post with some extravagant anecdote but the real truth is that my barbecue is reaching 260°C and I need to go sear the meat that cooked slowly at 85°C the last two hours. Then I need to take the fries off the cooker and feed my three little monsters. Maybe I should cut some tomatoes as well for good conscience…
Have a great Sunday :)