French entrepreneur Loic Le Meur spoke with TechRepublic about founding LeWeb, the differences in startups around the world, and his career in the family business of entrepreneurship.
For Loïc Le Meur, entrepreneurship was more than just a career option, it was a family trade observed through the generations.
"My father and grandfather were entrepreneurs, so I've always been inspired by being my boss," Le Meur said. "I've never worked for anyone else than me."
Le Meur is a prolific, successful entrepreneur. He runs the LeWeb conference in Paris, which he founded with his ex-wife Geraldine Le Meur in 2004. Although he got his start in France, where he was he developed an international vision early on.
In 1996, while enrolled in business school at HEC in Paris, Le Meur founded his first company, a web agency called B2L. Starting a company while in school wasn't allowed at the time so he did it on the side, using money from a student loan to fund it. The car manufacturer he interned with ended up becoming his first client, with Le Meur building one of the first car dealership websites for them that year.
He sold that company two years after he graduated from HEC, and got his first exit at age 25. Then, he built and sold RapidSite, and later founded the startup Tekora, as well. Looking back, Le Meur said he always ended up selling his businesses without ever having that as a goal in the beginning.
In light of potential exit opportunities, Le Meur always gives young entrepreneurs the following advice:
"Never go after money," he said. "Always go after being the best at what you do, and serving your customers the best possible quality of your product or services and be obsessed by it."
Financial success is a result, not the goal or objective.
Le Meur's career changed direction in 2003 when he met entrepreneur Joi Ito at the World Economic Forum. Ito taught Le Meur about blogging and he soon became obsessed. He also met LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman around this time, and he became an early angel investor in the site, which spurred his growing interest in social networking. After starting his own personal blog, Le Meur decided he wanted to make a career out of it.
So, he acquired Ublog from its founder later in 2003. At the time it was just a site, but Le Meur had a plan to build it out as its own business. B2L was Parisian, RapidSite was nationwide, and he wanted Ublog to be different, he wanted it to be international.
"The internet makes any startup, now, global," he said. "I don't really believe in anything local anymore, and it's been a long time."
To further realize his international blogging ambitions, he merged with Six Apart, where he became EVP EMEA.
In 2004, he founded LeWeb with his ex-wife Geraldine as part of his new focus on blogging. It began as LeBlog, a meetup for bloggers, but quickly evolved to include other things. Le Meur saw it as a tool to inspire not just bloggers, but all entrepreneurs.
It was the first conference of its kind in Europe, and he said they focused only on having the best presenters on stage, and the best companies from around the world, not just France or other parts of Europe.
After moving to San Francisco in 2007, he founded Seesmic which was acquired by Hootsuite. Now, after eight years in the US, his identity is changing.
For his friends in Silicon Valley, he's the French guy. But for his friends in France, he's that guy from Silicon Valley. He said that his mindset and his spirit lives in between the two cities.
Currently, he is still working on LeWeb and angel investing in companies like Breathometer, SmartThings, Sunrise, and Evernote.
In looking at the startup scene, Le Meur sees health innovations as one of the most interesting spaces. While we measure every aspect of our lives, he said, we've just begun to measure our body and that could lead to some very interesting discoveries and concepts in the next few years.
As far as starting a new company is concerned, there's nothing ready for the immediate future. Le Meur said for the first time in his life, he's actually taking his time in between projects and developing other interests, such as meditation.
"I did a ten day silent retreat with no devices, no talking, no internet, not even eye contact, just meditating ten hours a day," he said. "That became a huge interest for me. For the last year, I've been meditating one hour every day."
In his own words...
When your career is over, what do you hope people say about you?
"I'm hoping they say more that I contributed in helping the entrepreneurs — I'm pretty proud of that. That's why I've been doing LeWeb for, it's going to be 12 years this year. It's great because it's a way of giving back — both when you're an angel helping entrepreneurs and launching a conference like LeWeb."
What do you do to unplug or clear your mind?
"I don't watch sports, I practice sports a lot. My big hobby is kitesurfing. So, I share this with hundreds of other entrepreneurs and it takes a significant part of my life. I'm very fortunate because in San Francisco you can go kite surf right in front of the city and under the bridge. You can be in an office until 4 p.m. and be kitesurfing at 4:30 or 5 for two hours, three hours. That's really awesome."
What's the best thing you've read lately?
"I just finished it and I think the book that changed the most of the way I think and really had an impact is The Artist's Way. ...It's by Julia Cameron and it's about the fact that we've all been raised in environments which are way too focused on the non-artist part of your brain."
If you weren't working in tech, what other profession would you love to try?
"It's too late, but the other secret thing that I've not communicated much is that I'm a pilot and I love flying, that's my other passion. I have 2000 hours of flying, I'm an instrument rated commercial pilot."