Exits and Existential Problems

Entrepreneurship can be a passion, but only a select few are able to make it a sustainable profession. SaaSEAD had the pleasure of speaking with serial successful entrepreneur Yann Lechelle, now the COO of Snips https://snips.ai, a decentralized voice assistant platform that brings the convenience of voice technology without sacrificing your privacy.

Private by Design

Snips’ AI runs locally, meaning no call gets made to the cloud to execute a command or generate a response unless it needs to – a key feature that has advantages in protecting your privacy (Amazon almost certainly doesn’t need to know everything I ask my Alexa to do) and security, especially in a future where we might like to guide potentially risky products like our cars conversationally.

Yann demonstrated how far their team has been able to push the product in an impromptu demo on a tiny computer called Raspberry Pi that he pulled out of his backpack and set up on a coffee table in Station F’s trendy – and distinctly Italian – dining complex La Felicità. Even running on such a small device, the assistant was able to clearly identify and follow through on complex – and decidedly French – commands like, “Jarvis, could you please defrost my croissant for 5 minutes at 300 watts”.

 

 

Solving Your Problems

Snips is by no means Yann’s first venture. A software engineer by training and coder since long before getting his first degree, Yann has spent his a career experimenting with social platforms, voice and face recognition, animation, and finance in various locations: Paris, Cambridge UK, Hollywood, and the great American city of New York.

As often quoted, necessity is the mother of innovation. After his successful application to INSEAD in 1999, Yann took action to get to know his classmates by setting up the first forum for students to connect and get to know each other before arriving on campus. This was the initial release of what students today call “MBA Connect”, the platform used to welcome new students to the school, which is functionally little changed from the Yann’s original app built nearly two decades ago.

Impressively, Yann ended up selling his Software as a Service to the school directly after earning his degree, having realized the predictive value of social activity after acceptance by admitted students – a habit of selling companies that continued for many years afterwards.

Knowing the real value of your product can be an excellent lever.

Anticipating Next Moves

Staying at the forefront of trends in tech seems to be another hallmark of Yann’s career and success – from social platforms, to early engagement in the Apple app ecosystem, and now voice and the infamous blockchain, a tool the team at Snips is betting on to drive the development of voice apps on their platform.

In Europe in particular, blockchain products might hold a distinct appeal and garner support from unexpected sources. The decentralized web itself may be a play for the French government and other countries to solve some problems of ownership and privacy in a world where a few blue chip tech (foreign, American) companies hold the private information of their citizens. Snips itself may well be the poster child of this trend in France as legal structures come into place for ICOs outside of countries like Switzerland.

Selling Companies

After five successful exits – he describes himself as less a “serial” and more a “professional” entrepreneur – we asked Yann some of the fundamentals of having consistent exits. To his mind, it’s a matter of controlled schizophrenia. While building a company, if you want the option to exit, you need keep in mind the possibility of a sale at the same time, which may sound counterintuitive. This means actively looking for opportunities and being on the radar of potential suitors, as companies “are bought, not sold” according to Yann, and making sure that the business is organized and accounted for in a way that it can be sold.

Current Media Diet!

  • Read Histories of Nations (link)
  • Read Ready Player One (link)

INSEAD

  • Take Everything in the core, it provides a holistic understanding that shouldn’t be broken into parts.
  • Do Build during your MBA. If your classmates like it, it might end up being the right project to pursue.

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