PARIS—Decorated with gleaming red, suffused with natural light, and plastered with motivational quotes and Post-it notes, the Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator in Paris provides a relaxed and positive environment. Entrepreneurs from a new cohort of startups selected to participate in Oracle’s six-month accelerator program gather to meet with Jean-Marc Hui Bon Hoa, the program’s tech mentor. Over the course of an afternoon, CEOs and CTOs—many of whom are serial entrepreneurs—share secrets to success as a startup. Read on for inspiration from the 2018 cohort: AOS, Alcméon, BlackSheep, Ermeo, and Hyperlex.
1. Solve a Pain Point
The classic motivation for any new venture is figuring out how to eliminate an annoyance you face. That was what spurred CEO Alexandre Brochot to start AOS, which helps major construction firms and contractors communicate better. “As an engineer, I was doing different tasks that were non-productive, like reporting,” he says. “My real job as an engineer was to be on the construction site finding technical solutions, but I was sitting in my chair all the time and only 10-15% of my time was about building construction.”
His company’s cloud-based software streamlines everything from requests for information to project handover. Now, as part of Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator, “AOS is breaking its monolithic MVP [minimum viable product] into Dockerized microservices running on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure so that it can regain control over performance and stability,” says Hui Bon Hoa.
2. Work the Accelerator
Many entrepreneurs have a gift for not only being resourceful, but using their resources to the fullest. “My cofounder is a specialist in getting into accelerators—we’ve done three,” says Matthieu Lacage, CTO of Alcméon, which builds customer service solutions with chatbots and social messaging. “Every time we do this, we meet new people and look at new markets.” The first accelerator they joined, Lafayette Plug and Play, helped them get into the retail market. Then, Alcméon moved to La Maison Des Startups LVMH, based at Station F to learn the specific needs of luxury brands. Now, Lacage says, “Working with Oracle customers is a key area for us to build upon.” He’s also eager to scale out with Oracle Container Engine for Kubernetes. “Applications like ours are going to use Kubernetes in Oracle Cloud. The technical dimension makes a lot of sense and the timing is ideal.” Since Oracle has such a wide range of its own cloud software services, working in the Oracle accelerator helps the Alcméon team think about where its product fits among the existing market. “We’ve got a pretty good view on how we can be complementary to Oracle,” Alcméon CEO Bertrand Stephann says. “We have already integrated our solution, which is specifically focused on managing customer interactions, so that it can be used in a broader scope in Oracle Service Cloud.”
3. Don't Waste the Customer's Time
Fake it till you make it? These startups disagree. Alcméon, for example, doesn’t believe customers should have to suffer through its chatbots learning how to respond. It can lead to poor experiences and even bad press.
“Our natural language processing comes up with automated responses, but we don’t put them directly facing the consumer because we don’t think it’s ready yet,” says Stephann. Instead, “We push answer suggestions to customer reps, who always have the last word.”
4. Boost What's Busiest
In a hypercompetitive market like fast food, entrepreneurs can thrive by offering a way to squeeze out more efficiency. BlackSheep came up with a way for takeaway restaurants to boost sales during their busiest hours by allowing customers to order and pay on their phones rather than at the counter. When a customer walks into the restaurant, a web app automatically launches on his or her phone via beacon technology. They order and pay in three clicks and are served without having to wait in line.
5. Don't Believe the Hype
There’s much talk about the potential for augmented reality and virtual to help repair technicians—so a field tech could hold their phone over a piece of gear and see superimposed repair instructions. “We don’t do AR and VR, not because we don’t think it’s great but because industrial companies are not yet ready to go beyond proof of concepts,” says Victor Payan, who cofounded Ermeo. Instead, his company speeds digital transformation of companies that maintain industrial equipment with a platform that lets them turn any technical documentation into an interactive form. Using those forms, field technicians can follow instructions and enter data from the field more easily. These data are then sent back to well-established maintenance and asset management software thanks to plug-and-play connectors.
Startup success depends on products that work, not on buzzwords. Says Lacage, of Alcméon: “AI—that’s a word I never use. I try to make my cofounder not use it either. It simply doesn’t mean anything. I try to use more technical terms like machine learning and deep learning.”
6. Be Bold
Finally, some of the companies have been around for years, others are brand new, but all the entrepreneurs know that you can’t succeed if you never dare to launch. Alexandre Grux, for example, had two prior startups in online gaming and legal tech under his belt when he started Hyperlexwith three cofounders in September 2017. The software uses the machine learning frameworks TensorFlow and PyTorch, among other technologies, to search business contracts to identify risky clauses, notify about due dates, and extract important data. Now Hyperlex faces the next leap, aggressively aiming to go from beta to commercial product by the end of the year. Oracle’s accelerator makes that pace possible by providing free access to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, including the processing power that machine learning and AI require. “We are using a lot of open source technologies, but consuming a lot of GPU power for the AI training,” says Grux. “That is a reason to use Oracle Cloud GPUs.”