This week we've gone international again with Paris based startup Trois Elles Interactive. Valérie is an exceptional entrepreneur with a startup that is growing at a fantastic pace. There have had some great achievements and interesting challenges so far.
Talk to me about your Journey so far (up to Trois Elles Interactive)
My journey is far from “standard”. I studied Business in Canada, the UK and France and started working as a Management Consultant in London. After 3 years, I took a dramatic turn and went back to “school” to become a Montessori teacher. I then taught at an international school in Paris for 8 years. I cannot talk about my professional career without mentioning the fact that I have 4 children. I obviously made some choices because I wanted to be available for them.
Trois Elles - The journey so far
How did Trois Elles Interactive begin?
In 2010, when my “number 4” started school, I looked for a way to use my management experience in the education world and one day, during lunch with my 2 friends and co-founders, we came up with the idea to create an interactive book to learn to read and count, using an iPhone. From one meeting to the next, our project changed and evolved and within a few months it turned into Numberland, our first educational app for Apple’s revolutionary and upcoming iPad.
We created Les Trois Elles to offer quality educational apps, based on the Montessori pedagogy, for the iPad. Parents and teachers often had a negative vision of technology, we wanted to change that by offering interactive activities that could be enjoyed by parents and children together.
How did you meet your co-founders?
My co-founders and l met in Lyon in the early 1990s. Gaël and I were studying at EM Lyon, a Business School with Marilyne’s future husband. When we graduated, we all went our separate ways. Gaël worked in marketing for L’Oreal and LVMH for 16 years and Marilyne started by teaching French medieval literature at Royal Holloway then went on to becoming a Montessori teacher in Paris. In 2010, in our late 30s, the 3 of us were ready for a new adventure to help children learn in a fun and modern way. 2014 was a big year in terms of growth: we moved to our first “stand-alone” offices in June and we recruited 2 people to grow our team: a developer and a community-manager. The company is based in Paris.
Achievements & Challenges
What is your best achievement to date?
I can think of 3 great achievements:
1. We regularly receive emails for parents thanking us for our apps because they helped their child understand something. It’s very fulfilling and it reminds me of how I felt when I worked in school.
2. In early 2013 our app, Numberland, was used by Apple for its iPad mini campaign in France, Canada & Germany. Can you image how proud we were? Then, in late 2013 when Apple released its Kids section, we had our own Store within the store, next to Disney, Peppa Pig and Nosy Crow, showing that not only did we have our place in the kids apps market but most importantly as one of the leaders.
3. When we moved offices, we organised a cocktail with the people who are close to Les Trois Elles. At one point during the evening I realised that we had created work for all these people: graphic designers, animators, sound engineer, developers… Suddenly I became conscious of our importance in their professional lives.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
My biggest challenge so far has been to know when to close my laptop and when to say “this can wait”. It’s been 4 years since I’ve taken a holiday without my computer, my phone and an iPad. I’m getting better at it but I can’t say that I’ve nailed it yet.
What do you think will be your biggest challenge in the future?
The challenge that is facing us in the future is competition. It took 2 years for the “big players” to take this market seriously. We have the advantage to have been there since the beginning but the reality is that the landscape has changed dramatically. There used to be a majority of small “pure players” on the educational app market. Today, Disney, Nick Jr, PBS and other are being aggressively active and have far bigger means than we do.
Women in Business
How can we encourage more women into entrepreneurship/leadership roles?
By changing the “mompreneur” image. People don’t take you seriously because you set up a company with friends, because you are a mother and because you didn’t raise 10 million dollars. At times it was quite discouraging to hear people’s reactions. They obviously thought that we released Numberland as a “hobby” and they were really surprised to find out that we were releasing a second one, then a third one, renting offices, hiring people….
Book & App Recommendations
Advice & Final Thoughts
What advice do you have to people considering starting their own business?
Stop waiting for “the right time”, it’s never exactly the right time. Write down somewhere your objectives - professional and personal - and come back to that list regularly because once you’re in the heat it’s not always easy to remember the big picture. Find the right mentors/advisers, amongst your friends and family or from your past work experience. It is very important to have people to whom you can talk to and who will be able to help you analyse a situation.
What is your vision for the future of Trois Elles Interactive?
Our business has changed significantly since its creation in 2010. We used to make 80% of our revenue in France, we now make 80% of our revenue outside of France as most of our apps are available in 15 languages. For this reason, we are working on changing the name of our company to something more international. It’s been a big financial and time investment for us but we feel the timing is just right.Obviously we are also working on new apps and new tools to help parents and educators use digital technology for teaching purposes.Whatever our name, we have a strong desire to continue to change the way children learn throughout the world. The short-term focus will be on North America and Asia with the aim to achieve what we’ve done in Europe. The long-term strategy could see us step outside of digital technology to become a global “learning” company.