Et voila!
Jean-Michel Durocher is CEO of Paris based Webraska and Young French Entrepreneur of the Year. He speaks to David Bicknell

What is Webraska? Webraska provides real-time maps, traffic, and location-based personal navigation services for Internet-enabled terminals. Our goal is to provide a worldwide, person-based alternative to CD/DVD-ROM car-centric navigation systems. We also provide operators with a range of value-added services to address basic mobility needs such as: "Where am I? How do I get to my destination by car, public transport or on foot? Where is the nearest available parking space? Which is the shortest route?

We are offering personalised services based around the wireless application protocol (Wap), with SMS connectivity. We are doing this for mobile phones, personal digital assistants, and even cars, and working with companies such as Scoot, Airtel, and Vizzavi, the portal of Vivendi and Vodafone.

How did you come to found the company? I worked for Matra and Nortel working on advanced speech technologies and mobile communications before leaving to found Webraska. I wanted to create a company that could mix the mobile phone world with GPS or triangulation data to enable users to get to their preferred destination.

Where does the name come from? I graduated from Montreal and I wanted my company's name to demonstrate that it was a company based around the Web, but also had a North American background. I did some research and found that the name Alaska in Eskimo means "great land" and Nebraska means "great river". Webraska is a mix of the two that demonstrates the power of the Web.

How easy was it to get Webraska off the ground? Difficult at first. I had to rely on funding of family and friends. Many people liked the sound of what we wanted to do, but couldn't see a business model for it. Then they want to see products. We were very happy to get our first customer, SFR.

What about gaining later-stage funding? Once the company became established, we had a number of companies offering us funding, and we were able to choose. We actually had people who wouldn't stop calling us. We wanted to choose backers that had an international presence and that we were comfortable working with. If you are not careful when you take the money from venture capitalists, you lose control of your business

What is the environment like for e-commerce in France? The French environment is fine, except that staff at high-tech companies have a problem with the tax laws. Any money from stock options gets taxed heavily. To deal with issues like this, we have to take on more staff to solve the administrative headaches.

Do you consider yourself to be an entrepreneur? No, I consider myself to be a builder. There is not enough innovation implied in the term "entrepreneur" and it suggests less exposure to technology. I am using new technologies to build future services.

CV - Jean-Michel Durocher

  • September 1982-April 1987 - Studied at Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal

  • January 1988-December 1989 - Gained a masters degree in mathematics in Montreal

  • June 1993-Jan 1996 - Worked for Nortel

  • Jan 1996-July 1997 - Joined Matra in France after its merger with Nortel

  • July 1998 - Founded Webraska

  • 2000 - Named European Entrepreneur for France 2000

    Jean-Michel's Instant Advice for budding "Technology Builders"

  • Leave your company once you feel that you have done enough work to make you confident of success. It is more exciting to work on a new concept. If you don't leave, you can't build your idea properly.

  • Be careful to find a partner and staff that you can work with and trust. Working alone is not a good idea.

  • Choose an idea that can lead to real revenues, but believe in what you're doing. Venture capitalists have sometimes wrongly believed that only a large company can win.

  • Choose your venture funding carefully. It is extremely important. Somebody who only gives money away is not necessarily a good venture capitalist.

    webraska's Top 5 Web sites

  • www.yahoo.com

  • www.cnn.com

  • www.vizzavi.fr

  • www.snac.fr

  • www.amazon.com


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    This was first published in September 2000

     

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