AFAM: Hello Michel and thank you for finding time to answer some questions. You have been living in the US since 1988. For more than 28 years you have been the CEO of Edge LLC. Please tell us a few words about yourself!
Michel: I moved here in 1988 indeed to start a company to distribute and create video games, as part of an international group of companies. In 1989 I also expanded the effort to Asia, in particular Japan.
That group eventually became a huge international video game group, with many studios and worldwide distribution. As such I had to manage internal cohesion (cultural understanding and differences, communication, processes and procedures, etc...) to make sure that we remained focused and efficient despite the diverse culture we were evolving in (cultural tastes, companies in many places in the world with very different cultural habits, employees from purely creative minds, to purely business like)
I also spent many years developing companies for operations and international development, focused a lot of my fundamental studies on strategy (how a company should be structured and principles under which it should operate to be coherent, efficient and thus successful) and on the cognitive science of decision making (and thus "expertise", experience, decisions models, etc..).
I also spent time on human interface development as a corollary to decision making science.
AFAM: This year you decided to join the AFAM team by becoming one of the Yosemite mentors. How come you joined this initiative? How do you see your role?
Michel: Well I started the initiative (Yosemite program) because having been in business development most of my adult life, I feel that there is much we can contribute to the gadz community. It is one of the weakness in our schooling, and one of the weakness in France (compared to USA). So, I feel that not only it needs to be demystified, as it certainly not as difficult as most people imagine, and we need to clarify the basic concepts for current gadz'arts to take the entrepreneurship route. Furthermore, it is a matter of survival, being an engineer is great, but to be the engine to drive innovations, new companies, new paradigms is even better, more interesting and very contributive to the economy at large (create new technologies, new jobs and so on).
So, Yosemite was created to not only educate as many people as possible in our community about entrepreneurship, but also to help anyone as much as we could since quite a few of us actually have direct experience with the subject matter (entrepreneurship and USA).
There is also a more personal objective that one first learns by listening, and experiencing, then one progresses by teaching said skills and experience. The third stage is to live it through the eyes and experience of others, when all the teaching has been done and refined, and find out what the "students" do with it, always hoping the student will then surpass the teacher. That is a fully enriching experience.
AFAM: Did you already act as a Yosemite mentor? Can you tell us more about it? What kind of mentees do you expect to join the program in the future?
Michel: I wish people would better understand what we can offer and not hesitate to use it.
Maybe I am over-optimistic as to how many people may have potential entrepreneurship envies or ideas, but I hope it's more, and will be more in the future. I really hope that a lot of people thinking it is super difficult, as it sometimes seems, would be open to understand that, in particular in the USA, it is much easier than it sounds, that a few basic principles are just what is needed, and then they launch themselves. The US ecosystem is particularly favorable to entrepreneurship, it should be understood and used.
And certainly, so by our gadz'arts community. We have all the tools to be extremely successful, from the capacity to think and learn, to broad technical education. All the hard learning is already done.
Don't misunderstand me, not everyone can be an entrepreneur, there are fundamentals traits that cannot be avoided to become successful, such as optimism, but a lot more people can be entrepreneurs, a lot more than think they can be, especially in our community.
AFAM: As an entrepreneur yourself, what piece of advice would you give today to gadz’arts willing to embrace an entrepreneurship career? Or maybe to those who dream of being entrepreneurs in the US?
It is very difficult to generalize; each case is different. But if I had to give ONE advice, it would be:
A company is so simple at the end of the day, it's a "product" (product or service, or ...), for which one has to find customers (sales and marketing), and for which one has to make sure that it sells for more than it costs to create (R&D, sourcing, manufacturing, etc..).
It is just that simple, everything else is always back to said fundamentals. People should not make mountains out of it, and they should just start and keep going, "just do it".
The USA makes it a very easy ecosystem, as failure is tolerated, even encouraged, so there is no stigma in trying and failing (Chapter 11 or others). And trying and failing is the way to learn, become better and develop a new business model when needed.
It is also an ecosystem where entrepreneurship is well ingrained, understood and accepted by all the other actors (banks, investors, partners, etc..) so that makes it easier too.
Now for gadz'arts, as engineers, there is one particular culprit that is a natural tendency, that needs to be understood and "controlled" in order to succeed. It's not about the "perfect" product, it's not even about the "best" product. A good product (that answers a need) is good enough as long as what I wrote above stands (I can develop the market, and I can sell it for more than it costs me).
There are strategic cases where the "perfect" or the "greatest" product may be the focused engine, but that is not a common case, it's actually more of an exceptional one, and if such, then the whole company strategy needs to be in line with that very particular strategy, to become successful. It's a whole other vast subject.
The equation best product => (therefore) sales are/success is automatic, is just not true.
The real equation, as frustrating as that may be for us engineers, is typically the best sales and marketing strategy, with a "sufficiently satisfactory" product, is what works.
Never mind that "best" or "perfect" are either a subjective concept to start with (every product has good points and bad ones), or that it just doesn't exist (it is so tuned to a specific application, that either better can be created, or if the application is slightly evolving, then the product is too specific to remain "best" or "perfect").
We may not like that, or we may not agree with it in principle, but that is nevertheless how the world turns, so it should be understood and factored in the equation.
That is not to say that thriving for excellence (in products) is not a good endeavor, but it is to say that it's not THE only key to successful entrepreneurship. I would even go so far as to say that it's a whole different endeavor than entrepreneurship (more like scholar research, or fundamental research). Successful entrepreneurship is always about "sufficiently satisfactory excellence". The excellence is in the execution as a whole, not solely the product.
AFAM: thank you very much!
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Photo courtesy of Michel