Saving the oral history of entrepreneurs

I love to sit entrepreneurs down and ask them to tell me their story. Over the years, I realized that those who start businesses are similar to great adventurers. Someone like Sarah Marquis packs a pair of shoes and walks 20'000 kilometers around the world with very little certainties, animated by a mix of ambition and naivety, and she gathers stories that people who stayed in their comfortable homes want to hear.

Figuratively, this is exactly what entrepreneurs are doing, and asking them to recount their adventures is always extremely rewarding, for it is so rich in highs and lows, persistence and despair, joy and sadness, hard work and creativity. They belong to this small group of beings that are exposed to an accelerated version of the best and worst of the human experience.

This picture is Bruno Bonnell telling me the story of founding Infogrames as a pioneer of the video games industry. It starts with a small teams, against all odds and before there is even a market. Then success picks up, media interest starts — so does competition. The company goes public, awards fall one after the other. Being in the eye of the cyclone means meeting people like Jacques Chirac, Bill Gates or Michael Jackson. Moving to the USA to be the CEO of a public company, until the trend reverses and survival becomes the order of the day. Going through difficult years, for many reasons, then a positive momentum restarts around a new place of interest for pioneers.

Beside making me feel like the luckiest person on earth, as I get to meet those who are quietly shaping the direction of the world, I believe asking entrepreneurs to tell their story is a public service. I am constantly approached by younger CEOs I try to help and support, and it is extremely valuable to be able to refer to history, and tell hem that running out of cash in five days and having no fucking clue how you are going to manage a situation you weren’t trained or qualified for happened to the best, whether it is Phil Knight, Christian Wanner or Elon Musk.

Bruno suggested we record our discussion, which made me think that all this wisdom should be kept. I am therefore thinking about starting an Entrepreneur Stories Conservation Project of sort, something that should logically be supported by a business school and that would be a repository of recordings of entrepreneurs recalling their adventures. People who are just starting heir journey could request access and listen to the recordings for inspiration and reference. I have no idea where this leads, but I feel it is something that needs to be done and holds tremendous value.