From New York to Paris: Bitwage Founder Shares What It’s Like to Set Up Your Startup in France
For two years now, the French Tech Ticket program is an innovative approach, supported by the French government, to attract entrepreneurs from around the world to France. The competition, which this past year attracted 2,700 applications from more than 100 countries, is designed for non-French entrepreneurs only. It offers a package of benefits designed to remove obstacles that ambitious entrepreneurs don’t want to be slowed down by. Winners receive a generous cash stipend, fast track work permit, space in one of the 41 partner incubators located around France, access to unique acceleration and mentoring programs, and a help desk to assist in navigating the move to France.
One of the 2017 winners is an American startup called Bitwage, which is looking at the challenges of paying workers across borders. It is developing a wage payment solution that leverages blockchain technology to lower typical transaction fees and deliver funds as fast as same day.
We had a chance to ask Jonathan Chester, founder of Bitwage, about the French Tech Ticket Program.
How would you describe your company/product?
Bitwage is an international payroll & invoicing solution built on top of the blockchain. We allow workers anywhere in the world to receive their wages faster & cheaper than the banks via digital or local currency without requiring the company to sign up. By using the blockchain, we can bring fees and transfer times down from 8% and 5 days to under 2% and same day. We do this by providing collections accounts to users, who can then use these accounts to receive wages in domestic bank accounts, instead of international ones. Because of this, we already have workers receiving wages from companies like Google, Facebook. Philipps and even the United Nations. Our solution is incredibly popular when sending from developed to developing nations.
What are your goals in setting up in France? Why?
We have European goals and France specific goals. We just launched a product that allows us to offer unique SEPA IBAN numbers to workers anywhere in the world receiving wages from EU clients. Obviously, the EU is one of the largest economic areas in the world with ties to developing countries in Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America. We are specifically interested in France because of the connection between France & Francophone Africa (such as countries like Morocco, Senegal & Mali). We have decided to make our European headquarters out of Paris to achieve these goals because of the French Tech Ticket. Previously, we had been looking at Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg.
Why/How did you choose to participate in French Tech Ticket?
We were previously working out of Orange’s Silicon Valley accelerator, Orange Fab, when we began to learn more about the French economy and the business opportunity it presented with Francophone Africa. We then applied to the French Tech Ticket in order to dive deeper into this use case while we expand throughout Europe.
Any fun/amusing experiences in France you’d like to share with us?
We are a team of 6 remote working people. We typically have a person based in the Brazil, Philippines, France, and the US at all times, meaning there is always someone awake at Bitwage. For the first time for our company, we will all be working from the same location for about 2 weeks. We’ve rented out a villa for about a week in the South of France so that we can have a community building work vacation. The kind of work vacation where you work a lot, but in a interesting & novel location.
Any observations on the French tech ecosystem you’d care to share?
I recently went to an event, run by a French company, in Paris, where startups came to pitch the organization and French executives came to speak on a panel to a room of mostly French people. The entire event was in English. I was quite shocked (and amused).
Also, the main difference I noticed was how different the demo day at NUMA, our host accelerator in Paris, was from the demo day we participated in with Plug and Play in Silicon Valley. The NUMA demo day felt very warm, with a strong supporting community. Plug and Play seemed a lot bigger, but very transactional.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur/startup?
Education. We have a great product that we provide to workers all around the world. It’s just a matter of finding those workers and educating them on how this product will help them. Luckily, we have plenty of freelance developers who educate themselves on blockchain and digital currencies, how these technologies can help them, and go looking for a solution that uses this technology for their use case. This is how they find Bitwage.
Who is your tech muse or idol, and why?
For the purpose of not choosing someone obvious and predictable such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, I’ll talk more to someone who obviously has amazing investor pitching skills.
Have you ever heard of Juicero? Doug Evans, the CEO, raised $120m from Google Ventures & Kleiner Perkins to build a wireless juicing machine for $400 that creates juice from juice packets at a rate slower than if you just pushed juice at of the packet by hand. This is a hilariously inspiring story. Would love to see what his pitch was like in the rooms with these VCs.
Are there any fun facts about your company/team that you want to share with us?
Our company is 100% remote, in that, you can work remotely. We have never all met in person at the same time, and many members of the team have not met each other in person. Slack & Kkype are life savers here.