An Extreme Sports World Champion’s Journey to Entrepreneurship

This is a guest post by Taïg Khris, who was recently at STATION F for an exclusive Ask Me Anything session. 20+ years of experience in the world of extreme sports later, he is now focused on his next adventure, daring in its own right: to revolutionize the telecom industry by creating a global mobile operator, Onoff Telecom.

Sharing my experience at STATION F

I always try to share my experiences and what I have learnt as much as possible. That’s why I became a TEDx speaker, why I have done conferences at Sciences Po and why I have accepted STATION F’s invitation to participate in an “Ask Me Anything” session, last Tuesday. 100 young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs came to ask me about my journey from extreme sport champion to founder of an innovative telecom company, Onoff. The first questions were asked by another great entrepreneur: Sébastien Sikorski, founder of Stories, France ex-General Manager of AdopteUnMec.com. I wanted to share with you this great exchange with all of them.

Taïg Khris & Sébastien Sikorski at STATION F

Taïg, what is the easiest: to jump from the Eiffel Tower or to launch a startup?

I never think about the problem too far ahead, I focus on doing as much as I can in the moment. I use the same recipe to jump from the Eiffel Tower or to launch Onoff. For both, I have started from nothing. I have never ever been to school but my dream was to become a roller champion. Without any network, any money, I have managed to do it. For my first competition, I was sleeping on a bench outside because I had no money to pay the hotel. I fell a dozen times but I’m still up. When I launched Onoff, I also started from nothing: I love technology, challenges and changing established model. I realized that everything was now in the cloud — like music with Spotify or films with Netflix — except for phone numbers that were stuck in a SIM card. I wanted to have several phone numbers on the same device, to use another device if my phone was down, or to be able to create as many phone numbers as you can create email addresses. So I invented: cloud numbers. They are easy to generate, affordable and let you create international numbers at a lower cost than usual. We have invented the virtual number portability. Now we are the biggest international telecom operator in the world.

The adage says: “to be a good entrepreneur, you have to be a good hacker”. But you, Taïg, are not a tech guy. Is that a problem?

That’s true, I’m not a good technician but, paradoxically, I have several patents at my name! How did I manage to do it? Simply by deciding to go for it. In sports, you cannot lie. If you are not technically the best, you cannot win. Similarly in entrepreneurship, no one will invest in you if you do not own your subject. I started learning day & night. I’m now a telecom expert on the technical and legal side. When I had the idea of “cloud numbers”, I prospected telecom experts from Skype and other large companies, for months. Finally, one of them accepted to make an audit of the “cloud numbers” for 1500$ per day. Once he validated the concept, I started to stop sleeping, working madly for Onoff. I have established part of the company in Estonia where Skype has been developed and where you can find the best telecom developers.

What was the most difficult: to raise love money from 100 friends or from A investors?

Both are extremely difficult: it’s a crazy race. At the beginning, I had to convince one by one my 130 people: friends, lawyers, athletes, cameraman… Thanks to the early investors who trusted me: from Sébastien Chabal, Fabien Pelous, or Frederic Michalak, to Frank Cadoret, SFR ex-vice-président, to Antoine Arnault (Berluti), Ludovic Le Moan (Sigfox), XLR Capital or you, Sébastien Sikorski, I’ve raised 1M€. Between the two fundraising, the adventure almost ended: I went out of money, and I was about to fire 45 people. But fortunately, by sharing my story to a neighbour in a plane, he offered to honour my debts and invest 300k€ in the company. To convince hundred of people is really hard, you need to have the nerve. I did it showing a completely fake model of the app that I spent hours to create based on photo montage. Now that I have raised 10M€ with risk capital funds like Idinvest, OneRagtime, Breega Capital and European funds like Meusinvest and Leansquare, I can afford to achieve my ambitions for Onoff developing our B2B offer, and advertising on TV and radio.

You have launched Onoff at Le Web 4 years ago. At that time, you were unknown in the Tech ecosystem and investors didn’t take you seriously. And now you are applying to be part of the board France Digitale, the most influential association of the French Tech. What is your ambition?

It’s really important for me to be part of France Digitale. As an extreme sport champion, and as an entrepreneur, I have always been audacious, daring and open minded. I want to bring my energy and audacity to France Digitale. I think it’s relevant with the portrait of today’s young entrepreneurs.