Venture Voice – interviews with entrepreneurs

Entertaining Entrepreneurship

Fabrice Grinda on growing Zingy into a $200 million business

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Fabrice Grinda is one of the world’s leading Internet entrepreneurs and investors, with over 150 exits on 500 angel investments. The first time I interviewed him for this podcast, way back in 2005, the then-31-year-old French native was in the process of packing up his office at Zingy, the mobile media start-up he’d founded in 2000. After growing Zingy to $200 million in revenue, Fabrice had sold the company for $80 million in 2004. Eighteen months later, he was stepping down as CEO and looking ahead to his next adventure.

At the time we spoke, Broadband, iTunes and podcasting were all new, and Fabrice saw it as “the beginning of a hundred year revolution.” He recognized that there were going to be huge opportunities ahead for the entrepreneurs who were willing to take the risks and go all in on a big idea. And as Fabrice’s story shows, you don’t have to be the one who comes up with the groundbreaking product to become a wildly successful entrepreneur.

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Highlights from this episode:

“The fact that you can go from nothing and make it in this country, that’s really inspiring.”

“Some entrepreneurs have a product vision, and they follow that vision to the end, they build products around that vision.”

“I don’t come up with brilliant new ideas, but I’m pretty good, once I find an idea that I like, executing against and building and growing the company.”

“I’m much more didactic. I look more on paper like a businessman than an entrepreneur. It just so happens, I’d rather not work for anyone.”

“I didn’t have the skill set to grow a company and build it. And so I decided to choose the traditional path, which was, to me, banking or consulting.”

“[McKinsey and Company] was basically business school, or a finishing school, except they pay you.”

“I realized that my goal in life was not to write the perfect powerpoint presentation.”

“If you start a startup today, there’s maybe a 5% chance you’ll still be alive in five years. But if you start it without a business model, it’s probably a 0.1% chance you’ll be around.”

“It was incredible how unsavvy a lot of French entrepreneurs were with regard to PR…they considered it a waste of time to talk to journalists.”

“I invested every last penny.”

“In a winner take-all-market, we needed to be the winner. Otherwise, you know, we’d be nowhere, no one in the market.”

“For a few minutes, I was worth a couple hundred million.”

“I was locked up for a year, and I could see the value of my stock go from, you know, 400 million and 300 million, and there’s nothing I could do.”

“I made five big mistakes in that first company.”

“Companies are not democracies…If it takes too long to make a decision in a rapidly moving environment, it’s very dangerous.”

“I feel that it’s often better to make the wrong decision, and maybe fix it over time as you realize you made the wrong decision, than making no decision at all.”

“Getting mindshare is very critical.”

“There are two ways to get a million users: One is to spend $18 million on TV advertising and online advertising. The other one is to give something away for free…and then you start charging for it, as long as you set the expectation that you’re going to be charging for it.”

“I love building businesses. I love seeing a company grow from nothing and influencing the lives of my employees and seeing them grow with the company, and delivering a product that people love, and such, I had to become an entrepreneur again.”

“The company did not get VC funded because it was completely impossible to raise any money in B2C telecom in 2001, 2002. I invested every last penny I had from my previous company. I didn’t mean to.”

“The first check from Sprint is like half a million dollars. It’s like, wow, you know, there is something here after all.”

“I came to the US in early 2001 and realized we were in the Dark Ages [in terms of the mobile media market].”

“This is the beginning of the growth story.”

“I hired an investment bank, which, by the way, I recommend everyone to do if you’re ever going to sell your company if it’s worth more than 20 or 30 million, because then the investment can be the bad guy.”

“It has been a lot of fun to take it to this level, prepare to go public, do Sox compliance, hire a CFO and really get it in order.”

“It’s never good to be a little guy between two huge giants.”

“Maybe selling was not the right choice, but with the information I had at the time, it was the right choice. So definitely no regrets.”

“The objective at the end of the day is to have fun and build a great business.”

“You succeed a lot better if you do something that you like.”

“I’m keeping my eyes open for the next big idea I’m going to invest in.”

“I’d rather be laying the vision and building a company and growing it, so I’m an entrepreneur and remain an entrepreneur.”

“We’re at the beginning of a hundred year revolution.”

“The internet…is going to go in the background. I think a lot of the devices and services that we buy today, from a fridge to whatever, they’re all being connected and we’re just gonna not know. It’s just one feature amongst many.”

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