Technology entrepreneur Xavier Niel is a self-learned coder who started at a young age by developing telecommunication and data services. Today leading several different business models, Xavier Niel is also the founder of 42, a free computer programming school and Station F, the world’s biggest startup incubator in Paris.
We had a chat with Xavier about his life work and ambitions.
You are a self-learned coder. Why is the skill of coding important? How has it helped you in your life?
Coding is everywhere now, not just in technology. There are so many jobs where coding is involved… Knowing how to code allowed me to understand all the technologies that I use in my day-to-day life. It helped me a lot with Free, the telecom company that I founded, by letting me achieve a global vision of what we are doing. But coding is also useful for coming up with new ideas. When you know how a technology works, you understand what you can do with it. On top of that, coding is all about logic, so knowing it improves your logic.
Founder of Kima Ventures – the most active venture capital firm in the world, backing up an average of 2 startups per week. As an investor, which has been the best, most worthwhile investments that you have ever made under 100€?
Kima is one of the most active venture capital firms in the world and we had a chance to be part of some big successes like Alan, the easy-to-use health insurance that’s being adopted by more and more companies. There’s also Payfit, which automates payroll processes, and Zenly, the mobile mapping solution that has been acquired by Snap Inc. I’m very proud of all the investments we’ve made since the creation of Kima in 2010.
You created 42, which provides an opportunity for everyone to learn to code for today’s digital world in a non-standard educational setting in 2013 in Paris. Four years after it was time for Station F – the world biggest startup campus. How would you define your vision and legacy?
Today’s entrepreneurs are often white, business school graduates. Both with 42 and STATION F, my idea is to let people that usually don’t have access to those resources or prestigious institutions, be able to launch their own projects. Everyone can be an entrepreneur or a coder. If you want to join 42, there are no specific admission requirements. At STATION F, we have the Fighters Program, a one-year incubation program designed to support entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds because we know that not everyone has a chance to get a fancy diploma. So with all of this, my goal is to bring more diversity in entrepreneurship.
You are described as a visionary, knowing what will be the need of the consumers tomorrow. What are your thoughts regarding Circular Economy?
It’s one of the biggest challenges we’re facing for the next decade. When we talk of economy and environment, we usually say that things are not changing fast enough. But when you take a look at the incredible ecosystem we have here in France, more and more initiatives are centred around the circular economy or tech for good. Tech for good has always been one of the core values of STATION F. We welcome startups that are working hard to grow but also understand the importance of impact on society. The first year of STATION F proved that it is possible to succeed. Just take a look at Meet my Mama, from STATION F’s Founders Program, they enable refugees and migrants from different countries to use their home cooking skills to achieve economic independence. It’s a huge success.
With your experience in tech, you have seen how much the Internet can shape our behaviour. Do you think that it will change also our consumption in a more sustainable way?
Our consumption has already started to change. People are paying more attention to the origin of what they’re buying. And the Internet is helping. It lets us access more information and have more options in order to choose the one that seems the best not just for us, but for the planet.