PARIS – At just 26 years old, Cécilia Durieu is a young female entrepreneur breaking onto the tech scene. After working at Merrill Lynch and a major French bank, she turned her sights to the coworking movement in France and launched eWorky one year ago with her business partner. The online site allows users to rent out or reserve empty office spaces anywhere in the world for variable amounts of time.
Originally from Grenoble, this math and physics student spent time in France and then in Cambridge. After school, she started a career in finance as a trader in sales in London. In 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis, she said she wanted to use her experiences and become an entrepreneur. With a business partner she launched a telecommuter consulting agency called Greenworking. Then in 2010 she began working on a new project, eWorky, with Olivier Brun and Tahir Iftikhar. Durieu spoke with SmartPlanet about this new venture as she and her cofounders blow out eWorky’s first birthday candle.
SP: Why did you decide to found eWorky?
CD: I cofounded Green Working with Olivier Brun and we realized that people were more and more nomadic. There were also lots of empty desks everywhere and workers were more mobile. With Greenworking, we were entrepreneurs and we didn’t have offices and had trouble finding training or seminar rooms. We realized there was no tool to help us find a workplace be it a meeting room, a spot with Wi-Fi access, or coworking spaces. We decided to create eWorky for this reason.
SP: Is eWorky different in some vital way from other similar sites like NeoNomade?
CD: We are international. We have different languages. We also have real-time booking and a Backoffice. Businesses can use the Backoffice to manage their bookings, their schedules, their bills – everything. Thanks to this Backoffice we can offer real time booking.
SP: How do you think coworking will grow in France and beyond?
CD: We were a bit late here in Paris, but now there are lots of spaces. There are new spaces created every day. The objective is to first address the economic crisis which has freed up desks that can be rented to get back some money. There are also ecological advantages. It is very green to try and not waste resources. The third aspect is important – the human aspect. When you share your office, you meet new people and find new projects and new ideas. We think this is going to grow a lot so we are helping this movement.
SP: Who is your target audience for eWorky?
CD: We are not closed to anything. Everyone can have the right to choose which office is better for them. Most eWorkers are both nomads working for companies and higher level telecommuters. We also have lots of entrepreneurs and freelancers. If they are high level employees they may book business centers, if they are young startups they might find shared offices.
SP: How has Paris been a good place to start a new business?
CD: When we started, being from Grenoble, I didn’t know Paris. When I worked for the French bank, we were based in Paris, so I was always coming back to Paris to write reports and to meet directors of banks to tell them what we saw abroad. I really discovered Paris at that time. It’s a nice city to become an entrepreneur because you have everything -- clients, supplies, investors, many coworking spaces, many media. It’s easier when you start to have a start-up in Paris rather than in Grenoble.
SP: How has Paris been a difficult place to start a new business?
CD: Because I travel quite a lot, to New York for a few months on my own, and then again with Merrill Lynch, I think the main difference is in finding investors. At least if it’s not easier, you can potentially find more funds in the US. In Austin I met some American investors and they said you could raise 5 or 10 million dollars here, whereas in Europe it’s far more difficult. People are more early adopters for technology. The quality of life is great in Paris, however, and US investors said I’d have to move to the US [and I didn’t].
SP: We don’t always hear too much about young French women being entrepreneurs. Why do you think that is?
CD: I’m quite used to it, being one of the only females. I studied math and then I worked in finance. I don’t find it much more difficult than for men to find clients or investors. On the other hand, my two cofounders are male. This might make a difference, but I don’t think it’s necessarily more difficult for females in Paris.
SP: What has been the most difficult part of this venture?
CD: The most difficult part is to stop working. I enjoy working but I work a lot. I only took a few days off this summer so I spent most of July and August in Paris. But we are currently trying to raise funds, so it was difficult to leave.
SP: And the most rewarding part so far?
CD: The most rewarding part is when you receive emails from eWorkers who like the service and find a great place. I received an email 2 or 3 days ago from a guy who found a business partner in a coworking space, and now he’s setting up a business with this guy. He sends me one email months ago to say the website is great. Now he sends me this new email saying he started his new business. He thanked me. It brings meaning to what I’m doing.
SP: What’s the next step for you and/or eWorky?
CD: The next step is just to focus on Europe. We are already in Europe but we want to improve our audience. Our service is web based, so if American, Australian, or Asian customers want to use it, we’d be happy to help them, as well.
Photo: Laptop Coworking space in Paris by Jason Whittaker