UPDATED 14.01.2021 with new companies.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, our working habits have been disrupted; the line between personal life and professional life has become more blurred. Working from home has become widespread at an increasing number of companies.
Teams have had to get used to working 100% remotely with each other, and face-to-face meetings became less human and fun as they all switched to virtual (Fortunately, Zoom just added features that might help us look good and funny during our next meetings).
As necessity is the mother of invention, many tech startups in the French landscape are now either offering new solutions — or upgrading pre-existing tools — to face the unique challenges of remote work.
To get an overview of these developments, we’ve mapped out tech startups in the French landscape that are making a push in this area. We’ve included startups that have been created in the last five years and are pre-Series A (as defined in our data sources Dealroom, Tracxn and Crunchbase).
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The pandemic didn’t change everything overnight. Rather, it accelerated pre-existing, underlying trends that companies and their employees had already been facing for the last several years. Remote collaboration tools had started to emerge approximately eight to ten years ago when digital nomads became more popular. However, while previously the tools focused on asynchronous writing, what we have seen in recent years is a surge in video collaboration.
With the pandemic, there has also been a change in the way people use some of these collaboration solutions. Deployed, at first, as internal tools within companies (like Microsoft Teams or Slack for instance), they are now also used as a means of interacting with external clients or partners. We can definitely expect this trend to stick.
As people have started to work from home more extensively, they miss out on the informal chats at the coffee machine where they can quickly chat with colleagues about their current workflow. As a result of this trickier, 100% online peer-to-peer communication, people have started feeling less productive in their business lives.
To address that issue, tools that enable users to make their work more visible and transparent have started to emerge. We can only expect these solutions to become more common.
So far, these solutions have focused on specific target groups. Hetchr helps software engineers communicate better by providing them with a data-driven centralized workspace.
Startup Flow is an open innovation platform that allows corporations to map and monitor business opportunities with external partners.
CloudSkiff provides DevOps with a collaborative tool that improves the end-to-end process of deploying cloud-native applications on multiple clouds.
In a full-remote setup, keeping track of your colleagues’ schedules and working hours can be tricky. There aims at making remote work easier, starting with a tracker of your colleagues’ time zones and looking to add features like scheduling board or team feed.
One of the main challenges that many remote workers have experienced is how to remain engaged and active in a virtual meeting, especially when having 5+ hours of virtual meetings in a row. Some of the best practices have identified connection, collaboration and feedback as being the three main pillars of successful and engaging online meetings.
Tools like Beekast, an online platform that helps users create, lead and track collaborative meetings, have gained paramount importance.
Employee lifecycle (from engagement to development) is the area where we have identified most of the mapped startups. Though French people have always shown a specific sensitivity to employees’ common interests and wellbeing (as witnessed by the strong presence of unions), this surge in solutions dedicated to employees can be accounted for by other trends.
Although hit less hard than its neighbor, Germany, France is facing a labor shortage, especially in IT, which led employers to enter a talent war. Given the amount of resources companies invest to enhance their teams with quality talent, once hired, retaining that talent has proven to be critical. To achieve this, companies must work to build a strong employer brand that meets the expectations of its employees.
The rise in remote working has pushed many of these efforts, such as professional support, trainings and career development planning, quickly into the digital arena.
In terms of perks and support from employers, the pandemic definitely highlighted an underestimated area so far: mental & wellness support. Given the uncertainty of the current situation and the standardization of remote working, this will probably become a must-have for all employers in the coming years.
Leeto provides employers with SaaS and banking platforms to manage employee benefits and assign allowances to employees which they can spend on the perks of their choice.
Happypal is an app-based solution that enables employers to create and manage personalized benefits programs for their employees.
Briq, a SAAS tool within Slack & Microsoft Teams, lets employees recognize each other by giving out “briqs” to their peers. These can, in turn, be redeemed for rewards (exited to Swile in November 2020).
Others, like Softn, focus on another pillar of employee engagement by helping employers strengthen team cohesion, collective effectiveness and peer relationships.
OuiSpoon aims to improve employee engagement and strengthen corporate culture through a web application that allows employees to organize and take part in activities with their colleagues.
Wenabi provides companies with a platform that enables employees to get involved in volunteering in NGOs, hence proving employers’ commitment to social responsibility, a growing expectation among employees.
More broadly, other startups have taken a survey approach to measure employees’ engagement and provide employers with tools to analyze and act on the results.
Bleexo, an AI-based SaaS platform, enables employers to analyze their employee engagement through pulse surveys and 360° feedback.
Jubiwee allows managers and HR departments to track their team’s morale in real-time, identify topics that could lead to disengagement and provide targeted recommendations.
Javelo is a performance management platform that digitizes interviews and appraisals, 360° feedback and target settings.
Elevo is a performance and talent management platform that digitizes employees’ interviews and evaluations, 360° feedback, objectives setting and measures the impact of HR initiatives.
Zest is a real-time employee engagement SaaS solution that enables employers to follow employee pulse and get on-going anonymous feedback.
Bloomin helps HR teams & managers to measure employee experience in real-time to improve performance, retain talents and take insightful action.
Neobrain has developed an AI and skill mapping-based tool to help employers manage their talent and make strategic HR decisions. The tool is also used by universities and HR consultancies.
Similarly, Boostrs is a solution that helps employers manage their HR organizational changes through skill mapping and a training search index.
eLamp is developing a SaaS skills management solution that enables companies to address project staffing, HR transformation and certifications.
Empowill enables companies to manage their assessment interviews campaigns (professional, annual, skills assessment) and training plans online.
We can expect e-learnings and skills updates to become increasingly key in the coming years as 60% of the jobs that will be practiced in 2030 don’t exist yet. While some companies are focused on verticals of this employee lifecycle, others have a horizontal approach.
While we already know that all stages of the employee lifecycle are inherently linked, more data in this area continues to improve our understanding even further. As a result, AI-driven solutions are well-positioned to become even more accurate and efficient over time. We can definitely expect more of these horizontal approaches in the coming years.
As the talent war is raging, talent engines stepped up their game in the last years. Overall, they have become more data-focused, efficient and remote-working friendly.
Finally, a trend that has been ongoing for a few years now is self-employment. In 2019, the number of self-employed people in France amounted to 3.2M compared to 2.8M in 2013. Of those, freelancers, who are usually more IT-focused, amounted to 1M people compared to 700k in 2013.
The crisis we’re going through has inspired quite a few employees to evolve new expectations for their professional lives. Some of these expectations are related to flexible working and sense of purpose, which correlate strongly with self-employment. Since in 2016 more than 53% of French people already desired to switch to freelancing, one can expect this desire to be even stronger in the coming years, hence the number of self-employed people to increase in France.
In order to attract the best talent for their clients, talent engines either specialized in specific target groups or offered a different product-approach to their clients that aims at increasing recruitment efficiency.
Welovedevs helps developers find their dream jobs or freelance assignments by enabling them to get noticed by recruiters with their online resumes and browse companies based on filters (tech stack, remote work, etc.).
Kicklox connects engineers to companies so that they can work together on R&D projects.
HireSweet enables recruiters to reduce their sourcing time by giving them access to off-market candidates matching their open positions.
Hidden Market anonymizes off-market IT candidates’ profiles before sending them to recruiters, tackling discrimination in employment.
HeroesJobs is a video-based mobile app that connects food and retail companies with Gen Z candidates.
Lymia allows companies to recruit from their own talent pools, by integrating with their ATS.
Same as the previous category, some players in the space are privileging a horizontal approach to differentiate themselves.
HrFlow.ai is an artificial intelligence SaaS that analyses the career path of candidates to help companies detect new talent. Their tool includes talent assessment, talent mobility and talent upskilling opportunities.
We mentioned the labor shortage France is facing above, but haven’t really dug into its root causes. Part of this situation seems to be grounded upstream, specifically, the flow of students in university doesn’t seem to match the demand from employers.
In order to stem the scarcity of graduates in specific industries and to enhance jobs that may have been shunned by students, we have seen a few players taking an upstream approach by targeting young students.
MyJobGlasses, for instance, aims at creating a network for post high school students by connecting them with companies.
Driven by the rise of self-employed people in the last years, temping platforms have flourished, and it’s probably only the beginning of a growing European phenomenon.
Student Pop connects self-employed students with companies lacking human resources punctually.
As the number of self-employed people has increased over the past years, so have self-employment facilitation tools. Concrete examples lie in productivity tools enabling self-employed people to automate tasks and stay focused on their projects.
These types of solutions may become more important, as classic tools (Excel, GoogleSheets, accounting tools, etc.) have reached their limits for managing the specifics of self-employment and multiple job-holding (16% of the French working population accumulate several jobs).
Axonaut is software that helps self-employed people, as well as startups and SMEs, manage their business processes from business development to billing and spending management.
Inyo defines itself as a smart assistant for freelancers and includes features like planning, email automation and project monitoring.
Nevertheless, even if self-employment has the wind in its sails, traditional industries like banking, real-estate or health have lagged behind for a few years in terms of services and offers adapted to self-employed.
This lack of adapted services has inspired companies like Mansa, which enables self-employed people to get personal or professional loans when traditional banks usually find self-employed people’s records too risky.
Since reputation is one of the pillars of getting projects for freelancers, new kinds of players that enable reputation certification have emerged.
Talao allows companies to issue certificates on the Blockchain for their talents, whatever their status is (employees, freelancers, trainees, etc.).
Documentation and knowledge sharing tools have been around for a few years with some great success stories. However, with remote working becoming more common, these tools will be instrumental in keeping corporate cultures together and ensuring corporate knowledge is evenly throughout teams. Even the smallest companies that have up to this point successfully used oral communication to pass on knowledge will have to be more systematic in switching to written communication.
As corporate knowledge is usually passed on by team members, some companies tried to recreate this closed-group approach. These solutions can definitely be used as a knowledge sharing tool as well as for professional and personal training.
When talking about documentation, one cannot forget data. By now companies have really understood and embedded in their process what Tim Berners-Lee once said, “Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.” No-code data processing tools have emerged in the past few years.
Finally, as remote working has boomed, the tools we’ve used to talk, write and share with our team members have come under a lot of scrutiny, the most striking example of which being Zoom. For sure, as privacy, safety and confidentiality issues become more significant, both in the workplace and in personal life, we can expect this industry to thrive and grow in the coming years.
Companies like Cocoom, a visual knowledge sharing tool integrated with Microsoft Teams and useful at both the team and company levels, may have good days ahead.
Other companies have taken a different approach by focusing on searching existing databases.
Clind has developed an app that enables users to learn in private groups, both in a professional and personal context. Other features include a learning assistant to track progress and content discovery.
Actiondesk allows users to import data from any source and convert them into automatically refreshed spreadsheets.
AskR.ai is an AI-powered data assistant that provides users with the ability to chat with the data of their company. Users ask business questions in natural language. AskR then draws upon internal data to provide answers with the relevant chart or table.
Seald provides end-to-end encryption for business documents to be sent or stored.
The flexible workspace industry seems to be still nascent in France. This can be accounted for by the fact that France has lagged behind in terms of teleworking so far. When 20% of the European working population teleworked, only 8% did so in France.
Once again, as we expect remote working to become a more common working habit, companies are expected to wish for more flexible workspaces. One way to address this need is through solutions to book office or meeting spaces on an à la carte basis.
Another way to look at it is through solutions dedicated to optimizing the use of workspaces and improving employees’ experiences. Obviously, a lot of companies will still keep their own workspaces but will most probably want to have more flexibility in the rental conditions and offers that are customized to meet their specific needs.
Cocoon, a web-based platform, enables users to book private spaces by the hour or the day.
Flitdesk, an all-in-one platform helps companies, coworking spaces and asset managers to simplify office management.
Assembl enables companies to do office-sharing and rent part-time workspaces.
Semana has developed a workforce management software that enables companies to manage remote working more efficiently.
Volum is a free web platform that enables startups and growing companies to find office space that matches their requirements.
As shown by a study by Dell, job satisfaction might increase when some tasks are offloaded and automated. These tasks are, among others, financial admin, administration, HR admin and legal admin.
Many startups have drawn upon that observation as well as the inefficiency of administrative management, especially in fast-growing companies, to build efficient tools to help decrease the labor demand.
This industry has definitely grown in the past years with companies like Hyperlex, an AI-based SaaS tool for contract management and analysis.
Workelo is a SaaS solution that allows companies to onboard, crossboard and offboard employees easily.
Similarly, HeyTeam helps employees during their onboarding (including remote) & reboarding (i.e. getting back to work after months of working from home).
Other companies have taken a more horizontal approach, at the crossroads with knowledge-management, which allows employees to easily access key internal resources and information. Others have bet on an industry-focus approach to start. An example is Snapshift, which provides restaurants with online scheduling, timesheets and payroll preparation.
Clevy automates internal support and business processes by providing employees with conversational agents, either Q&A or augmented assistants, that enable them to access the right information on legal, HR, finance and IT topics, just to name a few.
For companies that are not used to project management tools, managing projects (especially those involving large, geographically dispersed teams) has been a real challenge in recent months. Hence, a tool that sounded like a nice-to-have yesterday could actually become a life-saver for some companies today.
This accelerated the use of existing project management tools. Product management-focused tools were already widespread in some companies, especially startups and scaleups, but the pandemic most probably commoditized them.
Cycle is an all-in-one solution helping product teams to collaborate and communicate with stakeholders.
Draft is a visual shared blackboard that enables teams to collaborate on different kinds of creative work, such as story mapping, visual management, product discovery and user flow optimization.
Harvestr is a product management platform that helps companies leverage customer feedback and data.
However, how would you make any progress on a project if you didn’t have the right people on board? That’s what companies like PickYourSkills are addressing by internally matching relevant skills with projects and even by helping to develop career plans for employees.
Finally, remote working has proved it hard for people to focus and stay productive. Companies like Station, a SaaS solution acting as a unifying interface for all web applications, are helping employees stay focused and organized while multitasking.
Other companies have developed collaborative productivity tools like Gryzzly. It is a SaaS that facilitates the monitoring of working hours as well as the piloting of projects and budgets, using a Slack chatbot and an interface.
COVID-19 has opened up a lot of opportunities for French startups. While it accelerated the usage of tools that enable people to work better — i.e be more focused, communicate more and document processes and knowledge — it also paved the way for new employee aspirations and expectations, regardless of generation.
We’ll definitely continue to see many exciting initiatives and businesses develop in this space!
If you feel we have missed some exciting startups or trends in the space, feel free to reach out: email@example.com.
Authored by Shiraz Mahfoudhi, a member of the Speedinvest Subscriptions & Health team. The face of software is changing rapidly, and this shift is what the team is looking for: consumer subscriptions designed around emerging, everyday needs; SaaS that looks and feels like the consumer tech we can’t live without; Digital Health applications that redefine the relationship between patients and doctors. Their experience, network and grit can get founders where they want to be.
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