Today, exactly one year into the most audacious presidency France has ever seen, Emmanuel Macron has charmed Trump, cracked open stodgy labour laws and made the French look more business-friendly than ever. But it could have all been so different. Just a few years before becoming head of state, Macron was planning to exit politics and launch an education startup.
Sources close to Macron confirmed to Forbes that the former investment banker was exploring the market for education technology — or edtech, in industry parlance — in the summer of 2014.
His research took place during the weeks after he quit his post as deputy chief of staff in Francois Hollande’s government, and before he became Hollande’s economy minister. From there it was a three-year fast track to the presidency.
No wonder the president told Forbes in an April 2018 interview: “I think I understand entrepreneurs and risk-takers quite well.”
Back in 2014, Macron had invited people in academia and from the startup world to his office near Elysee Palace, to ask about the prospects of building his own education startup.
“He wanted to create something in the education market,” says one source who advised Macron at the time and did not want to be named. “At that point Macron was not well known.”
The discussions were informal and explored what the dynamics were in the edtech market, which is expected to be worth $250 billion globally by 2020.
Macron’s ideas for a company were vague, but according to French press reports he planned to start it with colleagues Julien Denormandie, 37, and Ismael Emelien, 31.
Then in August, Holland invited Macron to become minister of economy, and his designs for a startup disappeared after he took up the new post.
In April 2016, he co-founded the centrist party En Marche with Denormandie and Emelien, who are now his Secretary of State and strategic advisor. (In another life, his co-founders might have held titles like chief product officer or chief marketing officer.)
Xavier Niel, the telecoms billionaire who’s lavished hundreds of millions of dollars on French entrepreneurs, was planning to help Macron establish the firm, according to one source.
The president has hinted at these earlier ambitions.
In June 2017, one month after En Marche swept to power in the national elections, Macron gave a speech to launch Station F, the massive startup incubator financed by billionaire Niel.
Standing before a large crowd of startup founders and engineers at the inauguration, Macron revealed that three years earlier he had promised his wife Brigitte that he would stop political life and set up a company.
“I would be an entrepreneur,” he said, adding, “It’s true, and Xavier Niel can testify.” But things had changed. Station F didn’t exist back then. And so: “I pivoted the business model,” he said, prompting cheers.
Macron had learned just minutes before that “pivot” (or pivote in French) was a form of startup jargon from another entrepreneur, Antoine Martin, who had recently sold his own startup Zenly to Snap for more than $200 million. “He did not know the word that day,” Martin remembers.
Macron was “really interested in the field” of education technology, says one of the people who talked with him about his startup idea in the summer of 2014. He wanted to know about other startups who were already in the space. “He asked a lot of questions, smart questions.”
But Macron’s path was influenced by a politically-fortuitous change in circumstance. Arnaud Montebourg, 55, then Hollande’s economy minister, was “ushered to the exit” and resigned from his post on Aug. 25th 2014.
“Holland needed a Minister of economy, and he pulled back Macron.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
(c) Forbes 2018