A hard-hit victim of COVID-19, French startup backer The Family scales down to go back to basics

It doesn't always run in The Family.
A hard-hit victim of COVID-19, French startup backer The Family scales down to go back to basics

The Family, the Paris-based firm that has been helping hundreds of European tech entrepreneurs start and grow their startups over the better part of the last decade, has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, tech.eu has learned. Its revenue has been decimated in almost no time as it struggled to make its global dreams come true, forcing it to make major changes to try and chart a course for a brighter future.

The firm has had to significantly downsize its 'core team' (more on that later) and to close down the physical offices and operations it had established in London and Berlin, but it will likely also need to shutter its main hub in Paris, which had become something of a staple space within the European tech ecosystem.

Some of the restructuring had been some time coming, we understand, but the virus outbreak has dragged The Family into a situation where it had to make major adjustments quickly.

The Family has always been a strange beast to me personally, from the day it was founded back in 2013 up until today. It wasn't and isn't really a tech startup accelerator, not really an advisory firm, not really a seed investment firm, not really an incubator, not really a physical gathering space for founders, but all of the above rolled into one. Sorta kinda.

Be that as it may, the company has raised ~$25 million from a host of reputable VC firms, including Index Ventures, Idinvest, White Star Capital, e.ventures, Hummingbird Ventures, Project A and plenty more, to build up an impressive portfolio with stakes in 200+ startups. It has backed the likes of Algolia, Preply, Docker, TOA Berlin, Heetch and PayFit.

On top of that, The Family also ended up owning majority stakes in a group of companies that includes Kymono (which basically sells 'startup fashion'), entrepreneurship school Lion, and corporate innovation advisory outfit Pathfinder.

But in a video call earlier this week with The Family co-founder Oussama Ammar, we learned that the main entity, as well its constellation of associated companies, has witnessed its income fall off a cliff in the span of a mere week due to COVID-19.

The Family had come to rely very heavily on revenue from 'human interaction', with physical events happening in its hub in Paris almost non-stop, travel overload, and entrepreneurs from around the world taking up Ammar's, his co-founders' and the team's time away from the core fundamentals of helping startup founders scale their businesses. It relied on it so heavily, in fact, that there wasn't any other decision to be made after the COVID-19 pandemic shook the globe than to significantly scale down and go back to the dealmaking basics.

Ammar said he already had plans to go 'fully virtual' with The Family a year ago, many months before the world got coronavirus-shocked into a different state, but that now there essentially no other option still remained. At one point, Ammar added, there were 20 people almost exclusively working on making the physical events part of the company run smoothly, before those suddenly and near-completely dried up in the wake of the virus outbreak.

As a result, The Family's core team (which means not including 'associated' people from its group of majority-owned side businesses) has now been halved, from 24 to 12 people, and its Berlin and London offices discontinued. However, it's not all doom and gloom.

In fact, Ammar (pictured right, center) seemed very upbeat about The Family's prospects. Revenue took a huge dive because of the virus outbreak, but the situation also demanded to put things into perspective, and forced the company to cut and reevaluate its spendings and plans for the future.

Today, Ammar says, The Family can finally make good on its ambitions to become one of the world's top startup backers, as its competitors have been forced to go virtual as well, levelling the playing field in a way.

In May, the firm closed more investment deals than most months in 2019, and Ammar says The Family can now rethink how to attract startups from around the globe - including Silicon Valley for instance - to its, well, family. It aims to do so by making its team available remotely around the clock (without having to worry about things like office space rent and the logistics of running a physical events business), a vast network of investors and a solid community that has been part of The Family's DNA since the beginning.

In a private email recently sent to shareholders, which tech.eu has seen, another The Family co-founder, Nicolas Colin, put it this way:

"This is how we see it: our core business is to make deals. In other words, from now on we want The Family to be all about one business only: making deals with ambitious entrepreneurs and serving them to the best of our ability as their businesses grow.

Once a deal is negotiated and a new business joins The Family, we can make a difference by providing education. That can take many forms: one-to-one (that’s the office hours); one-to-many (that’s about producing content and hosting closed events for portfolio entrepreneurs); and many-to-many (that’s our dinners and offsite reunions, when we can do them again). Education is how we serve entrepreneurs with whom we make deals. It’s as simple as that."

Time will tell whether that's enough for the French firm to be able to truly take on the likes of Y Combinator, Techstars and 500 Startups, but what is clear is that even though The Family took a severe beating this year, it hasn't thrown in the towel just yet.

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