When the person interviewing you about your life is more interested in the “how” than the “why,” the perception of the road traveled changes and the result is a fresh article. Thanks to Louis Armengaud Wurmser for this profile in the magazine Reflets ESSEC and for our conversation that lasted twice the allotted time… Below is the text of his article “The Bounce-Back Pro”:
Opportunities knock for some entrepreneurs. For others, it’s challenges. Jérôme Adam (ESSEC00) has known both. He has had his share of setbacks, but has used them as fuel to launch new endeavors: life lessons he acknowledges nowadays in his newest enterprise and here in our pages.
“My path exemplifies one powerful idea: take responsibility for your life.” After getting his degree, Jérôme broke with tradition and let his parents know that he would not take over the family estate in Champagne. Instead, he decided to pursue studies in political science followed by the ESSEC business school where he is offered all the freedom he has yearned for. “I was able to go to New Orleans on exchange where I met a marketing professor who greatly influenced me.” He predicted Jérôme would create his own enterprise, perhaps stumble out of the gate, but would get back up and try again. “It was the first time I heard a positive spin on failure and the possibility of bouncing back. Back then, nobody spoke like that in France.”
A Dry Run
Upon graduation from ESSEC, Jérôme teamed up with Florence Bogdelin, Hélène Pigeon and Manuel da Silva to develop Visual Friendly, editing software which allowed Internet sites to meet accessibility and readability standards. “We made some audacious choices, but they paid off. For one, we recruited colleagues who were stronger in potential than university degrees… and they didn’t disappoint. I remember one colleague who audited the accessibility of the Social Affairs Minister’s websites. His work so impressed them that he was invited to present his audit to Minister Marie-Thérèse’s entire cabinet. He almost refused the invitation. Even under those conditions, he felt like an impostor—like he did not have what it took to speak before such an audience. How’s that for an example of the complexes we nurture simply for not having a university degree! I offered him the services of a media trainer and everything went well. We should go out of our way to support self-taught individuals, as they often suffer from self-censorship… In short, this pioneering plunge into entrepreneurship was a world-class management school.”
But the start-up didn’t succeed as a business model. “We spent our time looking for subsidies for our R&D instead of looking for clients… After five years, we had 15 employees, but we had to sell our shares.” The takeaway for Jérôme Adam was this: “We invested too much time in the conception phase, and waited too long for engineers to deliver the perfect product to enter the market, when we should have recruited a sales staff to quickly launch a first offering, and then improve the product. Among other things, this would have reduced our reliance on investors. The best money? The customer’s.”
Jérôme Adam put these lessons to good use when he created Easy Life with Florence Daumas. Easy Life was an innovation consulting agency that worked: “One noteworthy development was Easymetros, an electronic device that allowed users to make sense of public transport, and which won the Lépine Contest in 2009.” The problem came from elsewhere. “We posted online an article about us from the Revue des collectivités locales (Journal of Regional Communities), not knowing that we didn’t have the right to share it. The result: not only were we obliged to pay damages and interest for copyright infringement, but the two-year-long saga persuaded a potential buyer to pull his offer.” Another challenge, but an easier one to accept: “I had been careful to invest less of myself emotionally in this project. It helped me accept the situation and not cling to it needlessly.”
The Tide Turns
This turn of events served as reality check for Jérôme Adam. “I’d been in the tech sector for ten years. I needed something with a more human touch. That’s when the idea came to me to create a comedy series on the vagaries of working with others and diversity in the workplace—subjects I was very familiar with from my time as an entrepreneur.” He discussed it with Guillaume Buffet, someone he met during his tenure with the think tank Renaissance Numérique (Digital Renaissance), and together they produced the show, J’en Crois Pas Mes Yeux (JCPMY—I Can’t Believe My Eyes). “We put together a unique model in the world of French AV production. Normally, producers seek out subsidies (CNC…) and/or a commitment from a TV station. We, on the other hand, solicited businesses who we thought may be interested in using our content internally. They were offered to pre-purchase broadcast rights of our videos provided other partners matched the amount; otherwise, they could pull out. Funding was thus shared and more accessible to each company.” This system afforded the series a long run. “We wanted to shoot six episodes. The show lasted six seasons.”
The success of this enterprise demonstrates the importance of choosing partners well. “Guillaume and I complement each other nicely. And it showed in another of our adventures: the production of the documentary, Tandem, about our climb up Mont Ventoux on a tandem bicycle—a perfect illustration of the strength of our alliance.”
Transition and Sharing
Is it because his story is on film? Perhaps. Today, Jérôme Adam gives conferences inspired by his life journey. “I am in a phase of my life where I want to reach out. I want to share what I have learned and what I have been taught.” He offers his conferences to business managers based on the theme, “Unlock Your Power of Decision.” “You won’t hear anybody else addressing the issues I do. First of all, I don’t have any problem admitting my mistakes. Secondly, I am a bit of a contrarian. For example, I value doubt—as long as you know how to overcome it. Where many see doubt as a weakness, I assert the opposite, that to be too sure of oneself leads straight into a wall.”
He will also soon be writing a second book (his first with Patrick Blanchet is entitled Entreprendre avec sa différence, The Uncommon Entrepreneur) and is looking for a producer to shoot a film script he wrote inspired by his relationship with his brother and criticizing the banalization of drug addiction. Without a doubt, Jérôme Adam has a lot to say… and we love hearing him out!
Jérôme Adam (ESSEC00)
Interview and exposé by Louis Amengaud Wurmser (ESSEC2011)