The bank for a changing world

Intrapreneur profile, David Amsellem: profession, serial intrapreneur

  • Mathilde Cristiani Copywriter & storyteller
  • Paris
  • 31.01.2018

Since September 2014, the People’s LAB has been encouraging employees with an innovative idea to develop it into a product or service which can be incorporated into the Group’s activities. It provides a way for people to play an active role in the company’s future, and to create new ways of working within the company. New part of a series launched by BNP Paribas to profile these entrepreneurial employees.

Surveyor, journalist, marketing consultant, IT project manager... David Amsellem may be young but he’s already lived several lives, obtained a stack of degrees, and exercised an assortment of professions. It was almost a logical sequel for him to try his hand at intrapreneurship by joining the BNP Paribas intrapreneur accelerator. A role that proved to be a perfect fit and that he hasn't left since. Meet a passionate intrapreneur for whom resilience and project mode have become a motto.

In fact, I’ve always been an intrapreneur without knowing it.” A phrase uttered minutes after we started talking about his career, which perfectly summarises a man who never stops moving. In 2016 he applied for the second year group of Peoples’ LAB, with the idea of launching a connected payment module linked to an electronic purse. 

In fact, I’ve always been an intrapreneur without knowing it.

During the three months of the programme, he changed his target no less than twice, joined up with another intrapreneur, presented a project that was approved but that he then had to put aside, before joining in on the development of a solution for managing expenses between friends or family. Not an easy ride, but one that suits him to perfection. 

From insatiable product manager to intrapreneur

When you look at his career path, one thing stands out: David Amsellem has always believed in Test and Learn. Sometimes even overdoing it a little, he admits! “I trained as an engineer, a surveyor specialised in space technology.” After a few internships in the sector and almost getting killed three times on building sites (sic), he decided to stop and take a radically new turn: “I enrolled for a post-graduate course in scientific journalism”. After graduating, he freelanced for a while but didn’t feel at home in his new career. Not one to be defeated, he embarked on a new path: “I took a Master’s degree in corporate management, specialising in marketing”.

He put his experience to use in various fields over the years: property, marketing consulting, strategy, software testing, event management... In 2008, he was recruited by BNP Paribas as IT project manager.

Meanwhile, he developed various ideas for external as well as in-house projects in his free time. “I thought about turning bank branch offices into property agencies. Or equipping the staff with solar chargers for their professional mobile phones,” he says. However, all these projects remained in the embryonic stage. “I wasn't organised enough to pull them through,” he admits. “I was too enthusiastic. That’s when the People’s LAB entered the picture.” Training that allowed him to change his status from Gyro Gearloose to intrapreneur, with a real capacity to execute and adapt.

A day in the life of an intrapreneur: switching directions

His idea? “To create a connected payment module linked to an electronic purse. I wanted payments to be done from a keyring connected to the telephone, which would authorise payments from a debit account,” he explains. Originally the project was aimed at children. But he quickly saw that he had to switch his target to teenagers. A second change soon followed, when he teamed up with Chadi Elie Saliba, another participant in that year’s People’s LAB.

In the course of the programme, we realised that our ideas were quite similar: same investors, identical technical solutions, but with two different services. His target was couples, and mine was youngsters. So we opted for launching a single, more complete tool for the whole family.” 

Think ecosystem for success 

At the end of the programme, the pair pitched before a panel of investors. The project was approved and received support. “My manager suggested I devote myself fully to the project for six months.”

We were in start-up mode. By opening her address book for us, my manager put us back on the intrapreneurial track, so that we could think in terms of ecosystem.

The manager also made another important contribution to the solution: she brought it back into the internal ecosystem. “We were in start-up mode. By opening her address book for us, she put us back on the intrapreneurial track, so that we could think in terms of ecosystem.” Once again working alone after his partner went back to Toulouse, our intrapreneur could therefore continue working on his project. Proof that this type of solution is important to the bank: two months after the acceleration programme ended, the Group bought the Nickel account, an alternative banking solution that works as a payment method. “Again we had to make a choice: stop there, or find an added value that would differentiate us.” In other words: another about-turn. They obviously chose the latter.

When it pays to adapt 

The timing worked in his favour: shortly after, David Amsellem was contacted by the Innovation Lab of his entity, PACE. They wanted him to help with the launch of an expense-sharing product. “That’s how SquareCount was born: a debt management solution between friends. The project already existed, instigated by the entity’s Lab and Cédric Levy. We put our whole customer journey, experience and expertise in expense-sharing into it. We only had to take out the payment method part.” The solution is currently in the test phase, looking for an in-house investor with the aim of launching it on the national market.

Turning employees into intrapreneurs

His initial project never came into being, but he’s not complaining. On the contrary. For him, being part of the BNP Paribas internal incubator not only helped him to develop an idea but to confirm who he was. “What’s special about the People’s LAB, is that it turns employees into intrapreneurs. Today, I totally see myself as an intrapreneur,” he tells us. “I experience each project launch as the CEO of a start-up. I respond to every ‘pain point’ in an autonomous way.” An attitude that changes the way of working, both for the employee and for the company. But to make it work, the intrapreneur’s ecosystem must also be involved: “I am an intrapreneur because my managers give me the opportunity to remain one: they’ve recognised the potential of the intrapreneurial spirit for managing projects and people.”

What’s special about the People’s LAB, is that it turns employees into intrapreneurs.

An intra and entrepreneurial future

What next? David Amsellem sees the future as a succession of trials and successes. The young man lets us know that he already has an idea for a new project. Will he be doing it internally or externally? He doesn't know yet. “I think it will mainly depend on the opportunities.” For him, that’s not the most important. “The two are quite similar, many start-ups focus on B2B. A company that has BNP Paribas as its main client is basically an internal start-up,” he feels. 

And let no-one tell him that it’s more convenient to undertake an entrepreneurial project in-house. “Sure, there’s not the same notion of risk, but again, that’s relative: the risk of looking bad is not negligible. An intrapreneur's career is at stake.” But, he concludes, we are in a favourable climate. “Experience, whether it’s entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial, is increasingly seen as a benefit in the Group. In my entity, they recognise and promote the right to make mistakes. Things are changing!”  

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