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Women entrepreneur—tips for success from Sibylle de Villeneuve, Founder and CEO of Raoul

  • 22.11.2018

Women now account for nearly a third of all entrepreneurs in France. What are the milestones in their careers and what tips would they offer aspiring entrepreneurs? Sibylle de Villeneuve, founder of the agency Raoul, provides her tips as a seasoned entrepreneur.

After 15 years of experience in media relations and influence, you founded the agency Raoul in 2013. What gave you the push you needed to embark on this entrepreneurial adventure?

A combination of three factors pushed me to start my business at the age of 38. First of all, I have collaborated with entrepreneurs and startups working in new technologies since 2000. I notably managed the LeWeb conference for 10 years. But, after 15 years in media relations and influence, I started to feel some burnout in my profession. I was looking for a new start. It was mostly the people around me who pushed me to set out on my own—friends, clients, partners. Many people showed me the way and encouraged me to follow it. I never considered starting my own business until I actually did it, largely because I was content as an employee. Before founding Raoul, I happily and successfully managed entities dedicated to media relations within major communication groups. These previous experiences certainly gave me the courage I needed to work for myself—not to mention the expertise, experience and address book.

The hardest part was learning to accept the risk of taking the leap, with no safety net, as the head of a household. I didn’t feel like a natural entrepreneur at all, even though I already was one since I was managing independent entities. So, I embarked on the journey by relying on what I had built up to that point—an ecosystem, a reputation and business contacts. I kept doing what I did best, in my own area of expertise—new technologies. Five years after opening the agency, we now have 12 employees. Our portfolio consists mainly of French clients, with some European and international locations.  

It was mostly the people around me who pushed me to set out on my own—friends, clients, partners. Many people showed me the way and encouraged me to follow it.

I am lucky to be able to pick my clients and I am committed to working with startups in my favorite industry. We support our clients over the long term, and they stay loyal to us. Just like my team! 

Getting support from entrepreneur networks is a great way to boost your self-confidence. 

How has media relations changed in recent years, notably with the rise of digital? 

It’s harder today than in the past. Journalists are in greater demand and there are now many more channels. Quality relationships and trust between influencers and communicators are more important than ever before. Digital has also slightly altered the success factors. New rules have emerged, but it is still the same business—to have success, you have to be ultra-relevant. Digital tools have even simplified certain aspects of our work, such as our intelligence and monitoring tools. Finally, social networks offer a powerful sounding board, enabling journalistic publications to generate more buzz today than in the past. 

What BNP Paribas programs did you take part in and how did they help you in your career? 

I took part in a mentoring program organized in 2016 by the association WBMI (Women Business Mentoring Initiative), supported by BNP Paribas. I was mentored by a Publicis manager who helped me a lot, notably to resolve complex management situations. She also encouraged me to participate in the Women Entrepreneur Program organized by BNP Paribas Wealth Management and the Women Initiative Foundation. It offers a week of classes dedicated to women entrepreneurs and takes place every year in Stanford.

Attending a program at such a prestigious school was rewarding and inspiring. I learned two main things—how to assert my value (no, the agency’s success is not just a matter of luck…), notably by increasing my fees, and how to make tough decisions without guilt. 

I thought the lessons were very accessible and practical—knowing how to negotiate, learning how to ask for things, how to say no. I picked up some tips and information I wasn’t expecting. For example, while flat management is very popular in Silicon Valley, it’s not for everyone and many employees need the reassurance of a structure. When I got back, I reorganized my agency by instituting a hierarchy and it has worked out marvelously. In short, the program allowed me to take a giant leap in terms of my self-confidence—an obstacle faced by many women. If I had two tips for other entrepreneurs, they would be what I learned at Stanford—assert your value and learn how to say no. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing women entrepreneurs? 

Self-confidence. But I think that applies to women and men alike, even though studies tend to show that women have trouble asserting themselves. Getting support from entrepreneur networks is a great way to boost your self-confidence. These networks are well organized and teach us the right attitude. And, lastly, I would say: never be afraid! 

Supporting women entrepreneurs 

As a pioneer bank in supporting women entrepreneurs, BNP Paribas has developed in France and internationally tailored solutions to meet their needs that go beyond the simple financing of business activities. For example, BNP Paribas Wealth Management in partnership with the Women Initiative Foundation has launched the Women Entrepreneur Program in 2015. The annual week-long program is a mix of intensive classes, workshops and exchanges at Stanford University for 40 accomplished women entrepreneurs coming from a wide range of industries and various countries. An opportunity for the participants to develop their managerial skills, strengthen their network and identify new business opportunities.

Crédits photos : header ©Francois Tancré // ©Géraldine Aresteanu

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