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Jonathan Anguelov / Harold Parisot: "The Power of a Network Lies in Its Diversity"

Interview. - One founded Aircall, one of the few French unicorns; the other founded the Chinese Business Club, a network frequented by high-level decision-makers. The two men have in common a record of success, forged through determination, perseverance, and a strong culture of networking.

Reading Time : 5 minut(s) - | Updated on 14-05-2024 15:58 | Published on 14-05-2024 11:24 

In the muted atmosphere of the Intercontinental Opera, Jonathan Anguelov takes the stage as the guest of honor at the Chinese Business Club. Around 300 people, including some big names from the business and cultural worlds, listen to him attentively. A few steps away from the podium, Harold Parisot, the founder of this business network, follows his speech with sustained attention. A few minutes earlier, the two men had shared their life trajectories with us.

A child from the French child welfare agency, the DDASS, Jonathan Anguelov forced his destiny. Having “nothing to lose”, he undertook a series of odd jobs to finance his business school. The entrepreneurial flair was already beating within him: with student loans, he financed rooms under Parisian roofs... It was ultimately the rental of this budding heritage that paid for his studies. His masterstroke came in 2014 - at just 28 years old - with the creation of Aircall. In 7 years, the cloud telephony startup has become one of the rare "made in France" unicorns, valued at over a billion dollars and earmarked for the Nasdaq.

Coming from a more privileged background, Harold Parisot left a salaried position to delve into entrepreneurship in 2010. As the meetings rolled on, the idea of creating a network bringing French and Chinese decision-makers closer together became obvious. The initial years were challenging, but he held on. In 2015, after persistently calling the switchboard of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, he managed to secure the participation of a young minister. Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the podium attracted the press’s attention, and the Chinese Business Club took off.


Assurance Vie

Caroline Courvoisier. - What seems to characterize both of you is a great ambition and the desire to "force your destiny" or "create your own luck," in your words. What does that mean in light of your experiences?

Jonathan Anguelov. – It's about fighting every day to change your destiny. I wasn't destined to create Aircall, a company that generates almost 200 million euros in revenue. I don't have parents, I grew up with child welfare. I don't consider myself smarter than others, I was even pretty average at school. When I said I wanted to be a lawyer or entrepreneur, in general it made people laugh… All my life, people told me I wouldn't make it.

At 18, I was working part-time as a waiter, cashier, paperboy… When I started buying maid's rooms with student loans, nobody understood my logic. I started somewhat thoughtlessly, but also because I had no choice: my only goal was to be able to support my needs. Then I realized I was progressing faster than my schoolmates. I concluded that I should only listen to myself. Listening to yourself is a way to create your own destiny, it's saying, "OK, I want to do something, I do it without asking too many questions, and I change everything."

Harold Parisot. - I have a somewhat different profile from Jonathan: I was lucky to be born in a privileged environment, even if my parents didn’t give me money to start as that principle was part of their upbringing. I was very happy as an employee and one day, I had the entrepreneurial spark. I set up my own business: an adventure without a parachute, because I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. I was doing real estate transactions, a tough field as income is not recurrent. I was working mainly with foreign investors looking for "off-market" goods. As we talked, I realized they often wanted to meet French business leaders or journalists, they were looking for brands to sell... I saw it as a chance to make connections. That's how the Chinese Business Club was born in 2012.

The first three years were really tough in every way, because I didn’t have the contacts or the money. But I was convinced that it would work one day. In 2015, Emmanuel Macron's attendance brought huge exposure to the club. To get him, I had to go via his ministry's switchboard. For 3 weeks, I must have had a dozen different interlocutors. Then one day, I received a blocked call from his office saying he was willing to come. It was June 15, 2015, and there was definitely a "before" and "after" that event. That's an example of what it means to "create your own luck".

CC. - Jonathan, you've managed to raise over $200 million, elevating Aircall to unicorn status. Harold, you've convinced heavyweights from the economic, political, and artistic world to join your club. Is developing a good network important for success?

Jonathan Anguelov. - That's my view. Obviously, with a great product, you can do fantastic things. But not everything relies on that. You need to be very good commercially, capable of forging the right partnerships and knocking on the right doors. In the case of Aircall, we had a revolutionary product that I'm very proud of. But our ability to find the right partners and get ourselves known made the difference against others who were offering alternative solutions. We were capable of talking with Salesforce or with HubSpot, we were giving lectures everywhere, and why? Because people knew us.

Networking is sometimes perceived negatively. People think it's folks gathering and sticking together. To me, it's about forging connections, understanding and drawing inspiration from what others do, seeing how we can help each other... but above all, it’s about enjoying each other's company and sharing common interests. Besides the childhood friends I've kept, I now have friends from 25 to 60 years old and older, from all social backgrounds. I believe we can learn from everyone. If the sole and only goal of people networking is to arrive at a club, relax, and try to shake as many hands as possible to leave with contracts, that will be a failure. What works is to chat, talk, have lunch together and see how we can help each other.

Harold Parisot. - I completely agree with Jonathan. You obviously need to be interested in others, give in order to potentially receive. And it's also true that you need to enjoy developing your network and let it happen naturally. Otherwise it doesn't work.

CC. – So, the development of the network doesn't stop with success...

Jonathan Anguelov. – No, obviously! Especially since I made a major "switch" by leaving my company Aircall at the end of last year to focus on my real estate business. I moved from the tech world, where everyone knows me for Aircall, to the real estate world where I'm almost unknown. It's important that real estate agents and brokers recognize us. I'm therefore developing this network from the ground up today, while also creating tech tools that aren't very common in the sector. I'm trying to bring some automation into a field that's still very manual.

Harold Parisot. - There are a lot of entrepreneurs killing it today. The message I'm getting across to them is that if their company is performing well, perhaps with a good address book, their business would develop exponentially. People often say the network is an accelerator, and I truly believe it. Because when you're in contact with decision-makers, you don't waste time.

I've always loved being in contact with others and I'm lucky to have made my passion my job. The Chinese Business Club has been thriving since 2015. If Chinese people aren't visiting France as much these days, my goal isn't to turn my back on them and change the club's name, but rather to open it to start-ups, SMEs, etc. Today, Jonathan Anguelov is our guest of honor and we have some completely atypical profiles among us: General Réty, GIGN boss, Frédéric Mazzella founder of the unicorn BlaBlaCar, Jacques Seguela (former advertiser), Philippe Douste-Blazy and Michèle Alliot-Marie (former ministers), Pierre Hermé (renowned chocolatier), Pascal Légitimus (actor)... I think what really makes a network strong, is its diversity indeed.

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