10 April 2020 1191 words, 5 min. read Latest update : 17 April 2020

[Podcast] Jean-Philippe Couturier started Whoz with 19 other co-founders

By Lorène Fauvelle PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
Jean-Philippe Couturier is not starting his first business. His first was created in 2005, and for nearly 10 years he has been exploring the needs of his clients in terms of competency management. It is to serve these needs that […]

Jean-Philippe Couturier is not starting his first business. His first was created in 2005, and for nearly 10 years he has been exploring the needs of his clients in terms of competency management. It is to serve these needs that he launched Whoz in 2016. And rather than start it alone, he did it with 19 other people! A unique case study that allowed the company to face serenely 18 months of R&D and then to take off quickly with a significant strike force.

Discover this unusual story in this new podcast. And if you like Jean-Philippe’s speech, find it also in an exclusive podcast “Coronavirus and technology start-ups” that we produced last week.


The marketing idea to remember

The importance of the network is fundamental to make the first sales. The Whoz solution was first sold to Jean-Philippe’s ex-competitors, the people who led his life when he ran the consulting firm he sold before starting Whoz.

Chapter 1: your entrepreneurial experience in 3² points

3 key figures

40 employees, 100 clients, 30000 CV’s processed

3 tips for future start-uppers

Tip 1: Think big
Tip 2: Start small
Tip 3: Listen to your prospects and customers

3 essential skills for launching a start-up

The first is a mixture of desire and passion. You have to want it to work. Knowledge of the sector is the second skill that will make a difference. The third skill is resilience.

Listen to the market, listen to [your] prospects, listen to [your] customers. We tend not to do that enough, if at all. That’s the best way to mess up.

Chapter 2: the genesis of the business idea

Whoz offers a solution, based on artificial intelligence, which allows making the best link between the demand for skills on the one hand and the supply of expertise on the other. The objective is to meet the needs of internal and external customers and the aspirations of employees in terms of training.

In the podcast, Jean-Philippe Couturier describes the different algorithms that are used:

  • Algorithm 1: Recovery of experiences and skills from the CV
  • Algorithm 2: the creation of a “talent cloud” to represent the ecosystem of internal and external competencies
  • Algorithm 3: a matching algorithm to match a skill demand with a database profile

The idea behind Whoz comes from the observation, made by Jean-Philippe in his previous company (Innoven Altenor) that no digital solution existed to manage a consulting firm. Nevertheless, performance management remained a significant issue for the profitability of these companies, which were accumulating small inefficiencies that Jean-Philippe compares in the podcast to as many small water leaks. An internal solution was therefore developed and improved for 10 years. It is this solution that gave birth to Whoz.

Leaks in performance, income margins, and so on, it’s a little like insulating a house. It’s not a huge gaping hole, it’s small leaks everywhere. You have to find these leaks and fix them.

Chapter 3: Validation of the business idea

Jean-Philippe Couturier explains that the need and the pertinence of the solution could be validated within Innoven Altenor. Not only has the solution been successfully applied within this firm, but other companies have also wanted to use it.

If at first sight, the development of an ad hoc solution may appear to be the ideal case, the risks inherent in such an approach should not be neglected:

  • development of a solution that is too specific and does not meet the needs of the greatest number of people
  • long development time that could have allowed a competitor to enter the market

So, there is a small amount of luck in the story of Whoz since in 2015, at the resale of Innoven Altenor, Jean-Philippe realised that an adequate solution was still not available on the market.

Chapter 4: Getting started

The network found the first customers. It was by going to see his former competitors that Jean-Philippe was able to make the first sales.

The particularity of Whoz is that it started with 20 employees, which is very atypical for a start-up. This represented a financial challenge (18 months of R&D to sustain before delivering anything) but also an operational problem, to ensure that a solution is delivered on time with such a team. Jean-Philippe was used to this kind of start-up. He explains:

When I started my first company in 2005, I already started with a lot of people, which made the difference probably because we had our first 2 million euros in the first year. And with that, you can hire more and more people and then grow significantly.


We meet an important need because most service companies work on Excel spreadsheets or in the best case on Excel spreadsheets that have been put on the web.

Chapter 5: Take-off

The take-off was made possible by 2 factors: on the one hand, the size of the team allows it to respond to more requests; on the other hand, the solution itself, because it connects different companies, will enable it to be known by a wider public. This is what Jean-Philippe calls the network effect:

The solution itself allows us to move up a gear because we benefit from a network effect. When you are a corporate customer, you connect your partners, your subcontractors, your freelancers, … who get to know the solution.

This chapter is particularly interesting because Jean-Philippe comes back several times on the positive effects of the first team. I will repeat below an entire passage from this chapter that says a lot about the importance of human capital:

I think that when you have a team of people who are willing, competent, very senior nothing or not much can happen to you because you will always find the solutions. And what’s interesting when you start with 20 or so people that you know well, that you trust […] is that, yes, you will have challenges, but in fact, the team will be there, you won’t be alone, and that makes a big difference. I think that’s what makes it so difficult for start-ups that start small. You’re alone a lot of the time, and it’s stressful.

Chapter 6: The future

The Whoz market is estimated at 1-1.5 billion euros in France. The first objective is, therefore, to consolidate the solution on the French market. The 2nd is to open a new country, probably the United Kingdom or Germany. The solution already exists in English and can be easily adapted to other language contexts.

The third objective is to open the American market within 3 years.

A podcast to help you to develop your start-up

In 2020 we are changing the format of our podcasts. The objective is to help you develop your start-up by providing you with relevant information on specific topics.

Our podcasts are now divided into chapters of +/- 3 minutes. Each section is dedicated to a specific topic or phase of development. You can, therefore, listen to the entire podcast or choose to listen to only part of it by directly selecting the one that interests you the most.

Illustration images: Shutterstock

Posted in Entrepreneurship.

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