The day Simon lost 40 million
This is the story of a guy who saw 40 million euros pass through his hands and who lost everything in a few months. An entrepreneur who has experienced that crazy adrenaline rush that the Internet sometimes provides. Who has experienced that moment when everyone calls you because you raised so much money. And then that other moment when no one answers your emails.
It’s the story of a guy who slowly came back up the slope.
This is the story of Simon Dawlat with whom I shared a bo-bun in the 11th district a few months ago. Simon, whose calm and smiling gaze gives you the feeling that he hasn’t changed since the last lunch you had with him, at the time of the success.
While quietly sorting his noodles, Simon tells me his crazy story. The crazy story of his start-up, AppGratis, which won the jackpot, up to raising 10 million euros… before being so quickly ejected from the AppStore. In a few hours. The dream that explodes in smoke. He remembers the exact location and time he received the phone call from Apple.
It took Simon two years to rebuild his box. And rebuild. Today, Simon is back in the race. In the meantime, he has sorted out his friends.
The first thing Simon reveals to you when you ask him about him is the number of boxes he has planted. Full.
Simon Dawlat, founder of AppGratis and Batch.
Simon is a child of the sea. He and his parents lived on a boat. From 6 to 10 years old, he traveled the world with them. With his books for only friends. “I think that created in me a kind of spirit ofoutsider“.
Simon’s first job was playing video games. He was killing virtual enemies in Counter Strike and he was good at it. At 18, he therefore set up his first start-up: one of the biggest gamers’ forums in Europe. At the time, we did not yet call it “e-sport”. Simon was early. He raised 30,000 euros by majority. Before throwing in the towel a year later. Too early.
Simon’s first job: killer of virtual soldiers in a video game.
Simon then leaves for the USA for an internship. In 2008, Apple had just launched the iPhone. Simon therefore had the idea of developing an iPhone game. Logic. But the game is a failure.
In 2009, he was fired and returned to France penniless. “It didn’t matter, I was still in student mode”. He eats a lot of pasta while drinking beers. While waiting to know what to do with his life, he decides to create a blog. A fairly simple idea, to take care of: every day he presents an application for iPhone. But the traffic does not allow it to generate enough advertising.
So he has this old-fashioned idea (it was before the email came back into fashion): he creates a newsletter in which he presents a mobile application every day. Each time he offers the publisher of the application to switch to free mode for his community.
Very quickly, he won over 10,000 subscribers.
Rather encouraged by the result, he decides to apply it. The design is super ugly. But effective. In a few days, “Appgratuites” (yes the original name was ugly too) went from 20,000 to 400,000 subscribers! Before crossing the million mark so quickly.
The rest looks like a hold-up. In fact it’s just the crazy result of a good idea at the right time, swept away by the almost indecent success of the iPhone.
In 2010, AppGratuites generated 300,000 euros in turnover in one quarter. In 2011, the company made 2 million euros. Then 7 million euros in 2012. “We were going to make 30 to 40 million euros at the end of the year.”
Fear of heights.
At the time, we almost wanted to tell him: take the sorrel and go. Go to the Bahamas. Set up a fund. Help others. But here Simon is making a mistake. He raises funds.
Why raise 10 million euros when the start-up was already earning more than a million euros per month without spending almost anything? “I think we needed to legitimize ourselves,” Simon tells me calmly. “We thought that would open the doors of Apple to us. And that advertisers would feel more secure if we were backed by a fundraiser. ”
Indeed Apple spotted them… but not to open its doors.
So Simon is raising funds. Many. Everybody talks about it. Simon poses with Maurice Levy. It’s party.
The day everyone loved Simon Dawlat.
AppGratuites (which is now called “AppGratis” to make it more international) is launching in the USA. A tornado. The American version goes from 0 to 5 million euros in turnover in two months. And finally goes under the radar of Apple who decides to ring the end of the game.
“I remember it precisely. It was April 5, 2013. ”
Simon, a potential millionaire, is on vacation in Brazil in an old used car. He hasn’t changed.
The phone is ringing. He answers, smiling. He’s the Apple guy.
“Simon, you can’t continue your business anymore. We will remove your app tomorrow. “
Then Simon answers:
“Are you kidding? You’re killing my company! ”
Click. End of the story. We do not play with impunity with the real masters of the world. The American dream? It was before.
A few minutes later, an email confirms the sentence. No judges. No lawyers. Apple just killed Appgratis.
Back in France, Simon is swept away by the media maelstrom. Minister Fleur Pellerin takes up the matter. So the matter escapes him. “My mother called me every night, crying.”
In the meantime, Simon had made a lot of enemies. Jealous. “When the news broke, we were crucified in the public square. I was called a start-up junkie. ”
And as often in this business: when you have success and money, everyone wants to be your friend while hating you. And then the day you fall, overnight, no one answers your emails.
At the time, AppGratis, was a young, carefree company of 80 people. Simon has to fire. Many. Move of mercy. He collapses. End of volume 1 of the lord of applications.
For 6 months, Simon sinks into a semi-depression. He fights like a devil, saves the furniture, but he accuses the blow.
“I stayed at the office watching videos on YouTube and asking myself lots of questions.”
And then one morning Simon decides to get up. He goes back to sport. Stop smoking. There is still money left in the box account. So he thinks.
“At the beginning of 2014, we gathered everyone together, and we said to ourselves: we will leave each other for 3 months.” He sets up 5 teams. Who work on 5 projects. “We said to ourselves we’ll take the one that works best.”
The winning project is Batch. A tool that allows you to manage notifications on your application. “We used it on AppGratis, we thought it could benefit others”. The tool was launched in 2015. The results are there. “I have felt calmer for barely a week.” In a year, he will have his real friends. And then the false friends will come back. They always come back with success.
In the meantime, Simon has changed. Even if it gives the impression of always being the same.
“When you’re young you don’t know it’s impossible, so you do. Afterwards, you are more fearful. You have to find a balance between the two. ”
Entrepreneurship: this mixture of madness and clairvoyance, of luck and twists of fate. This side road that builds you.
Benoît Raphael is an expert in digital and media innovation, blogger and entrepreneur.
He is at the origin of many successful media on the Internet: Le Post.fr (Le Monde group), Le Plus de l’Obs, Le Lab d’Europe 1.
Benoît is also the co-founder of Trendsboard and robot media Flint.
Read also : Planting your box: the real story and how to prepare for it