Niel come a hell of a way between Christmas Day 1982 when he received as a gift his first computer, a Sinclair, and more recently in 2015, when the US magazine Wired designates as the 7 th most influential personality world in the digital domain. The general French public also learned to discover and know Xavier Niel a few years ago when he showed his support for the new political movement En Marche created by Emmanuel Macron, who was to become President of the Republic.
Born in 1967 in Maisons-Alfort, the young Xavier grew up in a rather wealthy household, his father being a lawyer and his mother an accountant. He continued his secondary studies in private establishments and finally joined a scientific preparatory class after having obtained his baccalaureate. But Xavier Niel, a precocious entrepreneur, had started exploring the potential of Minitel in his high school years and at the age of 17, the native of Val-de-Marne had created his first pink Minitel service!
From Pink Minitel to High Digital Spheres
What we called the “pink minitel” at the beginning of the 1980s, it is the use of the minitel – this French ancestor of the Internet – as a messaging tool and naughty classified ads. These discreet and billed per minute services have enabled a few entrepreneurs to make a fortune. Xavier Niel will take advantage of the juicy profits generated by the 3615 Ulla and others to acquire in 1990 Fermic Multimedia, a publisher of Minitel Dubai Email List services which will be renamed “Iliad”. It was at this time that Niel launched the famous reverse directory, the “3617 annu”.
But it was 1995 that saw the start of a new era for Niel and his Iliad group, with an investment in Worldnet, the first consumer access provider in France. Only 4 years later, in 1999, Xavier Niel launched the company that would make him famous and very rich: Free.
This subsidiary of the Iliad group will revolutionize the internet market with slashed prices compared to competitors such as c, Bouygues Telecom, and SFR. This “low cost” strategy will bear fruit since Free will gradually nibble away market share in France to the point of becoming the second access provider in terms of number of subscribers. But the Iliad subsidiary will also expand internationally: the Free network crosses the Atlantic and reaches New York, Washington, Miami. The internet provider is also expanding into Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and since 2019 the French company is now present in Africa, with “Free Senegal”.
Conflicts with The Law
In the 90s, Xavier Niel had the bad idea to take stakes in Parisian sex shops, and also in an establishment of the same type in the city of Strasbourg. Some relatives advance the idea of risk-taking as a purveyor of adrenaline, of an act of transgression as well. Or is it the dazzling and insolent success of Free that has turned his head? Despite the resale of all these “toxic” assets in 2000, he inexplicably retains a stake in his Alsatian establishment. 3 years later, in 2004, he will be imprisoned for a full month in the VIP area of the health prison for aggravated pimping and concealment of abuse of social property. Arrived in full rise, this episode will permanently mark the one to whom the image of “bad boy” will henceforth stick. But far from being collapsed,
A man of influence
Like other great French billionaires such as Bernard Arnault, Vincent Bolloré, or Serge Dassault, Xavier Niel the boss of free understands the interest for a great French captain of industry to weigh in the world of media and the press.
In June 2010, its entry into the capital of the great French daily Le Monde in the company of Pierre Bergé and the banker Matthieu Pigasse caused a stir. Together, they take possession of the Le Monde Group and Niel is said to have invested almost 50 million euros out of his own pocket during the 8 years following the acquisition. The “serial” entrepreneur also invested in Médiapart in 2008, when the press company headed by Edwy Plénel organized two fundraisers. However, Niel is not in the management or shareholding of Médiapart, contrary to what could be said in the media in 2019.
In March 2010, Xavier Niel even created his own investment fund, named Kima Ventures, along with his friend the entrepreneur Jérémie Berrebi. The ambition is clearly to invest in promising young start-ups and Niel’s ambition is to support between 50 and 100 companies each year around the world.
The decade 2010 was then inevitably marked by numerous investments, and many start-ups received financial support from the founder of Iliad such as Ateme and Deezer, while he had stakes in young shoots which have made significant progress since, such as than Airbnb, Uber, and Snapchat.
In 2014, Xavier Niel joined forces with the Lyon entrepreneur Paul Morlet and set up a French optical brand called “Glasses for all” whose slogan: “Glasses at 10 euros in 10 minutes”! Stores are gradually being opened in the country’s largest cities.
The creation of Station F , the largest start-up campus in Europe, represents an important step in Xavier Niel’s career because it brings him significant media visibility and also popular influence which is often sought after by large entrepreneurs, aware that the general public sometimes has a negative image of their success. Opened in June 2017, this impressive project takes up residence in the heart of the old market Freyssinet, located in the 13 th district. It is there, on an area of more than 3 hectares, that this giant start-up incubator is set up, which also has a relaxation and catering area.
The French businessman will still have invested 250 million euros out of his pocket for the realization of Station F, a project he has funded more than 90%. The presence for the inauguration of the campus on June 29, 2017 of Emmanuel Macron in person, President of the Republic, accompanied by Anne Hidalgo, mayor of the city of Paris, clearly underlines the importance of the event.
A Passionate Life Full of Twists and Turns
But Xavier Niel’s existence is not limited to business and millions of euros. Certainly, with a fortune estimated at more than 6 billion euros, the native of Maisons-Alfort is one of the richest men in France, which should not be forgotten to point out. However, on the side of his private life, Xavier Niel offers plenty of captivating anecdotes. Few people know that the young Xavier worked for a while for the DST – when he was not 20 years old – and more precisely in the service of the French counter-espionage which feared Russian intrusions into the emerging world of France. late 1980s internet.
Another fascinating story is his narrowly failed deal with Google. In 2000, Niel was on a business trip to Silicone Valley and he met Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the two founders of a modest start-up called Google. The two Americans being too greedy in the eyes of the French, no partnership will be made, which Niel regrets of course 20 years later, given the meteoric rise of the Mountain View-based firm.