How these French companies are reinventing the rules of business

Despite the challenging economic climate, French entrepreneurs are becoming more and more ambitious according to Alban Eral, founder of France’s Blue Ocean Awards. He tells us more about the innovative French companies that have successfully adopted a global attitude and a blue ocean approach. 

You are founder of the Blue Ocean Awards in France. In your opinion, what main challenges do businesses face in France today?

People are increasingly starting to realize that certain French industries are dying in a red ocean of cutthroat competition. In France, and in Europe, the challenging economic climate makes the pursuit of blue oceans more vital than ever! In more and more industries, supply is overtaking demand. As a result, companies mainly compete on cost, which eventually forces outsourcing to low-cost countries.

Meanwhile there has been an upsurge in entrepreneurial ambition in France and a more global attitude, with an increased acceptance and use of English. These entrepreneurs aim to reinvent the rules and shift from red to blue. Moving companies’ products and services from the red ocean to the blue ocean is a long-term solution.

How can French companies shift from red to blue oceans?

Alban Eral, founder of the Blue Ocean Awards

Big corporations need to focus more on the value they bring to their customers. Resting on the laurels of a glorious past, heavy trademarks and a traditional management system are the main obstacles to finding their blue oceans. First, they should start by interacting more with their customers, getting a better understanding of their customer experience and adopting the same approach towards the industry’s noncustomers. This is the starting point of the blue ocean approach.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, need to free themselves from habits they may have adopted in past experiences working for larger corporations. Simplifying industry standards, focusing on noncustomers and creating new unprecedented value, are all practices that should be part of the DNA of any startup or entrepreneur.

Out of 400 submissions, you select 18 finalists, which then narrow down to the final nine winners of the Blue Ocean Awards.  What makes the winners ‘blue ocean’ and what is your evaluation process? 

The Blue Ocean Awards are also a blue ocean in themselves in the competitive industry of innovation events. We eliminated the heavy application process that candidates usually face. All a potential candidate needs to do is provide an email and web address. We also eliminated all the standard evaluation criteria investors usually focus on. At the Blue Ocean Awards, we only focus on the value brought by the candidate’s offer compared to others in that specific industry.

Our evaluation process is extremely simple as it focuses only on the blue ocean characteristics of each candidate: is their offer inclusive of noncustomers? Did they apply the Four Actions Framework to challenge its industry’s strategic logic and business model? Is market creation reflected in their figures.

Click here to find out more about the nine winners of the Blue Ocean Awards 2017

What are the most exciting blue ocean moves to have come out of the Blue Ocean Awards in previous years? How are these companies doing today?

Our statistics show that 91% of former Blue Ocean Award winners are successful companies today. Some of them have become famous like Compte-Nickel that got its Blue Ocean Award in 2015, just a year after it was founded. Compte-Nickel shifted from the red ocean of retail banking, and has just been bought by BNP Paribas for €300 million.

Scality, the world leader in object and cloud storage, was also presented with the award just six months before Hewlett-Packard Enterprise decided to invest $10 million. Scality is the first French company in history to have gone public on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

Another example is Agripolis, the professional urban roof farming service that has just announced it will be setting up farms on the rooftops of every Accor hotel around the world.

Blue Ocean Award members 2017

Blue Ocean Award members 2017

Blue Ocean Shift / Strategy are obviously at the heart of this event. Why do you think so many companies apply Blue Ocean Shift / Strategy in creating their business offering? What appeals to them most in the blue ocean process? 

Nowadays there are several concrete approaches that can be applied to create new businesses. The most famous are design thinking, Lean Startup and Blue Ocean Shift. Design thinking is relevant if you want to optimize your current offering for your existing customers. But what’s the right approach when your market is shrinking or when all your competitors already make the same optimized offering? Blue Ocean Shift is the solution to this.

Lean Startup is also a good mindset to adopt to if you need to think like an entrepreneur with limited resources. But where do you start? Blue Ocean Shift offers a starting point to build the right offering and open up new market space far from competition.

In the blue ocean process, the key is the meeting point between exploration and the creation of concrete blue ocean moves to deliver value. They key for entrepreneurs, SMEs, startups and even big companies is to identify and deliver value to customers and noncustomers, and fast. The Blue Ocean Shift toolbox and process helps you reach that objective, getting your whole team on board along the way.

You founded the Blue Ocean Awards in 2014. What inspired you and what does the future hold?

Eight years ago, I applied the blue ocean approach in a large private company. While supporting executives in their shift from red to blue, I realized that they needed concrete examples. I started to look for blue ocean SMEs in their industry, and found that French entrepreneurs were good at creating and capturing blue oceans. This inspired me to find and reward those French SMEs through the Blue Ocean Awards. And after four years of recognizing SMEs start-ups, we have expanded to also considering big companies as candidates, so the event is growing. Blue Ocean Awards focus only on French companies today, so clearly the next step next year is to include the rest of the Europe!  The support we get from our sponsors, the French ministry of Economy and our partnership with Forbes magazine, will definitely make it possible!