Rachel Delacour, CEO at French cloud business-intelligence startup BIME, took home a silver Female Entrepreneur of the Year statue from the recent Stevie Awards.
With the news of Zendesk's acquisition of BIME in October for $45m through the takeover of parent company We Are Cloud, Delacour is emerging as one of France's leading female tech entrepreneurs.
Delacour didn't plan on becoming an entrepreneur. "It came naturally," she says. "I have a particular relationship with risk."
With a professional life that started out in finance, it was through working as a controller responsible for data analysis that eventually led her to design her own business-intelligence tool.
After gaining a master's degree in finance from the Euromed business school in Marseilles, Delacour spent time in Russia auditing logistics hubs. When she returned to France, she worked as a controller with Carrefour, one of the biggest retailers in the world.
Next, she ran the control section in the buying department at Czech shoe manufacturer Bata, where out of necessity she created a business-intelligence system from scratch.
"Carrefour was a great learning experience about what was vital for a large team in terms of analytics, at every level, in every department," she explains. "Then I discovered the pain of implementing a business-intelligence tool in a smaller company, along with a crazy budget and implementation time."
She realised that even though all firms need business-intelligence capabilities, it was difficult for smaller and medium-sized companies to access these tools.
At the time, the IT team was struggling with its own legacy, homemade system and teams had to wait in line for their data extractions. Those needing more data had to wait again, causing a bottleneck in the IT department. "The systems were not agile and queries were slow to be resolved," she says.
Frustrated, it was this experience as a young, female controller who had to "wrestle with an all-male IT department over unfettered access to fresh data" that led her to start her own business. "I had to do something to modernise business intelligence and create the product of my dreams," she says.
What she was about to learn, and fast, was that her struggle lay not just in being a woman in a male-dominated industry, but it was also because her vision of business intelligence as a service ran against the grain.
"The more traditional IT guys were laughing at the concept of cloud business intelligence," she explains. "But, the more they did, the more I knew I was on the right track. Today data sources are coming from everywhere, online and on premises, and will mostly come from web services in the future. BI analytics must embrace all of them."
Delacour has been focused on building a "simple, modern, beautiful and affordable" Cloud BI product since 2009 with Nicolas Raspal, CTO and co-founder of BIME. They wanted to develop a one-platform SaaS model which would mean that even small companies could harness the power of big data across online and on-premises data.
They had the support of incubator CapOmega in Montpellier, but the process was tough, she recalls: "Working hard in a small room to create the first prototype, you feel quite isolated with little to no real social life. We created a prototype as soon as we could to test it live, get feedback, iterate and then convince some business angels about it as soon as we could."
The company launched in 2010 to silence, but after spreading the word they were named Startup of the Year at the European ICT Awards in 2011. Then international attention came, and by 2013 they were at break-even. A $4m investment from Alven Capital in November 2013 followed.
This experience sealed her two key tips for entrepreneurs. "The first is that there is no substitute for a great product. You have to work hard to deliver and execute," she says. "The second is that you must spread the word as soon as possible."
Since then there have been many achievements, awards and partnerships with companies such as Google and Amazon.
Making BIME successful is no mean feat, considering that historically the data-analytics industry has been totally male-dominated on both the tech innovation and leadership sides.
Despite women achieving higher grades than men in IT-related subjects, they are vastly underrepresented in industry.
Currently in France the Syntec Numérique reports that 28 percent of women are in technology-related roles. Yet in the UK, e-skills puts the number of women working in IT at about 20 percent, a figure it acknowledges as lower than the EU average, which is 30 percent according to the European Commission.
Delacour clearly understands how vital gender diversity is to the future of data analytics, especially at the senior level where disparity between men and women are at their greatest.
"There are more and more women taking charge and driving this field to the next level, not only for a few major companies or a select group of specialists, but widespread, for all business users," she says.
"This vision is specific to female CEOs and there are still only a few female leaders in the field. But I'm delighted that I can participate and drive this change even further."
In fact Delacour relishes the challenge of having to make it in a male-dominated industry. "I like it actually. It makes me stand out among men during events," she says. "We're looking for a differentiator, right?"
Today BIME describes itself as a one-platform cloud business-intelligence product for all. "BIME can start off small, but can also be used at the enterprise level if you need it," she says. "It can scale to infinity and that is what we love."
Now with an office in Kansas City, as well as Montpellier, Delacour is also scaling up her ambitions for the future. "The position I'm in today and the company we've chosen to sell our company to makes me feel as an entrepreneur: 'Let's go bigger now'."