As both a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Epic Foundation — an organisation that builds philanthropy into the foundation of businesses — Alexandre Mars is regularly described as the “French Bill Gates” — and it’s a fitting description. Having started and sold a series of successful tech companies, he has now turned his attention to worthwhile causes around the world. Here, he talks about his eerie knack for predicting the future; being the tallest kid in school; and his new book: Giving: Purpose Is the New Currency.
In my lifetime, I’ve started six or seven businesses. I was 17 when I built the first and it’s the only one I didn’t do any market research for. My thinking then was that I needed money and I loved music — so I made it happen. There’s nothing better than being an entrepreneur if you want to run something for yourself, and at that time I didn’t want to work for a boss — no way!
I’ve always been the one who my friends came to with their problems. It came naturally when I was younger, because I was taller than everyone else — I have been 6ft 4in since I was 14. So, I wasn’t building a small business by selling marbles in the playground, it was more to do with being the person who took care of my community if there were any issues.
I am bilingual, but understanding the culture of a place is more important than understanding the language. The reason I’ve been able to run businesses in the US is that I was able to discuss baseball over a drink after work. I was also able to discuss cricket in the UK. No matter where you are, you need to be able to come into the office on Monday morning and be able to discuss what you’ve all enjoyed at the weekend.
In 2002, I was going after people saying, “You’ll see, one day, mobiles will be everywhere!” They would say: “Never! I’ll never have a mobile phone on my bedside table.” It’s the way that we have evolved and it’s something I have tried to do every five years — I’ve always tried to predict where the weak signals are.
"There are so many people suffering and we can often assume that the government can solve everything, but the truth is that they don’t have endless money."
The generation under 30 today are changing everything — they want purpose. Twenty years ago, the Ebenezer Scrooges and the Wolves of Wall Street existed but now I want to say to them: “It’s over!” And businesses need to adapt. For the last 40 years or more, the world has been top-down. Someone ‘up there’ has been making decisions for everyone else. But what we can see now is the bottom-up coming to the fore. Things that we have accepted as ‘normal’ or ‘the way things are done’ for so long will no longer be normal. Internet disruptors are a big part of that.
I always knew that my life would be a mission, it wasn’t my goal to own several houses and a few planes. I wanted to help the world’s most vulnerable, people who aren’t able to fight back and my superpower is my money. There are so many people suffering and we can often assume that the government can solve everything, but the truth is that they don’t have endless money. That’s why we believe businesses should be leading the way.
For the first time in my life, I am very happy and proud to say that I run a non-profit organisation. I’ve made good money in the last 20 years, and now 90 per cent of my time is spent is helping to grow Epic. It always has to be a loss-making organisation because trust is so important — when people join us, we tell them that they won’t be seeing any money because the system has to stay pure. We don’t take any cut. We are building Epic to help build a culture of giving to all businesses, so that it’s a part of everyone’s lives — we are trying to equip humankind.
If your life has been perfect from day one you won’t be hungry enough, you have to fight for something to be successful. This is why I hate robots, but I love people — when you have gone through something, you work harder. I think I can trace my ‘fight’ to my childhood, where I wanted to protect my mother. I am still fighting for that. I want to protect everyone I can.
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