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Focus on a Founder with Donatien Garnier - Celebrating 10 Years of Community

last modified Aug 05, 2020 11:11 AM
We are continuing to celebrate a decade of community with our ‘Focus on a Founder’ series. This week we spoke to Donatien Garnier of AppNearMe who joined ideaSpace back in 2012.

Donatien Garner focus on a founder

Don Garnier – AppNearMe

Tell us a bit about yourself
My journey as a founder started shortly after leaving grad school in Paris, in early 2012. I had become fascinated by a new technology – NFC for Near Field Communications (this is the tech that enables contactless payments today, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay) and had done my final internship with the emerging leader in this field (NXP). I had a vision - NFC would bridge the digital and physical worlds!

Beyond that I was still a naïve 23 year old. I didn’t have much cash in the bank but I figured that, having finished my studies, my expectations regarding standards of living were pretty low! I started contracting for Arm (with what became Arm’s IoT division) working on some projects with them, some NFC-related. NXP happened to be the team’s main partner at the time and I ended up building an NFC-controlled lamp that became one of their main NFC demos for the years to come.

At the time I was still living in Paris (or rather in the suburbs) but “commuting” to Cambridge every other month to catch-up with the rest of the Arm team. I was trying to infiltrate the Paris start-up scene. It didn’t work out well – I got quite disappointed by the fact that most French start-ups at the time were focusing on trying to sell their mobile app to Orange (the mobile operator), or at least that’s how I perceived it! (Note: the French start-up ecosystem has evolved since and is now much more exciting).

Fast-forward to May and I’m at the Cambridge beer festival with some friends from Paris over for the weekend – we’re celebrating as we’ve finally secured a flat to share in a great location. Or not. Turns out the landlord let it to their niece without telling the letting agency. I asked myself why I would want to stay in Paris in the first place, couldn’t find any valid reason, and decided to move to Cambridge instead!

I registered AppNearMe as a company and joined ideaSpace a few months later, mostly because I was afraid that I’d end up in a relationship with my coffee mug if I continued working from home. I didn’t really know what to expect with the interview process. I must have exposed my vision to Stew in such a technical-focused way that I’m still grateful to this day that he gave me the opportunity to join the community.

I spent the first year building NFC embedded software and a mobile and web platform to deliver my vision. Turns out the world wasn’t ready for it. The iPhone didn’t have NFC - and as an engineer I was more comfortable writing code than going out and selling stuff. This is when being part of ideaSpace (and CUTEC for that matter) made a massive difference. I met like-minded people who had gone through similar issues. They helped me switch my mindset from technology focused to product and customer-focused, and gave me a lot of practical, actionable advice along the way. Bonus: they would also let me know when I was about to do something very stupid. Some of my closest friendships were built during this time.

I pivoted in 2014 as my bank account was running dangerously low. I had (not without sadness) to drop the “amazing” solution I had built and instead focus on something simpler. There was a niche market for embedded NFC software so I started licensing the one I had built to various manufacturers and eventually ran a Kickstarter campaign around it. Beyond that, I had to do some market research to figure out what killer product to build and sell. I therefore decided to follow some IoT deployments to figure out which problems they were having. I contracted for a few SMEs for roughly 18 months (paid market research!) and realised that there was one issue they were all facing: they could not figure out how to deploy their devices in the field easily (in one extreme case, a customer would have to fly an engineer to an island in the Indian Ocean to setup a new device in a sugar cane field). 


How is your venture doing?
This leads us to late 2015 and there began the last chapter of AppNearMe. We (contractors and interns joined) started building a product to address these issues. Jerome Joaug, who was another ideaSpacer, had exited his own startup and was looking for his next venture. He joined what became Nymbly in 2016, created to market this new IoT deployment product. Having Jerome on the team was amazing as he brought a lot of experience with finance, product management and funding access and shared the vision for the company. 2017 was then a fast paced but amazing year for Nymbly. We secured a partnership & grant from the Future Cities and Digital Catapult. Then we got two significant contracts in. We worked on two patent applications.

We then felt ready to raise some funding to get the company to the next stage. As we were going through this process we attracted the attention of Arm, who eventually acquired our technology in November. Following this I became employed by Arm and Jerome joined a VC fund where he leverages his start-up experience!


What advice do you have for other founders?
Looking back at these five years I am so grateful that I got to experience all of this while being an ideaSpace member. If I had to give my young self some advice: Go for it, surround yourself with the right people and gather as much constructive criticism as you can from folks who know better.


How has being part of the ideaSpace community been helpful to you?
I got to learn so much from other members and founders who were kind enough to provide me with feedback and advice. Building a start-up can be extremely challenging on your mental health as you go through a roller coaster of wins and losses, and having the support of others who would have experienced similar situations first hand was unbelievably uplifting.  I realised that often the journey is more important than the goal, and sharing it along with the amazing people at ideaSpace gave meaning to mine all along.


To find out more about AppNearMe visit their website here

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