Fabrice Piofret: a media watchdog in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso
“When you don't know where you're going, look where you've been” [Senegalese proverb].
If being demanding is a personality trait, then it perfectly suits Fabrice Piofret.
This 39 year-old company boss is also very passionate and a loyal friend. Driven by his passion for his job as a media watchdog, his deep connections with Africa and the bridge he represents with France, he is continually on the move to promote this collaboration.
I met him two years ago, and we immediately hit it off. Since then, I’ve been benefiting from his constant advice in entrepreneurship and from his friendship. Fabrice, who works between Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, is inspired by and passionate about the wide range of possibilities on this continent. “I truly feel that anything is possible. I totally agree with Florent Youzan when he says that “each African’s problem is a business idea”. But time is short because we waste a lot of energy on things that aren’t worth it.”
His first encounter with Africa was in Burkina Faso with the woman who would become his wife, Christelle. “Every day spent in Burkina is a unique experience. I met my wife there, my eldest daughter was born there”.
However, he has faced many challenges along the way. In 2002, he moved to Bobo Dioulasso in Burkina Faso. He was 24 and believed he could change everything. “I set up a charity aiming to provide everyone with education, I ran a restaurant, I was a filmmaker, an educator… I wasn’t funded or assisted. I managed to pay us 30,000 CFA francs a month… most months.” He experienced an entrepreneurial failure but a wonderful human adventure.
He returned to France in 2006, with his first child, ready to do all it takes to provide for his family. During a job with a media watchdog agency he took to pay his bills, he became fascinated by this activity.
However, in 2013, when his company was bought up by a major corporation, the career he was aiming for failed to materialise. “I realised it was time to take my destiny into my own hands and take the plunge. It was time to return to Africa. I really felt I had unfinished work there.”
When he was working in media monitoring in France, he’d frequently talk about his African experience. “Whenever there was a request to monitor the media on that continent, people came to me. However, I didn’t have any local service providers over there. That’s when it came to me: if nobody is capable of answering clearly expressed requests from major corporations… why not respond myself?!”
This idea became a professional project. He then created his own company: “Veilleur des médias”.
He found an investor to support and mentor him. On 2 January 2014, he bought a one-way ticket to Abidjan with his two daughters and his wife, who was pregnant with their third child. “I already knew Côte d’Ivoire, having visited the country a few times… so it wasn’t totally unchartered territory for me.”
Fabrice established his start-up on the banks of Ébrié Lagoon. “Today, ‘Veilleur des Médias’ has a 10-person team including 8 media consultants. I hope to increase this figure to a dozen within a year”.
His clientele mainly consists of major groups and institutionals. One of the first clients to put their trust in him was the Côte d’Ivoire Taekwondo Federation (FITKD). Two years later, the country won two medals at the Rio Olympics. “I’m proud because I felt I was useful for the Federation. By providing them with a media watchdog service, we helped them control and sell their image… and more importantly to devote themselves to tasks with much greater added value.”
When asked about his positioning vis-à-vis his local competitors, Fabrice confidently replies: “I think I’m the only one who solely provides media monitoring services, and those who provide this service in Western Africa don’t have my expertise or my technology”.
Despite a hectic workload, Fabrice still finds time to devote himself to an organisation that is dear to him and to which he is totally committed: the French Tech.
“Abidjan’s French Tech possibly represents what I came to find in Côte d’Ivoire. A business community that focuses on youth issues, in liaison with major groups and institutionals.
Today, I am an entrepreneur of an SME; I’ll never be a large corporation. However, I can be a wonderful SME, and to achieve this I need to build a business network. Some build them in a chamber of commerce, others in think tanks…”
Fabrice doesn’t hide his emotion when he talks about the major activities his organisation has been involved with in recent months: “From the Africa Web Festival in December 2015 to the “Rencontres Africa” meetings in Abidjan, where we asserted our availability to contribute to Côte d’Ivoire’s digital transformation, each activity is important, whether it be a small workshop or a major conference. I remember meetings, discussions, the sharing of experience… When the French Prime Minister talks about the dynamism of Abidjan’s French Tech, you can be proud of what you have achieved”.
Through these meetings, workshops, pitch sessions, the French Tech is also an excellent “bridge” that allows Fabrice to identify and connect with local start-ups and be a consultant and mentor for them. He is fully committed to guiding them towards what they need: funding, purchase orders or simply a little advice: “If you’re not passionate about it, there’s no point getting started. It has to be in my DNA. I’m closely following the evolution of Coliba, LifiLed or #EG, to mention a few”. That’s how Fabrice Piofret strives to be useful in his own way in the Côte d’Ivoire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Yet the start-up that inspires him the most is not based in Côte d’Ivoire but in neighbouring Burkina Faso. “I don’t want to make people envious, but Swagpay is the first electronic wallet in Burkina that will, in the future, let people buy a loaf of bread or have e-commerce products delivered. Beyond the project itself, I have been inspired by Mahamadi Rouamba’s personality. His actions within his BeoogoLab incubator correspond exactly to what I would like to do if I had investment projects”.
Fabrice’s life is a tangible example of the resurgence of relations between Africa and Europe based on collaboration and promoting local African players.
“Regarding relations between Côte d’Ivoire and France, I’m a natural optimist. I believe in our shared history. I was marked by something Muriel Pénicaud, the French Minister of Labour, said to us during a visit to Abidjan: we shouldn’t necessarily change Foreign Direct Investment but seek to better balance such investment, and thus to participate in African companies’ success on French soil”.
Fabrice’s daughters also represent a strong symbol of his union with Africa. These three young ladies inspire him every day and give him his permanent courage and smile. With them by his side, he is calmly considering the future of his SME, Veilleur des médias. “I completed a major project this year with the setting up of an extranet on which my clients can find the track record of their production, search and save articles”. He is also planning to enter the field of audiovisual monitoring and to find new ways of improving the client experience.