Xavier Niel was born 25 August 1967 is a French entrepreneur and businessman, active in the telecommunications and technology industry and best known as founder and majority shareholder of the French Internet service provider Iliad trading under the Free brand (France’s second-largest ISP). He is also co-owner of the newspaper Le Monde, and co-owner of the rights of the song “My Way“. He currently acts as Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors & Chief Strategy Officer for Iliad.
His net worth is about $6.6 billion USD.
Niel started early by developing telecommunication and data services. He embarked at a young age on an entrepreneurial career. At 19, he successfully created then sold his first company, a Minitel (a French forerunner of the internet) service company. This minitel-site provided sex oriented chat services. In 1995, he invested in the first Internet Service Provider in France, World-Net, created the previous year by Sébastien Socchard, Philippe Langlois and Pierre Séguret. This company was sold the year before the internet bubble burst.
After taking over a company subsequently renamed Iliad, Xavier Niel launched in 1996 the 1st reversed directory service on the Minitel. This service is still responsible for 1 million euros of revenue per year for Iliad.
In 1999, he created Free, a French Internet service provider. The name came from the fact that modem access was really free, which caused some stir among other (non-free) French Internet providers, as well as it raised some questions about Free’s business model. In 2002, Free launched a broadband package at a low price (€ 29.99 per month), which became the benchmark in the market. At the same time, Free developed and launched the Freebox: the first triple-play multi-service box in France. The free modem service had brought to the company a strong potential customers portfolio, many of them switching to the broadband for the sake of comfort.
Niel remains Iliad’s majority shareholder, holding 63.93% of the share capital.
In March 2010, Xavier Niel cofounded with Jeremie Berrebi Kima Ventures, a fund dedicated to invest in 50 to 100 startups a year everywhere in the world. Kima Ventures already invested in 130 companies from February 2010 to November 2011 in 18 countries. Journalist Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry of Business Insider described Xavier Niel and Jeremie Berrebi as almost certainly the most active angel investors in the world.