Encounters of the random kind

Encounters of the random kind

It is incredibly scary to realize that almost everything around me, from the companies I founded to my own marriage, can be traced back to aborting a Quake2 deathmatch, sending a random email to a friend, or playing the piano too loud.

Jamendo, or the aborted Quake2 deathmatch

From 1999 to 2001, I spent most of my spare time in high school in the computer room with Grégory Auzanneau. There were 50 or so Pentiums there, and most of what we did consisted of trolling IRC channels, trying to max-out the school’s bandwidth with GetRight and compulsively installing Linux Mandrake on every piece of hardware we could find.

I can vaguely remember coding a UDP chat in Java and revamping the school’s intranet with broken JavaScript but I have to admit our primary focuses were achieving root privileges (which we did) and recreating the building as a Quake2 map.

One Saturday morning we were playing a particularly bloody deathmatch, when somebody suggested going to the school’s orientation fair, where alumni explain what their job is like. That did not seem very interesting to us as we all wanted to be engineers anyway, but somehow we decided against starting a new game and went to the fair downstairs.

Once there I stumbled upon Laurent Kratz and Pierre Gérard, my future Jamendo co-founders. They were doing a LAMP website, which was pretty fashionable at the time. I was only 16 but as I had some limited experience with PHP & MySQL, they told me to come over to Luxembourg a couple weeks afterwards for an internship interview.

The interview went quite well. One of the questions was “Name a website you think is great” to which I answered “microsoft.com”, to show that I wasn’t a complete Linux fanboy. It wasn’t a lie either as microsoft.com was pretty impressive at the time, with drop-down menus (!) and a good design.

I spent 3 summers working at their company in Luxembourg until 2004 when I showed them the prototype of Jamendo I had been building. They were instantly hooked by the combination of BitTorrent and Creative Commons. We ended up co-founding the company together a couple months later.

Looking back at everything I learned and experienced during my Jamendo years, it makes my head spin to think none of it would have happened if we had played just one more Quake2 deathmatch…

The love of my life, or playing the piano too loud

I started playing saxophone pretty young, after attending a concert in Metz with my parents. A few years later I also started playing piano, and I would often sneak into the concert room after music lessons to play on the grand piano.

Let’s just say I was not on the quiet end of the scale, regularly hurting my fingers playing Chopin or Liszt. On one such instance a teacher named Eric Fiegel (left on this photo) heard me as he was passing by and came to ask if I would like to join his jazz big band as a pianist! 

Playing with them would yield some of the best moments I ever had behind a piano, but little did I know that years later, the exact same thing would happen to my future wife…

Back to the big band. A couple years after I left, I heard they were missing a bass player so I offered to join again, this time on an instrument I had never played before. (which I probably should have mentioned :-)

It was a rocky start but I was able to fake it through a couple concerts and the bass guitar quickly became one of my favorite instruments. When I left Metz to study in Grenoble, I looked for opportunities to play there and a former friend asked me to join the Beatles cover band he was starting. I wasn’t particularly fan of the Beatles at the time, but I figured, what the hell, let’s just play some bass!

At the same time, the singer of that band was looking for a piano player and one day he heard a girl playing near his dorm room… You guessed it, it was my wife-to-be, having the same random stroke of luck: being asked to join the band where we would meet by playing the piano too loud.

I could tell many more. Co-founding TEDxParis because of an email I sent to a friend who already planned to do the same. Inviting my future dotConferences co-founder Ferdinand to the first dotJS just after talking to him at a hackathon. Meeting my future best man after noticing he was reading Think Secret on the screen next to me. 

Looking back at these stories, I am terrified to see how seemingly insignificant decisions can lead to random encounters that radically change the course of one’s life. What exciting or terrible future could you be choosing, just by deciding what to play next?

The solution is obviously not to care about it too much and go with the flow. But if I am ever asked, the best life-changing 2-word advice I can give to anyone is: provoke encounters!