Le Seed: FCombinator and the TechEtoiles

Last week, Zlio’s Jérémie Berrebi and Iliad’s Xavier Niel announced the launch of their new seed fund, Kima Ventures, which I wrote about in TechCrunch Europe. Kima’s aim is to invest between €5,000 and €150,000 in 100 start-ups within the next 2 years.

Uh, that’s a lot of seed.

There’s been a lot of whispering about whether or not this is a good idea. How on earth do they plan to manage 100 companies, let alone make that many investments? With something like 52 weeks/year, Kima would need to make roughly 1 investment per week to reach their goal.

A dime a dozen.

Personally, I don’t really understand the criticism. It isn’t exactly raining seed money in France. And while Niel and Berrebi may be more occupied with making investments than actually managing them, entrepreneurs will have the added benefit of working with 2 of the hottest names in French tech – and their networks. What’s not to like about that? And the relationship comes with a check – better than lining-up at OSEO, no?

Two of a kind.

Funny enough, Marc Simoncini of Meetic announced the launch of a similar seed fund, Jania Capital, only several months before (be sure to check out their gorgeous website). If nothing else, I think France’s seed situation is about to dramatically improve.

FCombinator and the TechEtoiles.

The one model that seems to be locally MIA, is the YCominator or TechStars-type model: also known as mentorship with seed money.  Obviously there is Seedcamp, which is pan-European, but what about a YCombinator program for France? The Founder Institute, which just launched its Paris program, offers the mentorship component without the seed. So until someone decides to put this system into place, Kima and Jaina are essentially the next best thing for seed funding in France.

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Liberté, égalité, sororité: women in the French tech space

I naturally get excited when I come across a young entrepreneur. But, in the male-dominated tech environment, I get even more excited when that young entrepreneur is female. 

Here is a look at 3 French start-ups founded by 20-something-year-old ladies.

Leetchi (@Leetchiweb) 

The company is founded by 27-year-old Céline Lazorthes (@celinelazorthes) and is a platform that simplifies group purchases or payments. Leetchi is one of the first companies to receive funding from Jérémie Berrebi and Xavier Niel’s seed fund, Kima Ventures.

MonShowRoom (@monshowroom) 

MonShowRoom is a feminine fashion e-commerce platform founded by 20-something-year-olds Séverine Grégoire and Chloé Ramade. The company has received funding from Crédit Agricole Private Equity and Alven Capital.

E-citizen.com (@citizen_team)

26-year-old Alix Poulet is co-founder of the e-commerce platform that sells organic products. For all purchases, 5% is contributed to organizations like the WWF, PlaNet Finance and Handicap International without asking for an extra penny from the consumer.

Geeky in Pink.

In France, there are actually quite a few women in the tech space – and several lady networking groups to go along with it, including WiFilles and Paris Geek Girl Dinners.

Sister Cities: San Francisco and Paris

Now to top it all off, what if we brought San Francisco’s Girls in Tech to Paris? It would connect the Paris female tech scene with the rest of the GIT chapters and vice versa. Jackpot. So ladies, if you’re a girl in tech and you’d like to get involved, please let me know. Otherwise, stay tuned for more info…

l’Académie française: Has Micro-blogging Killed le Vouvoiement?

Disclaimer: this post is probably more for myself than anyone else. 🙂

Remember that terrible 80’s song by The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star”?

Well, if video killed the radio star, I’m pretty sure that the evolution of web 2.0 – with my figer pointing at micro-blogging in particular – has killed le vouvoiement.

French 101

For anyone that doesn’t know, vouvoiement refers to the French use of a formal “you” to address someone with respect. It is often the default “you” when meeting someone for the first time, in business relationships and when in doubt. Vouvoiement naturally creates a distance and establishes a hierarchy between two people – which isn’t found in English.

Micro-blogging: guilty as charged.

I don’t think web 2.0 as a whole is to blame. I highly doubt many people on Linkedin are going to dare to immidiately bypass vouvoiement when initiating contact, for example. Generally, the closer we get to an email-type format, the more traditional the language gets. But Twitter and the integration of micro-blogging on various platforms (Facebook, Linkedin…) has dramatically changed the hierarchical communications patterns.

@vous?

What I can’t seem to figure out is why. Is it because, with the 140 character restriction on Twitter, “vous” is simply illogical (4 letters versus 2)? Is it the combination of realtime web and the @whoever function, which creates a more chat-like and casual environment? What?

Yo, Monsieur le Président.

Part of reason may be a result of the current French demographic currently using social media and various micro-blogging platforms. At the end of the day there may be certain people – like, oh, Sarkozy – that will never shake off their protective layer of respect, even on Twitter. Or maybe they will, who knows (we’ll need to get him on Twitter to figure this one out, perhaps).

L’Académie franglaise.

In a way, I think it could be beneficial to shake off the hierarchical power structure. At the same time, we are talking about messing with a linguistic tradition. What’s funny to me is that the Académie française (which some jokingly call the “French language police”) sits around making up a French version for the word for “email” (“courriel”, which nobody uses) but has turned a blind eye to the lack of vouvoiement on micro-blogging platforms.

For any French companies that use Yammer, on the other hand, I’d be interested to know if the same phenomenon is observed.

French companies you probably didn’t know were on Twitter

The other day I bought a box of tea from the French brand Kusmi Tea. For anyone who doesn’t know Kusmi, their teas are amazing but somewhat expensive. And despite having somewhat modern packaging, the company’s history dates back to 1867. So you can imagine I was surprised to discover the company had a Facebook application – which I rather ruthlessly called “somewhat pointless” on Twitter.

Not your average leaf.

Not only does Kusmi have a Facebook application, but also a Twitter account – with over 1,000 followers. Next to Guy Kawasaki this probably sounds rather miniscule but let’s not forget they’re a 19th-century French tea company. I never would’ve expected them to pick-up on my comment and start following me in a million years. Kudos to their community management team, by the way. (PS: To anyone who isn’t convinced, Mariage Frères – an even older and more traditional French tea company – is also on Twitter.) And this got me wondering – what other French (not necessarily tech) companies were unexpected Tweety birds.

I spy.

Loic Le Meur was on the hunt for non-US companies with good social media efforts in place earlier this week. I thought to myself  “that’s odd, I know tons of French companies (and I’m sure Loic does too) that are good at that.” But they’re pretty much all start-ups and/or in tech. So I thought I would quickly test the CAC 40 to see if any of them had made an attempt at Twitter.

Get this: only 5 companies listed on the CAC 40 are NOT on Twitter.

You name the sector – construction, banking, telecom, defense – they’re almost all there (yes, I checked). I hate to single-out the 5 late adopters, but – if I’m not mistaken – they are: Total (wtf?), Vallourec, Vinci, Unibail-Rodamco and STMicroelectronics (there is an account but it doesn’t look too convincing). All the others – from Michelin to Société Générale – are on Twitter and a majority are rather active. Youpi!

The bigger, the better?

Obviously these are all huge companies that can afford to invest in a silly Twitter account – even if it doesn’t really seem essential to their business. It may seem like a no-brainer that they’d have a Twitter account, to follow if nothing else. And obviously, an active Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve got social media down. But this just goes to show – once again – that even large French companies that often get a bad reputation for being bureaucratic and traditional may be more malleable than one may think.

Testing 1, 2, 3…

In an earlier post, I mentioned that only 5% of France was on Twitter according to an Ifop study. Additional studies have estimated that around 1% of Twitter users are French. Even so, it’s rather pleasing to see that the larger companies didn’t hesitate to get on and get moving.

Dear US Entrepreneurs, You Have it Easy.

Everytime I meet a new entrepreneur – French, American or otherwise – the topic comes up:

What are the differences between being an entrepreneur in the US and in France?

In my former job, I was constantly confronted with the opinion from the other side of the Atlantic vis-à-vis doing business in France: “The French are always on strike, it’s impossible to fire someone, 35h work-weeks, 2h lunch breaks, blah blah blah…”

US, you need to get your facts together.

Revolution by Gilles BarbierA majority of the stereotypes are downright incorrect. The rest are negotiable; I’m not saying that there are NO strikes or that firing someone is a piece of cake – but it’s all relative. Strikes probably tend to impact tourists more than local residents. For example, strikes at the baggage claim at Charles de Gaulle Airport aren’t really going to affect a majority of local start-ups. Obviously a metro strike is a little more annoying but not all the metro lines are affected and there are other ways to get around. And if you want to talk work contracts – naturally it’s not the hire and fire system of the US, but it’s definitely not impossible to let someone go.

The proof is in the pudding.

It seems that Americans entrepreneurs are coming around and discovering the truth first-hand. Here is a tweet from Michael Schneider (CEO of MobileRoadie), from when he stopped in Paris before the Mobile World Congress last week:

A non-issue.

Oddly enough, many of the French entrepreneurs I have met have actually not complained about the issues that their American counterparts seem to fear in the local market – but they do understand their concerns. Correct me if I am wrong, but either the French know how to navigate their own turf well-enough that these things are simply a non-issue  – or they accept these aspects of doing business as a fact of life. So what then do the French complain about most in their local market?

The problem: 63 million French people.

It’s a recurring theme in all my conversations: the difficulty for French entrepreneurs is not the administrative red-tape but rather the market size. Being number 1 in Europe is NOT the same as being number 1 in the US. A French company is limited to a market of 63 million, whereas a US company automatically has access to a local market of 308 million. Europe may be looking more and more like the US but at the end of the day, a French company wanting to take on a leading US company needs to do more than just translate a website into a bunch of different languages.

It’s not easy being green.

Americans love to give the French a hard time (maybe they’re jealous of the food?). I think the annual Europe-US showdown at LeWeb is a good example of the malentendus that exist between the 2 sides of the same coin. But all things considered, American entrepreneurs have it easy. Rather than bashing a French company for not having an English Twitter feed, they should realize the difficulties of French entrepreneurs and give them a little more credit.

Trying to Make Sense of the French Job Market

Yesterday, Marc Thouvenin (Regioneo founder) posted a tweet that caught my eye:

“Can interns make good community managers” with a link to this blog post by Benjamin Rosoor of Web Report.

Traditional recruitment meets realtime web.

For anyone that can’t read French, Rosoor’s post argues against younger employees – and more specifically, interns – doing the job of community managers. Naturally, you don’t want your average slacker representing your company and your brand on live, social internet. But Rosoor’s post ties in the fact that the job of a community manager isn’t well defined and that many companies don’t put a lot of money on the table for their social media strategy. The result: putting an intern behind the Twitter account could be fatal.

But aren’t we forgetting something?

I think that Rosoor’s post raises a good point – that community management is in fact an important job that should be given to someone with a good grasp of the product, the company, the business, the industry and what have you. And if the person is to be trusted with such an important task, it should be reflected in their paycheck too, no?

But the issue should not be reduced to a question of age or experience.

This is a typical mistake I see in traditional French recruitment practices. The French torture themselves at school (believe me, I am living it) and get diplomas from top universities. But when they graduate, nobody trusts them with anything because they lack experience. What on earth kind of ridiculous logic is that? 10 years of experience to become an engineer? Forget it. I’d understand if it involved a History major trying to become a brain surgeon but that is usually not the case. Plus, how is anyone supposed to get any experience if even as interns they are reduced to doing purely trivial tasks?

Is “trust” a four-letter word?

Maneuvering new web applications may come more naturally to the younger Web 2.0 generation. Would it be so wrong to perhaps trust someone with less experience? I’m sure that with a little training and a bit of trust, the right candidate would hardly set-out to ruin a company’s reputation on the internet.

The French Evolution.

Fortunately, I do feel as though the French tech job market, in particular, is evolving – embracing Twitter, Facebook and the likes for recruitment purposes, thus finding a younger, geekier candidate pool. But it is still not necessarily the norm.

Need experience? Start a company.

Starting a company has possibly become the answer to unemployment and entering the over-hierarchical job market. Once more people realize that online community sites – like Facebook, Deezer, Creads, etc. – were founded by 20-something-year-olds, perhaps they’ll reconsider giving someone with less experience a community management (or other) role.

The Truth: (Young) French VCs ARE on Twitter

In an earlier post, I applauded the French VCs that I found on Twitter. Turns out a majority of the French VC adoption of Twitter  is from the younger VC crowd. I’ve included them in my FrenchVC list on Twitter but here is a quick look at who they are.

Serena Capital

Has funded companies like Creads.org (@creads), Augure (@augurerepmgmt) and RSI Vidéo Technologies (@notontwitter). 

Young VCs from their firm on Twitter include: Marine Desbans (@mdesbans) and Jean-Baptiste Dumont (@jbdumont)

Ventech (@ventech_vc)

Ventech has a gorgeous portfolio and includes companies like Viadeo (@viadeo), Bonitasoft (@bonitasoft) and Awdio (@awdio_usa).

The just launched their official Twitter account last week – the same time as they announced their investment in London-based Muzicall (@muzicall).

Their young VC: Mounia Rkha (@moumsinette)

Alven Capital

Another VC firm with a very impressive portfolio, including MyFab (@myfabfr), Companeo (@companeo), MobileTag (@mobiletag) and more.

Their young VC on Twitter is: Jeremy Uzan (@jeremyuzan) 

Elaia Partners (@Elaia_Partners)

The only other firm with an official account, as far as I know. Another very nice portfolio, with investments in Criteo (@criteo), Goojet (@goojet) and WyPlay (@Wyplay). 

The account is run by their young VC, Samantha Jérusalmy.

**Feel free to let me know if I’ve left anyone out.

Why am I applauding these guys?

I think they’re definitely leading the way in terms of new technology adoption and are changing the face of the stereotypical, traditional VC. Also, as many of the new media-related products are oriented towards a younger crowd, having a younger VC on the team works nicely as they can also play the role of a beta tester. It’s nice to see that French VC firms are not only realizing the benefit, but actually implementing a mélange of the age-range.

Who is still MIA?

If I’m not mistaken, most of the bigger more well-known French VC firms are still nowhere to be seen! Sofinnova, Innovacom, Partech and the likes…