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.

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7 thoughts on “Dear US Entrepreneurs, You Have it Easy.

    • Actually it’s not. Because at the time you become #1 in Europe, the US company is #1 everywhere else.

      Europe is 27 countries, 27 cultures, 23 langages and 12 currencies, while USA is ONE.

      This market size thing is a myth. Europe still has long way to go before it can really compete with the US.

  1. Nice post! Right in the bull’s eye.

    One of the reasons why Qipit was started in the U.S. from French parent company Realeyes3D.

    Two more reasons we did it:

    1. Market structure. Beyond the languages issue, Europe is not a structured market per se in most industries. A real estate agent from Copenhagen doesn’t communicate, or read the same stuff, or obey the same local rules, than a counterpart from Madrid. Or a doctor. Or a builder. Etc. This is true for most industries and a serious obstacle to pan-European expansion when dealing with the SMB / Enterprise markets.

    2. The U.S. is being watched by the entire world. Saint Cloud (or Villeurbanne, or La Roque Gajeac) is not. Being noticed on the global market is an order of magnitude more difficult in France.

    Web businesses are somewhat less impacted by these limitations because of the nature of the media they exploit. But anybody else is facing the tough choice of staying local (which can draw nice profitability in some cases: Free, anybody?), spending a lot of capital and a lot of years, or move out to the U.S.

    I would be interested in hearing French entrepreneurs established in China on the topic: is China providing the same sort of market scale, structure that the U.S. does? Is it a viable alternative for French entrepreneurs who would like to address a larger market? (put aside the cultural, etc aspects of the transition — they are very real when going to the U.S. too, imho)

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