TechCrunch, TechBaguette, what now?

So as many of you may now know, we recently announced the relaunch of TechCrunch France – which has been dormant since summer 2009.

It hasn’t even 3-months since I started writing my little TechBaguette blog. TechBaguette will continue to be my own personal thoughts and experiences in the French start-up space.

Anyhow, I will obviously continue to cover big stories for French and francophone companies in TechCrunch Europe  in English (you guys deserve to be known!) and will also cover more locally-oriented news in TechCrunch France en français.

A huge thank you to everyone who turned-up or tuned in to TechCrunch Paris on Wednesday as well – it was an absolute pleasure to meet everyone.

Once again, please do not hesitate to contact me – my contact info can be found here.

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A Penny For Your Thoughts?

This is a really quick post regarding this week’s upcoming TechCrunch Paris event at LaCantine on March 24th. The event is currently sold out.

Huh?

As I’m moderating the women’s panel, I thought I would take the opportunity to get any lingering questions/comments prior to the event. Take a look at who is on the panel:

Céline Lazorthes

The 27-year-old behind Leetchi.com, who recently raised a round with Xavier Niel and Jérémie Berrebi’s Kima Ventures.

Béatrice Jauffrineau

The founder of Femmes Business Angels, an organization which has helped women invest in companies like Jiwa and Alenty – as well as women-founded companies.

Marie Ekeland

The only lady partner on Elaia Partners team, a French VC firm which has made killer investments including Goojet, Criteo and Wyplay.

Olivier Billon

The 26-year-old male co-founder behind online female fashion guide, Ykone. Oh, and also one of the first success stories to come out of the Sciences Po incubator.

Questions. Comments. Concerns.

Wonder what problems female entrepreneurs and investors run into in a male-dominated tech space? Or maybe what issues a male entrepreneur may run into in a women’s fashion market?  Perhaps being of a minority gender presents secret strengths? If there is something you’d like our panel to share or discuss, feel free to slip in a comment or shoot me an email – my contact details can be found here.

Have You Seen Me? 9 French Entrepreneur Names to Know

Talk to anyone from Silicon Valley about French names in hi-tech and you’ll systematically get the 3 same answers: Loic Le Meur, Jeff Clavier and Pierre Omidyar – if you’re lucky.

But how about French entrepreneurs in France?

In an earlier post I suggested putting French entrepreneur success stories on milk cartons to remind us all of the home-grown sensations. So why not take a minute to consider 9 home-grown French hi-tech names-to-know ?  The list is ideally in some type of order, but then again not really.

Gilles Babinet.

This man is a French serial entrepreneur to know – creating his first company at age 22 back in 1989 (a few years ahead of Zuckerberg?). Some of his success stories include Absolut (acquired by Euro RSCG) and Musiwave (acquired by Openwave and later Microsoft). He recently co-founded 3 hot start-ups including Eyeka, Digicompanion and MXP4.

Jérôme Rota.

This guy is the mastermind behind DivX – the technology and now the company. While he later went on to co-found DivX, Inc. in San Diego, California, Rota initially developed the technology back in 1998/1999 in Montpellier as a 20-something-year-old. But I don’t need to convince anyone that French engineers are la crème de la crème, do I?

Roland Moreno.

Yes, ok, it’s not exactly hot off the press but it’s far from trivial. Wonder why France is so ahead of the US when it comes to electronic ticketing? This is the French face behind the invention of the smartcard in 1974 – now used in just about everything. The following year, he went on to launch Innovatron. And last I heard, he gave everyone a scare in 2008/2009 with rumors of a risky health situation.

Xavier Niel.

The co-founder of Iliad (who has the ugliest website ever – not like it matters) is part of the reason I pay far less for internet in France than I ever did in San Francisco – but I’ve applauded his contribution to the invention of triple-play Freebox before. In addition to Iliad, he also co-founded WorldNet, which was bought by KapTech (Neuf Cegetel) for €40 million in 2000. He recently co-founded seed-fund, Kima Ventures, with Jérémie Berrebi. Oh – and if I’m not mistaken, he’s also part of the college drop-out club. Nice.

Pierre Chappaz.

This guy was not only of the co-founders of Kelkoo (acquired by Yahoo) but has also been behind the successes of Wikio and Netvibes.

Yves Guillemot.

Guillemot is one of the 5 faces behind France’s video game giant, Ubisoft. The Guillemot brothers have also founded a number of additional companies (7 total) – including Gameloft and Guillemot, which both went public along with Ubisoft.

Marc Simoncini.

Another serial entrepreneur to know. Simoncini, like Babinet, founded his first company in 1985 at the age of 22. His first real success came with iFrance, which was sold to Vivendi in 2000. He then went on to create Meetic, which has done a great job at blowing everyone else out of the European online dating market and bought Match.com’s European activities last year. Like Niel, he also recently launched a seed-fund, Jaina Capital, with Michel Kubler.

Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet.

The brother of the current Minister of Digital Economy, Kosciusko-Morizet is one of the co-founders behind e-commerce success, PriceMinister. He, too, got an early start – launching his first company in his (incredibly) early 20’s.

Jacques-Antoine Granjon.

Anyone that gets a €2 billion acquisition offer from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (and additional offers from Gilt and eBay) should definitely make the list – 47-year-old Jacques-Antoine Granjon is the long-haired founder of French success story Vente-privée.

Educate me.

Did I miss someone uber important? There are definitely another 50 people I could easily add. The list is obviously far from exhaustive and highly influenced by my non-expert knowledge. Feel free to add to the comments and enlighten me.

You Suck! Entrepreneurship and Elite French Education

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry published an article in Silicon Alley Insider today on the negative impact of the hierarchical French education system on entrepreneurship. Let’s take a look at his argument for “Why France fails at start-ups”, shall we?

Is “Grande école” French for “Ivy League”?

For all the Silicon Alley Insider readers that saw the term “grande école” and went searching for their dictionaries, grande école refers to the prestigious schools where acceptance is done via an entrance exam. No, it is not a standardized, one-size-fits-all test like the SAT.  Instead, each grande école has its own, très special entrance exam. For the rest of the (essentially free) public universities, they admit anyone. So we see why it’s quite chic to say you went to a grande école.

You mean La Sorbonne?

So we have quite a few grande écoles and quite a few categories of grande écoles by subject or sector. Most of the ones that date pre-French Revolution have names that a majority of people outside of France have never heard of. But we have several categories of grande écoles, including business schools like HEC – and then Polytechnique, the ParisTech schools, Telecom Paris, etc.

Grande école, no école.

As a current Masters student at Sciences Po (perhaps the farthest thing from entrepreneurship after La Sorbonne), I obviously have to give Gobry a bit of credit for recognizing that, yes, as a whole the education system does not exactly glorify start-ups and entrepreneurship. That is, unless you’re at HEC. Or ESCP. Or Telecom Paris.

That was then. This is now.

But wait, did I mention that even Sciences Po has a start-up incubator now? Contrary to the expat rants I heard in San Francisco, I think France is actually starting to embrace entrepreneurship. As for Sciences Po, they’re slacking on the marketing front so they don’t exactly have a website or anything,  but the essential bit is that there are companies coming out of the Sciences Po incubator. Ever hear of Ykone? Or perhaps Weblib? Considering that the incubator is still in its infancy, I’m going to go ahead and say that this is most definitely not a bad start.

Life after the diploma.

I do agree, however, that there is a lot of value and prestige attached to the name of your university – but this is not unique to France. In fact, it is no different from the way that kids come out of Stanford and Harvard and get hired at the drop of a dime. Google, for example, used to and may still go and recruit masses of Stanford students before they had their diplomas – not exactly sure they did the same for public school UC Berkeley. If people didn’t want job security on the other end with a fancy name to go with it, Stanford,  Harvard and Princeton would not be making $40,000+ per student.

You suck!

At encouragement, that is. I could go on for hours; when it comes down to it, what bothers me the most is the idea that France “fails at start-ups”. Is this even a fair statement? If so, why is failure such a bad thing? You live, you learn. If anything, the problem I see in the French education system is that when a student makes a mistake, a French professor is jusified in making this student feel like an idiot – literally. And the overly ambitious, idealistic or visionary? Well, they’re unrealistic and egocentric – so they’re labeled as idiots, too. Now you tell me French VCs and entrepreneurs are risk averse – well, guess why. Think Steve Jobs would’ve dared to make a comeback in France?

Failure is sexy.

Now, I recognize that Americans are the complete opposite,  high-fiving and slapping each other on the back non-stop to avoid a lawsuit. But please don’t tell me you think that Silicon Valley is void of failure. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are all college drop outs. Let’s not forget, however, that we’re once again talking about Stanford and Harvard. That’s $40k in annual tuition, down the drain.

Darwin, is that you?

At the end of the day, it’s a self-selection process. People who become entrepreneurs have to do it for the right reasons and are not likely to be those seeking a simple cushy job at the end of the grande école tunnel. The proof is that there are elitist schools that produce top entrepreneurs. Like Pierre Chappaz, the founder of Kelkoo – which was bought by Yahoo in 2004 for $475 million.  So, not only is the elitist school system is not unique to France but entrepreneurship is slowly but surely creeping into the elite crowd.

Kind of off topic but not really.

Before I left San Francisco, I heard about an event called FailCon – where top entrepreneurs would get together to talk about their failures. Speakers included: Meebo, Aardvark, Zynga and Slide. Hey France, this doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…

Wikipedia Initiative: Plan B

This is a quick follow-up on the Wikipedia initiative, which has proven to be quite interesting.

Yoocasa: my guinea pig.

Some companies are simply too young for Wikipedia. My first start-up to join the cause, Yoocasa, was removed after only a few hours. Sad, but true. Which is surprising because I have seen many companies on Wikipedia that don’t have any reason to be there other than they have made their own page (one SF company in particular I am dying to put here but then I’d be responsible for their page getting deleted).

A few things to remember.

Anyone that has noteworthy clients, references, stats or stories should have no problem being on Wikipedia – as long as they include them. Remember that Wikipedia is about links. It is a lot easier to delete information that is just floating by itself than something that is tagged in additional articles and perhaps includes additional links.

A little linkage.

Take for example French company Musiwave that was acquired by Microsoft for $46 million. No Wikipedia page – not even in French. However, if you search for Musiwave founder Gilles Babinet, he has a page. Naturally, one would assume then that all the companies he has been involved in (Eyeka, MXP4, Digicompanion) would have their own page as a result. Wrong.  The only one to have a Wikipedia page is MXP4 and it isn’t even linked to in his article.

2 sides of the same coin.

All the company links in his article (with the exception of Microsoft) link directly to the company page – which is another way to leverage Wikipedia for marketing. But in the case of Eyeka, a Wikipedia page was created and removed – because it was apparently considered to be too much of an advertisement.

Easier said than done: the French exception.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: French companies perhaps have to be somewhat more careful than others when creating Wikipedia pages because they are more likely to get accused of being advertisements. Kind of like what happens in the metro to innocent poster ads.

Obvioulsy we didn’t see Eyeka’s page before it was removed – it could’ve very well been inappropriate for Wikipedia. But this is perhaps why French companies should definitely pay extra special attention to what info they decide to include and how they link the page to other pages.

Now for Plan B: Crunchbase.

I still encourage all French companies to try Wikipedia because a deleted page leaves you no worse off than before. But for anyone that is in search of a Plan B, apply to Crunchbase – which is likely to be a little more friendly to baby start-ups than Wikipedia.

The French Start-up Wikipedia Initiative

Far from anything being discussed at SXSW, this is a quick post on something I just noticed:

There are a lot of French start-ups that are MIA on Wikipedia.

Obviously it’d be great to develop some kind of French start-up database, but let’s first concentrate on the basics: Wikipedia.

Yeah, so?

Hopefully I don’t need to convince anyone what this is good for. But just in case, search for Sequoia Capital or Benchmark Capital; you’ll notice that not only do they have a page but their companies do too. In fact, the marjority of their companies that do not have Wikipedia pages are in the electronics, energy or health sectors (ok, I admit it, I’m rather shocked to see that companies like Trulia and Storwize are slacking too).

Playing follow the leader.

As for France, of course some of the big names, like Deezer and Dailymotion, already have pages – in French, English, Italian, you name it. But most of the 196 French start-ups I have on my Twitter list are yet to make their Wikipedia debut. The list is too long for me to even point fingers!

Oh, French VC firms, this includes you, too.

Someone was kind enough to throw all your names into this article but hardly anyone has a proper page. Even a link to your website would be sufficient at this point.

Ode to myself?

Yes, it is perfectly legal for a company to create their own Wikipedia page – I checked. Note that I’m not asking anyone to step out of the Wikipedia comfort zone for self-promotion. Keep it simple, keep it factual, keep it neutral. Minimal info is OK, remember it’s an encyclopedia. Some people will think that smaller companies shouldn’t have a page on Wikipedia unless it involves a monumental story or event – I’m not so sure I agree. If a product of a site exists, why shouldn’t it exist on Wikipedia? Other downsides involve the possibility for negative content (so keep an eye on your page). At worst, the page will get deleted by meanies and then you are no worse off than you were before. Voilà.

The goal: March 24.

Since March 24th is TechCrunch Paris, I thought it would be a good idea to encourage as many French start-ups as possible (especially event attendees) to create a Wikipedia page before this date, if they feel it would be reasonable. After all, a name or two may pop up in an article here or there and wouldn’t it be nice if the random person on the other side of the world could get just the basic 411 on what the company does? It’s a temporary fix to translating info on a website as well.

The French start-up Wikipedia Initiative.

So I hereby announce the French start-up Wikipedia initiative. Hopefully French start-ups will also be kind enough to tweet their Wiki creations or even post the link below. Feel weird about making your own? Ask someone to do it for you. And should any start-ups like someone to glance over their English translations, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Smart Money: French companies get creative with funding

I’m considering starting a weekly tradition where I give a shoutout to a French company that is doing something I find particularly innovative. Well, this week that company is Lyon-based Regioneo – who launched a user-investment campaign, which I detailed in TechCrunch Europe.

Why is there no translation for “bon appétit” in English?

In case you are unfamiliar with Regioneo, they’re essentially the French equivalent to Foodzie. I thought the idea behind Regioneo was dynamite even prior to this week’s innovative investment initiative, because obviously local artisanal foods in France have an appeal and quality that their American substitutes don’t.

Have your cake and eat it too.

But as much as I like their platform, I’m applauding the innovative way they decided to raise funding this week – which brought them to just under €50,000 in 5 days. Plus, not only did Regioneo raise money, but it brought together a group of high-profile entrepreneurs (or “ambassadors”) to support their cause. Money plus marketing. Yum. Translation: they can have their cake and eat it too (avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre, en français).

Keep your friends close and your investors closer.

This is not the first company, however, that is leveraging social means for funding. In fact, FriendsClear is another example of local company that is putting a new spin on investment; the P2P lending platform is oriented specifically towards investors and entrepreneurs. Maybe something for Sprouter to consider?

Investitude.

Surely if Ségolène Royal was allowed to make-up words during the last presidential campaign, local entrepreneurs can also invent their way out of roadblocks. In Silicon Valley where it rains VC money on Sand Hill Road, entrepreneurs are possibly less-likely to get creative with funding. And while funding in France is not the monstrosity that everyone makes it out to be, the local VC scene is simply less developed. Which is why I’m sure we’re likely to see more innovation in this space along the lines of what Regioneo and FriendsClear are doing.