Smelling French: Not Such a Bad Thing

Paul Carr published an article in TechCrunch a few days ago and naturally the title caught my eye: Cherchez la fame – or why the media’s obsession with Twitter campaigns will make customer service smell French.

A word on smelling French.

What I think is a little ironic in this article is that “smelling French” is phrased to sound like a bad thing – when in fact, it isn’t. What the article refers is simply equality and egalitarian customer service as a result of everyone having an equal voice on Twitter. Carr even concludes by saying that as a consumer, it’s about time for this so-called French influence to set in.

The upside of down.

What caught me even more off guard in this post was that Carr was suggesting that the French potentially have good customer service – that they essentially had the Twitter system in place before Twitter. Now isn’t that a bit odd, since most of the planet doesn’t exactly rave about their customer service experiences in France? Was that an insult via compliment?

Made in France.

It’s funny how adding a twist of French to marketing can almost go both ways. In the US, anything French is considered classy and potentially of better quality; just by adding a “le” or a “la” to any product name, you can smack a few dollars on the price. Hardee’s agrees:

But every now and then a supporter of the “freedom fries era” reminds us that Pépé Le Pew also belongs in this category.

Napoléon who?

What I’ve been noticing recently is that more and more French tech companies and start-ups want to shed their patriotic colors. They don’t want to be associated with France, per say, because they’re worried it will make them seem small and franco-centric.  As I mentioned in a previous post, French entrepreneurs are largely concerned with the limitations of the local market. If a French company writes “everywhere” as their location on Twitter, I question whether or not they would’ve done the same thing had they been in San Francisco. And more often than not, French companies I talk to for TechCrunch ask me to concentrate on their US or international activities and not to draw too much attention to their French roots.

Global is the new black.

In a way, I think it’s healthy and very reassuring that French entrepreneurs are adopting a more global perspective and that their strategies are international from day 1. I even stumbled upon 2 French start-ups – Silentale and Plyce – that don’t even have their sites translated into French (except for the job/recruitment section), and I’m certain there are others.

Vive la France: don’t be a sell out.

While I don’t think French companies need to preach the Marseillaise, I do think they should remember that being French is not something to hide. Having a Twitter account in English is fine but there is no reason to hide a France-based corporate address just to appear more in-line with tech trends. Plus, let’s not forget the tons of crap comes out of Silicon Valley – not everyone there is Google or Facebook.

More than just Loic Le Meur.

I remember when I first started showing Deezer to people in San Francisco, they seemed to think it was just another Silicon Valley music company to add to the list of Imeem, Pandora, etc. But when they found out Deezer was French, well – it stood out. That’s right – the US may be coming around slowly but surely but they’ll ultimately realize the French tech scene is more than just Loic Le Meur.

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4 thoughts on “Smelling French: Not Such a Bad Thing

  1. Thanks for including Silentale as an example here… just wanted to clarify that we do have global ambitions, but aren’t trying to hide our “french” origins (Twitter location is Paris). I put french in quotes, since our founder is Canadian-French, relocated to Paris from Montreal, and we also have english, american and romanians on the team, as well as many having lived/worked abroad in the US, Europe & Asia. There is a fine balance to be struck, as it definitely seems to be more difficult to raise funding from Paris, especially if you’re only focusing on the french market. But the main reason for Silentale being in english-only at this stage is that we want to provide a service globally. Our beta users come from over 90 countries, which simply would not be possible if we had started in french, and we simply aren’t big enough yet to localise in many different languages (look how long it took Facebook to localise and Twitter isn’t there yet!).

  2. Bold and well written, once again!
    I fully agree with you as long as web businesses or other ‘dematerialized’ services are concerned. But step outside that realm and old school customer service kicks in (not that web 2.0 apps don’t need customer service, mind you). That’s when, in my experience, having a French corp can be an issue on the US market. When targeting enterprise or consumer clients in the US, it can make a big difference to paint your company in stars and stripes. Unfortunate but witnessed time and again. It also makes a difference in contracts negotiations, marketing and partnership agreements, recruiting (which seasoned exec wants to deal with a SOP governed by a legislation unknown to him/her?), and even LoCal VC funding: “Don’t come see me if I can’t see your office from my window” goes the legend in the Sand Hill road hood.
    Oh, and one rant: Dear French startups, if you have any kind of ambition outside of the French market, PLEASE watch your English! The English language we’re taught at school in France is very poor in most cases, and, unless you speak English with the same level of mastery displayed by the author of this blog when she speaks and writes in French (a non-native language to her), then HIRE A NATIVE SPEAKER to write or proof read your prose! You will be glad you did.

  3. @Shannon – thanks very much for the clarification! Hope it came through that I was actually congratulating Silentale for this “global” approach…

    @Benoit – I hate that English speakers are so fussy about the language but naturally anything that goes in print or on a website should be polished. Otherwise it’s just not professional. The same way a French person wouldn’t want to see minor errors that “sonnent mal” or “sautent aux yeux”…no? Interesting point about industry as well – definitely, that comes into play. I imagine a French fashion company would have a much easier time than a French corp going up against Apple products. Have you actually heard a VC say that btw?

  4. French based companies are french, it is not even a matter of smelling french or not. I would say that Loic is smelling french because his company is based in the US and he still speaks with a classic french accent 🙂 In my opinion, as a user, you just don’t give a shit if the service is based in Paris, San Francisco or Tel Aviv. My point is: you can’t be global without being strong in your own market, this is a basic business rule. So i guess it is not just about “smelling french”, it is about being a international company based in France. As you say, these companies are doing better: “Global is the new black”, but don’t forget your roots and your local market. Et qui justement se reveille un peu … 🙂

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