An Open Letter to Fleur Pellerin

Disclaimer: This is a letter on behalf of me, myself and I. It does not engage or concern my employer. And for those of you who do not know Fleur Pellerin, she is the French Minister of Digital Economy.

Dear Madame la Ministre.

Video: Minister Fleur Pellerin speaking at LeWeb Paris on her vision to make France a startup nation, Failcon and more.

Let me begin first and foremost by congratulating you on your excellent work. You may not know this – since we have had very few occasions to talk – but I admire you and what you have done since you became Minister in 2012. I mean, how could I not love your vision to make France a startup nation?! You have been a terrific asset for the entrepreneurs of your country, immersing yourself in the French ecosystem and correctly identifying all the pain points. In addition, you’ve dedicated yourself to a number of very admirable causes, like making the French ecosystem more visible internationally through La French Tech. And more recently, you’ve even launched initiatives aimed at de-stigmatizing failure and working to make the tech space more female-friendly. Chapeau !

An American (ecosystem) in Paris.

I guess it’s only natural I find your efforts valuable, as I have several initiatives dedicated to the exact same causes – as I’m sure you have noticed. From the first day I arrived in France in 2009, one of my goals has been to help make the local ecosystem more visible to the rest of the world (in fact, that is kind of why I started this silly blog). When I joined TechCrunch in Spring 2010, I was able to share stories from the local ecosystem on a much larger scale. Then, I thought it would help if we brought some of the initiatives from the US to France, bringing the 2 ecosystems closer together. That’s why in May 2010, Mounia Rkha and I launched Girls in Tech in Paris –  it was the first European branch of the Silicon Valley-based network. And finally, the following year, Cass Philipps and I launched Failcon in France as well, making it the first country after the United States to host the event. (Yes, that’s right. So-called failure-averse France was the first international country to host the conference.) So when I see you dedicating yourself and your resources to the same areas, it naturally inspires me and gives me hope. It makes me think that maybe we’re finally all on the same page.

Ignoring the facts?

Failcon FR

Now, I’m no Minister and I’m in no position to tell you how to do your job. In fact, I’m terribly far from it. But I do know that your approach to “launching your own Failcon” (as you said at LeWeb in December and in a number of recent articles) has somewhat surprised me. I definitely support the idea that the government can also get involved in making failure more palatable for local entrepreneurs. And I don’t doubt that your event wouldn’t be to the ecosystem’s benefit (though I know that your format is somewhat different from what we do and your event needs to be in French). But I have to ask myself why you go out of your way to ignore the fact that France actually has a Failcon Conference already. In all your interviews on the topic, you never mention our conference once. Wouldn’t it be huge for us to play up the fact that France was the first country after the US to host the conference? Wouldn’t that benefit the country’s image? After all, we’ve have tons of press coverage and incredible speakers, including Robin Chase (Zipcar/Buzzcar), Renaud Visage (Eventbrite), Jean-Emile Rosenblum (Pixmania), Sarah Prevette (Sprouter), Philippe Collombel (Partech), Marie Ekeland (Elaia Partners), Sean Seton-Rogers (Profounders Capital), Ricardo Sousa and many, many more. And we’d be beyond honoured to have you speak on everything you’ve done on the topic at our next event this spring as well.


Photo: Sprouter’s Sarah Prevette speaking just before their acquisition by PostMedia at Failcon France 2011.

Ladies, please.


While I’m on the topic, I feel the same can probably be said for Girls in Tech, as you recently announced you were increasing your efforts to make tech a more female-friendly ecosystem. We were hoping to see you at our annual Lady Pitch Night back in 2012 (prior to your becoming Minister) and again in 2013, but without success. It goes without saying that Girls in Tech’s ambitions are completely in-line with what your vision to encourage women in technology. And our French chapter was not only the first in Europe, but is the most developed and active chapter in Europe. Plus, we recently launched an initiative to teach free coding classes with Microsoft and had an 80% female turn-out! Surely, these are initiatives and figures that help you promote France’s ecosystem internationally. And we have collaborated with loads of other women’s networks, hoping to make the ecosystem a more female-friendly environment. It’s puzzling to me why, when there are so many initiatives that are in-line with your causes, you fail to mention them. I’m sure RailsGirls, Womoz, CyberElles, Girlz in Web, Les Duchesses and many others are doing things that would help you better promote France internationally too.

What would Tech City do? #WWTCD


Photo: TechCity’s website actually features entrepreneurs/people from the ecosystem on the “About Us” page. Food for thought.

I guess it’s only natural for me to draw comparisons to how the UK government or US government’s interact with their local ecosystems, since those are the other countries I’ve lived in and ecosystems I know. While it’s hard for me to imagine the US or the UK government’s launching their own Failcon-like conferences, that isn’t to say it isn’t the right model for France. But what I definitely can say is that both the UK and US would not hold back in mentioning similar initiatives already going on in the ecosystem. If the UK was the first country to host a Failcon conference after the US, I think the world would already know. And if the US were to launch a war on sexism in the tech industry, I’m sure organizations like Girls in Tech, RailsGirls and many more would be difficult not to mention, or even work wth.

On behalf of the ecosystem.

Now, I realize there is a really good chance that this comes across as attention-seeking. And I’ll admit that as a foreigner who left Silicon Valley to come and work in this country (and who struggled to get the visa so I could come and promote and help build the French ecosystem), credit never hurts 🙂 But actually, it’s for the ecosystem that I say this: the more you – as someone with media attention and a voice that is heard throughout the country and around the world – can talk about initiatives and success stories from France, the better it will do your ecosystem. And there is far more going on here than Criteo’s IPO. The more you can highlight successful foreign entrepreneurs, the more you can talk about existing initiatives to encourage women in tech and learning from Failure, the better. Even the smaller stories and initiatives count. You will not always be able to launch your own versions of things, and sometimes it’s better to plug into what the ecosystem is already doing and provide additional support. That’s why we didn’t reinvent Girls in Tech or Failcon – because we felt we had more to gain by being part of an international movement and existing brand. But as Minister, I’m sure you already knew this.

I do hope you take my letter to heart. Even if we don’t see you at Failcon France 2014 (taking place this Spring) or at any Girls in Tech events, know that I will continue to appreciate your work and support for the local ecosystem.

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