Dear French Entrepreneurs : Please get out of line

Your average American probably seems like a good rule follower. They stop at red lights, know how to wait in line and are smiles-all-around. On the other hand, not-so-much for your average French. A little striking and complaining screams probably screams “trouble maker” across the Atlantic. Plus, they’re not good at waiting in line. Just ask French start-ups like DelivrMe and JaimeAttendre.

JUST DO IT ?

So you’d think that with all that noise, French entrepreneurs would be the first to throw themselves in the deep end. But no. Seems the Nike slogan still has some work to do. Actually, there are a few things that everyone seems to point out when it comes to comparing French entrepreneurs to their American counterparts:

1. Too much theory (also known as too much text).

I’m pretty sure this comes from the education system, the administration and the fact that it’s not really a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of culture. My general impression is that often too much effort goes into over-preparation and that this delays execution. I realized this at a conference I was just at, when it seemed that an insane amount of hesitation was going into launching a simple corporate blog or Facebook Fan Page. Granted, the crowd wasn’t your average tech bunch but still. Sure, it’s important to prepare before launching – but in most cases, it’s not rocket science. A little less paperwork, a little more lights, camera, action. Launch first, tweek later.

2. Too much complication.

For anyone who doesn’t know this, the local general rule of thumb for everything is “why make it simple when it can be overcomplicated ?” And I love this. Except when it comes to launching a company. Numerous VCs have confirmed this for me, but foreign and French – French entrepreneurs have a talent for pitching overcomplicated ideas. I’m not saying that the Americans don’t do this because they do it too. But the KISS rule (“keep it simple, stupid”) could really go a long way here. Take a fraction of your business plan and do it really well. I’m fairly certain Larry and Sergei pitched a simple search engine – not the Google Empire.

3. Too much copycat.

I can’t tell if its an inferiority complex or an attempt to beat the system. Maybe a bit of both. The minute an idea gets big in the States, it immediately gets scooped up and spit back out in Franco-form. Chatroulette, FourSquare, now Groupon, you name it, the French versions all exist. They’re even modified for local taste, kind of like the BigMac. For some US companies – like Yelp, Etsy or Mint – where there is a definite space in the market but no local offer, a local copycat makes total sense. Or in the case of OpenTable , where the US company came but couldn’t crack the French code right away. But fewer ideas of French origin are really making waves à la Vente-Privée. Maybe because all the eyeballs are looking abroad for inspiration ? Either that, or because French VCs feel more comfortable funding ideas that are getting funded in start-up Disneyland, aka Silicon Valley. (That being said, the French really know how to do e-commerce and VCs are way more at ease funding clear revenue models.)

The F-word.

But ultimately, the theory, the complication and the copycat seem to be symptoms of something that is a huge problem for French entrepreneurs to face. Yes, I’m talking about the F-word: failure. Culturally, a failing start-up is much less accepted than in the Valley – but this isn’t news to anyone. But I think that within the start-up ecosystem, this is changing. French entrepreneurs are at least aware of this aspect and talk about it openly. As for talking about their actual failures openly – well, that seems a little too far off in the distance for now. I’d love for one of the future tech events (LeWeb?) to bust out a panel of entrepreneurs to talk about their failures in front of the French crowd. Fail damnit, #fail. Maybe once the French tech crowd gets more comfortable with the idea of failure they’ll get a little more adventurous and out of line.

I’m Putting My Money on MyFab

Sequoia and Benchmark, you may want to listen. Jeff Bezos too.

MyFab: THE next hot start-up to come out of France.

First off, let me say that I do not write this for just any old company and it is very likely that this will be the only post of its kind for a long time. I normally would be inclined not to broadcast something so incredibly favorable about a particular start-up – but MyFab is just too damn good for me not to do so.

Now, I’m no expert but personally I think MyFab is going to be the next-best-thing to come out of France – start-up wise. That is, if it isn’t already.

iWhat? MyWho?

The company is French but first made a splash in Silicon Valley in the summer of 2009 when they closed a €5 million round, including funding from BV Capital. MyFab’s unique e-commerce model is an on-demand platform that lets users buy high-quality products directly from manufacturers. Translation: up to an 80% price reduction on incredibly chic  furniture, jewelry, etc. The site also makes use of a “voting system” whereby their customers can vote for future products to be made and receive a addition discount on the items once they go into production. I think it’s just brilliant.

First Vente-privée, now MyFab.

French e-commerce must be doing something right. Vente-privée made headlines a while ago with the potential $2 billion Amazon acquisition. I’m pretty sure MyFab won’t enter the US market and go unnoticed either.

A few other unique e-commerce business models have caught my eye as well – including Sokoz and Voyagerpouruneuro.com – which integrate a timed or game-like aspect into shopping.

France e-commerce businesses may’ve had a bit of a slow start but looks like it’s getting ready to take off…

Check out my lastest article in TechCrunch Europe on MyFab’s US launch and follow MyFab on Twitter: @MyFabFrance (in French) or @MyFabGermany (in English)

I Love2Recycle: Cellphone Recycling à la Française

It’s all about being green.

Inc. Magazine published an article last month on San Diego-based ecoATM, a start-up developing kiosk or ATM-like machines where people can deposit their old cellphones for cash. Sounds like a brilliant idea. I remember seeing a company that wanted to do the exact same thing at a Silicon Valley Launch event last year (or maybe it was them).  

Best part: the ATM still gives you cash.

For ecoATM, a used Blackberry or iPhone goes for $50 to $55. They estimate around $12.2 billion worth of used phones are just sitting in people’s drawers, waiting to be cashed-in.

Not so fast.

Why lug your phones around to track down one of these silly machines when you could just slip your phone in the mail? With the machines, there may also be the added possibility of a technical slip leaving you with a little less cash than you bargained for.

2 sites that do the trick: Love2Recycle and MonExTel.

France’s Love2Recycle.fr (Love2Recycle.com) is an inititaive put forward by LaPoste and Anovo, buying used phones for up to €250. Users log-on to the site, select the phone they want to turn in, send it and then receive their check in the mail.

Another site that works in a similar fashion is MonExTel.com. The company behind the site, Recommerce Solutions, buys the phones, which are then repaired by Ateliers du Bocage and resold.

Oh, and of course there is always the Telcos.

Bouygues Telecom, for example, is launching their mobile phone recycling program on January 18. Although mobile phones recycled through their site will go to MonExTel.com.

Great short term solution?

I think that telephone recycling solutions are terrific in the short term. But wouldn’t it be a little more green if companies encouraged consumers to change consumption habits althogether?

Solde.com

In France, there is no Black Friday. There is no “after-Christmas” sale  or “end of the year clearout” sale. 

Instead, there are the semiannual “soldes.” AKA the fixed, 5-week sale that takes place in January/February and again in June/July. And January 6  is the first day of the winter 2010 sale.  

A study published by the Centre for Retail Research in December 2009 stated that 58% of French would be hitting the January sales, spending an average of €159 each. That’s an estimated €34.8 billion to be spent in the first weeks of 2010 – want me to convert that to dollars for you? 

So what better way to take advantage of the “soldes” than online (or via a mobile device)?

No obeying store hours and no lines. And you can even shop from outside the +33 country code. Score – or as the French would say, youpi!

E-commerce has been on a steady rise in France, as the French are by no means shy when it comes to buying online; in November, MediaMetrie confirmed 23 million French e-shoppers  during the 3rd trimester of 2009 (1 million mobile shoppers during the same time period). And 63% of French confirm that they buy online simply because it’s more practical.

There are a myriad of local e-commerce sites selling everything from foie gras to Sarkozy’s watch (though not his wife – at least, not that I’m aware of). 

Still, stats reveal that the French prefer to buy less food and more technical products online, making this the leading product category for online sales. Tourism and travel is a very close second.

Where are all the eyeballs?

Top-ranking e-commerce sites in France in terms of monthly uniques throughout 2009 include: eBay, PriceMinister, Amazon, Cdiscount, La Redoute, Fnac, Voyages-sncf.com, 3 Suisses, Vente-privée, Pixmania, Kiabi.com, Rue du Commerce, Carrefour, Mistergooddeal and Eveil et Jeux.

Looking for a few more names? A more complete directory of over 430 local e-commerce players (700 websites) can be found on the FEVAD’s (fédération e-commerce et vente à distance) website here. Additionally, the FEVAD’s selection for the best e-commerce sites of 2009 can be found here.

Any idiot knows that sales + e-commerce = business.

So what does the scoreboard look like for e-commerce sites in the upcoming weeks? Well, during the first week of the semiannual sales in summer 2009 alone, the FEVAD announced a 7% increase of online sales (and a 10% increase during the first week for the winter 2009 sales). With an estimated 9% of the total sales during the January soldes to done online, e-commerce sites should be raking-in around €3.1 billion.

Oh, and you’re wondering how solde.com figures into all of this?

 The domain is currently on the market for $30,000. Now that’s ironic.

To anyone looking for a bit more info on the European e-commerce scene in English, ACSEL (association pour le commerce et les services en ligne) has a terrific publication, which can be found here.