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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Trying to Make Sense of the French Job Market

Yesterday, Marc Thouvenin (Regioneo founder) posted a tweet that caught my eye:

“Can interns make good community managers” with a link to this blog post by Benjamin Rosoor of Web Report.

Traditional recruitment meets realtime web.

For anyone that can’t read French, Rosoor’s post argues against younger employees – and more specifically, interns – doing the job of community managers. Naturally, you don’t want your average slacker representing your company and your brand on live, social internet. But Rosoor’s post ties in the fact that the job of a community manager isn’t well defined and that many companies don’t put a lot of money on the table for their social media strategy. The result: putting an intern behind the Twitter account could be fatal.

But aren’t we forgetting something?

I think that Rosoor’s post raises a good point – that community management is in fact an important job that should be given to someone with a good grasp of the product, the company, the business, the industry and what have you. And if the person is to be trusted with such an important task, it should be reflected in their paycheck too, no?

But the issue should not be reduced to a question of age or experience.

This is a typical mistake I see in traditional French recruitment practices. The French torture themselves at school (believe me, I am living it) and get diplomas from top universities. But when they graduate, nobody trusts them with anything because they lack experience. What on earth kind of ridiculous logic is that? 10 years of experience to become an engineer? Forget it. I’d understand if it involved a History major trying to become a brain surgeon but that is usually not the case. Plus, how is anyone supposed to get any experience if even as interns they are reduced to doing purely trivial tasks?

Is “trust” a four-letter word?

Maneuvering new web applications may come more naturally to the younger Web 2.0 generation. Would it be so wrong to perhaps trust someone with less experience? I’m sure that with a little training and a bit of trust, the right candidate would hardly set-out to ruin a company’s reputation on the internet.

The French Evolution.

Fortunately, I do feel as though the French tech job market, in particular, is evolving – embracing Twitter, Facebook and the likes for recruitment purposes, thus finding a younger, geekier candidate pool. But it is still not necessarily the norm.

Need experience? Start a company.

Starting a company has possibly become the answer to unemployment and entering the over-hierarchical job market. Once more people realize that online community sites – like Facebook, Deezer, Creads, etc. – were founded by 20-something-year-olds, perhaps they’ll reconsider giving someone with less experience a community management (or other) role.

Will work for food, er, ticket resto

I’ve lived with a Googler.

So I know – just like the rest of us, as it’s not exactly a secret – that working at Google comes with a lot of free goodies: discounts on tons of services (ZipCar, AT&T internet, etc), that lovely SF-Mountain View charter bus service, on-campus lectures, dry cleaning, babysitting, you name it.

Oh, and of course, the food.

The best way to spot a Googler is by their fridge, since they never have anything in it (other than NakedJuice and the occasional Google take-out box).

But is everyone in Silicon Valley just working for food?

The NY Times published an article in December about the opening of Facebook’s fancy new kitchen – despite the recent Valley relapse on dining establishments – as a continuation of the 1950’s tradition started by HP to breed company loyalty and acquire talent. Thus working at a high-profile tech company comes with a fat paycheck, label and belly – the “Facebook 15″‘ is apparently what the kids are calling it.

Obviously, not every Silicon Valley company does this – even if they can afford to (the NYT article points fingers @ Lucasfilm, Autodesk, Apple and Cisco, in particular).

Now, in France “company loyalty” isn’t exactly synonymous with “food”.

There are maybe a million theories, articles and books on why the French are thin and the Americans are fat. Well – and by all means correct me if I am wrong – but maybe this has something to do with it.  The French may enjoy their food but I don’t exactly see French companies having in-house fancy foie gras competitions. But maybe do-no-evil Google will change that.

Vive le Ticket Resto?

In France, the absence of a (less grandiose) cafeteria means the Ticket Restaurant system, which is like a meal coupon provided by French employers that is only valid for the purchase of food (ideally prepared food or restaurant food). The employer pays a portion of the “Ticket Resto” (usually a minimum of 50%) and the employee pays the other portion. Ticket amounts usually venture around €10.

Why not just opt out for cash?

The Ticket Resto is not exactly man’s best friend. While many restaurants and grocery stores accept them, not every place will reimburse you if you don’t spend the full amount of your ticket. A lot of restaurants will also put a cap on the total number of tickets you can use to pay (2 in most cases), to keep customers from saving them up only to penny pinch on a fancy meal. But if you prefer to opt out for cash, tough luck.

Then again, Ticket Resto money is fortunately exempt from all taxes. The idea behind this is that food money should be non taxable. That equals happy employer and happy employee. Plus no receipts for TurboTax.

Ticket Resto’s website also provides a simulation on how much employers and employees save with different schemes and different numbers of employees. Here’s the link in French.  

No,”Ticket restaurant” is not French for “disloyal employee”.

People are always bitching about the downsides of the French labor laws, as if every entrepreneur was only out to fire the people s/he hired. Now, this may sound outrageous but the majority of French employees are probably keepers (valid you have some kind of recruitment process in place). Thus, no local companies are competing on who can dish-out more to run a Benihanas and an A-list tech company simultaneously, just to keep their top French engineers from going to work down the street.

So, is Mark Zuckerberg making you fat?

Maybe. He may be serving you organic chicken on recycled plates but that doesn’t mean Michael Pollan doesn’t have anything to say about this. Although Pollan was an invited speaker at the Google campus so maybe he is picking his battles.

And if he’s not making you fat, he might be making you lazy. After all, too much of a good thing may very well put our beloved Facebookers into a post-déjeuner food coma. Loyalty at the cost of efficiency?

PS: In France, people on the street beg for cash, cigarettes – and ticket restos.

As they’re only valid for food (no alcohol), you don’t need to think twice before helping someone out.