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.
A 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:
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.
This is just a quick post in honor of Aardvark (@vark) and my experience with the service that was apparently worth 50 million Google dollars.
Think before you Aardvark.
In the beginning, I was utterly annoyed to get rather irrelevant questions from Aardvark flooding my inbox. “What time is it in France?” would get my blood boiling. Are these people just trying out the service or is Aardvark going to be the answer for lazy internet users? In short, I replied “10:46am. Time to quit Aardvark.”
Just don’t make me repeat myself.
While the company definitely needs to fine-tune its service, I’ve actually grown more and more fond of the silly questions I receive. The subjects I have signed up for are France, San Francisco and Sushi – thus, a majority of the questions I receive are: “What is the best hostel in Paris?”, “Where is the best place in France?”, and “Where can I get the best sushi in San Francisco?” – hopefully Aardvark will eventually recycle my response for repetitive questions (or make the answers public) so that I stopped getting harassed.
An Aardvark a Day.
But I’ve grown fond of the sillier questions I receive to the point where I now look forward to Aarvark questions.
Here are some of my favorites:
1. Why is it snowing in Paris in February?
Because it is cold.
2. Where can I rent a Castle in France?
It’s called a château. Ask King Albert II of Belgium if you can borrow his in the south of France.
3. I just discovered sushi and I really like it. I eat it a lot. If I eat too much sushi, will I die?
(I actually took the time to explain a little about mercury and food poisoning for this one. Sushi is close to my heart.)
4. What is the goal and/or meaning of life?
Not to ask impossible questions on Aardvark.
5. “Will ya help meh with how/which sports should I do to lose weight and gain height.which sport or which positions(exercises) do you suggest me?”
This question was my all-time favorite and it includes the original spelling errors and everything. Although I didn’t answer. I’m still trying to figure out why I received it in the first place.
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.
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)
One of my first posts was called “A Letter to Silicon Valley” where I named 3 things in France that desperately need to be exported to Silicon Valley: SOS Medecins, the TGV and the Freebox.
Add electronic ticketing to the list.
I don’t care if public transporation is more popular in France than in the US – I simply cannot believe that the San Francisco public transporation system and the Caltrain still issue paper tickets. We are 2010 and the heart of high-tech still hasn’t adopted electronic ticketing? Scary.
What’s worse: the TransLink.
Yes, I am aware that there is finally an electronic ticketing system in place (mimics the current system available in France). But the BART began “testing” the technology in 2006 and TransLink only became available for the first time in the summer of 2009. Even worse, it only works on certain train, subway and bus lines. That’s sad.
One would think that in a place like Silicon Valley, mobile ticketing would already be obsolete. But no, they’re only just beginning to move on from paper.
France, on the other hand, is discussing an upgrade of their current electronic ticketing system.
The current eletronic ticketing system in place for the Paris transportation is the NAVIGO, which is a contactless smart card (a French invention, FYI) using RFID technology – exactly what the TransLink is. It’s been around for ages. Users keep the same card and can put weekly and monthly credits on the card at electronic charging stations.
What about Weneo?
France now wants to kick-it up a notch and is experimenting with USB-key format electonic ticketing, to be known as Weneo passes.
Rather than having users add credits to their passes at electronic charging stations, users would be able to put additional credit on their passes from any computer with internet access.
All that sounds a lot better than paper to me.
01Net published an article on Friday based on a recent study by Ifop (The French Institut of Public Opinon) on the progression of various social media platforms in France.
Facebook is still not #1.
According to this study. Of the 1,002 people to participate in the study, 49% had an account on French social network site Copains d’Avant versus 37% with profiles on Facebook. Even Windows Live beat Facebook, making their 350-million person platform #3 in France. Weird. Then again, let’s remember that this info is only based on the limited group of participants in the study.
What about Twitter?
The same study found that only 5% of France was on Twitter, however, in November 2009 – the same month that Twitter became available in French – Ifop released a slightly different figure via a similar study on the status of Twitter and microblogging in France.
60% of the 1,052 participants had heard of Twitter and only 9% had a Twitter account.
And get this: 79% of French Twitter users claimed that their main use for microblogging was to discover special offers and promotions.
RIP Yammer and Friendfeed.
Sadly only 4% had heard of Friendfeed and only 1% had heard of Yammer. I guess they may want to consider Tweeting in French.
Just a quick note for French tech companies interested in developing activites in Silicon Valley or establishing relationships with some of the big US tech stars:
La Mission Economique and UbiFrance are now accepting applications for the 2010 French Tech Tour.
From June 4-11, 15 leading French companies hand-picked by the following list of leading IT companieswill have a chance to meet with:
Adobe, Apple, AT&T, Cisco, eBay, Fujitsu, Google, Intel Capital, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm, Sony, Sprint, Symantec and Verizon.
French companies can apply online through March 1, 2010. More information can be found here (in French).
Companies that have participated in the past include: A-Volute, CodaSystem, BinarySec, Smart Quantum, Vision SAS, Digitrad (Yes.tel), Orcanthus, Paytap, Taztag, Calinda Software, Gigatribe, Twinsoft, Delcrea, Bobex, Exaprotect, MyERP.com, TellMeWhere, NewScape Technology and Momindum.
Yes, that’s right my friends; while Silicon Valley was over there spreading rumors that it’s impossible to score VC money in France, the French government got a little creative.
Since 2007, French tax payers can lower their wealth tax (ISF) by investing in a company.
French taxpayers can now reduce their wealth tax by up to 75% via making an investment of €50,000.
In the beginning, it wasn’t obvious if any magic had been made; were French tax payers going to go knocking directly on the doors of companies they wanted to invest in? And how were emerging start-ups to sniff out the money?
Et voilà, le VC: what’s mine is yours, what’s yours is mine.
That’s right, who better to play the intermediary than a VC.
And now for a little name-dropping.
One example of a company that was recently funded this way is Proxi-Business.com, a French e-commerce solutions platform, which scored €1.15 million (I might cry if I convert this to dollars) at the beginning of this week from a company called Audacia.
Audacia has also funded companies like French organic e-commerce site, Brindilles.fr, IT security company, ASP 64, and a few more.
And they’re not alone. France’s darling start-ups DailyMotion and Deezer – which both scored funding in October 2009 – have received funding from AGF Private Equity, who raised over €35 million in June 2009 through an ISF campaign. Not too shabby if you ask me.
So who is laughing now?
Ok, ok. Maybe this scheme hasn’t dramatically changed the investment practices of local VCs (yet!). But it certainly looks like VCs aren’t agnostic with regards to this new resource (here is a non-exhaustive list of French companies that received VC funding in 2009).