Man, Those French Rappers Love Their Startups

This is just a random post on something that crossed my mind rather randomly the other day. You may’ve heard of Snoop Dogg’s gig with leading social games publisher Zynga. And if you didn’t, well, all you need to know is that it involved Zynga hiring Snoop Dogg to blow up a car for the launch of a new game, Mafia Wars. Whether or not you love the idea, Zynga did it. And it got noticed.

Orelsan is to Facebook what Snoop Dogg is to Zynga.

So if Snoop Dogg is out there promoting Zynga and Kanye West is showing-up for random concerts at Facebook headquarters,we might as well put French rapper Orelsan in the same boat. It’s not exactly the same because – unlike Snoop & Co.- Orelsan and Toxic Avenger probably weren’t approached by Zuckerberg or Ternovskiy to feature Facebook and Chatroulette in their video for the song N’importe Comment (yes, I translated Alexia Tsotsis’s post for TechCrunch France on this).

To any French-speaking readers, I apologize for the agressive and degrading lyrics – and pokes. It’s not any worse than Snoop Dogg. But I would like to give Orelsan credit for the game-console necklace bling, which is almost chic for geek. If he can wear a Nintento console around his neck and make it look cool, heck, I’d expect to see the Minitel as a fashion accessory and a vintage Freebox as interior decoration in no time.

Oh but wait, there’s actually a French electro-pop group (from Nantes!) called Minitel Rose – check out their video for Magic Powder. Maybe French musicians find tech cooler than one would think.

Je suis un Chatroulette-o-holic.

But even better than Orelsan, Toxic Avenger and Minitel Rose is French rock group Je Suis Un Chien. These kids actually used Chatroulette to make their video for the song Hologram.

I saw your mom on Chatroulette.

Calm down, it’s just a lyric from a song comedian Max Boublil wrote about Chatroulette (in French: “J’ai vu ta mère sur Chatroulette). His song is about as goofy as the Entrepreneur State of Mind / New Dork. But a little less mature and thought-out. Oh well. And in all honesty, Mr. Boublil’s song doesn’t really have much tech in it other than the word “Chatroulette”.

Je t’ai Googlisé.

But to my knowledge, no French rappers have written the Skyblog song or the Meetic melody. Do they have a strange preference for US technologies? Is that what it’s about? It seems kind of natural to throw US company names and technologies in ridiculous songs because 1) yes, they are insanely widely adopted and 2) the company names often become verbs in the English language – which is definitely not as common in French. Then again, I have heard lyrics that tend to reflect what is being used locally – for example MSN Messenger rather than AOL IM (wow, that was ages ago). I’m not suggesting that local startups should put their energy into inventing buzz words for a market they are already saying is too limited in size so that some rapper can come along and potentially help the brand. But could it help user adoption especially in the B2C space in some cases (I’m almost inclined to put out a few examples here). Then again, I could also point out that there are American companies – like Linkedin, for example – that didn’t exactly go this route either.

Nonetheless, it’s really quite telling that French rappers and rockers and whathaveyou are using social media in their group names, their music videos, their clothing, etc. – and regardless of the language. I’m sure there are other examples out there that I haven’t included too…

PS: all of this is way better than Miley Cyrus rapping about killing her Twitter account.

And over in the US, not all stars are Tweeting and going to YCombinator Conferences à la Ashton Kutcher. For example, there’s Miley Cyrus who killed her Twitter account very publicly and bashed the service (and essentially most online services where one could spend a lot of time). I’m not going to go into details because from what I understood it was all just insanely stupid – which is also reflected in this horrible rap music-video she made to match.

Thankfully no French rappers or rockers have done this – to my knowledge. Actually they seem more or less in tune with the tech trends, from what I’ve seen so far. Then again, very few of them actually have verified Twitter accounts – but who cares. Maybe it’s the French social media music video bunch that will be the type of “innovation ambassadors” I was trying to get at in an earlier post on French Hollywood being MIA from tech.

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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.

Attack of the MyMajor Clones – a French Malady?

Seems everyone these days wants to be another Groupon, Foursquare – or even Chatroulette. And I can’t blame them. When a model works in one country or industry, why not just modify it a bit, apply it to a new market and hope for it to take off? Sounds like a game plan to me.

Enter MyMajor.

In France, one group of clones has sprung off of the success of MyMajorCompany (MMC). For anyone who doesn’t know, the company is essentially a participative music label. Translation: crowd-sourced funding for music production. Yes, that means any old nobody with a bank account and a minimum of €10 can essentially become a music producer once the total funding for an artist hits €100k. And to make a long story short, the model took off in France, is now distributed by Warner Music France and has produced some local best-sellers, like Grégoire (don’t ask my opinion on his music please). FYI: this is yesterday’s news in France, as the company has been around since 2007 and started making headlines shortly after.

Cut, copy, crowd-fund.

So OK, I’ve seen a lot of clones of all types of companies and to be honest, I’m not against it. Plus, for the crowd-sourcing/crowd-funding models, I actually think they often capture the beauty of the internet/web 2.0 – and I’m fairly certain this trend is unique to France as a direct result of MyMajor’s success. Another French company that has done a brilliant job in leveraging the crowd via internet is MyFab (obviously a slightly different model). But now I see this model being applied left and right to every last product or sector you can think of – from furniture to start-ups. A majority of the ideas are actually quite interesting but seriously, what’s next? 

MyMajorVC?

I’ve recently seen several companies try to pitch the MyMajor model for crowd-funding start-ups (I told you French companies were creative with funding) and I’m particularly skeptical of this idea. For music, the model works because it’s more or less a B2C market; consumers know what they like so by funding, they are essentially pre-selecting and confirming a future purchase. Oh, and the ROI is not too shabby. But for a silly bypasser betting €10 on a random B2B start-up – I’m just not sure that would amount to anything other than, well, €10. Then again, with all the ISF funding floating around in France, I’m not sure it’s really all that different.

YouFund, iFund?

Still, I actually think that this model could be refined for a specific type of product or start-up and work very nicely. It just needs to be well-implemented and not addressed to all start-ups as a whole. Crowd-fund something small. Like an app. Perhaps this model could give KPCB’s iFund a run for it’s money? Oh, and that’s $200 million, to be exact.

Was Loic Le Meur’s Seesmic the precursor to Chatroulette?

Disclaimer: this quick post was oddly inspired by a company that pitched yesterday at Startup Weekend Paris called Waazz. Essentially, the Chatroulette-like webcam-based platform wants to be a hub for insult competitions.  That’s right, angry internet users will come to the site to creatively unleash profanities at each other, record the videos and then ask the community to vote for the winner. Classy.

But for some reason it reminded me more of Seesmic than Chatroulette.

No, not the current Seesmic (Twitter client) but the original Twitter that I saw Loic Le Meur and his team pitch a year or two  ago in San Francisco – which currently goes by the name of “Seesmic Video“. For anyone who hasn’t had a chance to check it out yet, it’s essentially recorded Chatroulette; AKA users record conversations and then other users come on the site and record replies and it just takes off from there.

Now, what is the difference between Loic Le Meur and Andrey Turnovskiy?

Being that the platforms are so insanely similar, it’s hard to see really why Chatroulette became such a(n unfortunate) phenomenon and Seesmic Video, well, didn’t – at least not to the same scale as Chatroulette. Perhaps it has something to do with the real-time trend? Loic Le Meur seemed to have hit the nail on the head with people wanting to talk with random strangers via webcam – but recording videos perhaps scared away the masses (maybe the closet-exhibitionists?). Anyhow, behold the slight tweek of Andrey Turnovskiy and presto: if we make it real-time and thus obviously more conversation-friendly, it magically attracts hoards of people.  Oddly enough, introducing additional recording fuctionalities to Chatroulette don’t seem to faze users either. Weird.

Upnext: the wave of “me toos”.

Well, whether or not you agree that Seesmic may’ve been a precursor, looks like Chatroulette may be hanging around for a while. Last week I wrote about a French Chatroulette site, Bazoocam (obviously France needs its own Chatroulette clones), that recently launched a gay version of the site, Camtogays. I’m sure eventually additional niche sub-groups will pop-up and we’ll end up with a proliferation of Chatroulette sites like we have with social networks. Who’s next?