TechBaguette launches the Failpage

So, as many of you may already know, Cass Phillips and I are teaming up to launch the first European edition of the FailCon in Paris later this year. It’s a conference that Cass started in the Bay Area so that entrepreneurs could share stories of failure and how to recover/avoid it.

Hot topic.

Failure seems to becoming more and more of a hot topic – and not just in conferences. For example, Failure is this month’s cover story for Wired UK and the April edition of the Harvard Business Review. And just yesterday, the New York Times published an article on a “Facebook class” at Stanford with a few lovely failure stories inside. Failure seems to be popping up left and right and numerous entrepreneurs and investors seem to be popping up to talk about it.

No, you go first.

When I published an article on TechCrunch France announcing that the FailCon would finally be making its way to France, our readers didn’t hesitate to comment that one would have to be very courageous to be a speaker at such an event. But then again, one would have to be very courageous to be an entrepreneur as well, right? Once Gilles Babinet came on board (you can check out his presentation slides here and video here), it was easier to get other speakers to step up to the plate. But I found that it was a little bit like pulling teeth to get some people to actually give concrete, personal examples of failures – big or small – and how they recovered or could avoid it in the future. It was more of a “no, you go first” mindset – which is definitely not the right way to approach the issue, especially as a speaker at such a conference.

Harder than it looks.

Obviously, talking about one’s failures on stage in front of hundreds of people is harder than it looks. And I’ve discussed before how the “You Suck” mindset in French schools definitely isn’t very encouraging for risk-takers. In fact, during one of the panels of the first Failure Conference in Paris in January, someone in the audience sent a tweet asking if everyone on stage could share a personal failure story or take a risk on stage. In retrospect, it would’ve been a terrific way to lead by example but I let comment go unnoticed and the opportunity slip away.

My Failpage

The funny thing is, even if it seems that entrepreneurs and investors are reluctant to grab the microphone when it comes to this topic, they don’t hesitate to share their stories with me. Which is why I’ve decided to add a special page to my blog dedicated to “failure” stories. It’s a sensitive and personal subject, so I’m not about to go broadcasting their stories without their permission. But I definitely think that it can only help get people more comfortable with the subject. I’m going to publish stories that people may or may not already know but I’m also happy to include anonymous tips and stories as well.

Oh yes, you failed.

On a final note, I was recently talking with an entrepreneur that runs a rather large company – something like 500 to 600 employees – and asking a few questions to see if it would make sense for him to speak at the Failcon. I found it rather funny that his first reaction was “of course, but I haven’t failed as an entrepreneur, so I don’t really know what I could talk about.” Seriously? You mean to tell me that your company was an instant success from day one and that building a 600-person company is a piece of cake? Really? I almost wanted to tell him that only such a statement would make him a failed entrepreneur because he obviously didn’t learn anything or take any risks. Of course, no entrepreneur can be called a failure as entrepreneurship is simply about inventing your way out of problems; entrepreneurs are thus problem solvers by definition – the more complex the problem, the better. So to tell me that he didn’t know what he could talk about, well, that was perhaps a good example of a failure…

The un-four-letter-word.

What I realized, is that people are still uncomfortable with the word “failure” because they don’t realize that I’m actually talking about success. I’m obviously not looking for a guy that hit a problem that he couldn’t figure his way out of – but the opposite. I’m looking for the “we did this, it didn’t work, so this is what we did instead” type stories. Stories like why didn’t the first game published by social games developer Kobojo take off? How did they change the model and their approach so that the next games would attract millions of users? Or why did the initial version of Moo.com fail and how did the founders relaunch the site in 2006 and become the success that they are today? So, if you have a story or a tip that you’d like to share (even anonymously), don’t hesitate to send me an email.

Should France even want to be another Silicon Valley anyway?

If there’s one thing I have a low tolerance for, it’s France-bashing. Sadly, it seems to be a default sport for many journalists. Whenever they have nothing better to write about, a little critique of the oh-so-traditional French Republic will surely fill up the sapce. Take The Economist, for example. It’s a magazine that I actually still highly admire. But I remember reading this one article not too long ago about how London was just all the more attractive for the young, French population – because “France itself is hardly booming.” Uh, right.

Having second thoughts ?

(Some  anti French-bashing humor to lighten the mood)

But then, as if the magazine had suddenly woken up to reality, it decided to follow-up with an article on how startups are actually helping to jump-start reform in the economy. Yes, the media actualy finally picked up on what the article refers to as France’s “silent majority.” This is “the France that does not go on strike…” the France that casually gets ignored whenever the press discusses anything even mildly France-related.  And even better, the article even includes a nice little interview (in English with a twist) with Vente-Privée founder Jacques-Antoine Granjon to prove that yes, good ideas and determination can make big companies – even in France. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but if the rather traditional Economist is going to change its view of France (even ever-so slighly), maybe it means something.

Still not your average piece of cake.

That being said, France is still not an entrepreneur’s heaven. It’s got its fair amount of administrative headaches and complications. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: US entrepreneurs have it easy. Sure, there are some that think that France will never be like Silicon Valley – but then there are some, like serial entrepreneur Gilles Babinet, that would argue that it is in fact possible.

More than on the right track.

Gilles published a fantastic article in Les Echos -just after the French Government awoke to the fact that Internet companies were responsible for over 700,000 jobs in France -where he made some bold suggestions on how France could help local entrepreneurs make the country an industry leader. Some of his suggestions include developing official university courses dedicated to the Internet industry and multiplying public and private partnerships between universities, research centers and small and large companies. Most of what he proposes actually isn’t foreign to France – it just isn’t as developed or valued as it should be. For example, 3 of France’s top entrepreneurs obviously recognized the need for university cirriculum dedicated to the Internet industry – which is why Xavier Niel, Marc Simoncini and Jacques-Antoine Granjon are launching the Ecole Européenne des Métiers de l’Internet. But in such a centralized State, some of these initiatives may need to be actively promoted by the local administration.

No longer dreaming about Silicon Valley.

But Gilles doesn’t just draw on inspiration from the US to make his suggestions – but from other international models as well (like the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in Japan). Silicon Valley, as incredible as it may be, is not necessarily what France should be trying to be. In fact, France – like all other European countries, currently including the UK – has already tried to make its own Silicon Valley (see the video below, in French).

Fortunately, the country seems to have now recognized that you cannot just cut and paste what works in California on the sunny French Riviera. Therefore, some initiatives – entirely unique to France – have been put into place and prompted innovation and investment in their own way. Some of these include the Crédit d’Impot Recherche, the Statut Jeune Entreprise Innovante – and maybe even the weath tax (ISF) credit for investing in a startup. It takes a little bit of trial and error but I can’t say that these initiatives haven’t had a positive impact in one way or another. But if there is one thing I don’t get, it’s why the Government likes to change some of these startup-oriented benefits on a rather regular basis.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Sure, the Silicon Valley does seem to provide a lot of inspiration for the tech world, whether it be product innovation or stories of rags to riches. France has definitely taken some of the models that have worked abroad and tried to adapt them to the local environment – it’s only natural. And slowly but surely, they seem to be tweeking them to fit the local environment.

Euhhhhh, it’s better when it’s (not only) French.

If there is one thing that the French often take a lot of heat for, it’s being “too” French. I remember in the US, many entrepreneurs used to tell me “but isn’t France is only for French people?” As a foreigner who has known many foreigners in France, the answer is simple: no. There are some hot-shot US entrepreneurs that have left the States to launch projects in France. I also know of some very successful local entrepreneurs and investors that are not of French origin (Spanish, Moroccan, etc.). France may seem somewhat less cosmopolitan than London, but the integration model is also very different and mirrors that of other continental European countries. The entrepreneurial crowd is unique and recognizes the value of being more internationally oriented.

LeBridge.eu

I’ll leave you with a quick word on a new initiative I recently got involved with – because I think it’s a nice way to show how the local tech scene is coming out of its shell. It’s called Le Bridge and it’s an organization that aims to help connect the various European entrepreneurial scenes through events (in English!) and whatnot. For now, it’s primarily targeted towards bridging Paris and London but additional European cities will likely follow. And I wouldn’t be surpirsed if an interconnected European startup scene doesn’t catch the eye of our friends in Northern California…

PS/ Yes, Axelle’s article is what prompted me to write this – but I think deep down inside she was trying to communicate a similar message 🙂

France is Putting the “F” into “Failure”

A while back I wrote a post on how the French educational system isn’t exactly entrepreneur friendly. And this is just based off of my simple observations and personal experience at a French university. Now that I have attended university in the US, France and the UK, I can say with complete certainty that French professors are by far the harshest with their students when it comes to mistakes. One would think that they get joy out of making their students look ridiculous – even when they make the smallest of errors. I’ve even heard some “feedback” from professors that could make one borderline suicidal. Not exactly what I would call educationally encouraging.

Learning imperfection ?

So, the French grading system makes it literally impossible to get a perfect score in most cases. Students are taught that they cannot be perfect – in all honesty, I quite like this approach but I cannot imagine going through grade school with the impression that I could never get 100%. This rather unhealthy relationship with mistakes, failure and imperfection starts in French classrooms and manages to breed its way throughout various aspects of life – one of them naturally being in the workplace. So when French entrepreneurs start to look a little wobbly, they’re already being told they’re failing.

Failure: some like it not, some like it hot.

What’s hilarious about this is that making mistakes is perhaps the best way to learn. I’m not saying that someone should strive for failure – but when mistakes are kindly pointed out and corrected, it makes for incredibly effective learning. Failure is therefore natural and healthy. One shouldn’t have a fear of it or be ashamed of it – especially not as an entrepreneur, where projects are constantly evolving and being adjusted.

Good job, nice try.

In the US, it’s almost to the other extreme. I remember that sometimes when we would make mistakes in grade school, teachers would still encourage us and say things like “good job” and “nice try.” It made us feel comfortable with sharing our opinions and trying things, even if they were wrong. And if someone can still respect you – even when you make a mistake – it serves as a huge boost of confidence.

Let’s talk about failure, baby.

So now it’s been a few months that I’ve been in touch with Cassandra Philips, who organizes a number of awesome conferences in the Bay Area – including FailCon, a conference dedicated entirely to failure. The last edition of the conference in San Francisco included speakers from companies like Foursquare, MySpace, Revision3, Etsy and Zappos. I imagine you’ve heard of some of those names, right ? Yes, even the best of the best make mistakes. So we are currently in the process of organizing the first European FailCon to take place in Paris later this year*. We’re hoping to get a number of local entrepreneurs to step up and talk about their failures alongside some of the American and international entrepreneurs. Oh, and obviously we’re also encouraging investors to participate and share their thoughts on the value of failure, too.

FailCon 1, FailCon 2.

So FailCon will make its stop in Paris later this year – but before then, Microsoft France is also hosting a mini-FailCon on the 1st of February with some big names in French entrepreneurship, like Gilles Babinet (he’s on my list of 9 French Entrepreneur Names to Know). Hats off to Gilles by the way for being the first incredibly well-respected French entrepreneur willing to share his thoughts with everyone in the French entrepreneurial community – that is huge. I’ll also be moderating and helping to introduce the FailCon concept to the local crowd. Participation is free and you can RSVP directly on the Facebook event page.

Best successful failure stories.

So now I’m on a hunt for the best successful failure stories. There are definitely tons of fantastic examples in the music space, like Deezer or Jiwa (who is set to relaunch very soon). If you have suggestions of failure stories, don’t hesitate to post them in the comments.

*Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in sponsoring or participating as a speaker for this event.

13 hot French entrepreneurs under 30

I’ve been wanting to do a post on this topic for a while – because whenever someone tells me that it’s insanely difficult to launch a start-up in France, I chuckle to myself and think: “Hey, if 20-something-year-olds are doing it fresh out of school, it can’t be that hard, right?” I also have recently noticed that becoming an entrepreneur from a young age is becoming more à la mode – so here is my list to set the record straight.

Hot or not?

The trouble is there are actually a lot of young entrepreneurs out there. This list is insanely far from exhaustive and is just a few names that I think are likely to stick around for a while. As the entrepreneurial community is predominantly male, I should also probably clarify that by “hot”  I am referring strictly to their start-ups. After all, this is not my attempt to be the Franco-version of Valleywag. PS. You’ll notice that I’ve chosen 8 companies and 13 names.

1. Jonathan Benassaya & Daniel Marhely (Deezer).

The Deezer boys are behind one of the hottest – if not the hottest – online music company to come out of France. While they are still incredibly young, Daniel (25) and Jonathan (29) kicked off their entrepreneurial careers in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Yep, Daniel was still a teenager at the time.

2. Eric Bennephtali (MediaStay).

As the story goes, this 26 year old started his internet career in middle school. He then went on to drop out of school at the age of 13 to launch the internet performance marketing company we currently know as MediaStay – which is also the publisher of games sites like Kingolotto and Grattages. Yes, that makes another one for the drop-out club!

3. Ronan Pelloux & Julien Mechin (Creads).

The 25-year-old team is behind the online participative ad and logo creative platform, Creads, that gives internet allstar Gilles Babinet’s Eyeka a run for its money. Oh, and the 2-year-old company already counts international offices in Spain and Japan.

4. Simon Istolainen (PeopleforCinema, MyMajorCompany, Architurn…).

Yes, he’s been an entrepreneur since 2008 and the 25-year-old is already on his 3rd company (he just announced Architurn, after MyMajorCompany and PeopleforCinema). The participative investment platform model seems to have been very good to him, in both the music and film distribution spaces. But my favorite part about this kid’s success story is that he studied the farthest thing from entrepreneurship and tech in school: that’s right, anthropology.

5. Céline Lazorthes (Leetchi).

Leetchi is the first company of this 27-year-old lady and she’s already got big names like Oleg Tscheltzoff, Jérémie Berrebi and Xavier Niel backing her platform for group gift purchases. Nice.

6. Stéphanie Pelprat (Restopolitan).

The 26-year-old founder of a French company, Restopolitan, that dares to compete with OpenTable has entrepreneurial energy spewing from her veins. As she’s got a few more tricks up her sleeve, she’s not likely to disappear.

7. Boris Saragaglia, Paul Lorne, Jérémie Touchard (Spartoo).

The Spartoo trio (Boris pictured) started right out of school, back in 2006, when the sum of their ages was less than 75 (I’ll let you figure this one out). Today Boris (27), Paul and Jérémie run the très successful French/European equivalent to Zappos. These kiddies also scored €12 million in January. Hello, Jeff Bezos?

8. Hadrien Gardeur & Loic Roussel (Feedbooks).

The 26-year-old team (Hadrien pictured) started their digital publishing/distribution platform, Feedbooks, back in 2007 with a very international vision. The company definitely knows what it’s doing in the English-speaking market, as does Hadrien who is brilliantly bilingual.

More than Mark Zuckerberg.

There are definitely numerous companies that I could add including the boys at Owlient, Ykone, Cafédelabourse or the coed team over at Likiwi. And another one that almost made the list: Benjamin Bejbaum from DailyMotion. Feel free to add more youngster entrepreneur names that come to mind in the comments.

Have You Seen Me? 9 French Entrepreneur Names to Know

Talk to anyone from Silicon Valley about French names in hi-tech and you’ll systematically get the 3 same answers: Loic Le Meur, Jeff Clavier and Pierre Omidyar – if you’re lucky.

But how about French entrepreneurs in France?

In an earlier post I suggested putting French entrepreneur success stories on milk cartons to remind us all of the home-grown sensations. So why not take a minute to consider 9 home-grown French hi-tech names-to-know ?  The list is ideally in some type of order, but then again not really.

Gilles Babinet.

This man is a French serial entrepreneur to know – creating his first company at age 22 back in 1989 (a few years ahead of Zuckerberg?). Some of his success stories include Absolut (acquired by Euro RSCG) and Musiwave (acquired by Openwave and later Microsoft). He recently co-founded 3 hot start-ups including Eyeka, Digicompanion and MXP4.

Jérôme Rota.

This guy is the mastermind behind DivX – the technology and now the company. While he later went on to co-found DivX, Inc. in San Diego, California, Rota initially developed the technology back in 1998/1999 in Montpellier as a 20-something-year-old. But I don’t need to convince anyone that French engineers are la crème de la crème, do I?

Roland Moreno.

Yes, ok, it’s not exactly hot off the press but it’s far from trivial. Wonder why France is so ahead of the US when it comes to electronic ticketing? This is the French face behind the invention of the smartcard in 1974 – now used in just about everything. The following year, he went on to launch Innovatron. And last I heard, he gave everyone a scare in 2008/2009 with rumors of a risky health situation.

Xavier Niel.

The co-founder of Iliad (who has the ugliest website ever – not like it matters) is part of the reason I pay far less for internet in France than I ever did in San Francisco – but I’ve applauded his contribution to the invention of triple-play Freebox before. In addition to Iliad, he also co-founded WorldNet, which was bought by KapTech (Neuf Cegetel) for €40 million in 2000. He recently co-founded seed-fund, Kima Ventures, with Jérémie Berrebi. Oh – and if I’m not mistaken, he’s also part of the college drop-out club. Nice.

Pierre Chappaz.

This guy was not only of the co-founders of Kelkoo (acquired by Yahoo) but has also been behind the successes of Wikio and Netvibes.

Yves Guillemot.

Guillemot is one of the 5 faces behind France’s video game giant, Ubisoft. The Guillemot brothers have also founded a number of additional companies (7 total) – including Gameloft and Guillemot, which both went public along with Ubisoft.

Marc Simoncini.

Another serial entrepreneur to know. Simoncini, like Babinet, founded his first company in 1985 at the age of 22. His first real success came with iFrance, which was sold to Vivendi in 2000. He then went on to create Meetic, which has done a great job at blowing everyone else out of the European online dating market and bought Match.com’s European activities last year. Like Niel, he also recently launched a seed-fund, Jaina Capital, with Michel Kubler.

Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet.

The brother of the current Minister of Digital Economy, Kosciusko-Morizet is one of the co-founders behind e-commerce success, PriceMinister. He, too, got an early start – launching his first company in his (incredibly) early 20’s.

Jacques-Antoine Granjon.

Anyone that gets a €2 billion acquisition offer from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (and additional offers from Gilt and eBay) should definitely make the list – 47-year-old Jacques-Antoine Granjon is the long-haired founder of French success story Vente-privée.

Educate me.

Did I miss someone uber important? There are definitely another 50 people I could easily add. The list is obviously far from exhaustive and highly influenced by my non-expert knowledge. Feel free to add to the comments and enlighten me.