A Tale of 2+ Cities

It’s been exactly a year since I arrived in Paris to go back to school, 8 months since I started silly ol’ Techbaguette, 7 months since I started writing for TechCrunch Europe, 5 months since I relaunched TechCrunch France and 3 months since we launched Girls in Tech Paris. Man, oh man, time has sure gone by fast.

It was the best of times. It was (never) the worst of times.

(Yes, that’s modified Charles Dickens quote from a Tale of 2 cities.) Initially, I started TechBaguette just for fun – to shed a little light on the local tech scene in English for any passing readers and to remind myself that there was life after Sciences Po. And somehow, that little project magically transformed into turned into TechCrunch France and Girls in Tech Paris – translation: a nice little bridge between Silicon Valley and the +33. In my opinion, France has come a long way since I arrived – several seed funds, the Founder Institute, Startup Weekend, tons of company launches, some mega acquisitions…and I know that the best is yet to come. I should give credit where credit is due: I wouldn’t have a blog without content and my content is the vibrant French tech scene.

Next stop: London Town.

That’s right, it’s a tale of 2+ cities – or should I say countries ? The US, France and now I’m headed to the UK – because I still have to finish up my degree for the next few months (boo, yes, I thought about dropping out but I haven’t thought of an invention like the iPod or Facebook yet). I’m not about to abandon the French tech crowd. And to prove it, I’ll be back every month – next week, in fact, for several (not all) of the events on my events page. With TechCrunch, Girls in Tech, the Potrepreneurs meetup, Startup Weekend, LeWeb, Midem, etc., I bet that I’ll be back so often that nobody will really notice that I don’t live here. Neither will I, for that matter.

“I’ll be back.”

(Yes, that’s my governator.) Whatever you do, please don’t ask me what will happen to TechCrunch France – it will hopefully only get better. Let’s not forget I also have a fabulous team – Cédric and Clément. Plus, Ouriel managed to do a fantastic job with TechCrunch France while in Israel and I’m fairly certain that I am capable of doing the same. Try me. Plus, the way I’m looking at things – it’s only temporary. I’ll be back.

But still, I find it incredibly important to be available for the local community, even while I’m in London. I’ll be sure to post the dates under the “events” tab on my blog and distribute the info via Twitter for anyone who’d like to arrange to meet. And of course I’ll also be 100% available by all forms of electronic communication and for anyone who passes through London ! Hello TechHub !!

“INSULARITY IS THE EUROPEAN STARTUP KILLER.”

This is a quote that an American VC friend of mine in London (did that give it away?) recently said. It’s brilliant and oh-so-true. My experience in San Francisco inspired projects for France and London will inevitably do the same. Even though my heart may belong to the French market, the next few months will be dedicated to expanding my knowledge beyond the Hexagon and getting a better idea of what is being created out there. And maybe I’ll go to class once in a while too. 🙂

No, tech woman, no cry.

I usually try to keep most of the info on my blog free of personal jargon. But it’s perhaps the right time to say thank you to each and every entrepreneur who has been supportive of the TechCrunch relaunch and Girls in Tech. It’s only reinforced my affinity for the local tech kids and my belief that there is a lot of talent and innovation that deserves to be seen and discovered. I’ve learned an incredible amount from every last person that I’ve met. Know that it’s a pleasure being your sounding board and English-speaking voice. Vous m’inspirez, tous.

(Start chapter 2 here.)

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.

Does French Innovation Need a Few More Famous Faces?

This subject has actually been on my mind for a while, triggered by the first time I saw MC Hammer at a conference in San Francisco (pretty sure it was the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit in 2008) and thought it was a total joke. The man had announced the launch of his start-up DanceJam.com and all I can remember thinking to myself, hashtags included, is:

#WTF is a hiphop celebrity from the 80s doing trying to mingle with the Silicon Valley crowd?

(Watch the video and then imagine it playing in your head as you casually see him speaking on stage at a tech conference…)

But Hammer wasn’t the only one making the Hollywood-hall-of-fame-Silicon-Valley-crossover. Ashton Kutcher showed up at TechCrunch50 only a few months later to launch Blah Girls. And regardless of what you think of his investments, U2 lead singer Bono has been doing more than just hanging out with VC firm Elevation Partners since 2004. So as much as I may want to laugh about Hammer’s online dance class site or the name “Blah Girls”, I can’t deny that these celebrities only help make Silicon Valley look sexy –  even if it’s in a ValleyWag type of way.

France has no ValleyWag. Not yet.

I’m not sure it really needs one though. There’s no reason to turn the budding tech community into a gossip rag at this point. Plus, no French tech stars are dating anyone famous à la Digg founder Kevin Rose and I-dont-know-who and if they are, well, quite frankly who really cares. But what the tech community could definitely use is a little more advocacy*, as the words “tech” and “geek” still go hand in hand.

Lights, camera, actionnaire.

Ok, that was a lame joke, since actionnaire is the French translation for shareholder. But back to the point. Some French Hollywood stars, like Thierry Lhermitte and Patrick Bruel, have actually gone the investment route. Cinema star Lhermitte invested in a anti-piracy company TMG and poker-addicted singer Bruel went for Winamax. Sure, they look more like support for personal interests and projects rather than investments in innovation but I could say the same about MC Hammer’s site now couldn’t I? Seriously, Cannes, send over a few more famous French faces!

PS/ Journal Du Net put together a list of top tier French business angels back in March but most of the faces come from the tech world.

The fine line between fame and geekdom.

In the US, I always felt that there was an incredibly fine (read: “invisible”) line between being a star from Silicon Valley and a star from Hollywood. And to prove it, Hollywood’s take on the tech world has also transformed, moving from a documentary-style take on Microsoft’s development (Triumph of the Nerds), to a TV series (Pirates of Silicon Valley) and now to a feature film (The Social Network). The 2 industries almost feed off each other now.

To be honest, I don’t know of any local equivalents to these films/shows (please enlighten me if they exist). So rather than a melodramatic version of Facebook’s history, court cases included, all the “innovation” that gets any media attention is the rather comical yet pathetic saga of France.fr (don’t get me started). But off the top of my head I can already think of at least 2 local start-up stories that would make killer screenplays.

Allez les Bleus, er, entrepreneurs !

But French entrepreneurs are making their way to prime time television, slowly but surely. In fact, one of my favorite initiatives is that of Meetic and Jaïna Capital founder Marc Simoncini, who recently began hosting 15-minute TV segments featuring entrepreneurs on Canal+’s iTele. Sure, Sarkozy may still need a verified Twitter account (Elysée Palace doesn’t count) to be officially considered an early adopter – but a fair share of French soccer players (ignoring the World Cup fiasco + underage prostitution issues) have already beat him to it. Look, all I’m saying is that if the Queen of Jordan can show up for LeWeb and find the time to Tweet, there are definitely more local faces that want to join in the fun…

*By “advocacy” I do not simply mean investment and tweeting but simply adopting certain technologies, participating in conferences, etc.

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.

If you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong

Summer is finally here and Paris looks more than ever like San Francisco’s winter months of June, July and August. Sure, I get a kick out of seeing the tourists freak-out because the sun is MIA and they’re wandering the streets in their beach clothing. But what I’m actually referring to is the local start-up environment, which continues to dramatically improve on a daily basis. There are tech events left and right (yes, EVEN IN THE SUMMER) and I honestly can’t keep up with all the funding that’s being announced. Silicon Vallée, is that you?

But if you thought France = Paris, you thought wrong.

(Note: the lyrics do not reflect my current sentiment.)

Maybe this stems from (rather silly) “Euro-trip” tradition, where tourists take something like 2 weeks to “visit Europe” – thereby only having enough time to stop in 1 major city in each European country and obviously neglecting half of the continent. Fortunately, Paris usually makes it to the top of the list but the rest of France goes ignored. If you ask me, that is a HUGE mistake. Oh, and the same can be said for the start-up community.

Enter Province.

In French, anything en province (not to be confused with Provence in the South of France) refers to the territory outside of the Paris region.  And truth be told, I have been quite pleasantly surprised with the tech activity en province, which is unfortunately less visible than its Parisian counterpart. Ok, sure, the Paris region still has the largest number of start-ups, VCs and business angels (population: 12 million?) but that doesn’t mean that other cities don’t have vibrant start-up communities.

Knock knock Nantes.

Yesterday I was in Nantes (yet again!) for a start-up event, Web2Day, which is organized by the local start-up organization Atlantic2.0 (@atlantic2). I discovered that some 100 start-ups (ok, web agencies included) take part in this organization. Yep, that’s quite a few start-ups for the city that makes-up only a fraction of Paris. Ok, Atlantic2 is actually a regional organization, but still. Oh, and get this: rumor has it that our beloved Startup Weekend seems to be headed there next! Also, what I found interesting as well is that there is somewhat of a trend in the online tourism and voyage space , which seems to be a result of Times Europe ranking Nantes as the top European tourist destination a few years back. Ha, that ought to shock those Euro-trippers.

California dreaming.

Then the South of France (Marseilles, Toulon, Nice, etc) seems non-negligible as well. What is it, the sun?  Nantes isn’t exactly on the coast but it’s not far from it either (think Palo Alto to Santa Cruz). I’m actually headed to a start-up event in the beginning of July in Marseilles and there are actually a few events in the South of France that I’ve missed and/or won’t be able to make. Remind me again, who started that rumor about how the French don’t work in the summer…?

Even Napoléon has a start-up.

Yes, I have confirmed that there are even a few start-ups in Corsica (I am still waiting for them to invite me :p) and surely the DOM-TOM as well. But even if Corsica is paradise on earth, it may seem somewhat counterintuitive as to why anyone would want to have a start-up outside of Paris. After all, being farther from the Parisian hub of VCs, business angels and start-up community could only complicate things, right?

More than Sarkozy’s bank account.

Ah, let’s not forget that this is France – and not the US. It may be what some consider to be the land of high taxes but it is also the land of public funding. In fact, many start-ups get initial funding via State grants, public loans, etc. And while Paris may have the highest concentration of Fortune 500 headquarters after Tokyo, it is still ranked amongst the most expensive cities in the world (last I checked). Translation: if you need money, go where the competition is less fierce for public funding and where the costs are lower. If you want to come to Paris, there is always the TGV.

Paris, je t’aime moi non plus.

At the end of the day, Paris is just like Silicon Valley in the sense that working in Paris has a certain prestige amongst the local community. It’s the local hub, true. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t absolutely dynamite start-ups en province.

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.

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.