I Left My Heart in San Francisco. But Then I Found it In Europe.

It had been some 20 months since I’d been back to the Homeland, the Mothership,  the land of the free and the home of the brave – or so they say. The birthplace of the oily Big Mac and sugary Coca-cola. But above all, the El Dorado of hi-tech. Yes, it had been almost 2 years since I’d been back to good old Silicon Valley.

Finally putting a little tech into Silicon Valley.

First off, I think I need to congratulate the Bay Area for finally coming around with a few technical improvements.When I first started TechBaguette, I suggested 3 things that Silicon Valley could learn from France. To my knowledge, none of them have been successfully implemented yet. This was later followed by a rant on how Silicon Valley – the Holy land of tech – was still printing paper tickets for public transportation. Yes, paper. But apparently, a lot has changed. The Caltrain finally got its act together and started implementing an Oyster Card-like service – called Clipper #wtf – where users can pay electronically. YAY!

But the fun doesn’t stop here. Another major cool improvement was the credit card-enabled parking meters. Not that I love to pay for parking or anything but I guess the city finally woke up to the fact that the days of carrying mounds of change in our pockets were officially behind us. Double yay.

And of course, what better than selling Facebook Credits in giftcard format alongside pre-paid cards for Amazon, iTunes, Ebay, etc ? I haven’t seen this in either Paris or London yet, but I’m sure it’ll show up sooner or later – if it hasn’t already.

Think different?

Many people say that the difference between entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is that entrepreneurs in the Valley want to change the world. Uh, maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere but I found some of the entrepreneurs I met to be less interested in making a difference than one would’ve thought. The local discourse is still very focused around making money – and more overtly than in Europe (obviously because Europeans are more discrete when it comes to the taboo subject of money in the bank). Oh, and I always tend to find the Silicon Valley crowd to be a bit more arrogant. Just me ? Sure, I did come across a handful of very innovative ideas. But this also means a rise in the bad ideas, too. Then again, if there is one thing those Valley kids know how to do, it’s pitch. Pitch, and sell.

Pride and prejudice.

Then again, I think that when European tech all-stars do go to Silicon Valley the experience can be very humbling. The place is packed with top-notch people – entrepreneurs, investors, you name it. I spoke to a number of people who said the number one myth about Silicon Valley is that things will be easier for foreign entrepreneurs. When the place is swarming with competition, it’s hard to imagine hiring good people, scoring tons of cash and getting tons of traction without putting in mega effort.

E=MC² and mega effort = mega stress.

The one thing that I had forgotten was the stress. Everyone is stressed to the point that nobody bothers to even mention it. It’s a given. In fact, kids and students in Silicon Valley are also stressed out of their minds. For example, I’ve taken a number of trains throughout Europe and not once did I see a sign making a reference to suicide near the tracks (OK, the Paris metro does have an image of a guy getting electrocuted or something, but that’s just your everyday safety tip à la française). In Silicon Valley, the number of people who attempt to kill themselves by jumping in front of a train is apparently so high that they now put up these signs (which I had never seen before, but could’ve very well been there). And every year, I hear about more and more high school students attempting to end their lives this way- many unfortunately succeeding. Not all is cash and smiles.

No man’s techland.

Silicon Valley kind of reminds me of a no man’s land dedicated to tech. There isn’t really that much to do (ok, this is a relative statement), especially if you don’t live in San Francisco. Which I guess kind of lends itself to people working non-stop, just by default. Or trying to pass time by testing and trying new things…

Living Color.

I guess I had kind of forgotten how the local tech community just devours new technologies. They’ll try anything – and I mean, really try it. Not just download the app and forget about it. For example, I went to a dinner where everyone got very into the latest rage, Color. Everyone at the table was taking pictures and posting. I thought it was just because we were at a geeky tech dinner. Then, in some random bar a few days later, we discovered that there were 14 people in that very same bar using Color as well. Using it to photograph their drinks and food, pictures on the wall, etc…and really getting into it.

Madame Michu is not Joe the Plumber.

In London and Paris, your average Joe would probably prefer to have his phones switched completely off when he goes out for a drink. Unless he has to coordinate plans. It’s not polite, classy or cool to pull out a phone, unless you’re in a casual environment with a bunch of techies quoting Star Wars. I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. But all this is just more reasons why entrepreneurs outside the Valley should get more credit. Where it’s more difficult to innovate for legal, political, cultural, financial or whatever reasons, the entrepreneurs are even more dynamite. And when those entrepreneurs succeed, it makes one hell of an impressive story. Not just another dude in a garage in Palo Alto.

Comment dire “bootstrapping” en français ?

One thing that became very apparent to me when I went to stay with some friends in San Francisco was that some European startups – especially those seeking funding – may want to familiarize themselves with bootstrapping. Ironically, I hadn’t really paid too much attention to how much bootstrapping was done by European startups because I assumed it was kind of a given. I do know some stories of French entrepreneurs who gave up foie gras and champagne to eat strictly Cup-o-Noodles in order to launch their companies. But I also know some entrepreneurs that get a luxury, all expenses paid flat in San Francisco when the company is trying to secure funding. Hmm, that doesn’t sound right…

The American Dream. And nightmare.

Still, people in Silicon Valley are not all geniuses and not all the conferences are oodling with people. I was rather surprised (read disappointed) by the Web 2.0 Expo this year. In 2008, that conference had been one of the better conferences I’d attended. This year, it seemed half empty and with little to discover. And this made me realize just how quickly things happen in Silicon Valley. With the same speed that some company can come in, get funded, get bought or announce an IPO, others can flop entirely. I was talking with one entrepreneur friend of mine who brought up the fact that the only reason that the American Dream works is because the American nightmare is so bad and so powerful that entrepreneurs are somewhat flung into a do-or-die situation. I bet seeing the masses of homeless people wandering up and down Market Street in San Francisco serves as a reminder to some.

So while I may’ve left my heart in San Francisco, here are just a few reasons why I found it in Europe. 🙂

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I’ll Show You My iPhone Apps If You Show Me Yours…

A while ago, I bought a netbook – a Sony Vaio, to be specific (mainly for price, removable battery, size and pixel reasons as a traveling blogger). I tweeted my purchase, not really expecting anyone to care all that much. It was more just to pass time as I waited in line at the FNAC. But turns out quite a few people did care. Perhaps there are also people that also care that I use Jolicloud as my netbook OS (virtual hi-five to Tariq), have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, that I don’t own an iPad (yet) or an iPhone4 and that I have actually purchased songs off of iTunes – sad, but true.

Now, maybe you’re wondering what apps I have on my iPhone?

So here are the stats: I currently have some 108 applications on my iPhone and I delete and download rather regularly. I prefer not to pay for the app unless it’s really something special – which means yes, I have purchased apps. The most expensive app I have ever bought is probably in the €4.99 range.

Back to basics.

I’ve got a number of apps for news in English and French, including The New York Times, Le Monde, Les Echos, Challenges, NPR News, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc. Then I’ve naturally got to keep up with my tech blogs in French and English, which means I’ve also got a few names like TechCrunch (naturally), VentureBeat, Presse Citron, Korben, Journal du Net, Journal du Geek, Guy Kawasaki, etc. And then I’ve got Facebook, Linkedin, Skype and Yammer (to communicate with the TechCrunch gang – by the way, I just adore Yammer). I recently added Viadeo, even though I’m not particuarly active on that network, because it is hard to tell whether Linkedin or Viadeo is the network of preference for the French scene.

Birdy Nam Nam.

For Twitter, I use Twitter’s app – I actually tested a whole ton of Twitter client apps (Echofon, Seesmic, Twitterific, etc.) on the train from Marseille to Paris and happened to like Twitter the best, even though there are still a few missing features and it just started crashing on me yesterday (bad Twitter, bad). Seesmic was a very close second – so I keep it on my phone just in case. The Twitter app that disappointed me the most was Echofon, which happened crashed on me when I was at a conference. As a blogger, that is perhaps the 2nd worst thing to forgetting my laptop charger. I should keep this in mind if the Twitter app I currently use doesn’t get its act together.

An American in Paris.

2 apps that have dramatically changed my life are Pinger Textfree and iConvert. I use Pinger to text everyone in the US for free when Orange was trying to slap on extra euros to my monthly bill for international texting (I’m a huge texter). And iConvert I use for anything from keeping tabs on the euro/dollar exchange rate to properly cooking in grams and milliliters.

I get around round round get around I get around.

Apps I use to get around Paris and such include the standard Google Maps and RATP lite – a free application which maps the Metro lines. I’ve also got the Voyages-SNCF application on my phone for TGV tickets and the Velib’ application for the nearest bike-share stations – even if I’m not the biggest Velib user on the planet. 2 more apps I recently added just to make my life easier are Comuto‘s carshare application and Taxi Bleus for taxi reservations – but I haven’t had an opportunity to actually use either of their services yet. And of course Pages Jaunes, aka the Yellow Pages, is always good to have if you’re looking for an address.

I’m the Mayor of nowhere.

Travel and news-related apps are probably the 2 biggest categories of applications on my iPhone. I’ve also got a few geo-social apps, like Submate, Foursquare and CheckMyMetro – which is the Foursquare for the Paris Metro. I should have Plyce too but the truth is, I’m just not a huge user of geo-social. Well, not yet. Anyone who is my friend on Foursquare knows this. It’s kind of like how I’m not a huge user of online chat (Gchat, Skype, Facebook, etc.) – it’s nothing against the service but more the fact that I use it for one-off situations rather than on a regular basis.

Paris, Paris.

When it comes to exploring Paris, obviously I love the MyLittleParis app  for discovering hidden places and things to discover (yes,  I covered this for TechCrunch). For more classic touristy info, I downloaded Paris à Pied – the free app is supposed to provide info on museums, parks, etc. but hasn’t really done much but crash on me several times. Not très cool. Then again, there are other paid apps that are probably better quality but I didn’t bother to look into it. I do find it odd that the Louvre is one of the few local museums that actually has its own app though. I guess when it comes down to it, there is really no better app for discovering Paris than the Guide du Routard’s app (€4.99) – I especially like section on free stuff to do in Paris.

Not exactly in the bag.

If you’re thinking to yourself: wait a minute, she’s got no shopping apps on her phone – you’re right. There are naturally tons of apps for shopping (Vente-Privée‘s app is a huge hit) but this hasn’t really sunk in to my system yet. If I’m going to buy anything on my phone for now, it’s probably going to be a TGV ticket.

Oh là là, c’est oh-so-French.

I did download a few apps that are pretty much France-only apps. One of them is the Ticket Restaurant app, which lets you see which places near you accept Ticket Restos (which I discussed in an earlier post). There is also Clopclop (which recently came out only for iOS4) – a similar idea but for finding cigarettes or open tobacco shops. I’ve also got iPharmacien for finding a near-by pharmacy – but haven’t used it yet (PS: if anyone has good medical apps, let me know).

Yum yum.

French food is a must so I’ve got a few apps for restaurants and recipes. I bought Marmiton’s application because I just love the recipes on the site. The application is also just beautiful and insanely helpful while grocery shopping. Then I’ve got the Guide de Restaurants (by lintern@ute). And for reservations there is TableOnline (am I going crazy or are Restopolitan and La Fourchette MIA from the App Store?). I’ve got Qype, Yelp and Dismoiou on there too but haven’t really dug into using them yet for social recommendations – but I will. According to Alloresto’s website, there is an iPhone app for take out but it isn’t in the App Store…

Pass the time away.

Of course the geek in me has a few games and rather stupid apps too – I naturally have Tetris and Fat Booth and a couple other random games that I hardly use. I have a few education apps as well – one on sushi, one on French sign language and the Corsican language app I cannot stop talking about. I’ve obviously got dictionaries, translators, a few quiz apps (history, geography, etc.) and Wikipedia on there as well.

Why, Europe, why.

The one app (and service!) that I am perhaps most sad about not being able to use in Europe (aside from Netflix, which has very little to do with iPhones) is Pandora Radio. I was a HUGE Pandora user in the US. So then you’re probably wondering what music application I have on my phone – Deezer? Spotify? Answer: both. Although I’ve been a Deezer user longer than a Spotify user, I’ll admit it. I also have an iPod for my iTunes – which I don’t play on my iPhone to keep it’s rather pathetic battery in shape.

The price is right.

2 great little apps that I have on my phone, Pikadeo and Mobiletag, let you get more info on what cinema is playing a movie by photographing a poster or which store sells a particular item for the best price by identifying the bar code. Both French companies, both fabulous applications. But not 100% fool-proof, FYI.

It’s showtime.

My all-time favorite application is Allociné’s iPhone app – for movie times, locations, tickets…and previews ! Even if I don’t have time to go see a movie, at least I can easily keep up to date with what’s playing and effortlessly watch the trailer.

A very-close 2nd-favorite application is either Shazam or Melodis’s Soundhound – which identify random songs you hear playing in bars, restaurants, etc. I hate that they’re both capped at 5 free songs/month so I like to switch between the 2 (*insert evil laugh here*) to get 10 songs for free. 🙂 Between the 2, I actually prefer Soundhound because at least there are ways you can EARN more free songs without buying packages or subscriptions. Clever.

That’s (not) all folks!

Obviously I didn’t name all 108 applications on my phone – but I definitely covered a fair chunk of them. I’d be interested to know what absolutely essential applications I forgot – especially for someone living in Paris. Feel free to add to the comments and let me know…