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?

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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.

Smelling French: Not Such a Bad Thing

Paul Carr published an article in TechCrunch a few days ago and naturally the title caught my eye: Cherchez la fame – or why the media’s obsession with Twitter campaigns will make customer service smell French.

A word on smelling French.

What I think is a little ironic in this article is that “smelling French” is phrased to sound like a bad thing – when in fact, it isn’t. What the article refers is simply equality and egalitarian customer service as a result of everyone having an equal voice on Twitter. Carr even concludes by saying that as a consumer, it’s about time for this so-called French influence to set in.

The upside of down.

What caught me even more off guard in this post was that Carr was suggesting that the French potentially have good customer service – that they essentially had the Twitter system in place before Twitter. Now isn’t that a bit odd, since most of the planet doesn’t exactly rave about their customer service experiences in France? Was that an insult via compliment?

Made in France.

It’s funny how adding a twist of French to marketing can almost go both ways. In the US, anything French is considered classy and potentially of better quality; just by adding a “le” or a “la” to any product name, you can smack a few dollars on the price. Hardee’s agrees:

But every now and then a supporter of the “freedom fries era” reminds us that Pépé Le Pew also belongs in this category.

Napoléon who?

What I’ve been noticing recently is that more and more French tech companies and start-ups want to shed their patriotic colors. They don’t want to be associated with France, per say, because they’re worried it will make them seem small and franco-centric.  As I mentioned in a previous post, French entrepreneurs are largely concerned with the limitations of the local market. If a French company writes “everywhere” as their location on Twitter, I question whether or not they would’ve done the same thing had they been in San Francisco. And more often than not, French companies I talk to for TechCrunch ask me to concentrate on their US or international activities and not to draw too much attention to their French roots.

Global is the new black.

In a way, I think it’s healthy and very reassuring that French entrepreneurs are adopting a more global perspective and that their strategies are international from day 1. I even stumbled upon 2 French start-ups – Silentale and Plyce – that don’t even have their sites translated into French (except for the job/recruitment section), and I’m certain there are others.

Vive la France: don’t be a sell out.

While I don’t think French companies need to preach the Marseillaise, I do think they should remember that being French is not something to hide. Having a Twitter account in English is fine but there is no reason to hide a France-based corporate address just to appear more in-line with tech trends. Plus, let’s not forget the tons of crap comes out of Silicon Valley – not everyone there is Google or Facebook.

More than just Loic Le Meur.

I remember when I first started showing Deezer to people in San Francisco, they seemed to think it was just another Silicon Valley music company to add to the list of Imeem, Pandora, etc. But when they found out Deezer was French, well – it stood out. That’s right – the US may be coming around slowly but surely but they’ll ultimately realize the French tech scene is more than just Loic Le Meur.

French companies you probably didn’t know were on Twitter

The other day I bought a box of tea from the French brand Kusmi Tea. For anyone who doesn’t know Kusmi, their teas are amazing but somewhat expensive. And despite having somewhat modern packaging, the company’s history dates back to 1867. So you can imagine I was surprised to discover the company had a Facebook application – which I rather ruthlessly called “somewhat pointless” on Twitter.

Not your average leaf.

Not only does Kusmi have a Facebook application, but also a Twitter account – with over 1,000 followers. Next to Guy Kawasaki this probably sounds rather miniscule but let’s not forget they’re a 19th-century French tea company. I never would’ve expected them to pick-up on my comment and start following me in a million years. Kudos to their community management team, by the way. (PS: To anyone who isn’t convinced, Mariage Frères – an even older and more traditional French tea company – is also on Twitter.) And this got me wondering – what other French (not necessarily tech) companies were unexpected Tweety birds.

I spy.

Loic Le Meur was on the hunt for non-US companies with good social media efforts in place earlier this week. I thought to myself  “that’s odd, I know tons of French companies (and I’m sure Loic does too) that are good at that.” But they’re pretty much all start-ups and/or in tech. So I thought I would quickly test the CAC 40 to see if any of them had made an attempt at Twitter.

Get this: only 5 companies listed on the CAC 40 are NOT on Twitter.

You name the sector – construction, banking, telecom, defense – they’re almost all there (yes, I checked). I hate to single-out the 5 late adopters, but – if I’m not mistaken – they are: Total (wtf?), Vallourec, Vinci, Unibail-Rodamco and STMicroelectronics (there is an account but it doesn’t look too convincing). All the others – from Michelin to Société Générale – are on Twitter and a majority are rather active. Youpi!

The bigger, the better?

Obviously these are all huge companies that can afford to invest in a silly Twitter account – even if it doesn’t really seem essential to their business. It may seem like a no-brainer that they’d have a Twitter account, to follow if nothing else. And obviously, an active Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve got social media down. But this just goes to show – once again – that even large French companies that often get a bad reputation for being bureaucratic and traditional may be more malleable than one may think.

Testing 1, 2, 3…

In an earlier post, I mentioned that only 5% of France was on Twitter according to an Ifop study. Additional studies have estimated that around 1% of Twitter users are French. Even so, it’s rather pleasing to see that the larger companies didn’t hesitate to get on and get moving.