French Innovation Trends: Food, Fashion and Flirting

It’s funny how often the subject of conversation goes back to “Why is there no Google or Facebook coming out of France?” Some people like to point fingers at investors, saying French investors are too risk averse. But then there are others that say this is simply because the local exit market is, well, almost nonexistant (yes, I’m exaggerating but only slighly). But if you think about it, there are some things “made in France” that pretty much sell themselves.

It’s better when its French.

Now other than being good for a chuckle, this Hardee’s advertisement uses a twist of French seduction and food to portray the all-American burger as better when it’s French. Interestingly enough, local startups may be doing something a bit similar – at least in my humble opinion.

Food, Fashion and Flirting.

Honestly, what else comes to mind when you think of France? Ok, perhaps tourism, too. Now, maybe it’s just me but local companies do seem to be innovating more when it comes to their cultural roots. Fashion websites, food-related sites and obviously dating websites seem to be all the rage. Either that or I’m just hungry and need to go shopping.

L’amour à la française.

People who’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been writing on TechCrunch recently are probably starting to think I’m obsessed with dating sites. Let me reassure you, this is not the case. But is just so happens that recently there seems to be a lot of really creative ideas popping up. Maybe they’re all inspired by French dating giant Meetic? I’ve written about the not-so-new Adopteunmec (where women pretend to buy their boyfriends), Smartdate (for dating the friends of your Facebook friends), Attractive World (it’s all in the title – you have to be rich, beautiful or preferably both in order to be OK-ed by the exclusive VIP community), Ladieshoesme (mixing women’s shoe fetishes and dating) and most recently Loueunepetiteamie.com (renting a girlfriend) took a turn towards an online escourt service. Not sure how I feel about this last one but a little flirting never hurt anyone – and definitely seems to benefit the local entrepreneurial crowd.

Miam Miam.

Yes, that’s French for “yum yum.” And food is definitely at the heart of tons of sites across the planet – not uniquely in France. But obviously in a country where food is tied with long-standing traditions, it’s harder to find early adopters for new technologies. Getting traditional wine chateaux or restaurants to use Foodzie or OpenTable-like platforms is by no means an easy task (insert a José Bové comment here – and then check out this hilarious game). Although recently, there seems to be more companies managing to leverage the French passion for good food and wine. Companies like Regioneo (French Foodzie), LePotiron (online marketplace for locally-grown produce), the French Opentables (LaFourchette, Restopolitan, TableOnline…), Restoprivé (Vente-Privée but for exclusive restaurant deals), Vinobest (Groupon for Wine) – and most recently, Super Marmite (a platform where individuals can cook and sell food to others). This last company was one of the finalists for LeWeb this year and I think the oh-so-French pitch (seriously, Jacques Pépin would be proud) was just phenomenal, check it out:

Who is more famous: Louis Vuitton or Louis XIV?

When I was living in LA (painful thought), not a day went by when I didn’t see a Louis Vuitton handbag (another painful thought). The French are good at fashion and I don’t think I need to tell anyone that the French are good at e-commerce, that is all yesterday’s news. Vente-Privée’s acquisition chats with Amazon and PriceMinister’s €200 million acquisition helped solidify this. But while there are tons of companies in the traditional e-commerce space – like MyFab and Spartoo –  there are also some more creative companies that are leveraging French fashion. Ok, maybe the products sold on GoldenHook are not exactly haute couture but it’s definitely creative to employ the elderly to knit products, which are then sold on the platform. Then there are some more recent companies that seem to be going after social shopping, like LooknBe, or video-driven fashion e-commerce, like WallDress. The business models for these last 2 are yet to be proven but it’s definitely an interesting trend.

There’s no local Twitter – but a damn lot of tourists.

So obviously there are tons of travel sites and whatnot as well but honestly I know of fewer sites that really target an international crowd with good insider information (if you know of one, correct me and let me know). MyLittleParis perhaps but the information isn’t necessarily traveler’s info. Oh, but then again, the government went and launched that whole France.fr portal so that the whole world would be able to find travel information on France. But man, what a buzz kill. I honestly think that there are still tons of tourists that have no clue how to find the information they’re seeking. In fact, the NUMBER ONE question I get asked on Aardvark is “what is the best hotel/hostel in Paris.” Actually, some of the more innovative travel/tourist-oriented sites – like AirBnB – are not local, but they are already tapping the French market. Food for thought…

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Best of French Start-ups on YouTube

Ah, I should say best of French start-ups on DailyMotion, shouldn’t I? Truth is, I wanted to use DailyMotion videos but a lot of the content wasn’t on their site. Tsk tsk French start-ups for not supporting each others’ businesses! Then again, in this Google-dominated internet world, who can really blame them.

YouTube, iTube.

I just thought I’d do a quick post on 5 of my favorite YouTube videos from French start-ups.

Deezer. (@deezer)

This is hands down my favorite French start-up video on YouTube. It tells the story of Deezer’s creation, the legal obstacles they had to overcome with music on the internet. Great music, great story, great animation.

Regioneo. (@regioneo)

This video probably lacks a little punch (maybe could use a background tune?) but I still really like it. Sorry to any non-French speakers who can’t understand it. Essentially, it explains Regioneo’s platform and was the video used to launch their crowd-funding campaign. I think the presentation is simple and quite well done. And another one that deserves a mention here is Pearltrees(@pearltrees) – although the video definitely could use a bit of music as well. Great animation though and nice accent!

MXP4. (@theremixculture)

Maybe cool videos are easier to make for music companies? MXP4 does a fantastic job at presenting its platform in an original way with a terrific French artist, Pony Pony Run Run.

Submate.(@submate)

The start-up may be brand new but the first time I saw this video on their website I was absolutely sold – what a great and upbeat way to introduce the platform. French start-up DelivrMe (@delivrme) that lets you receive a package anywhere has a terrific video along the same lines as well.

Appsfire. (@appsfire)

Ha, this video cracks me up but Appsfire does a very good job of bringing cool and geek together to launch their App Awards competition. Low-cost creativity. I like it.

And obviously I have to give all-time creative credit to Meetic (@meetic), even though their adds were on TV and not strictly on YouTube. But hey, there’s more material to playwith in the online dating space.

Smart Money: French companies get creative with funding

I’m considering starting a weekly tradition where I give a shoutout to a French company that is doing something I find particularly innovative. Well, this week that company is Lyon-based Regioneo – who launched a user-investment campaign, which I detailed in TechCrunch Europe.

Why is there no translation for “bon appétit” in English?

In case you are unfamiliar with Regioneo, they’re essentially the French equivalent to Foodzie. I thought the idea behind Regioneo was dynamite even prior to this week’s innovative investment initiative, because obviously local artisanal foods in France have an appeal and quality that their American substitutes don’t.

Have your cake and eat it too.

But as much as I like their platform, I’m applauding the innovative way they decided to raise funding this week – which brought them to just under €50,000 in 5 days. Plus, not only did Regioneo raise money, but it brought together a group of high-profile entrepreneurs (or “ambassadors”) to support their cause. Money plus marketing. Yum. Translation: they can have their cake and eat it too (avoir du beurre et l’argent du beurre, en français).

Keep your friends close and your investors closer.

This is not the first company, however, that is leveraging social means for funding. In fact, FriendsClear is another example of local company that is putting a new spin on investment; the P2P lending platform is oriented specifically towards investors and entrepreneurs. Maybe something for Sprouter to consider?

Investitude.

Surely if Ségolène Royal was allowed to make-up words during the last presidential campaign, local entrepreneurs can also invent their way out of roadblocks. In Silicon Valley where it rains VC money on Sand Hill Road, entrepreneurs are possibly less-likely to get creative with funding. And while funding in France is not the monstrosity that everyone makes it out to be, the local VC scene is simply less developed. Which is why I’m sure we’re likely to see more innovation in this space along the lines of what Regioneo and FriendsClear are doing.

Trying to Make Sense of the French Job Market

Yesterday, Marc Thouvenin (Regioneo founder) posted a tweet that caught my eye:

“Can interns make good community managers” with a link to this blog post by Benjamin Rosoor of Web Report.

Traditional recruitment meets realtime web.

For anyone that can’t read French, Rosoor’s post argues against younger employees – and more specifically, interns – doing the job of community managers. Naturally, you don’t want your average slacker representing your company and your brand on live, social internet. But Rosoor’s post ties in the fact that the job of a community manager isn’t well defined and that many companies don’t put a lot of money on the table for their social media strategy. The result: putting an intern behind the Twitter account could be fatal.

But aren’t we forgetting something?

I think that Rosoor’s post raises a good point – that community management is in fact an important job that should be given to someone with a good grasp of the product, the company, the business, the industry and what have you. And if the person is to be trusted with such an important task, it should be reflected in their paycheck too, no?

But the issue should not be reduced to a question of age or experience.

This is a typical mistake I see in traditional French recruitment practices. The French torture themselves at school (believe me, I am living it) and get diplomas from top universities. But when they graduate, nobody trusts them with anything because they lack experience. What on earth kind of ridiculous logic is that? 10 years of experience to become an engineer? Forget it. I’d understand if it involved a History major trying to become a brain surgeon but that is usually not the case. Plus, how is anyone supposed to get any experience if even as interns they are reduced to doing purely trivial tasks?

Is “trust” a four-letter word?

Maneuvering new web applications may come more naturally to the younger Web 2.0 generation. Would it be so wrong to perhaps trust someone with less experience? I’m sure that with a little training and a bit of trust, the right candidate would hardly set-out to ruin a company’s reputation on the internet.

The French Evolution.

Fortunately, I do feel as though the French tech job market, in particular, is evolving – embracing Twitter, Facebook and the likes for recruitment purposes, thus finding a younger, geekier candidate pool. But it is still not necessarily the norm.

Need experience? Start a company.

Starting a company has possibly become the answer to unemployment and entering the over-hierarchical job market. Once more people realize that online community sites – like Facebook, Deezer, Creads, etc. – were founded by 20-something-year-olds, perhaps they’ll reconsider giving someone with less experience a community management (or other) role.