Will The Real French Administration Please Stand Up ?

It’s pretty paradoxical what is happening in France’s startup scene at the moment. On one side of the spectrum, the entrepreneurs, investors and the entire ecosystem seems to be gaining momentum. Several new seed funds were created in the beginning of the year – filling a very obvious gap in the local market and visibly fueling the development of quite a few startups. Then came the various mentorship programs, like the Founder Institute. Followed by the sprouting of regular startup events, like StartinParis, or even Startup Weekend – which is conquering the whole country. The infamous Paris-based co-working hub, LaCantine, is also spreading its wings and setting-up outside of Paris, in addition to a new acceleration program they’ve launched as well. And to top it all off, we’ve now got some of the big-name entrepreneurs talking about potential YCombinator-like programs for local startups. Call me crazy but I truly believe something incredible is going on.

And then the government* showed up.

Let me preface this by saying that I am probably the last person to ever critize France (in case this isn’t already obvious). I’ve even been called France’s cheerleader and community manager at times -probably because questions like this make my blood boil. I’ve always been a fan of the stuff people usually find rather ridiculous – the former 35-hour work week, the strikes, the vacation, etc. Yes, it’s true. So even if I love complaining, I’m not just going to start bashing the French state for the hell of it. I actually think France has a hell of a lot going for it, which surprisingly many people often overlook because they love to grab on to stereotypes and focus on the negative aspects.

But Bercy is apparently out to lunch.

If you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, read this. Honestly, it’s something I cannot wrap my head around. If I’m here complaining about it, it’s not at all because I want to bash the government but rather because I want to defend the French entrepreneurs. Plus, wouldn’t the long term effects of such a reform do more harm than good ? I am aware that the deficit is a damn good reason to want to make budget cuts,  but someone needs to wake Bercy up and make it see all the good that the entrepreneurs do for the local economy. The tax breaks that France grants startups – namely the JEI – are probably less well-known abroad but thousands of French startups benefit from them. Startups have been able to put more ressources into hiring and innovation as a result. We’ve already got investors in France that are ever-so-slightly more risk averse than in the US. So in my mind, it should be one of the last things the State should ever want to touch.

Puting Joseph Schumpeter on hold.

Alright, so France wants to ignore Schumpeter for a while, fine. Funny enough, it has also had a positive impact in a way. I have noticed that a majority of the entrepreneurs are really coming together to speak out against it – which is perhaps giving rise to solidarity and bringing them even more together. Some startups and organizations are even offering services for free if it relates to defending the JEI. And this in its turn is also giving more media attention and visibility to certain entrepreneurs and startups. So, France, put Schumpeter on hold all you want, because in the end it’s still producing a positive output – as minimal as it may be…

Shut-up and innovate.

In the end, it may sound a lot like France is telling it’s blossoming entrepreneurial community to shut-up and innovate. And well, that is kind of the case. But France would have to be really disconnected from reality to continue its current path. Once it remembers why it put the JEI in place, I’m sure it’ll come to its senses.

*And as you all know, I’m using “government” to mean “administration“.

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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.)

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.

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?