Actually, maybe you shouldn’t speak English in your startup…

Nov 7, 2011
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Here at the Rude Baguette we’re pretty strong supporters of the English-language movement in the French startup scene.  Like other observers of the tech scenes in France and other parts of Europe, we tend to support initiatives such as Le Camping’s attempt to create a (mostly) English-only working environment.  And you, French entrepreneur, should probably launch your startup in English from day one if you ever want to compete with the big guys in Silicon Valley.

But wait one minute, says a prominent French tech executive.

According to Laurent Le Gourrierec, Executive Director of the M&A advisory group at Alcatel-Lucent, startups need to be self-aware enough to know when and how English makes sense to their company. In a recent presentation he gave at HEC, he explained how French entrepreneurs can use the language barrier as an advantage over, say, UK-based startups.

Why fight a battle you might very well lose?

“It is harder to create a consumer startup in the UK, because language is not a barrier against US-based startups,” he explained later.  Or to put it another way, why compete with the big guys in Silicon Valley on their turf when you can a huge head start right here in France? Vente Privée is the biggest flash sale retailer in the world, and they dwarf their US competition without really even focusing on the English-speaking world.
Of course, some markets, like picture processing or blogging utilities, are global and make English mandatory.  But the point here is that sometimes the pro-English argument becomes a sort of dogma, and you wind up with comparative shopping and dating startups giving up their competitive advantage (knowledge of french language, customs and regulations) to launch in English.

“Use the culture and language to your advantage,” says Le Gourrierec. “It’s pretty obvious once we think about it, but I can see many startups that missed this point.”