Can France do Social?

Jan 3, 2012
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The French image of how the French interact with each other on the Metro

In my most recent efforts to understand how to take a city and turn it into a startup city, I’ve been toying with an idea given to me by Jason Calacanis: I posed him the question of how European cities could create an ecosystem on the same level as (note: not “replicating”) the Silicon Valley. His idea was that each city needed to take its already existing talents, qualities, and advantages and apply them to innovation. We can see this existing already with Los Angeles beginning to use its film and music industry connections, creating video-based startups like Mahalo and Hulu. In this pattern, New York suits itself best for digital print media (e.g: Flipboard), and other cities like London, Berlin and Paris simply need to find their strengths. Recently, newly announced entrepreneur Cedric Giorgi, formerly head of Seesmic Europe and organiser for LeWeb, suggested that fashion and food were two examples of where France had advantages. This makes sense, given France’s cultural prominence in these categories, although I’m sure French entrepreneurs would like to think that they are capable of innovating beyond Wine startups and fashion sites.

Ultimately, it has become clear that the Silicon Valley is dominating the social market. I am often asked whether X startup or X entrepreneur should move to the Silicon Valley, New York, Boulder, etc. and my response has slowly molded to this: if your startup will have a better network, better resources, more VCs who understand what you’re doing, and if you think you understand that market in which you will be living, then Yes. Go to another city. That last part, the part bolded and italicized, that’s the important one, by the way.

Enter Digikaa

Digikaa, for those who have not come across it before, is a social network for people working on the Internet. The idea is to connect “digital professionals” together in one location, combining your linkedin-style CV information, your twitter connections (since i’m
connecting to all my digital professionals via twitter), and also allow
for events, job postings, and groups. While the site has all the necessary pieces, it just doesn’t seem to have that social mmph that one expects to see in a social network – it lacks the right level of virality, and just doesn’t seem to have social engineering at the base.

Digikaa is still in its early stages of development, with around 4,000 users at the moment, mostly based in France. As the company progresses, I would like to see them take a hard stance on what they actually are: a replacement to other social networks or a complement?  If the site’s in English, and thus available to more than just French digital profesionnals, shouldn’t the job postings by French companies be in English as well?

So who’s allowed to do Social?

The truth is, no city is limited to doing a certain type of startups. Entrepreneurs hate being told they can’t do something, but I think that startups that succeed will have to adapt their cultural understanding of things like Social and Local and put them into whatever they do – European companies cannot imitate what they see American companies do and hope that they will replicate the success as well.

What’s France good for?

Personally, I think France has great classic talents. We put out amazing developers who are constantly being picked off by American startups offering more money. France has a great b2b attitude, understanding the feasibility and mediated risk involved with building a product for a client and then reiterating to make it acceptable to two clients, and scaling that up to a viable business. On the other end, visionaries/Biz Guys need to be less attached to the first idea they come across and start looking at what they as entrepreneurs have as advantages – I would like to see less entrepreneurs disrupting in areas where others are going to have an easier time, more experience, and more local resources. But, hey – I’m just one guy. What do you think France does best?