Six Lies French Entrepreneurs tell about France

Feb 7, 2012
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This article is the opinion of the writer and no one else involved with The Rude Baguette.

Last week, Betabeat’s Adrianne Jeffries published an article entitled “French Startups Take Refuge in New York” – you can imagine how interested we were in this. The article consisted of an interview with prominent New York Entrepreneur Ilan Abehassera, the French native who founded Producteev. Ilan Abehassera, who also makes occasional appearances in a video segment for FrenchWeb called Pomme-i, tells Betabeat that the USA “have much better entrepreneurs than in France.” 

*gasp* Stop the presses!

….Seriously, stop the presses. The article mentions exactly four New York Startups with French founders: ProducteevFreshPlanetDashlane and Totsy – four French startups does not an exodus make. My graduating high school class has gone on to start more startups than that! You see, the article makes its most important point in the first few sentences, when it disqualifies Ilan as a judge of the French startup scene: he has been in the USA since 2004. That’s pre-twitter, when Facebook was sweeping college campuses, and when Myspace wasn’t owned by Justin Timberlake. Ilan is not a French Entrepreneur – in fact, even his personal website is called NYC Entrepreneur. This is not to say he’s any less incredible – he’s done a lot with his company, and has served as an inspiration to many French entrepreneurs looking to go west – but he’s about as French as Jeff Clavier in the startup scene.

Six lies Ilan tells in his Betabeat article

  1. “France is not a country where they really promote entrepreneurship” – Sarkozy appeared last December at the opening of Google France’s new building in Paris, during which he gave a one hour press conference, and talked about how entrepreneurship was the future of France, and how the French needed to stop being so risk adverse. Later that week, he invited the technorati of LeWeb to the Elysée (read: French White House), where he gave a similar talk. The Paris, the Ile-de-France, and the larger French government provide grants to French startups, as well as financing events, co-working spaces, incubators, and accelerator programs. The French government is currently considering a project called SOHO 2014, which would create nearly 100 offices within downtown Paris, and would also provide housing to the companies working there. So yeah, France is not really promoting entrepreneurship.
  2. “Starting a company in France, it takes a month and a half.” – Perhaps this was true when Ilan lived in France before 2004; however the wonderful lawyers at Morgan & Lewis would beg to differ. Yes, it still costs roughly 1200 euros (+ initial capital investment and lawyer fees) and takes 7 to 10 days to create an SAS, but neither this nor a theoretical ‘month and a half’ wait is a big enough deterrent for an entrepreneur starting a tech company.
  3. “…high taxes…” – You will pay higher taxes in France than in Delaware or Ireland, where most American companies host their European headquarters; however, I have been told by several entrepreneurs that startups can wait 18 months after filing for incorporation to start declaring their financials (feel free to call me out on that). In addition, these high taxes are the same high taxes that allow entrepreneurs in France to live off of a 70% unemployment salary for 18 months after they are let go from their company. What goes around comes around.
  4.  “…small pool of hiring talent.” – For a long time, France has had trouble retaining its talent pool, but there is no doubt that France puts out some of the best developers in the world. The CEO of a 12-person development firm in Strasbourg told me that Square offered to relocate his entire team to San Francisco to work for them; he told them no; he loves the hot wine too much. The point is, there was a time when developers fled to the Silicon Valley, when they were treated less like worker monkeys and more like engineers. I think France has paid the price for this and has learned from its mistake; good talent is being paid better everyday, and as that number starts to equal out with salaries in the US, the incentive to go west will diminish.
  5. “If you don’t get along with someone you just hired and it is often the case, there is no way you can let him go. He will tell you basically, ‘I will stop working, I will leave every day at 5 p.m.,’ and you can’t have nothing to do. If you fire him, he will put you to court and he will win.” – well, unless of course, you have a periode d’essai (“trial period”) written into the contract (which is the case ~100% of the time), which allows you to let go of an employee with little to no notice for the first three months. Oh, and you can also request to renew the trial period for an additional three months, legally – but you know, if you suddenly hate your employee after six months, well then, buddy, you’re S.O.L.
  6. “You do have innovation, but like, just name one French startup that you know. You can’t!” *takes deep breath* Vente-Privee, Criteo, Comuto, Dailymotion, Netvibes, Kwaga, AllMyApps, Shopmium, Super Marmite, Balloon, BuzzCar, JolieBox – oh, and that’s just in Paris. You were saying?

The points Ilan makes represent France back in 2004 – that’s an easy argument to agree with – but he’s doing his country a disservice by standing on a soapbox and proclaiming that’s still that way today. I was surprised to see that the FrenchWeb even ran a story on the same subject one day later. The companies he mentions are great companies, he is an intelligent entrepreneur, and New York is a great city to do a startup, but these facts don’t line up to an exodus to New York.  I was happy to see that Sam Bessalah, a loyal Rude Reader, was first to comment on the article, though he may have gotten a little too RUDE in his comment.

C’mon Betabeat – can we get some journalistic integrity up in this scene?

I think the article is indicative of a bigger problem; the fact that this was able to run. The title sounded catchy enough, the argument had the standard three examples, and it featured someone from a big enough company that their opinion is validated. I don’t like to cut down journalists, but Adrianne Jeffries put so little of an effort into writing the article that I was tempted just to ask her to send the two email exchanges she had with Ilan over to me instead. Current news sites like Betabeat have their writers writing 4 articles a day – how much investigative journalism can you actually do when you have to put out 20 articles a week?

The Loic of the East

I get what Ilan is trying to do – he’s trying to become the Loic of the East. It’s smart. I did the same thing: you play the foreigner card, and use it to get your voice heard. It won’t make up for a lack of talent, but it will open doors that would otherwise be closed. Ilan has a group, New York French Geek, and he’s doing a little comm. about it, in order to get Frenchies in New York and France interested in it. Ilan made the mistake, however, of burning the very bridge/card he was playing at the same time. “Not many have taken notice but NYC has indeed become de rigueur with us French tech geek entrepreneurs,” – Perhaps no one has noticed, because it’s not true. I wonder what Loic le Meur, Jeff Clavier, Philippe Jeudy, Benjamin Renaud, Phillippe Bossut, Bertrand Diand and Miguel Valdes Faura would say about it?