It’s always great when you go to a tech event and see that local and global tech companies are sponsoring it – Google & Microsoft are no stranger to this, but in France Orange, Bouygues, BNP Paribas and even SNCF have contributed sizeable amounts of money to the French ecosystem. It’s great: from an external perspective they are suppoting the ecosystem, and from an internal perspective they know that, at the size that they are and the amount of revenue they generate per year, they are required to constantly be having their name pop up in front of their customers, so it’s the best of both worlds.
Lately, however, I’ve been seeing smaller and smaller startups sponsoring or even hosting events that aren’t “learn more about our product” events. In Germany, Paymill has been sponsoring Startup Weekend events – I can’t imagine that’s an execution strategy coming straight from the Samwer’s mouths. In the US, you see API and B2D (Business to Developer) startups sponsoring tech events, although I wouldn’t consider Startup Weekend to be the best event for getting the attention of developers. Recently, however, a few startups in France have been bugging me – namely LeCamping’s qunb, Home N’Go, and Webshell – as they’ve been hosting events nearly ever single month. The most recent event, the #datackathon, partnered up with SNCF’s open data division to do a weekend hackathon dedicated to Open Data.
Now don’t get me wrong: I think it’s cool that they are supporting Open Data, and I think it’s cool that they’ve got SNCF pretending they’re open as well (when they really aren’t), but there’s no way that this is in their respective product roadmaps on the way to becoming global leaders in their respective industries (Home N’ Go: real estate, Webshell: SaaS/API services, qunb: data visualization). I see how the event is related to what all three of the startups are doing, but is it really accelerating their growth globally, or even locally? From this Vine video, it looks like a bit under 100 people came. Imagine how many people they could educate and animate around Open Data if each of those companies were making $1 Million+ in revenue?
It has been a bad byproduct of the global startup hype that entrepreneurs think too early about ‘giving back to the community.’ If you’re a funded, or, god forbid bootstrapped startup, before you give back to the community, give back to yourself. Make yourself a million dollars, then do that 1000 times over, and then invest in Open Data startups, or net neutrality initiatives, or become a global sponsor to Startup Weekend!
I think there’s some mentality of “well, if we give back to the community, then that means we’re big enough successes and we’re at the ‘next phase.'” It’s not true – get this thought out of your head. The startups who’ve contributed most to the French ecosystem are Criteo, Deezer, Dailymotion, Blablacar, and a few eCommerce whatevers – you know why, because they are hiring smart people, attracting international attention to French startups, and they are kicking butt on a global scale.
You want to help your local startup community? Kick ass on a global level. Look what Nokia did for Finland, what SAP did for Germany, what France Telecom/Orange has done for France? These guys all started somewhere (even if that somewhere was a government organization with huge local advantages), and now they know that the only way they are going to stay on top is to make sure that there are plenty of intelligent people to hire, and smart ideas popping up around them.