The Problem with The French…

Apr 10, 2013
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… is they host events called “The Problem with the French.”

The Problem WIth The French

Last week in San Francisco, Paris Soma and Fabernovel, two French companies allegedly dedicated to helping the French digital ecosystem, organized an event that can only be described as a mix between a circle jerk and a support group, entitled “The Problem With the French…” Intended to be a play off the rumored statement from former President George W. Bush Jr. in a meeting with Tony Blair “The problem with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur.” The event invited the finest Francophone entrepreneurs living in California – Loic Le Meur, Work4Labs‘ Stephane Le Viet, Carlos Diaz & more – who, from what I can tell from the twitter hashtag #TPWTF, spoke about a combination of “tales of entrepreneurship” and “why French entrepreneurs fail,” essentially poking at some of the cultural attributes of France that make the country “risk-averse.”

Despite being in San Francisco at the time, I decided to miss the event – I get my fill of French entrepreneurs complaining about why they haven’t succeeded yet in Paris – and instead found myself fielding questions all weekend from people about ‘this support group event for failed French entrepreneurs,’ as some people put it. I can’t think of a worse way to hurt your own reputation than by hosting an event talking about your problems. Now I can understand fresh off the boat French entrepreneurs doing this – they don’t know any better – but Loic, Carlos, and Stephane have been in California long enough to know the one secret Silicon Valley trick: you never talk about why you suck. Never.

The real problem with the French is they SUCK at marketing themselves

If I told you about a country that consistently puts out world-class developers & designers, excels both at technical innovation and at marketing the most expensive products in the world (luxury goods), and invented the very fabric of the Internet, you’d probably need little convincing to consider bringing your ideas and money there. Nevertheless, the only thing you ever hear about France is that their laborforce is lazy (not true), their government hates businesses (only insofar as they keep making it harder for French companies to market themselves) and that they can’t produce global companies (produce the most steady flow of globally successful Internet companies in Europe).

You see, the French find it somehow degrading to market oneself – they want to succeed on their own merit, and think that having to sell yourself means your product/skill/idea/innovation isn’t good enough and that you’re compensating. What many miss out on is the fact that the French entrepreneurs who have succeeded – LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault, Business Objects, Criteo, Deezer, etc. – have done so by overcoming this cultural crutch and realizing that marketing oneself is part of succeeding – it’s the ability to explain why you’re awesome faster, more succinctly, and more clearly than you’re opponent.

I barely understand the AdTech sector, but when Criteo says “we turned display advertising from a CPM market to a CPC market,” I get that in two seconds. That’s product marketing. CEO JB Rudelle spoke at Failcon France last year about how the company used the same technology and pivoted around in 3 times before coming to its CPC Digital Advertising model – they knew how to use cookies to track users and no more about them when they arrived on a given web page. What they had to figure out what the best way to package that and sell it.

I guess the only other problem with the French – if you hadn’t already guessed it – is their self-bashing culture. Entrepreneurs don’t complain, they do. If you attended this event, I have serious doubts as to how you’re going to handle real problems down the road. No one wants to invest in someone who is the first person to admit they are the reason something went wrong – they want someone who is the first person to offer up a solution to a problem.