Tech City News says “Don’t write off Paris.” I say “Write off Tech City News.”

Sep 18, 2013
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Today is just like any other day in the Paris tech market: Richard Branson drove a vintage cuban military vehicle through the streets of Paris, and another Paris tech company announced it had filed papers for its $1 Billion+ IPO. You might think either one of these incidents is abnormal in Paris; however, 2013 has been pretty active for the Paris tech market. Over $1 Billion in acquisitions of Paris Tech companies, including Neolane to Adobe, and more fundraising rounds in France than in the UK or Germany.

Readers of Tech City News, however, might think the contrary. This afternoon, the publication, which covers the London tech scene, wrote a piece entitled “Paris isn’t dead yet.” I’ve met their “Paris-based correspondent” – I invited him to TheFamily, the Paris-based accelerator which recently received funding from Index Ventures – TheFamily does not appear anywhere in the piece.

Instead it looks like it was written over a year ago, referencing LeCamping as Paris’ star accelerator, and Sparrow (sold to Google in 2012) and Vente Privée as France’s success stories. Ultimately, the author concludes, France’s biggest potential is that it has 4G network in the metro. I don’t even know what to say to that….

Nevermind that this article refers to “Brits & Germans” as having the exact same stereotypes, it features a wonderful list of factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations:

“Their business programmes are not bad either” 

I guess “not bad” means that only 3 French schools are among the Top 6 most common schools from which Fortune 500 CEOs got their MBAs – HEC, Polytechnique & ENA. The three others, by the way, are not LSE, Oxford & Cambridge, but Harvard, Stanford, and the University of Tokyo. 

“Ultimately, though, Paris has yet to produce enough prominent startups to build momentum, and perhaps it knows this.”

I don’t know who the “it” in this sentence is – frankly I’m tired of hearing people talk about ecosystems (cities, countries, etc.) as if they were people or startups. Nonetheless, how many is “not enough,” and how is it that both London & Berlin have produced enough while Paris has not? Let’s rule out your games companies (Goodbye Wooga & Mind Candy) and other non-scalable services, and play my favorite game: “Name 10 Tech Companies from Paris” – Criteo, Blablacar, Deezer, Viadeo, Neolane, Dailymotion, Netvibes, Exalead, Capitaine Train, Bunkr, Algolia. How many tech-oriented product startups can you name in London or Berlin?

There is a stark difference between “there are not enough prominent startups” and “I do not know the startups” – distinguishing the difference is key to being accurate when you decide to assess an ecosystem.

“Before you dismiss Paris as a startup backwater don’t forget you’re dealing with the people who invented the word ‘entrepreneur’.”

In fact, the word “entrepreneur” in French originally meant architect – so when you say in English that they ‘invented’ the word (you don’t invent words, but OK), you are actually inaccurate, while if I say “nous avons inventé le mot ‘entrepreneur'” I’d be accurate, but only in so far as the word is originally French, and not related to what we mean when we say it today.

Let’s talk about London for a bit

Sure, London’s got VC money, and that’s great. But its main attraction is that it is a bridge to America for European startups. For US startups, however, it is a terrible bridge to Europe, because there is such little visibility into the European ecosystem – or, when it is there, like Rude Baguette and the French Tech Market, such little education about it – that ultimately US Startups struggle to get from a London presence to a European one.

The article does make one adequate point, which I will leave you with:

“Yes London and Berlin are particularly good at blowing their own horn, but we all know that the loudest in the room are rarely the smartest.” – Alex Westbrook, Tech City News

Update: A calm and collected conclusion. Ultimately, what really disappoints me about this article is the following. The title starts out suggesting support for the Paris ecosystem (though it purports the negative stereotype it claims to be debunking). It proceeds by providing no real transparency about the ecosystem, despite the fact that I’ve personally communicated with the author in the past month, and could’ve easily provided facts to support such an argument (as I have done for many articles in the past). Lastly, the articles ultimate “don’t count them out just yet” conclusion is that the Paris metro has cell reception? A veritable non-sequitor in the argument it claimed to be addressing.

This article ultimately represents how a lack of transparency about what’s going on in non-anglophone tech markets leads to unfactual reporting about said ecosystem. If I were to write the same report about Berlin or London, I would see a barage of feedback citing Tech City reports and otherwise. Instead, Rude Baguette compares Paris with London (here) and Berlin(here & here), pointing out the differences and offering a conclusion that readers can choose to agree or disagree with. We are working on providing more transparency to France and Europe in general, and we will continue to make it easier to know what is going on in the French Tech Market; however, it will always be the responsibility of journalists, and the publications that publish them. to look for the facts on the topic about which they are writing.

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