Leaving the Silicon Valley for the City of Light: Why Vayable set up shop in Paris

Oct 16, 2013
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Vayable

Silicon Valley founders have begun to make the trip from San Francisco to Paris more frequently in recent years – in no small part due to the likes of LeWeb and TheFamily – however, very few startups have uplifted their roots in San Francisco and moved to Paris the way founder Jamie Wong and her team did. A little over a month ago, a quick and dirty decision was made to bring the entire team behind Vayable, a marketplace for travelers to find locals to show them around, over to Paris.

The startup’s decision to move made waves on Pandodaily, referring to their escape of the ‘echo chamber’ that is the Silicon Valley; I sat down with Vayable CEO Jamie Wong a month into her stay in Paris to see how valuable her experience had been so far, as well as her impressions on the Paris ecosystem as a whole.

Why did Vayable come to France?

Jamie Wong, CEO of VayableWe want to work on the ground with Vayable Insiders and travelers in our key markets. Operating as a pop-up headquarters will help us build our business and keep us from falling prey to the wants of Silicon Valley and focused on the wants of our Insiders and travelers, who are all over the world.

It lets us live our creation. Many startups talk about focusing on the customer experience. We’re going to eat, sleep and live our customer experience and have the unique ability to co-create our platform together with Vayable Insiders who live our customer experience everyday.

We want to do this now while we’re still lean. As a startup, we can move faster than large companies. This is an amazing opportunity for us to develop strong, one-to-one relationships with our customer base.

What have you learned while you were here & how did it affect your stay?

One of the biggest lessons emerged from the face-to-face interactions we have, something I will never take for granted again. We realize range of talent and diverse experience and also the different needs people have. This would be lost in the cracks of email or skype calls. We discovered the different range of motivations people have for using our platform, which enabled us to focus on designing the right experience and tools to serve the range of needs. The range of talent was also made much more apparent after thoughtful, face-to-face interactions. All of these nuances and details emerged from real life contact and would not have been extracted otherwise.  Plus, the French seem to cherish human interaction in a way that’s quite foreign to most Americans, so it taught us all a thing or two about etiquette and the value of taking time to be together.

How do you think other startups can ‘replicate’ or learn from your experience?

Have a purpose: In order to do something like this with your startup, it must serve a purpose, which should directly serve the mission of your business.

Establish goals: Set out concrete goals for the experience and make sure you measure your progress along the way. What does success look like? What does failure look like? Make sure you have this well-defined so that you can make the most of your time and resources.

All-or-nothing: This is an all-or-nothing endeavor. You cannot do this “partially.” It’s essential to have your entire team’s buy-in and commitment. This doesn’t mean that everyone on your team should necessarily go, but they all must be in support of it as it will affect everyone, even those who stay at home.

Build relationships: Your relationships will become your infrastructure. Tap existing networks to help guide you and build new networks once you’re there. When you are doing a mobile office temporarily, time is of the essence and your network is what will help you move faster and provide the support system you need.

Document and learn: Make sure to measure, track and document every step of the process so that you can learn and iterate. There are many lessons to be learned abroad that you simply cannot learn at home, and it’s important to take note so that they can be applied.

Can you give a concrete example of how your product/execution has evolved based on your time here in Paris?

We are shipping a new version of our product in the coming days that are a direct output of our time in Paris. We met with our community on experiences, in usability tests, over dinner, coffees and community events. We pooled and evaluated their feedback to come up with three similar, but distinct directions our user profiles, search and browsing experiences could take. At our Community Demo Day, one of our last nights in France, we presented it to the community and allowed them to vote on the direction they most wanted. This is what we will ship in the coming days and weeks. Specifically, we brought people to the center of our product and added browsing, search and reputation tools to both humanize the experience and make people and experiences more accessible to customers.

Can you tell us any startups/subjects that you’ve encountered in Paris that excite you?

I was so fortunate to meet many talented, bright and motivated people during my time there. The entrepreneur community is incredibly inspiring and provided me with insights, motivation and support that exceeded anything I expected to find.

The Collaborative Economy, or Peer Economy, is of course incredibly exciting to me and it’s thrilling to see France leading the charge in so many ways, from Ouishare to the many startups, such as Blablacar, Djump and Cookening, choosing Paris as their headquarters. It’s wonderful to see this momentum and humbling to be a part of it.

I’m also very excited about the work the national government is doing in open data and what the city is doing to help facilitate technological innovation. There seem to be much more overlap between those is the public and private sectors in France than I find in Silicon Valley, so that’s encouraging as well. It would be great to see the French government support more startups in the private sector since its seems to be such a feeder into the government and the country stands to benefit so much for the ideology, creativity and skills of young French innovators.