Bonjour, Entrepreneurs – Only you can prevent French-Bashing

Mar 24, 2014
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Over the weekend, I read Liz Alderman’s “Au Revoir, Entrepreneurs” in the International New York Times, and my reaction was quite typical,

“Ugh, another French-bashing article. Confirmation bias, reiterated (untrue) stereotypes & affirmation of the audience’s pre-existing opinion.”

But as I sat coming through the inversely proportionate well-written, poorly researched piece (statistics on French exodus show that France is 5th in the European Union for expatriated citizens, while the United Kingdom, from which the author writes, is number 1, I couldn’t help but feel responsible. There are several easy-to-recite facts about the French tech ecosystem that could’ve entirely rebutted this argument:

  1. Funding for startups in France is on the rise since 2011 (nearly €1 Billion last year), and anyone who can’t get Kima Ventures to invest €150K in them through Kima15 really needs to reconsider their vision.
  2. Starting a company in France may be difficult, but there’s no reason why this should stop you from building a company in France. Open a Delaware Corp or a London-based company if paperwork if too tough (I hate paperwork and manage to run a company in France). I doubt investors want to hear “I’m based in the UK because filling in forms is hard
  3. There is no hard data to suggest any significant increase in entrepreneurs (or citizens in general) leaving France – only the confirmation bias that comes with the fact that those who leave tend to voice their opinions (in English) louder than those who stay.
  4. Most people who are building companies abroad aren’t abroad for their company, they’re abroad because they want to be, and they happen to want to build companies.

But these points are moot – the article has already been published, and it will likely do no more than to serve as ammunition for both foreign and local French entrepreneurs in the ongoing French-bashing debate. But here in France, entrepreneurs can’t speed up tax reform or employment law reform – however, the one thing they can do, they aren’t. And that’s educating the international tech community on easy-to-remember points:

  1. Remember your ABC’s: “Appsfire, Blablacar, Criteo, Dailymotion, dEEzer”, say it 10 times fast, and say it once every time someone asks “how can you build a global startup in France!?”
  2. France outpaces Germany in Investment: London may be #1 in Venture Capital (France is #2 in Europe)
  3. Apple’s original European Headquarters were in Paris: That’s because Steve Jobs loved French engineers & French designers.

The French tech community needs to own up to the fact that articles like this are a direct result of their not championing France everywhere they go.

Have you ever heard an Irish entrepreneur rag on the fact that Dublin has no direct flight to SFO? No.

Have you ever heard a German entrepreneur complain that the only thing that gets funded are knock-offs and mediocre twists on existing eCommerce ideas? No.

French entrepreneurs need to study up on their ecosystem, and take these facts wherever they go.

  • Someone throws a “but what about the high taxes?” at you – you respond with “I subsidize all of my R&D with Government grants (up to €100M/year), and my company has a JEI status which wipes out employment taxes on engineers.
  • Someone throws a “What about strict employment laws?” at you, and you better be ready with “All our employees start with a legal 6-month trial period which allows me to fire them at a moment’s notice, and most of France’s strict employment laws don’t kick in until you have 50 employees: that’s how many WhatsApp had when it was acquired for $19 BIllion.

Everyone in France knows that entrepreneurs who are building great businesses don’t have time to complain about their woes and hang out in Google-sponsored coworking spaces, but the Eric Carrell’s, Fred Mazzella’s, Daniel Marhely’s & Martin Mignot’s of the world go on stage enough times to talk about their own feats, that they can afford to slip in one of these tidbits.

The last lesson for this article is: A promotion a day keeps the bashing away.