How I pitch “La French Tech”

May 6, 2014
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I’m blessed to have the opportunity to travel a fair amount, and the people I encounter often ask me about the state of the French tech ecosystem. Admittedly, sometimes I’m the one who first puts the topic on the table, but I only share my pitch with those who are interested.

Furthermore, calling this a French pitch is a bit of a misnomer: I’m not mandated by the French government, and the bulk of my portfolio companies aren’t even France-based. Rather, this is a collection of beliefs I genuinely hold about our ecosystem here based on my own experiences since I first arrived fresh from Silicon Valley 13 years ago.

From my perspective, there is an unmistakable shift underway in France toward entrepreneurship these days, and it’s exciting to witness this. When I first arrived, I used to openly brag about my failed entrepreneurial experiences, until I was chided for the stigma that failure carried here. The best and brightest would aspire to careers in blue chip firms or in the government.

Mercifully, this is changing now. Smart young people are beginning to embrace a mindset of risk-taking. The free flow of information has made the entrepreneurial success stories of Silicon Valley more visible here.

Along with this cultural mind shift among young people, a critical mass of repeat entrepreneurs is emerging in France, the outcome of successful ventures like PriceMinister and now Criteo. Startup incubators and accelerators are abundant, particularly in Paris. One of the originals, Le Camping, recently announced its third successful exit from its inaugural class of startups. The Family is more recent but espouses a radical model ruthless on execution that I expect will produce a future crop of numerous winners, or alumni full of energy and ambition. The Rude Baguette is recording this history in the making and broadcasting it to the world.

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Workshops teach lean startup techniques, a FailCon event takes place here now, Xavier Niel has opened a university dedicated to boosting unrecognized programming talent, and a local Meetup group dedicated to growth hacking has popped up. Perhaps all Startup 101 for the residents of the valley on highway 101, but these are significant milestones of change in France that were inconceivable a few years ago.

The French government and the VC community still need to catch up, and I admit that I’ve become part of the latter system which I’m determined to play a role in reforming. Yet there are encouraging signs, like the government’s initiative of La French Tech, its implicit backing of NUMA, its encouragement toward tolerance of failure, and its responsiveness to the heroic efforts of France Digitale.

When the CEO of an incumbent like SNCF demonstrates the alacrity of viewing his competition to be epitomized by Google, tell me this isn’t a beacon heralding a new era.

I would not be surprised to see in the not too distant future that France will boast even more internationally-acclaimed tech innovators in fields in which the country’s talent excels: ad-tech, big data, mobile gaming, connected devices, sharing economy, medical devices, to name a few. The U.S. no longer holds a monopoly on innovation. There is a ‘rest of world’ beyond the U.S. and China, and European countries like France are well-placed to address this global market for innovation.

Now go enjoy your four-day weekends…