Reliability is a USP in France

Sep 16, 2014
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chanel_watchThis past weekend, Rude Baguette held its Startup Job Fair, third in the series. By all accounts, the fair proved a rousing success, and I commend the Rude Baguette organizers for their heroics.

From what I understand of this event, it in many ways encapsulated the current state of affairs of the French tech ecosystem, the good and the bad.

For instance, this event witnessed a record turnout, with 50 tech firms exhibiting (startup companies that are hiring) and over 1000 job candidates. These exhibitors represented some of France’s most promising tech startups, and the delegates encompassed much of France’s top talent, ambitious candidates with advanced skills who aspire to join a fast-growing tech company ranging from all flavors of tech developers to business developers. The success of events like this one demonstrates how far France’s business culture and mindset has evolved in fostering innovation, and this is encouraging.

Less apparent to the participants at the job fair, concealed behind the scenes, lied one of France worst business habits. And specifically what I’m referring to is the failure to make good on one’s commitments. I understand from the conference organizers that most of the suppliers for the event failed to deliver as per contract. With the exception of one supplier in particular, which I understand proactively took responsibility for their lapse and found a resolution, the mindset of the other contractors leaned more toward an “it’s not my problem” attitude. This is not meant to be a public shaming session, so I will not name these companies.

In my own job, I experience these customer service mishaps all the time. One of my portfolio companies waited three months for a response from a banker at a noteworthy French financial institution concerning its new account opening. Our own fund recently tried to transfer our shares held in a Nasdaq-listed company that we received following a successful trade sale exit into our brokerage account in France. Only after 10 weeks of investigation and assistance from U.S. counsel did we discover the holdup was on our side, something about our custodial bank failing to answer the U.S. broker’s simple request for proper account details. (In the event, we finally gave up and became a client of Jefferies Securities in the U.S., who promptly serviced our request within 24 hours).

Anyone that has worked outside of France understands how devastating this can be for any client-facing enterprises. Yet it amazes me how many businesses here fail to grasp the importance of doing what you say you’re going to do.

waiting-for-orange

We grow accustomed to this behavior in our daily lives too: the electric utility meter reader who fails to appear during the appointed hour; the internet service provider that requires you wait home from work during an inconvenient mid-day time slot and never shows up; the Syndic of a building with a paid mandate who plays the ostrich. A friend of mine who interned in a hospital discovered the excessively high no-show rate of patients who, without warning, did not arrive for appointments with doctors. What could be a more telling indicator of the mindset of the population than this? People who actually relegate their own health to the inertia of not following through. Perhaps like The Economist’s Big Mac Index, we should create a Doctors Appointment Index.

Do what you say you’re going to do.

Following this one fundamental tenet of common business sense — honoring your commitment and following through — is practically a USP for companies that do this in France; it’s a competitive differentiator. Is it a coincidence that even in English contracts, force majeure is written in French? Kidding aside, France does not have a monopoly on flakiness. But its prevalence in the business context undermines this great country’s credibility on the global market.

This is an admittedly preachy post. I invite you to hold me to this same standard, and publicly flog me on those rare occasions when I fail to keep my word. When my day of reckoning comes — and I enter that great startup ecosystem in the sky, or am sent off on that raft lit on fire — I would prefer to be remembered not as the greatest European VC with the midas touch, but rather, as the guy who always did what he said he was going to do.