Why it’s important for French startups to have one foot in the US at all times

May 5, 2015
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The following is a guest post by Emmanuel Schalit, CEO of password management tool Dashlane. You can follow him online at @eschalit.

When you start a company, it is common knowledge to try to get product market fit on your home market and move abroad afterwards. It’s already difficult to start a new business, why would you try to do it in a country you don’t know?

At Dashlane we didn’t follow this rule but we still built a 3M users password management app business, and rose $30M in funding. Since our public launch we have been working with a team in Paris and a team in New York, and we think it was a strong driver for our success.

Dashlane’s goal is to make identity and payment simple and secure. It addresses a problem that concerns any of the 2 billion web users the world counts nowadays. When you build a scalable technology for such a big target, it makes sense to look for initial traction on the bigger consumer tech market in the world, the United States. You will just scale much faster, with an effort that is not much higher. And as a consequence, United States is also the place where “smart money” is easy to find. In 2011 we presented our project to European and US VCs and it’s in the US that we found people that would invest $5M in our company even before our public launch, Rho Ventures and FirstMark Capital. Regarding influencers, our bet also paid off. When David Pogue, leading Tech columnist at NY Times, wrote “Download Dashlane It’s an order!, our organic growth took off.

Of course we could have moved the entire team to the US and recruit all our staff there. We didn’t choose this path because we are truly convinced that France is a great market for product and engineering talent. The initial version of Dashlane was successfully developed by a bunch of fresh graduates from Centrale Paris, one of the leading French engineering schools that train hundreds of very bright and skilled engineers every year. When you run an ambitious tech company, attracting and retaining this kind of world class talents is a lot easier in France than in the US. Tech giants are not hunting them with crazy signing bonuses. Developing the company on both sides of the Atlantic was also a way to make our business global from day 1. We have been dealing with two languages, two currencies and localization issues since our early days. It was a real investment but it now pays off as we are scaling the business.

There is also a bottom line. To grow an early stage company in France and in the US at the same time, you need to invest in real video conferencing tools (they are not that expensive any more), and be ready to have your team travel a lot. Bootstrapped startups are sometimes reluctant to make these expenses but it’s really necessary. I had some previous experience managing international businesses and I know that the costs associated to miscommunication are usually higher than cost of good communication. It’s also very important to build an international culture. Speaking and writing English is of course mandatory. Defining product and company values also helped us to make sure everyone in the team is on the same mission, no matter where he is from or where he lives.

It was a challenging path but it helped us grow faster. I feel like we became stronger by combining the advantages of both countries and both cultures and I’m sure we have been paving the way for many startups to come.