Is France ready to host its own Web Summit?

Jan 26, 2016
Vote on Hacker News

Screenshot 2016-01-26 15.46.40

2016 is looking like it’s going to be a strong year for Startups in France. My Blablacar-Lyft merger theory might not pan out now that Lyft is in GM’s hands, but Deezer raised €100 Million, Day Use raised €15 Million, Botify raised €6 Million – a huge jump year over year from the less than €50 Million raised in January 2015. With so much activity going on in France – along with the rest of Europe – the race to build France’s largest startup conference is on, especially with LeWeb’s fate in the wind – media, government officials, and investors have noticed.

Rude Baguette has no intention of filling this gap – I’ll talk a bit about why later on, but it’s a question of vision for the Event space. We organize #ParisFounders every quarter, and in October we are bringing 2,500 Founders, Entrepreneurs, Investors & Innovators from around the world for an invite-only, premiere technology event – it’s 100% free for every Founder. No stand. No booth. No pitch (unless you want to, and we want you to). This event isn’t meant to be big, it’s meant to be intimate – 2,500 is about as big as I’ve ever seen an event get while remaining intimate enough to connect with anyone at the event, and so that’s what we’re doing.

Someone else, however, has picked up the coveted torch to carry the responsibility of bringing Web Summit- and Slush-level of attendance to Paris. Les Echos (think FT in France) & Publicis have teamed up, with sponsorship confirmed from Orange, EY & BNP Paribas, to organize Viva Technology Paris, a 3-day conference & expo that promises:

  • 5,000 Startups
  • 30,000 Attendees
  • 100+ Countries in attendance
  • An ephemeral coworking space (?)
  • 200+ conference sessions – including 24 plenary sessions & 180 specialized sessions

Paris Web Summit, or Salon des Entrepreneurs 2.0?

You have to admit, that is some Web Summit-level figures. In fact, it’s almost exactly the numbers that Slush & Web Summit reported for their 2015 conferences, the same events that VivaTech references in their teaser video.

Those are ambitious numbers. I mean, very ambitious numbers. They have rented 30,000 square meters to pack those people in, and they’ve got support from France’s largest technology event sponsors, and here’s where my math gets me a bit worried. Did I mention the event is taking place in July, just before July 4th for Americans? In the middle of Fashion Week in France?

OK, let’s dive in: in order to hit their 5,000-startup marker, no less than 4,000 of those will come from France. 1,000+ startups coming to an event, even in lovely Paris, that they have never heard of – Pioneers, Slush & TC Disrupt can tell you that it’s not a question of money, it’s a question of network & awareness. A startup’s key resource isn’t money, it’s time – they don’t want to waste time at events, and they need to trust in an event to attend. For me, this makes VivaTech more of a “Salon des Entrepreneurs 2.0” – for the non-French, Salon des Entrepreneurs is a very old-school forum that no entrepreneur I know goes to. It’s attended by people who want to open their own brick & mortar, and sometimes, people who want to build an ecommerce site. I’ve never been, so I’m only speaking from experience of receiving press releases about the event.

Being Salon des Entrepreneurs 2.0 isn’t a bad thing – having a large-scale event for French entrepreneurs to come together is a great initiative. Most countries have them, and France doesn’t. However, I’m skeptical of VivaTech’s ability to reach the same heights that took Paddy Cosgrave, the hardest working event-organizer I know, about 5 years to reach. I spoke to him in 2011 before launching Rude Baguette (coincidentally), and he was already hustling to grow Web Summit three times faster than the industry standard at that time.

Paris, Berlin & London are all devoid of Big Tech Conferences

When I first started Rude Baguette in 2011, trips to Paris, London & Berlin were annual – TC Disrupt, Next Berlin, hy! Berlin, LeWeb, NOAH – these events were the headliners of the European events calendar. Those events have been replaced by Web Summit (previously in Dublin, now Lisbon), Pioneers (Vienna) & SLUSH (Helsinki) – notice the shift from global hubs into….. well, other great cities that just happen to not be as big?

I think this happened because, as Europe grew up, providing quantity requires cities that are inexpensive enough to support that scale – like Austin for SXSW, Las Vegas for CES, Barcelona for MWC (which famously rejected Paris’ bid to take the conference from its birthplace of Cannes many years ago) – think about it: what’s your favorite event in San Francisco, New York City & London? They are quality events, premium events. Dreamforce, Google I/O, WWDC, Build – these events are expensive, relatively intimate (even if in the thousands), and they are bragging rights for the next year to any attendee.

This is why Rude Baguette doesn’t organize a “Web Summit” in Paris. Because I’m not sure that the model works well in this city. Not for a lack of amazing companies, but because the model requires competing on price and transportation – just look at what Paddy Cosgrave said about Dublin when they moved to Lisbon: not enough public transport help. Imagine on a day like today, where taxis are protesting against Uber, trying to organize Web Summit? That’s exactly what Mobile World Congress said to the city of Paris (source: Clubic[fr], 2011).

I’m really excited to see more globally-minded events popping up in Paris. It’s good for the ecosystem, and it’s definitely good for business. I love the role that Web Summit plays in Europe, along with SLUSH and all the other large-scale events; however, for the “startup” events space, you won’t see Rude Baguette organizing that anytime soon. As for Hardware events, that’s a different story – hardware can support expensive cities, because hardware is tangible and the costs of existence are different. Paris is a better home for the next CES than the next Web Summit, says this rude baguette.