Axelle Tessandier on her six years in Silicon Valley and her return to France

Apr 20, 2016
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The decision to leave France in 2009 was as obvious for Axelle Tessandier as was the decision to return last year.

In both cases, the founder of the Axl Agency, felt the desire to be part of something new and exciting. And in both cases, there was something in her gut telling her to just go.

“I didn’t want to escape anything,” she said. “It just felt right.”

Now she’s using what she’s learned along that journey to help other companies, particularly those in France, to build an innovative culture and to tell their stories. Tessandier will be one of the featured speakers on Friday at Rude Baguette’s #Parisfounders. I spoke to her in advance to learn more about the decisions she made along the way that seemed to have brought her full circle.

The first choice was made back in 2009. “I was a bit looking for myself,” she recalled. “I felt a bit stuck in Paris.”

She was accepted into a digital arts residency in Berlin for a program sponsored by T-Mobile and Google. After a couple of months, she was selected to travel to San Francisco to continue work on a project.

“I was supposed to stay ony four months in San Francisco,” she said. “I stayed 6 years.”

Suddenly, she felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time: home.

“I was a geek, a yogini, and a vegetarian,” she said. “I arrived in San Francisco, it was like, ‘Wow, it’s a dream.’ It felt like I was going to change the world every day. It’s a very optimistic place. When you arrive from France, trust me, it’s a shock.”

She eventually was hired to be marketing director for Scoop.it, a company launched in Toulouse, but with its headquarters in San Francisco. As her network grew, and timed passed, she became hungry to start her own project. And so was born the Axl Agency.

Through the agency, Tessandier advises companies and helps them develop specific storytelling projects. She works with big and small companies, talking to them about transparency and managing innovation inside their organizations. Her clients included L’Occitane, Puma, and Kickstarter.

It was her work with the latter that that led her to spend more time in Paris to help Kickstarter with its launch in France. And suddenly, two different trends began telling her that it might be time to make a change again.

The first was what was happening in Silicon Valley. In the years since she arrived, the region had gone from a modest recovery to a full-scale boom as seemingly unlimited venture capital was once again flowing down the streets. From Facebook to Twitter to Uber, the startup scene was exploding.

The money was so easy, and the startups so many, she began to worry something was being lost.

“When I arrived in Silicon Valley, I learned that the currency is not money, it’s ideas,” she said “But at the end I was wondering, is that still the case?”

But more than that, “On a personal level, I felt I did my time there. I felt like it was the end of a cycle and I felt that I had learned many things in Silicon Valley that could useful here. And I saw that many of my clients were French.”

Though she had seen a wave of startups building back in France during her visits over the years, her months with Kickstarter in Paris clinched it. There was a new vibrancy and entrepreneurial spirit that wasn’t there back when she left in 2009. And with her time and network in Silicon Valley, she believed she had something vital to offer to French startups.

Having settled back in to life in Paris, she’s become more acutely aware of the differences between Silicon Valley and France.

“When I was in Silicon Valley, everything was work, work, work,” she said. “But when I’m in Paris, I could talk about movies and culture. Silicon Valley started to be very monocultural.”

Those differences were particularly obvious when it comes to fundraising.

“Here when you need 1 million, you get 500,000,” she said. “And in San Francisco, when you need 1 million, they give you three.”

She knows there’s still a long way to go for the startup ecosystem in France to fulfill its potential. But she’s excited to be part of a Paris startup community that she thinks is starting to change the country.

“When I was 20 years old, people I knew were dreaming about moving to London and working at Goldman Sachs,” she said. “Now these people are at Startup Weekend.”