Rude VC: Pigeons don't poop in private


Wow, it has been quite a week !

President François Hollande’s Socialist government unveiled its draft 2013 budget comprising some potentially devastating tax dis-incentives for entrepreneurs and VCs. A revolt ensued, with the birth of the Pigeon Movement, an explosion of emotion on social media sites, worldwide media attention, and the culmination of a dialogue with certain key government ministers involved in the measure.

While I won’t rehash all the political and economic implications of everything that’s elapsed over the past week, I would like to tip my cap to the efforts of France Digitale (Marie Ekeland and company), Jean-David Chamboredon, Olivier Duha, et al who met with three government ministers on Thursday to explain the importance of entrepreneurship and thus constructively improve the government’s fiscal budget for 2013. The outcome of this session, no doubt assisted by the pressure of the Pigeon Movement, is a far less egregious version of the budget, albeit there is still work to do.

As with any movement that rapidly gains traction, a counter-movement also emerged, ranging from doubters, to haters, to conspiracy theorists even. This is natural, and skepticism is healthy.

One sentiment in particular  expressed by many in the “anti-pigeon” camp, caught my attention for its larger implications: the blaming of the pigeons and even the media in general for the negative consequences incurred by this brouhaha. This sentiment was probably best encapsulated by Henri Verdier in his blog post last week:

“Le recours à la presse internationale et les tweets en Anglais pénalisent notre écosystème et vont dissuader encore plus les investisseurs internationaux d’investir dans notre pays.”

{Roughly translated: “Appeals to the foreign media and tweets in English are penalizing our ecosystem and are going to further deter foreign investors from investing in France.”}

You’ve got to be kidding me !

In fairness to Verdier, he makes some excellent points in his write-up too, so I encourage you to read the whole post in French or with Google translate (Pourquoi je ne veux pas être un pigeon). {Incidentally, I find a dual irony in Verdier’s remark: i) it’s in a blog post (which is a well-maintained and thought-provoking blog, by the way), and ii) two days later in the same blog Verdier praised President Obama’s initiatives toward openness in government.}

But while as an anglophone writer I would love to take credit (as I’m sure Liam Boogar would too) for the fact that noteworthy publications like the Financial Times, Business Insider, and The Economist picked up on the Pigeon Movement, the fact of the matter is that these insightful journalistic organizations have more sophisticated research methods than simply reading and

The greater issue here is the legacy French bias against openness. Respecting privacy and being discreet are merits of an evolved society, and I’m not condemning these cultural characteristics. Rather, I’m referring to closed-mindedness in business. The mindset of “Let’s not tell the world what we’re working on because competitors might find out.” This anti-openness bias can be particularly damaging to innovation. Recent history is scattered with examples of innovative new businesses built on sharing or collaboration. AirBnb, Uber, France’s own KelBillet all represent innovative platforms that enable the sharing of excess capacity, to cite but one space. France’s burgeoning success story, Criteo, uses social media to engage with customers, recruit talent, open its vision, i.e. for a lot more than mere promotion.

The investor ecosystem in France is guilty too. How many financial intermediaries still systematically request an NDA for every investment pitch ? (answer: far too many). How many VC’s blog openly and actively about their investment views ? (answer: far too few).

The wise adage of, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” is about Las Vegas, not France.

Thankfully, this new generation of French entrepreneurs demonstrates their freedom from the anti-openness bias. Let’s hope the government doesn’t scare them off, else we’ll all be in for one very bad trip