Differences in tech-startup-friendliness between Paris and the SF Bay Area: a collaborative effort

Ever since I moved from Paris to the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve gotten many questions about the differences between the two startup scenes, even more so since the Parisian one has been changing at a noticeably fast pace. Those interrogations were coming from both people in the Bay Area, and people in France, probably simply interested in understanding where they stand, themselves.

Even though two startup ecosystems ultimately have obvious pros and cons when compared to each other, one caveat to providing answers to such questions is that they have to be heavily influenced by one’s own experiences. The best way to make this kind of study as objective and realistic as possible despite everyone’s own limited scope, is to make it be a mix of many people’s points of view.

So, I took some time to lay down my own observations made over the past few years as a starting point, and I’m inviting whoever has sufficient experience in both ecosystems too to request edit rights on it and change it as they wish, so that we can get to a point where the observations are not limited to my own subjectivity. And in a matter of transparency/democratic process, anyone, even without experience within both ecosystems, is free to comment anything they want.

Come over, and let’s make it the best comparative study out there!

> https://docs.google.com/document/d/19MjFQ5ou7ygL11OY-a-lbLym3xy8IfOv52Y5GRGCqEE/edit?usp=sharing <

12 Startup Pitch Red Flags You Thought Sounded Great

A collection of lines that make you say “yeah”, but may make them say “yuck”. You should remove from your pitch right away.

 

“We have no competition.”

What you think you’re saying: “This is such pure innovation, that we are ahead of time.”

What they’re hearing: “This is most likely not innovation at all, because this market doesn’t seem to interest anyone else.”

What you should be saying: “Here’s how the competition/incumbents do it, and why it’s wrong…”

 

“We did all of this without a single marketing effort”

What you think you’re saying: “Imagine if we did!”

What they’re hearing: “We have no idea why it’s been working, and therefore couldn’t reproduce it, let alone grow it.”

What you should be saying: “Here are some early marketing initiatives we had that worked and we believe can be improved, and here are a few others we intend to experiment with…”

 

“We want to focus on building a great product, and we trust that we’ll grow on people’s love for the product.”

What you think you’re saying: “We believe we are focused on the right things.”

What they’re hearing: Marc Andreessen (leading startup investor) puts it better than I would: “The number one reason that we pass on entrepreneurs we’d otherwise like to back is focusing on product to the exclusion of everything else.” (source)

What you should be saying: “Product is critical, but let’s talk about our distribution strategy too. Here’s who will be interested in us, and how we’ll find them to tell them.”

 

“I’m the founder that focuses on tech, and X is the one that focuses on making money.”

What you think you’re saying: “We have clear roles, and the tech founder is a tech genius.”

What they’re hearing: “Not all of the company is focused on creating value. Some founder time will be wasted on stuff that isn’t likely to create any.”

What you should be saying: “We have various skills across the team, but are all primarily focused on results, and creating value for our users.”

 

“We have 11,229 followers on Twitter”

What you think you’re saying: “We have won people’s interest.”

What they’re hearing: “We’re focused on the wrong metrics, the ones that are not monetizable or don’t express any value we actually bring people. Also, we probably purchased Twitter Ads.”

What you should be saying: “We have a very strong social presence, which is reassuring for the future as of the interest people show us. Now, let’s talk about the important growth KPIs we chose to track (active users, revenue, pageviews, you choose it depending on your business model).”

 

“We have a clear vision, and know very precisely what users want.”

What you think you’re saying: “The founders are geniuses.”

What they’re hearing: “We are in love with our personal vision, and not with solving the problem, even if it means stepping away from the vision. When users will give us feedback, we’ll bend over backwards proving why they’re wrong and we’re right.”

What you should be saying: “We have a clear ideal vision, but we know we’ll have to constantly reconsider it based on users’ feedback, because we’re more wrong than they are about what they need. We actively seek feedback and act upon it; here’s what we’ve done based on the feedback we got…”

 

“Dogfooding”

What you think you’re saying: “We know firsthand the problems we’re solving.”

What they’re hearing: “We’re so focused on solving our own problems, that we may end up closing our ears to our users’ problems. It could even get worse, and success could even get us more agressive to anyone who doesn’t agree with us, DHH-style.” (He’s the creator of Ruby on Rails, a founder of Basecamp, and an over-user of the word “dogfooding” to describe his ventures, sometimes pushing that it’s the only way to do things and notoriously being aggressive to people who don’t agree with him on stuff.)

What you should be saying: “We’re dogfooding for sure, but our top priority is to stay in touch with our users’ needs, even if that means having to get further from our own.”

 

“Our managers/founders are great innovators that can tell the team exactly what to do to reach success”

What you think you’re saying: “We have geniuses and vision, and we do the right thing to reach success.”

What they’re hearing: “We think there’s only one way to do things right, and therefore don’t consider other more unexpected/creative ways. It’s more important to be right than to get things done that aren’t necessarily right the first time. Only a handful of people in the company are allowed to innovate, so there’s not much room for serendipity. Also, all of our staff may leave us in frustration once they figure out other startups usually respect their input more.”

What you should be saying: “Managers/founders stay out of the way of the innovation of the teams. We believe in growth by making people feel accountable and trusted.”

 

“We’re the Uber of X”

What you think you’re saying: “Our business model is well-tried, it worked before.”

What they’re hearing: “We may think recipes that work with potatoes work with carrots without having to think about it much more. Also, we’re unable to formulate an original vision, so we have to rely on someone else’s.”

What you should be saying: <insert careful worded and convincing vision that expresses both the originality and viability of your business>

 

“ We build the X of the future / of tomorrow”

What you think you’re saying: “We are first on market filling a need before anyone else, so clients will run to us once the need appears.”

What they’re hearing: “We have never heard of the uncountable stories of projects that failed because they came out too early. We don’t try to fix today’s very real problems, and since no one can reasonably guess anything about the future, we’re focused on building out of guesswork.”

What you should be saying: “Today’s solutions to this problem are outdated, we fix today’s problems, with a strong focus on adaptability to ensure we remain current as the industry unavoidably changes.”

 

“We ship features every day”

What you think you’re saying: “We move fast, we’re always ahead of the competition.”

What they’re hearing: “We’d rather make feature announcements that look good, than polish the core value prop of our product, which is what makes it actually better and better. Also, we’re clearly not aware of what the words ‘feature bloat’ means.”

What you should be saying: “We ship improvements every day. Sometimes, they’re improvements of our core product; and when it makes sense and adds to our value prop, they’re new features. Also, we’re not afraid to scrap experimental features that turned out not to make much sense for our users.”

 

“We have 2000 users, but we’ve ensured our platform can scale as far as millions of simultaneous users.”

What you think you’re saying: “Nothing will slow our growth down.”

What they’re hearing: “We’re focused on problems we don’t have, and may never have if we carry on under-prioritizing problems we have.”

What you should be saying: “The platform we’re using is known for its scaling; we’ll work on this progressively as our user base grows.”

 

Thinking of other read flags I didn’t think about? Put them in the comments!

Thankfulness over a Green Card

Version française ici.

Today, I’ve received the Green Card that the American government decided to grant and send me, and I’ve never felt so thankful in my life.

I’m thankful that I can finally truly build a life here for myself and my family on the long run; I’m thankful that I won’t anymore need to have a backup plan ready at all times to fold back to Europe “in case something happens”, which I believe is what all temporary immigrants do.

I’m also thankful that I’m now unconditionally welcome in the country where my little girl was born. Even though times do get tough sometimes, Vanessa and I have never been happier than since we’re here, and I’m very thankful that we’re so nicely invited to be here for a while.

It was an unusual Green Card process, based on my professional achievements at the time it was posted (very early 2014); but I know for a fact that I don’t owe these achievements to myself only, so my thankfulness doesn’t only go to the US government, but even more to other people without whom none of this would have been possible.

The awesome people I wish to thank for it

At the top of my list, I know I owe much of the quality of my case to my previous employer Clever Age, and its culture of permissiveness and responsabilisation. I would never have held so many positions and responsibilities, spoken in so many events, achieved so much in just a few years, if it wasn’t for the culture of action and general freedom that there is over there. I know that the amount and variety of stuff I’ve done over there in such a short time is also mostly what impressed my current employer, and is the biggest part of how I got the awesome job I have now.

I’m also feeling very grateful to the few people who agreed to sign a letter of reference for my legal case, which was instrumental in making it strong. None of them had to do it, and they all got out of their way to make sure to help; I am deeply in their debt. (Although I’m craving the let the world know of their awesomeness, I’m going to have to refrain from listing them here, as I’m sure some of them wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the attention.)

I’m obviously very thankful to the attorney I worked with to get this through. Of course, attorneys don’t come cheap, but the value that Brian provided goes beyond any money I’ll ever own. If you are intending to immigrate to the US, do get in touch with him, I very warmly recommend him! I’m also amazingly thankful to Sophie, who sent me his way.

Also, much of the strength of my case relied on my speaking gigs at Paris Web, my book published by Eyrolles and my co-writer Jérémy, my speaking at Front Row, my being part of Sud Web, my article co-written for Dev.Opera and my co-writer Sophie, my articles in Le Train de 13h37, etc… and I’m feeling so grateful to all of these people for giving me all those opportunities. There would be many people to thank by name, so I’ll just throw you a deep, warm general-thank-you.

I’m definitely very thankful for my current employer too, for trusting me that much and making every single of my days fascinating. Working for a major leader usually accounts for a lot in such Green Card cases; however, this supposedly wasn’t taken into consideration, since only the achievements prior to the filing date are supposed to be looked at, and I was not hired yet back then. But if the USCIS agent did notice it anyway, I’m sure it did impact him/her anyway in some way, and had some role to play.

Finally, I’m thankful for the people over at Zengularity and the prismic.io team. Even though I know for a fact that what I did over there didn’t account to much in the decision of the USCIS to grant me the Green Card, as well as in the decision of my current employer to hire me (I didn’t have much to show off from my work there), I know for a fact that being geographically in US territory was a strong factor in both instances, and they trusted me enough to send me over here to help in the kickstarting phase of their product.

Thinking of the people who are still fighting

My heart and compassion goes to all the ones who are still struggling to be allowed to settle where they want, whether they live there already and can’t be allowed to settle, or whether they’re not yet allowed to live there at all. I was in their shoes for a long time until recently, and this is a very hard place to be. I was committed to the US immigration reform cause until now, fervently publicly enthusiastic about it, and although I made it, I can assure you this will not change.

With this new stability to build a solid life, and also my amazing baby daughter Lila who joined us in September, there are many things we’ll get to be thankful for, on Thanksgiving!

Gratitude autour de ma Carte Verte

English version here.

Aujourd’hui, j’ai reçu la Carte Verte que le gouvernement américain a décidé de m’accorder et m’envoyer, et je n’ai jamais ressenti autant de gratitude de toute ma vie.

Je suis reconnaissant pour le fait de pouvoir réellement construire une vie ici pour ma famille et moi-même sur le long terme ; je suis reconnaissant de ne plus avoir besoin d’un plan B pour me replier en Europe “au cas où quelque chose d’inattendu se passe”, ce que tous les immigrants temporaires font, je crois.

Je suis aussi reconnaissant d’être accepté sans condition dans le pays où ma petite fille est née. Même si les temps peuvent être durs ici aussi parfois, Vanessa et moi n’avons jamais été aussi heureux que depuis que nous sommes ici, et je suis très reconnaissant que nous soyons aussi gentiment invités à rester.

C’était un chemin de Carte Verte inhabituel, basé sur mes accomplissements professionnels passés au moment où il a été posté (début 2014) ; mais je sais avec certitude que je ne dois pas ces accomplissements uniquement à moi, donc la plus grosse partie de ma gratitude est dirigée vers les gens sans lesquels rien de tout ça n’aurait été possible.

Les gens exceptionnels que j’ai envie de remercier

Tout en haut de ma liste, je sais que je dois une gigantesque partie de la qualité de mon dossier à mon précédent employeur Clever Age, et sa culture de permissivité et de responsabilisation. Je n’aurais jamais tenu autant de rôles et de responsabilités, parlé à tellement d’événements, accompli tellement en juste quelques années, sans la culture d’action et de liberté globale qui est au coeur de la culture là-bas. Je sais que la quantité et la variété des responsabilités que j’ai eues sur une période aussi courte est aussi ce qui a le plus impressionné mon employeur actuel, et la raison principale pour laquelle j’ai obtenu le job.

Je me sens aussi très reconnaissant envers les quelques gens qui ont accepté de signer une lettre de référence pour mon dossier légal, qui ont été cruciales pour le rendre solide. Aucun d’entre eux n’était obligé de le faire, et ils ont tous pris de leur temps pour s’assurer de m’aider ; j’ai une énorme dette envers eux.
(Bien que j’aie une énorme envie de crier leur gentillesse sur tous les toits, je vais devoir me retenir de les lister ici, car je suis à peu près sûr que certains d’entre eux n’apprécieraient pas nécessairement l’attention.)

Bien évidemment, je me sens très reconnaissant envers l’avocat avec lequel j’ai travaillé pour pousser ce dossier. Bien sûr, les avocats ne sont pas gratuits, mais la valeur que Brian a fournie dépasse de loin tout argent que je pourrais posséder en une vie. Si vous avez l’intention d’immigrer aux US, prenez contact avec lui, je le recommande très chaudement ! Je suis aussi diantrement reconnaissant envers Sophie, qui m’a dirigé vers lui.

Aussi, une grande partie de la solidité de mon cas s’appuyait sur mes conférences à Paris Web, mon livre publié par Eyrolles et mon co-auteur Jérémy, ma conférence à Front Row, ma participation à Sud Web, mon article co-écrit pour Dev.Opera et ma co-auteur Sophie, mes articles dans Le Train de 13h37, etc… et je me sens énormément reconnaissant envers tous ces gens qui m’ont donné toutes ces opportunités. Il y aurait beaucoup de gens à remercier, donc je vous lance à tous un gros, chaleureux “merci général” !

Je suis aussi très reconnaissant pour mon employeur actuel, pour le fait de m’accorder autant de confiance au quotidien, et de rendre chaque jour fascinant. Travailler pour un leader a traditionnellement un rôle fort dans ce genre de dossier de Carte Verte ; mais dans mon cas, ça n’a théoriquement pas joué de rôle, puisque seuls les accomplissements ayant eu lieu avant le dépôt du dossier sont considérés, et je n’y étais pas encore à ce moment-là. Mais si l’agent de l’USCIS l’a remarqué quand même, je suis sûr que ça l’a influencé d’une certaine manière.

Enfin, je suis reconnaissant envers Zengularity et l’équipe prismic.io. Même si je sais que ce que j’y ai fait n’a pas eu de rôle critique dans la décision de l’USCIS de m’accorder la Carte Verte, ni dans la décision de mon employeur actuel de m’embaucher (je n’avais pas grand chose à montrer de mon travail là-bas), je sais avec certitude que le fait d’être géographiquement à l’intérieur des US a été un facteur fort dans les deux décisions ; et ils m’ont accordé une confiance suffisante pour m’envoyer ici pour aider à lancer leur produit.

Une pensée pour tous ceux qui luttent toujours

J’ai beaucoup d’empathie et de compassion pour tous ceux qui se battent toujours pour être autorisés à s’installer où ils le souhaitent, qu’ils y soient déjà sans être autorisés à s’installer, ou qu’ils ne soient pas autorisés à y être du tout. J’étais à leur place pendant longtemps jusqu’à récemment, et c’est une place très difficile à vivre. J’étais engagé au sujet de la réforme d’immigration US jusqu’à maintenant, publiquement fortement enthousiaste, et même si je m’en suis sorti, je peux vous assurer que mon engagement ne changera pas.

Avec cette nouvelle stabilité pour nous construire un vie solide, et aussi ma sublime petite fille Lila qui nous a rejoints en septembre, nous avons beaucoup de reconnaissance à exprimer lors du prochain Thanksgiving !

What startup culture actually is

Many people like to think of “startups” as a culture trend before all, but it’s important to remember that technically, it is mostly an economical concept defining a certain type of businesses. However, the economical aspects of startups do imply some cultural similarities between one another, and actually probably more than in any other type of businesses. And I don’t know about you, but I happen to find those ties just fascinating.

First, let’s put a definition to the word “startup”: a startup is simply a business that is designed for growth, and needs growth to ensure its survival.

Most often, it will need it because:

  • it hasn’t yet found its business model (it doesn’t yet know how it will make money), and needs to grow to find out what kind of traction works on the business idea before monetizing it;
  • it has a business model in mind, but it requires a critical mass for it to work, which it doesn’t have yet (and therefore is not profitable yet).

I’m not saying that it is a business that seeks growth (all businesses seek growth!), but that it is designed for growth as a survival need, which changes a lot about what those kinds of workplaces usually are made of. Continue reading What startup culture actually is