UbirFrance's TechTour09 kicked off with a CEO showcase presentation and best startup competition. At the reception that followed, Loic le Meur, the highly respected French entrepreneur now living in the Silicon Valley and founder of Seesmic (and co-founder of LeWeb Paris with his wife Geraldine le Meur), and Chris Shipley, executive producer of DEMO and a founding partner of the GuidWire group, provided advice to the 16 visiting startups.
Loic, in his casual and often humorous self-deprecating style ("I promise to suck less this year"), spoke sans power point about what he learned from his two years in the valley. First, Loic wanted to make sure everyone knew he loves France. Yet his experience in the Valley is such that he currently has no plans to return.
- The Valley is blessed with variety of people...here, it's not a bad thing to have an accent. Don't lose it.
- Being here allows entrepreneurs opportunities they would never get abroad, such as launching your product at Facebook's headquarters.
- There are a lot of smart and incredibly powerful people in the Silicon Valley--and most very accessible. Something not easily seen in France.
- On the downside, even a run or a dinner end up as a networking event. So be prepared. Hopefully you like business networking.
- There are great resources here but they are very expensive. Think carefully where you want to invest. Loic keeps a development team in France (although, I would warn (and I think Loic would agree) having local marketing and business development have no substitute).
- For French companies, hiring is much more flexible in the Valley--unlike labor regulation in France, in the US employment regulations are much more fluid and companies (and workers) can terminate agreements in a day and move on.
- Trust is a big difference. In France it takes long to develop trust but it lasts for years. In the US it's easier to develop trust instantaneously but it may be shorter-term or contextual.
- "If you don't know Techmeme--you should."
- People are very generous in the Valley. You can schedule a meeting with almost anyone but be goal oriented. State what you want to achieve, how much time you're asking for, and get right to it. No need to open a conversation with weekend and kids report. People in the Valley will need a reason to meet up with people who ask for their time.
Chris Shipley, in her unique delivery and with a tight power point, uses Columbus' discovery of the Americas as a metaphor for global startups' best practices. Columbus, says Shipley, was an early entrepreneur. He set to sail West instead of East in his quest for spices, thinking it would get him to his destination faster. He was wrong--but he had a plan and when he discovered America on his way, he took advantage of this new opportunity. Global startups can consider their quest in similar ways and learn from Columbus' journey:
- You need the right vehicle--what kind of a "boat" do YOU need?
- You need the right crew to navigate the vehicle through the changing climate.
- Seek wise counsel
- Be prepared for the unexpected: know when you are off track.
- Fail fast and embrace what you discover in the process. Change. Turn failure into success.
- Embrace the native environment "When in America be an American."
- Be prepared to change course
- Use the experience to build new relationships.
- Be patient: very few companies have been overnight success
- Don't give up: Queen Isabelle rejected Columbus 3 times before finally supporting his quest to head West.
And then it was time for wine and cheese on the terrace...