Three months ago, I left San Francisco for Paris. I accepted a job with a French Tech startip, left my old position at Slack, and with a lot of help from my wife, sold our home, packed up all our belongings and we got on an airplane with our 8 year old daughter in tow.
“Why,” I am often asked “would you leave San Francisco?
“And why Paris?”
Bref, the French tech scene is a goddamned rocket ship. Better yet, it’s still on the launchpad — the best time to climb aboard.
So when the time came for me to embark on a new adventure, Paris was the obvious destination. Read on to understand why.
Flashback to Spring 2016
A story: As part of my previous job at Slack, I came to London and to Paris to interview developers, talk about building chatbots, and generally build goodwill in the Slack developer ecosystem.
Starting off, I had only one or two contacts in each city. Where it took me weeks to fill my London schedule, my Paris schedule was completely booked within 24 hours — I had to find creative ways to open more time in my schedule to accommodate all the requests to meet and talk. Moreover, once I arrived, my scheduled talks were packed, and the conversations I had left me not only with great feedback for my work, but with a considerably expanded network in France — not just Paris. In short, the level of enthusiasm I encountered was unlike anything I’d seen before. Needless to say, the Paris tech scene left an immediate and powerful impression on me.
And let me emphasize, lest you think I’m simply engaging in self-aggrandizement — I’m nobody. I didn’t have much of a name or a reputation. I wasn’t being embraced because I was some kind of celebrity; no, what I felt was genuine and authentic passion for community building.
After only 48 hours in Paris, I left knowing that I would return.
What France is doing well
The reason for this warm welcome and the positive impression is clear to me in retrospect. Tech people in France are well networked, terrifyingly enthusiastic, and hell-bent on helping raise the overall state of the French ecosystem through the simple act of helping each other out.
The well-networked aspect is perhaps not surprising, as you often see it in small communities. To be sure, France’s tech community is burgeoning, and it actually benefits from its small size. I would worry about this changing as the community grows, except that…
The energy level here is incredible. There is a real desire that is observable on the individual level to see French tech succeed. This is the kind of thing that will sustain the community’s growth over time, and ensure that it remains well-networked and functioning smoothly.
Moreover, the French tech community seems to understand that success means mutual aid and support. You see this in the way that French companies collaborate on projects, share ideas openly, and rally around community events. But you also see this in their institutions.
- The Family does an amazing job of educating French entrepreneurs on building global startups.
- 42 is a completely free school dedicated to training future tech leaders — not just training in building web apps in Node.js.
- eFounders not only cofounds and builds new SaaS companies, but does a great job of building professional communities around their team of entrepreneurs.
- Station F is the most ambitious startupslackincubator/accelerator/campus in the world.
- Viva Technology is an amazing showcase where all of France comes together to show the world that they take tech and startups seriously.
This is just a small selection, based on my own personal experiences. There’s a hell of a lot more than this! It’s hard not to drown in the options for building careers and companies in France.
Moreover, the positive support from the government was a welcome surprise. While it’s true that French labor and employment laws are often derided as getting in the way of business, that’s only part of the story. The French Tech Visa is an incredibly bold way to welcome innovation to the country, and indeed the broader La French Tech initiative does an incredible job of connecting French startups with resources within France and the rest of the world.
The risk of a scrubbed launch
OK, so that’s all very gushing, but of course it’s not all rosé and saucisson. Indeed: France, we need to talk. En anglais s’il vous plait. Your enthusiasm for reaching out to the broader world and announcing that “French tech exists, and it is cool!” Is admirable, but the world isn’t going to listen if it can’t understand.
French tech has historically only looked to serve France. Granted, France is the 6th largest economy in the world, but the new breed of French entrepreneur understands that successful startups have a reach that extends beyond l’Hexagon. You can see the effort being made. But so often that effort is simply not effective. And the biggest reason why it is not effective is a strong reluctance to communicate with the broader world in something other than French.
And when the effort is made, but only in French, the message falls on deaf ears. France is actively wooing tech talent from San Francisco (👋 hello!). France is actively promoting its startups’ services in San Francisco. But almost no one in San Francisco understands French. And the same is true for the rest of the tech world.
So, it pains me to say this. France, you are rightly proud of your language, and you are right to protect it. But unfortunately in the startup sphere you have to do better; you have to understand that if you want the rocket to launch, you need to embrace English. This includes not only using English in your marketing and communications, but also seriously investing in English language classes for your employees.