As many of you are asking me questions why I move to San Francisco, I gathered from my “advisory board” in facebook and my blogs a summary list. Thanks for your help
Why move to San Francisco ?
-as it been a long time you have decided ?
It has been more than 10 years ! I have not done it up to now because my wife never accepted, and she just did.
-tell us the top 10 reasons of your move ?
1) San Francisco and the Valley are the center of Internet innovation and I have been in the Internet Industry since 1996 as I graduated from my business school, I have always been connected to it and willing to do the move.
2) It’s great for my kids, they will speak a better english than me and with perfect accent in a matter of months. They will keep this asset all their life wherever they live. They will see one of the most important area in the World and connect to great people. They will understand better the World by living in a different Country. Travel will provide the rest.
3) It’s a fantastic area to live in: sea (I love Kite Surfing), beautiful bay, apparent ease and processed way of doing everything
4) it’s geekland and entrepreneurland: amazing concentration of Internet and tech innovators and entrepreneurs from around the World (probably the #1 in the World).
5) innovation usually happens there first, then usually spreads around the World. Starting there may help get global faster
6) spirit of entrepreneurship: if you succeed it’s great, if you fail try again that’s ok you learned. In Europe it’s usually if you succeed hide and if you fail you suck don’t try again
7) all in english means easiness to gather a global team, more difficult when you start in French…
8) easiness to find capital (concentration of business angels and VCs)
9) initial market size at launch
10) fun to change everything and take a new challenge (I should rank this one much higher!)
-would I advise friends and young business school graduates to do so ?
yes, at least for a few years, they can always come back
-is it because of french tax ?
not at all, I don’t think California is known as a tax heaven
-do you plan to come back and when ?
I think I will after 4-5 years, even though my best friends already there such as Jeff Clavier tell me I will never come back…
Could you not stay in France ?
-the World is Flat, no need to be there, can do everything remote
Most can be done anywhere in the world these days but having drinks or dinner with friends will never be replaced by Skype conversations, maybe when we have 3D conferencing with an avatar of you projected in the room. Until then, the networking is hard to outsource, even with Linked In and other social software. Meeting people is the best.
-are you tired of starting companies in Europe ?
not really, I just think the next one will launch faster from SF, it’s a bet.
-will France be ever at the same level as the US and what should be improved ?
I think France is a great Country to live in, it is my Country and will always remain. Now as far as entrepreneurship and the Internet is concerned, the entire ecosystem is too slow: not enough Internet, english and entrepreneurship education at school and university (often none), too few business angels and VCs, not enough risk taking entrepreneurs, not enough large corporations who get the Internet (and acquire startups), in some aspects social and tax system seen as a burden by the entrepreneurs. Having been in the President Sarkozy team during the campaign, I gave a few recommendations, some were officially incorporated, such as 0 tax for an individual Internet activity up to a certain level (such as Ebay reselling) or startup investments deducted of wealth tax to boost the business angels. I trust the President will drive these changes.
-how can you leave to the US after having been in the President Sarkozy campaign team ? He won !
I am proud of having in his team and having helped, I always said I would return to business after a few months given to my Country to avoid the worse and help the ideas I thought were the best. I will continue to help as much as I can from there, the world is flat
-are you disappointed because Sarkozy has not appointed you as an advisor of the Governement ?
I had decided this move for months, and the timing as well. I also continue to help, I introduce one of the largest Internet player in the World to Sarkozy’s team next week (guess who!) and will contribute as much as they need.
-aren’t there great French and European startups showing that you’re wrong and should stay in Europe ?
definitely, Marc Simoncini (Meetic, podcast), the #2 dating site in the World, Martin Varsavsky (FON, podcast), the Samwer brothers (Jamba), Tariq Krim (Netvibes), Pierre Chappaz (Kelkoo/Wikio), Brent Hoberman (lastminute) and many more are great entrepreneurs who prove you can succeed and take a company global from Europe, no question. There are just fewer of them than in the US, there are not concentrated in the same city, which helps, and most of them sold their companies to US companies. This is a real problem, if the great entrepreneurs stay in Europe, their companies most often become american and Europe gets a very weak “Internet sector” dominated by the US. Look at ecommerce, search, auctions, all the key components of the Web are dominated by Amazon, Google, Ebay and the like, who came later in Europe and killed or acquired european startups. Marc Simoncini for example should be seen as a hero for not selling to Match.com his company and instead take it global and public here. So yes, it’s possible and I created 4 companies here and sold them, but it’s more difficult and slower.
-can a european compete staying in Europe ?
Yes, again, but let’s see their challenge in more details. They have to deal with 25 languages in 27 Countries ! If they launch in their local language they can only address their smaller market. If they launch in english they miss the locals who speak bad english and there are many. Now if we look at the positive, if they succeed then their position is strong because it is very difficult for a US player to understand all these cultures and it will be slow for them too. It’s somehow easier these days to go public in the U.K. or France than on the Nasdaq. Also, in smaller countries innovation late means more opportunities for local player. I remember Ola Ahlvarsson (dead cast) saying that it’s an opportunity for Scandinavia: the entrepreneurs can launch clones or innovations without competition as the US players usually come very late to the smaller countries, or just never come at all.
how are you moving ?
-how do you manage to keep a healthy relationship with your wife and three kids ?
It’s a challenge for all of us and they love France as much as I do. I am sure they will not regret. The kids started by being scared about losing their friends, now they show-off telling everybody we’re moving. They will make new friends fast and are 6, 10 and 12 so it’s not yet the hard-to-break first girl friends etc…
-is it a hard or an easy move ?
It is complicated but doable, as many did it, I think it is worth all the changes and issues to fix, and I love changes and challenges !
-are you sure you will get a visa, is it difficult ?
I am not sure but confident, it is difficult, fortunately they seem to welcome entrepreneurs and investors more easily.
to do what ?
-is it a job offer ? a startup or a VC ? what are you going to do there ?
I am currently in the process to create a fifth startup, based in the US and currently finalizing the initial funding. Can’t say much at this stage but it will be in the video content space, so hot and competitive these days because most remains to be done. I have uploaded to date about 450 podcasts, so I feel something very different than what we see today is ahead of us. What I can say is that I will crowdsource the company itself, grow it as I learnt in always beta mode and grow it with the feedback of my community. I have already gathered my advisory board, a group on facebook open to everyone
what do you think you will miss ? What are your fears ?
-give us some of your fears ?
There are too many to quote them all but here are a few:
- arriving in a bubble zone, but I reassure myself when I see the revenues are here in most startups too this time
- failing a business, of course, it has been in my mind since I graduated from school, but I still keep creating all the time, I love risk as well.
- the family will not like the US, which would get us back to France quickly, but I doubt it.
-not being integrated enough because my community and network is stronger in Europe, but there nobody gives a dam where you’re from
-being slowed down compared to what I could do in Europe (easy press coverage, easy to raise funds as most VCs know me…), but I have many friends in SF and the Valley, they have already started introducing me to many other friends. Their ongoing help is precious. I hope I will help them as much as they help me.
what will you change in your own habits ?
Not much I think,
-english will grow in my mind, I am already trying to think in english as much as possible, blog more in english, podcast in english, etc
-I will continue of course my french blog, I love my readers and friends, it’s #1 on technorati in France, let’s keep it this way as much as possible
-I will kite surf much more because I can do it where I live, in Paris it is more difficult…
-I will try not to eat three time as I need which is what the US restaurants usually serve
-I will of course continue to organize my conference LeWeb3, which hosted 1300 people from 37 countries in 2006. This year it will be december 11th and 12th again.