I have received many emails and comments from European friends asking me why I invite Michael Arrington with so much stage presence and such a behavior. They blame Michael for behaving the way he did several times on stage. There are plenty of examples such as asking me to leave the stage with Marissa Mayer or calling me a lier (somewhere in the video seems Michael forgot he called us lazy) when I argue I never said “europeans are lazy” in a post about going global on his own site. I would never say that nor did I write it on a post. I like controversy on stage and on blogs, I do not mind it makes the conference much more fun, and so obvious it is a game. I was very tired as you can imagine during the last panel and my brain had troubles fighting back to defend Europe versus the US.
Michael focuses on my “we know how to take quality time in Europe” and my example of a two hour lunch versus five minutes at starbucks if you are lucky. There is a huge difference between being lazy and taking time to know each other. It is one of the main cultural differences I feel everyday as I moved to Silicon Valley: every minute, every coffee, every phone call must have a point. When you call someone in Silicon Valley for anything you will likely get “why are you calling me?” often presented in the polite “how can I help you” formula that Tim Ferriss in his book the brilliant 4 hour workweek book (hilarious this was written by an american entrepreneur) gives as a hint to save time. Don’t even think about starting a conversation in Silicon Valley by “how was your week-end” or “how are your kids”, they all want you to go straight to the point and no time to lose. I never thought inviting someone I really liked to know better to dinner would get me an email from his assistant “why would you like to invite him to dinner?”. I do not think europeans are lazy taking the time to know each other and build deep long term friendships that are not limited to business and I do not think this hurts Europe in any way. On the contrary.
Seriously, imagine the scene of having Michael Arrington trapped in one of the best art Europe has to offer, French haute cuisine. Guy Savoy is for me the best chef in the world and a symbol of how Europe can be leading the world in cuisine, fashion or luxury. We had dinner during five hours while Michael can barely take a few minutes phone call usually. Michael asked me if he could bring his laptop at the restaurant to write a few posts between two servings (update: he was obviously joking and did not do it). It is the McDonalds fast culture against the highest rare quality possible. Every single dish we had was prepared for hours if not days with the most rare ingredients you can find and prepared by the best chefs trained for years before they can serve anything in the room. Silicon Valley is all about scaling while Guy Savoy cannot serve more than 50 lucky customers a night with a team that exceeds the number of customers at the restaurant. It is not about scaling, it is about extreme quality. Of course it is expensive and most people cannot afford that but despite the recession forget about getting a table there if you do not book two months in advance, if you manage to get one. This is an example and fortunately there are many ways to enjoy the european art de vivre even if you have not much money. It is a mindset that is deep in european roots, just compare how the americans grab a coffee at starbucks and drink it as they walk to enjoying a french café sitting on a terrasse by the Louvre.
Michael missed the real point I was trying to make during this Europe versus USA conversation. I do not think Michael gets what really works in Europe and having him at LeWeb is also an attempt for me to help european startups get better known globally. I do not want to argue on the program dominated by americans but just look at facts. LeWeb has had over the years most best europeans entrepreneurs on stage: Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis creators of Skype, Brent Hoberman of LastMinute.com, Martin Varsavsky of FON, and so many others.
This year we had the two current best european successes on stage: Meetic and Vente Privée, amongst plenty of great european entrepreneurs on stage, such as Pierre Chappaz who announced Wikio reached breakeven, ahead of its american counterpart Technorati… Mike Butcher gave a good overview of the european startup scene and I do not know many american entrepreneurs who openly talk about failure the way Morten Lund did. Morten explained what he learned from losing 30 million euros and went personal bankrupt.
Meetic is the #1 dating site in Europe, created by Marc Simoncini (disclosure, I am a board member), it has more than 100 million euros in revenues, present in 20+ countries and Marc has not sold to an American Company and time will tell but I see it staying european and defeating US competitors rather than the opposite.
Meetic coverage on TechCrunch? A completely out of date profile on Crunchbase that talks about the 2005 revenues and measures its success with US audience tools Quantcast and Compete that are entirely irrelevant to european sites (what a joke in fact, compete has Meetic as 30k uniques a month, of course, on US routers…). Marc Simoncini, one of our best european entrepreneurs does not even have his profile on crunch base and there is not a single post about Meetic accross the TechCrunch network except in French.
Robert Scoble likes to do long and detailed interviews in video of companies. I offered Robert at LeWeb to try to organize a visit of Meetic and he declined immediately. A european success like Meetic is not a shiny new web 2.0 play and does not deserve attention from the american A List. I know it will change when they realize that the quality of Meetic and its founder is above most startups in Silicon Valley.
None of the silicon A list bloggers listened or covered our fascinating conversation with Marc Simoncini at LeWeb, it is not too late to do it. I will remember how Marc insists that a paying site succeeds versus any other free site because its users consider it is more serious, there is a lesson right there. I know how many emails I received from european entrepreneurs thanking me to have managed to get Marc share his knowledge with us and how they learnt from it.
Marc’s presence in any conference is rare, it took me 5 years to get him speak for half an hour at LeWeb. Why? He just works like crazy, he does not care a second about a post on techcrunch or any blog coverage. Meet Marc and you will see how Marc is fast and efficient, focusing on the right issues, and yes, taking many two hour lunches too. His company is thriving with an incredible low coverage and revenue is what matters to him. In fact I would have had to insist for a while to get Robert or Michael some quality time with Marc. None of them care (including Marc) and that is a shame.
It is a shame because the main engine of motivation for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley is to be inspired by the best successes: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Marc Andreessen, Steve Jobs are heroes. We do not really have heroes in Europe because we do not treat them as such, the press ignores them and often they do not like to be featured either. I am working on it with LeWeb, years after years, and trust me Michael, you will cover Meetic one day. That will be a huge win for me because european entrepreneurs read more the silicon valley coverage such as TechCrunch than our local sources. The fact that you consider companies such as Meetic irrelevant is a real problem.
Vente-Privee is for me the best European startup these days and a huge success. All the A listers including Michael on the panel said they never heard of it (do not miss it at 21:40 on the video). They are doing 600 million euros of revenue. Michael asked me several times on the panel the point I was trying to make and did not understand it. I was tired and not clear enough but the room seemed to understand.
They are the symbol of Europe starting to change and giving lessons to americans startups. Jacques-Antoine Granjon, founder and CEO, told me before he went on stage that more than 10 copycats of vente-privee were created including in the US and the hilarious part is that one of them was founded by a european in the US.
Coverage of vente-privée on TechCrunch? NONE. It does not have a single post, its founder or the company itself have no entries on CrunchBase, Michael Arrington thinks it is a competitor to Match.com. Fortunately there is WikiPedia to tell what it is all about in english.
Why there is no coverage of such a success remains a mystery for me. Sure, they have no API to connect to (yet?) and any user generated content, they do not have a Facebook application (yet?) either, but they have serious and growing revenue. They are a major Internet success in ecommerce. They are a european success Michael Arrington has never heard about so before lecturing me on how LeWeb is too American and there were no european speakers on stage it would be a good idea to read the program and show up when our european successes are on stage. Truth is that Michael Arrington was much more interested by covering and interviewing Marissa Mayer and I do not blame him for that, what Marissa Mayer says is much more likely to make a headline, on TechMeme and everywhere else.
Lazy Europeans doing copycats is a passé view, Michael, sorry to say. Just watch Jennifer L. Schenker’s great panel on how americans are copying europeans and not the other way round, including Jacques-Antoine Granjon of Vente-Privee and many other great entrepreneurs, I can’t advise you more to watch it.
I am not sure my point is clearer now, but my agenda with LeWeb is clear. I created LeWeb to help the european entrepreneurial scene. Europeans need to learn what makes Silicon Valley companies succeed and the american presence in Paris helps. I would not say that the american A list has to learn what the european successes are and cover them more, they can just continue ignoring them, but I am trying hard year after year to increase their knowledge and coverage because that is the only way new entrepreneurs will get inspired by their european heroes and in turn, start their business in Europe without having to move to Silicon Valley.
I am personally very proud and happy that Michael Arrington and so many Silicon Valley A-listers take the time to come to Paris for a few days each year, it is not a given and took years to make it happen, I will always treat them as best as I can. I do not mind them giving me a hard time on stage, it is part of the show. The most important for me is that LeWeb remains an engine of change for Europe.
Frankly, this Europe-US debate is not very relevant anymore, if there is a huge area of progress LeWeb has to make, it is by having a much larger presence from Asia and other Countries. We started working on it with a dedicated Asia panel and a higher number of participants, but it is still very weak. I do not really see LeWeb as a european conference but rather an international conference based in Europe. It is probably the most international web conference in the world and that is what really matters for me, I will be looking for all the help I can get to increase the presence from other parts of the World, the way Yossi Vardi helped us connect to the Israeli scene.
My american friends will always be welcome at LeWeb on stage, and not only the A list. Now of course, I am interested in your point of view: should we invite Michael Arrington back next year at LeWeb? Looking forward to the poll results and your comments.