As this campaign finishes, I congratulated Nicolas Sarkozy and his team, I learnt a lot and was proud to have the opportunity to be one of Sarkozy’s advisors during this campaign. I was impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of team. The work accomplished has been huge. A good occasion for me to come back to how I got involved.
I had never been interested much in politics and as the presidential elections approached, I thought it was a good time for me, as I was 34, to try to understand it better. I started by trying to make a series of podcasts with most political parties, except the extremes, left or right, which I am not very interested in. Thanks to my blog in France and the help of my readers, I podcasted many policital figures from all parties, to get a sense of who were the leaders. In 2006, I podcasted the socialists Dominique Strauss-Khan, Jack Lang, Arnaud Montebourg (before he was spokesperson of Ségolène Royal), the centrists François Bayrou (I was behind the camera for this one) and several conservatist party political figures, the most important one being of course the podcast with Nicolas Sarkozy.
The two political figures who impressed me the most were Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique Strauss-Khan. After this series of podcasts, I started blogging about french politics and to be transparent with my blog readers, decided to tell them I decided early to vote for Nicolas Sarkozy and I said it on my blog in September 2006. It was for me a choice as a citizen and honesty I thought as a blogger, to say it.
Sarkozy’s team contacted me and offered me to become an advisor on Internet topics, I gladly accepted to participate in an Internet committee every week, a couple of hours, but that was all, I did not even take any membership in the party, and this is still the case today.
I started preparing my conference LeWeb3 in november 2006 and had the crazy idea to invite the three main presidential candidates to talk to the bloggers, at the very last minute. It was not prepared and was not an attempt for me to help Sarkozy as many people thought afterwards, but rather I thought an interesting opportunity for the participants of the conference, coming from 37 countries. Two candidates came, the centrist François Bayrou, who was “the third man” during the elections, and Nicolas Sarkozy. I would have not had any if only one of them, including Sarkozy, had accepted, especially as I said in public I was backing him. Bayrou took questions, Sarkozy delivered a speech without taking any questions -the absence of questions being not very appropriate with a room full of bloggers- and Royal refused to show up. Far from understanding the reaction I would get when I took this decision, I made the mistake of not asking the room what they thought about it and the reaction was huge and I explained myself in a very detailed way.
Six months after the conference, I know that most participants do not blame me for this and were happy about the opportunity. There will be another LeWeb3 in 2007, but I learnt from my mistakes and will be closer to the participants to make decisions, I have heard them. If I regret the way I handled it, I do not regret having had two candidates now a President talking to us, I am proud of it, as I think the Web influencers, the bloggers and the political figures should start getting closer to each other, talk and collaborate, rather than stay in two different circles of society.
Shortly after the conference, in December 2006, the Sarkozy team invited me to get much more involved, they asked me to join the campaign team as one of the internet advisors, which I accepted. The most intense moment of the campaign for me was when they invited me to be on stage with Nicolas Sarkozy, in front of tens of thousands of French people in the audience, and many more on TV as it was broadcasted live. I liked my role, I was live on the web, took thousands of questions from the Internet, was on IM and monitoring blogs during the entire debates (three of them in Paris, Lyon and Bordeaux). I selected the questions and asked them directly to Nicolas Sarkozy, who answered. When I thought the answer was unclear, I asked again several questions, until the people who asked them were happy about their answer, which was an interesting experience.
I finally joined the Sarkozy campaign as one of Internet advisors and took care about the conversation. That means anywhere on web, in a decentralized way. Based on the previous debates experience, I thought I should start by finding a way to sort the questions and launched a digg-like for Sarkozy, debat-sarkozy, people could ask their question, then vote for the most important one, and Nicolas Sarkozy committed to answer the questions: 1500 questions were answered and more than 8000 comments appeared on the site, a good start.
We started having a very close relationship with bloggers from all political areas of society, invited them to the campaign headquarters every week to meet a political figure, about a thousand bloggers showed support to Sarkozy, many others who would not vote for him were still happy to be in touch with us, and by the dialog that was created. We also created groups for Sarkozy in most social software sites (Flickr, YouTube, Netvibes, dailymotion…). About one hundred bloggers showed up every week at the campaign headquarters, and not all of them were supporting Sarkozy.
I also launched an island in Second Life, l’ile Sarkozy, which has been an amazing experience. The island has been managed by voluntaries who created the buildings and monitored it 24 hours a day, more than 400 avatars joined a Sarkozy group and many became residents of the island. We survived attacks from opponents which were interesting to see, bumbs, naked people, insults, mines dropped, weapons, demonstrations…. The island has been packed during the entire campaign, reaching the SL max avatars limit most of the time. The most interesting for me was when we started streaming the debates at the real headquarters in the virtual hearquarter on SL and had lots of interactivity, we took questions from SL and had the political figure answer them. The conversation and bridge between the virtual and the real life was fascinating. The voluntary work has been impressive.
This is one of the most striking difference between the business and the political world. How much voluntary there is and all so how much aggressivity. For the first time in four years of blogging, I had to start moderating my french blog. Criticism, rumors, out-of-law and insulting comments came by hundreds every day, most of them anonymous. The socialists recognized that they even asked their supporters to get easier on my blog as some of them were just dedicated to flooding me with fake and anonymous comments. My blog has been moderated 24 hours a day and thousands of comments deleted, I wrote a charter of behavior and managed to keep the conversation going, less comments, but better quality, of course criticism is still welcome: I banned mostly insults (we can use normal french language) and anything against the law.
But the most important reason for me to join forces with Sarkozy was because I thought France had to become more entrepreneurial. The Internet can become an entire economic sector in our Country, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs by bridging the economic ecosystem between entrepreneurs, business angels, venture capitalists and other players as it is happening in Silicon Valley. I was pleased to work with Sarkozy’s team on the Internet program of the President and see that most of my proposals were added to the program. The first example is about helping entrepreneurs get funded: up to 50 000 € of wealth tax (that means millions of euros at an individual scale as the wealth tax is a few % of your net here) will be cancelled if the funds are invested in startups. Second example is tax free Internet activity at personal level to encourage people creating their own jobs such as selling on Ebay or blog revenues… The hope is to create thousands of people self employed by their own Internet activity, making them entrepreneurs. The entire economic program of Sarkozy is also very compatible to entrepreneurship: less taxes, more flexibility with hiring/firing, no 35 hours a week maximum, etc. There are many more measures planned and I trust Sarkozy will apply them.
As this Entrepreneur compatible program was seen good by many, I helped gather a list of hundreds of internet entrepreneurs, Internet users and bloggers to support Sarkozy and accept to say they would vote for him in a Country where it is not cultural to do so. Marc Simoncini, head and founder of Meetic the #2 dating site Worldwide, said in a podcast why he decided to back him despite the fact he had voted for the socialists all his life. Marc also wants to be able to create more easily in France and see the French more focused on work rather than complaining all the time. Pierre Chappaz, founder of several internet successes (amongst them Kelkoo, #1 in ecommerce, sold to Yahoo!), also joined as well as tens of other Internet figures in France. I cannot quote them all but thank them again.
The campaign has been a unique opportunity for me to discover the political world that I knew nothing about (and still don’t know much about), and realize that despite the differences with the business world, most people involved are great professionals, impressive by their commitment and seriousness.
It is now that Nicolas Sarkozy is elected that the most important part begins. Change France. Make it more entrepreneurial. More focused on work rather than complaining. More focused on the future than the past. I trust Nicolas Sarkozy to do the job, time will tell. I also trust the Internet will be important for his team.
It’s been lots of fun, learnt a lot, now I am back to business focusing in my next startup.