In Le Internet, the hosts will explore French views on technology through language, history, and culture.
Original Airdate: July 22, 2020
Great. Well, hello, everyone. Welcome to Le Internet. If you're just tuning in now, or if you've been binging Cloudflare TV for a while, you are watching a syndicated talk show, not really, but a show with three employees of Cloudflare, myself, Karl Henrik, Grant and Nandini, about everything having to do with French history, culture, language and its relation to technology.
So before we get started, I do quickly want to bring up the poll that we had on our last show.
That is bit.ly forward slash leInternet2.
If you haven't gone yet to there, I would highly recommend you do that to fill out what we should discuss on the next episode of Le Internet.
So again, that is bit.ly forward slash leInternet2 to have a voice. And if you go there now, you probably will have a voice because nobody's filled it out yet.
So just kind of quickly recap the first episode and what we discussed.
We had our first episode a few weeks back where we talked about l'Académie Française, which is the ultimate arbiter of the French language.
And we discussed a lot about kind of their general process and what they do.
And then from there, you know, one thing that came to mind that came to light really is how different the French environment is from any other country out there when it comes to technology and when it comes to its relation with generally like entrepreneurship and startups.
And so that really incentivized us to today talk about the startup nation that is France and a bit about the background of that and some companies that we've identified that have kind of defied the odds.
So before we jump into it, I'd love to pass it over to my fellow co-hosts to quickly introduce themselves and talk a bit about what they what their thoughts are.
Yeah, my name is Grant Humphreys. I'm in the San Francisco office.
I'm the person who'll give you maybe one sentence of French in the beginning to kind of validate myself and then proceed in English the whole time.
But if you'd like to hear some Québecois style French, you know, Bienvenue à l 'épisode de l'Internet Partie 2.
Donc, je vais cesser maintenant because I know that that accent is very difficult, especially for our French employees and coworkers.
But yeah, very excited to dive into just the differences here with startup culture in France and mainly not just the US but the Anglosphere in particular.
Yeah. Hi, guys.
I'm Nathanie. Great to see you all again. I mostly just do this because I like Carl and Grant a lot and they're my friends.
Also, I love France. So I'm excited to talk about what we found out about French startup culture.
I don't know.
Who wants to start? I kind of like to frame it. Just everything that I saw that I researched and just from speaking with folks was the big difference is I think that there's a lot less of the ability to take big risks.
So I picture a startup in the US.
You've got these VC firms with unlimited pockets that can, you know, give you this much money and while researching companies like Critio, older ones there and the like, I was seeing very low numbers of investment, you know, not getting more than five or six million euros first, second, third, and even into almost fourth round.
The second thing being, I don't think with that comes the ability.
There's not as much breath to fail and I think that the French don't, you know, celebrate failure maybe the same way as Americans are like, great, next high turnover, let's go.
I think the French are much more careful and thought out with how they present things and more about presenting a finished product.
Yeah, I mean, I think you're not, you're definitely not wrong.
I think that historically has been the case for tech startups, but I think that's really changing now.
Especially like since 2017, Macron has been pushing forward a lot of reforms and changes on the government side of things.
Even to the VC funding, actually in 2019, you know, France was in the number two place compared to all the other European countries as far as how much funding that they were getting.
And in fact, you started seeing like really large seed round, like really large funding rounds happen.
Let's see, like for example, I mean, I'm not even sure, I mean, I haven't really looked into see what these companies actually do, but you see like Insect got a series C funding of 120 million.
Mono Mono got a series D funding of 120 million.
So you're starting to see these larger investments into the tech startup area.
And a lot of, but there's also a lot of factors that are impacting that, I think.
And a lot of it comes from government, you know, trying to like deregulate a little bit or like not, or maybe deregulate is my word, but like relaxing things.
Like one thing that's super cool is they have like a French, like a tech visa, an open tech for like open talent, which is basically like, you know, you can come to like work at like a startup if you're outside of France for, and it's like a four-year visa, no diploma, no fees, no quotas.
Like, yeah, it's actually called the French tech visa.
And it's basically to help startups recruit from global talent.
I mean, that's amazing because I mean, the numbers, like for an example, like with Critio, I mean, they had a whopping total of 17 million in funding between about three or four rounds.
Right. I mean, and these numbers are, you know, 3 million euros initially, and then going up to 9 million euros here.
And, and you look at how big a company Critio is with, with their global reach and you know, they're Cloudflare customers as well, which is great.
That's a far cry from not only what you're talking about now, you know, 2018, 2017 on, with these folks getting double-digit, triple-digit investment rounds.
Yeah. I think you're also thinking one.
Oh, sorry. No, no, it's totally. No, I think one thing I wanted to just add to, to what, what you were saying earlier is, is this culture of kind of, that we have in Silicon Valley of like, failing fast, failing often, which just doesn't exist in France.
And I think even though we've had policies, as you mentioned, Anandini with Macron kind of adding tech visas and lowering corporate tax rates and kind of loosening labor laws, whether that actually has a substantive impact on the culture of failing is okay, is something that's a bit more difficult to kind of proclaim.
Right. I think in France, if you fail, you're kind of seen as a failure and, and not an entrepreneur, which is kind of how we twisted or taken that definition in the U S and just kind of said, failing is just the first step in succeeding.
Right. And I think that's something that they're moving more towards now, but kind of having all these startups and moving into series B and series C is kind of the first step.
Yeah. I will say that it is kind of interesting for us three Americans to really focus in on, on the failing aspect of what it is to be in a startup life.
Like I one thing that I'd love to find out is like someone that actually is living and working in like French tech scene.
Is failing even considered like such like an attribute the way that we do in like that from that, from our cultural perspective, like, yeah, it's, I don't know.
But what, the other thing that I was also like really impressed with that I think is really impacting the French tech scene is that, you know, their education, like the resources that are available and like how selective and challenging they are.
Like, you know, if you're like, if they're Ecole Normale Supérieure is like number two math institution in the world, you get some amazing engineers coming out of Ecole Polytechnique.
INSEAD is the number one MBA in Europe. And, and it's also kind of like that sort of emphasis on math and engineering is also kind of like playing out, I think, like which startups are getting the most investment.
One term that was new to me called deep tech is kind of like where a lot of their focus and investment is going.
And essentially it's like more like the, the types of technologies that are focused more around like AI and, and like that are more complex and math heavy and all that other stuff.
They're getting, they're getting more investment.
And one, one article that I was reading was that even if you look at like US startups really, I mean, just even moderately successful startups probably have at least one French engineer on their team.
Yeah. Yeah. I think that's another thing that Michael mentioned in his speech is like the, the, the French kind of France has some of the best engineers in the world and they have this kind of Ecole Supérieure and really kind of special schools when it comes to things like STEM.
And, and, and the issue that, that really comes in there with, with scaling and with businesses is unlike America and unlike China, you can't just have a homegrown startup in Europe, right?
You kind of immediately have to start tackling foreign countries and tackling other markets.
And, and they don't have the benefit that a lot of companies would have in the US or in China of just like staying homegrown for a few years, developing a name recognition, developing a brand, and then going into other countries, right?
So I think Criteo and blah, blah car and companies like that have really had the benefit of focusing first on Europe.
And then if they've succeeded that there, then they don't have to worry about the kind of the regulatory headaches that a lot of companies like Uber, for instance, have to worry about when they move into those countries.
Well, my big, my big thought is just how does that differ too with the kind of velocity and, and, and growth of a startup, you know, in, in the US we'll have, okay, you know, until they get to this series of funding with these type of ideas in these, you know, boxes checked you know, it's anybody's game.
It could be failure tomorrow. And I wonder if that requirement to be more hyper-focused, to be more international leaning without having that ability to be homegrown for a while.
If that makes French startups more stable in the early term, or maybe the later term, you know, that's something that, that I would be interested in, in kind of opening up to you guys to see what you think.
I think let's, let's dive into an example because I think that might kind of characterize this a bit more, but there is this one company that you've both heard of a number of our viewers have probably heard of it as well, called BlaBlaCar or BlaBlaCar in French.
And they are really a view today as a success story when it comes to startups in France, right?
So just some background on them. They are a French online marketplace for carpooling, right?
Very similar in certain ways to Uber and to Lyft, but they do have their own kind of inherent, inherent differences.
So the first one is that drivers of BlaBlaCar cannot make a profit, right?
It's not like Uber or like Lyft. So it's basically against the rules to profit off of riders.
And so as a result, they have avoided a lot of the kind of regulatory headaches that a company like Uber or Lyft would have because it's like, it equals off, right?
It kind of it's 50 50. So that was the first thing. The second one is just the nature of their company and the culture behind it.
So if you're not aware, drivers and riders can rate each other, just like Uber, just like Lyft.
But the difference is in terms of what they rate. They rate chattiness, right?
So you can rate a driver as blah, if they're not very talkative. You can rate them as blah, blah, if they like to talk and blah, blah, blah, if they are very, very chatty, right?
And the idea behind it really is to link drivers and riders that are kind of similar in terms of their, you know, talkability, in terms of their personality, and ultimately make it much more of a cultural fit than just rating drivers and passengers based on stars or based on ratings, which, as you know, I'm not going to say it's rigged, but there are people who might have issues with a certain driver, they will give them no stars, and then that might not actually reflect who they are as a person, right?
So I think that by itself is a very interesting kind of cultural, you know, edge or competitive edge for them as a startup, because they've managed to really take that very distinct, distinctly French thing and then scale it.
So it's kind of like how Lyft was in the early days. Remember, like when, you know, Lyft, that's how they would differentiate themselves from Uber, being like, you know, when you get in the car, the driver's rating you too, to see if like, you know, your personalities click and how entertaining both of you are.
Clearly, it's not like that anymore. But it's kind of interesting that BlaBlaCar has like really made that grow and scale.
Yeah, I remember Lyft when they had the mustaches on their cars.
And I don't know if that they have that anymore.
But I think BlaBlaCar has been able to kind of maintain that distinctiveness.
And then, you know, as they've grown, they still have that, right?
They still have all those kind of basic fundamentals that make who they are as a company.
Naturally, the issue right now is with COVID-19, any kind of carpooling service is not doing particularly well.
But in the kind of broader carpooling marketplace, they are, you know, near the top and not just in Europe, but worldwide, right?
So I think that kind of goes back to Grant's point here of like, how do you differentiate yourself?
How do you distinguish yourself when you're just like starting out as that cultural entity?
Well, luckily, I got one of the Lyft mustaches off the car and put it on myself at a discount price.
I've got a couple more if anybody else wants.
I'm sure people are growing their own because of COVID.
I really need one. I do. Very proud of mine. But, you know, that's always interesting.
You know, for me, the big fascination is this dichotomy of, I think in 2017, it was like, hey, France was we need to learn from Silicon Valley.
But like all French things, I feel like the French never like to fully copy something.
It's not let's make a Silicon Valley, a French version of Silicon Valley.
It's no, we're going to have this Studio F or this Campus F that's that's our own startup thing.
Ground up, we're going to build this up. Yeah, we might, you know, borrow some of these ideas.
That to me, speaks to I would say the Frenchness of the approach to things.
No, I will not just take Silicon Valley and add a in front of it like we've done for this for this episode.
Right. We're going to completely build something, you know, within Paris, you know, limited to maybe only one bank of the Seine.
Right. It's fascinating. And I love to how there's a bit of that culture of trying to distance away from what may be an Anglosphere similar company and product.
So I think BlaBlaCar did a very good job differentiating from Uber and Lyft, like you said, Carl.
Right. Monoprix. I remember there was a video like two years ago that kind of Amazon Fresh in a way saying, like, well, we've already kind of been doing this like, oh, is it new that you have people deliver you fresh stuff and that there's a way to do it?
Right. The Monoprix one was interesting, too, because like I think like the snark behind it is that, you know, France is a socialist country.
So a lot of those things that, you know, that our start that U.S.
startups are trying to, like, you know, disrupt are things that are already kind of like built into their government.
Like trying to like, you know, people are able to get food when they need to and pretty easily.
People are able to bank pretty, pretty low stress kind of thing.
People are able to get a car when they need to. But so those are like pressing issues, especially if you're in San Francisco and like the, you know, the early aughts.
But that I think like really fed like these disrupting companies. But I think that was like Monoprix's arguments, like we don't need Amazon Fresh because we've been doing this for a long time.
I wonder if that's also another reason why French folks have been like doubling down on like the A.I.
and like the deep tech side of things, because it's you know, they the other the other more social services areas of things are kind of covered.
And so even if they are working in that area, maybe they're, you know, trying to like there's like a technical need that they're trying to fix less that less than a social need that they're trying to fix.
Interesting. Yeah, I think I think kind of a prime example there would be public transit.
You know, I mean, France just broadly speaking, has a very integrated transportation system with the RER and the metros and kind of city transportation.
You know, for anyone who lives in San Francisco or around, you know that the BART and the MUNI and all of these organizations don't really work together and you can't just get one pass for everything.
That would be unimaginable in kind of Paris that you just can't get out of the city with the same monthly pass.
Right. So I think that is just kind of baked in by nature where they may not need a lot of the startups focused on, you know, civic innovation, urban development, maybe even utilities like water and energy management.
So that might be why they're focused a lot on things like artificial intelligence, kind of AR, VR, all of that.
That might be a lot more of a focus as well as health care kind of in the years ahead.
Yeah. There's one aspect of this that I, I don't know, it's a pro and a con, and that would be France's labor laws and France's perspective on work culture.
I think very recently they just passed a law where, you know, employers are not, it's not legal for employers to require employees to answer emails after work hours.
And, and there, and there's, there's, and there's pretty strict on that 35 day working week and, and liberal vacations and everything like that.
And that kind of is sort of counterintuitive at how, you know, we think of startups and like that bootstrap, like working insane hours, just trying to make your baby live and grow kind of a thing.
So, but on the positive side, like maybe, maybe it kind of speaks to the overall deliberate decision-making need around the fact that you can't fail easily or that you shouldn't be able to fail easily.
That's probably their perspective more like, why would you want to fail?
That sounds insane.
But like, because you're like, it maybe kind of like speaks to that same mentality where, you know, you're just, you're, you're being deliberate.
And like the fact that you're not working insane amount of times when you are working, you're just being more effective.
And maybe when you're not working, it's helping you with your decision-making and that deliberateness to the whole process.
And I think, you know, that, that maybe cultural element can also be a, a con in, in many cases and not actually a boon to your business.
One example with, with BlaBlaCars that early on, you know, drivers would overbook and they would take on multiple passengers and then kind of in turn passengers would be forced out and they wouldn't be picked up.
And so they would book multiple cars. And as you can imagine that led to chaos very quickly.
That's something that they kind of initially had a ton of trouble around, but down the line, they were able to, you know, kind of course correct and do what Uber and all these companies are doing now, which is charge you a base fee.
And then if you charge you a cancellation fee, right.
So I don't know if Criteo is similar in terms of having any of these, you know, deterrent measures, but over time they really found their voice and they were able to also incorporate that in a more kind of just startup like way.
I mean, I think, I think Criteo is more, that's the, the old breed now, right.
You're talking pre-2010. So there's, their history is a lot of R&D development, low investment numbers compared to what we see now, especially compared to the numbers that France startups have seen and the support they've had in the last few years.
And, you know, from an outsider looking in, I haven't heard much of chaos on their end.
They seem to think things through and that might just be the nature of the space they're in.
But to me, it kind of further highlights, there's a lot more you can get away with in the US, right.
You can play fast and loose.
Us three could be, if the Internet was a app that, you know, acted like a podcaster for information purposes that people would subscribe to, we could pitch that as an idea to someone and provided we knew the people well enough or fudged our numbers enough, we could secure maybe half a million in funding.
Yes, exactly. Half a million, you need that five million seed round. Exactly.
And I just, I just feel like we celebrate that more. It goes with, okay, you're allowed to fail.
Like we like movement. We want things to go fast. You know, either you win fast and keep going, fail fast, redo, back up, at bat, go for it.
Whereas even with these startups that now have kind of that ability to, hey, you can start in a type of French version of Y Combinator.
And you've got these access to these Paris, you know, specific startup investors.
I still think that it's not as quick and I don't want to say regulated, but just it's not, I think, allowed to move as fast based on how the French government is, the French culture and just the history of doing business in France and Europe as a whole.
So that to me, you know, I would be very interested to know how some of these business, you know, active angel investors like Jean David Blanc or Marc Simonici, like I would like to know how many more steps they have before money gets given or pitched or invested into something.
Or even just what things like, you know, some of their part tech or cap horn invest, like do they have more stipulations before the money's in your hands, right?
We like to joke in Silicon Valley, well, I've got an idea, boom, like run with it.
Whereas France might be getting to that, but it seems to be not only, have an idea, have it thought out, but also a long-term thought with some of this deep technology AI stuff.
Yeah, I mean, I would just love to hear maybe just your guys' kind of final thoughts on, you know, one question I have is, do you think Cloudflare could have started in France?
And if it could have, how would that have been different?
Very pertinent question, because we now have a office in Paris with, I think, a select few people and the extent to which we, you know, brand ourselves there and, you know, engage in marketing in France.
How is that going to be different than the rest of the world?
You know, are we doing the kind of network as a computer marketing that we were doing, you know, pre-IPO and all of that, or are there other ways of reaching, you know, potential pools of talent in cybersecurity in France, right?
I think that those are very relevant questions. And ultimately for me, what it comes down to is like, you have policy on one end, and Macron and the administration, they can implement policies to kind of down the line, encourage startups, but then you also have culture, and you can't actually just change culture through policy.
You cannot make the culture of entrepreneurship and the culture of failure, and kind of change that only by investing in kind of, you know, foreign talent and brain gain, I guess would be the opposite of brain drain, whatever you call that.
That's not something you can just kind of wish away, right?
So it'll be interesting to see kind of how Cloudflare also starts scaling up in France, because it is a kind of a crucial market for us as well.
Yeah, I think, I mean, like, to add to the challenge, I mean, the, I think the other big challenge, honestly, is the internationalization piece that you guys were talking about earlier.
Like, even like, thinking about, like, like, I was reading, like, some engineers' experiences working in French startups in France and otherwise, and just, I mean, honestly, on their end, it's kind of whining, but like, how, you know, they're in the office, and like, almost hardly anyone speaks French, unless that's your function to be, I mean, I'm sorry, hardly anyone speaks English, and unless that's your function that you need to be, like, working on their internationalization modes of things.
But, you know, even when they're moving to become, like, a global company, I think one challenge that they have, especially when you're a startup, you're, like, you guys were mentioning earlier, you're working, you're building for your, for your country and for your current marketplace, and then being able to then pivot into, like, other areas of the world is, like, very difficult.
So I think there's, there needs to be, if there isn't already, there needs to be more of that emphasis on globalization from the beginning, and I think that's a huge challenge, both inside the workplace and as, like, an overall business strategy.
Carl, do we have any questions in the chat?
Take a look. Doesn't seem like we have any questions in the chat. Carl, you're supposed to lie to me and said, it's just ringing off the hook.
Oh, I'm sorry, I'm just looking back at it now and apparently it's flowing in.
I will, however, take this moment to plug, again, our poll, bit.ly forward slash Internet2.
I'll just bring it up here once more.
You have a voice, you have a chance to decide on our next topic, and that should not be undervalued.
And one more thing we should probably discuss is the eventual podcast that, you know, had been suggested.
Grant, I think, you know, you jest and you joke, but we should definitely consider that and start talking about funding there and maybe ask.
Yes, me and my mustache agree with you, 100%.
Maybe after I get the big mustache, I'll be all in. We'll see, we'll figure this out.
We know people, and we have so many viewers that are also willing to give us monies for this.
Definitely. I don't know if Cloudflare TV is something you can binge watch, but I'm sure we've had a few kind of people overflowing from other viewings and just thinking, what on earth am I watching right now?
Well, I mean, just to infuse a little French, just tangentially, my mind tends to wander, especially while being cooped up at home.
Why is all facial hair vocabulary in French feminine?
I just, just a thought. It's the coronavirus. It used to be le coronavirus, and now it's la COVID-19.
Oh, really? It's actually the same term, but two different.
Anyway, don't don't start on French gender, gender. It's tough to kind of quantify that.
I still can't get over. I still can't figure out why all the people named their boats after women.
So that's, I mean, just in general, gender things in the world just confused me.
Any final, any final, I know that we've kind of covered a whole range of, of, you know, culture and companies and everything, but any final thoughts now that we have a minute left?
I still think that for some, for some industries, it's harder for France startup wise, but they've made huge leaps in a relatively short time.
And I'm very interested to see what happens. Same. I'm super excited to see which of these unicorns become like established in institutions.
And I look forward to further episodes to dive into them. Absolutely.
Me too. Thank you both. And for the 15 people who asked questions who we couldn't get to, we will eventually respond.
Sorry about that. But thank you very much for being engaged, for being active and, and thank you both for co -hosting.
All right. Thank you.