World-brand-building mistakes France’s entrepreneurs make

Traveling Geeks

On Tuesday I joined up with the Traveling Geeks (a band of journalists/bloggers/influentials who visit startups around the world, picture of them above in a Paris subway station) in Paris and we saw a ton of startups. Some of them, like Stribe, were very good. But overall they just didn’t measure up. In fact, they even got me to be rude to them, which caught everyone off guard. I’ve been thinking about why they got me so angry ever since, and that’s what this post is about.

First, if you meet with journalists, influentials, and bloggers who are coming from outside your country I assume you want to build a world brand. After all, if you only want to be big in France then why waste your time meeting with USA journalists?

So, since you were meeting with us and since we’ve spent precious resources getting there and had sizeable opportunity costs, I figure entrepreneurs should be better prepared. In this case you get to learn from their mistakes.

1. Don’t be on Twitter. This was a HUGE mistake many French CEOs made.

Four CEOs told me their companies weren’t on Twitter and that they didn’t have enough time to join Twitter. That got me quite angry. Why? Because in the room were people with hundreds of thousands of followers (and not just me). If you aren’t on Twitter I can’t follow you, I can’t pimp you after the event, and I can’t follow up with questions. IT IS A MAJOR TURN OFF. But it’s worse than that. The world’s tech press is on Twitter, so if you say you don’t have time to join Twitter you are telling 500 tech journalists who ARE on Twitter that you don’t have time for them. Well, then they’ll say back they don’t have time for you. But worse than that, I have a list of 500 tech startups and a separate list of 400 older tech companies (I will soon be making a new list of startups, because Twitter limits us to 500 accounts per list and I already know of lots of other startups). These are companies you should be watching and partnering with. If you watch them you’ll get tips of how other companies are working with influentials and also creating buzz (and you’ll be first to see when other companies are getting news, so that helps you talk with journalists).

Luckily I’ve found 500 tech company founders who ARE clued in and found Twitter to be important. Why is Twitter important? Well, it might have to do with the 422 venture capitalists and angel investors who are on Twitter or the hundreds of tech company executives (these are your exit possibilities!!!) who also are on Twitter. If you know of people who should be on this list that I don’t know about, please leave a comment here. By the way, when I told off the entrepreneurs sitting next to me a CEO whispered in my ear “I agree.” Who was that CEO? Kamel Zeroual, CEO of Stribe. Who is Stribe? The French company that won best of show at LeWeb, the world’s biggest independent web conference. He and his company are one of the few that were on Twitter.

2. Make lame and anemic marketing materials. First of all, if you really want to look lame with a group of bleeding edge tech journalists, please use PowerPoint. It puts us to sleep.It was amazing how poorly some of the entrepreneurs did at this. But, if you need to share information with us, please use Google’s Docs. Do NOT send around Word Documents or PPTs. Why? Some of us don’t have Word loaded anymore and some of us have limited email space (I know tech journalists that already have filled up their Gmail account, for instance). Also, some of us do all of our journalism on mobile phones now and it’s better to have documentation available on the cloud. It also marks you as “with it.” It also is more likely to get through my spam filters for some reason. Finally, the documents should include a link to your Web site, a link to your key Twitter accounts (you ARE on Twitter, right?), a link to your Facebook Pages (you turning down interactions with 350 million people? What, are you NUTS?), screen shots of your best features, your company logo in many different sizes (so we can copy and paste it into blogs), and contact information for ALL of your top corporate executives.

2b. Don’t do a YouTube video of your product. Look at Appsfire Contest Winner Sketch Nation’s YouTube video. THAT HELPED IT WIN (I was one of the judges, here’s a list of all the winners and here’s a video of the awards’ announcements). If I didn’t have a video I would NEVER have gotten how cool this iPhone app is. (Note that Sketch Nation is on both Twitter and YouTube).

3. Don’t do a demo. One company talked to us about their robots, but didn’t bring one to show. I’m sorry, I do videos. Seeing a PowerPoint slide presentation is NOT acceptable in today’s age. Do a demo. Compare to what Pearltrees CEO (also a French company) did. Oh, and Pearltrees is on Twitter. So is its CEO. Is it any wonder that Pearltrees got on CNN today?

4. Don’t worry if your product is on an industry battlefront. If you read any tech blog, or tech news site, or better yet, follow Techmeme, you’ll see a common set of themes. I call them battlefronts, because if you land a great product on a battlefront you’ll get noticed. Some common battlefronts right now? Mobile. Real time. HD video. New payment systems. New identity systems. Etc. If your product doesn’t fit into a common battlefront you better explain why not and why the entire tech press should consider your company a new battlefront.

4b. Don’t worry about your competition, or even better, don’t have any at all. Listen to how Deezer’s CEO, Jonathan Benassay, took on Spotify (his competition) on stage at LeWeb in the Music Reborn panel I ran (Deezer knows its competition and positioned it well, any wonder why it already has 18 million unique visitors a month and isn’t well known in USA yet?) Anyone who says they don’t have any competiton immediately gets marked as a loser in my book (see point #4a). I heard that too often this week.

5. Don’t know anything about the hot app or news of the day. If I ask you what you think of Foursquare or Red Laser (#1 iPhone app) or Gowalla (they just got $8 million in funding) and you say “I don’t know” you instantly mark yourself as someone who doesn’t care about the industry and isn’t actively looking at new things to see if there are any good ideas inside. I kept hearing this from French Entrepreneurs, which is why I got so mad. Sorry, it’s 2009. If you aren’t on Twitter you are lame. Period. If you haven’t tried Foursquare and have a reasonable explanation of why you like it or don’t like it you are lame. Period.

6. Don’t pitch to specific people. If you are speaking to Mike Arrington, founder of Techcrunch, or Dana Oshiro, writer for ReadWriteWeb, don’t read their blogs for the past week. That seemed to be the approach some entrepreneurs take. Oh, and don’t pull them aside and make a custom pitch for their blogs. No, that never works, does it? (Seriously, ask Brian Solis how he does it. Or Jeremy Toeman, who helped many companies win best of show at CES and get companies like PogoPlug and Sonos tons of great PR. The best companies ALWAYS do a custom pitch).

7. Don’t bring business cards. Worse, don’t include your email and Twitter addresses on those cards. I guess they don’t think we might have some new questions to ask once we get back to our hotel rooms and try their products? Nah, no one will ever try their products, right? The best CEOs also give me their Skype and Google Talk addresses. It’s amazing how often I’ve needed something in the middle of the night. Even right now it’s 9 p.m. and if I were writing about your company I might need more info. Mike Arrington often calls execs at midnight to complete blog posts, by the way (I’ve seen him do this and it pays off with a better blog from him).

8. Don’t visit the United States and build relationships with a good cross-section of bloggers and journalists. How did I meet Patrice Lamothe, CEO of Pearltrees (a French company)? In San Francisco. How did that pay off? He’s on CNN today and we had a great fireside chat on stage at Leweb (watched by thousands in audience and tens of thousands online).

Anyway, these are the mistakes I noticed French Entrepreneurs making. Of course, if you said that not just the French make these mistakes, you would be right, but it’s their week because of the big LeWeb conference that just finished.

Of course, maybe the deck is stacked against French Enterpreneurs. When Deezer’s CEO pointed out on stage at LeWeb that he had 18 million unique visitors a month I asked “why have I never heard of you then?” He answered “because we’re French.”

I should have answered back “no, it’s because your Twitter feed is French.” :-)

Got any other mistakes that entrepreneurs make when trying to build a global brand? Leave a comment here.

He answered “because we’re French.”

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

184 thoughts on “World-brand-building mistakes France’s entrepreneurs make

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  2. Robert, Graeme mentions language but there are other cultural differentiators!

    The title of your post reads “World-brand-building mistakes France’s entrepreneurs make.” Maybe “US-brand-building mistakes France’s entrepreneurs make” would be more appropriate. Or “China-brand-building mistakes France’s entrepreneurs make.”

    But how about your US-centric approach?

    “China-brand-building mistakes US’s entrepreneurs make?”

    For a little awareness and respect, start with http://bit.ly/712g2u ;)

  3. What about Ramos, Cowon and other Asian manufacturers? I'm not sure they're very active on Twitter…
    Do you have any data about Twitter use in Asian countries, or are they using competing services (local or american)? I know Microsoft has some plans there…

  4. Robert,

    It's not only about start-ups using Twitter, but the market has to follow. Yes the press talks all the time about twitter, (they're bored with terrorism) but try to find out how many Belgians use this service actively.
    A couple of weeks ago I created a new Twitter account as a test and started following only french users. No reactions… Then the next day I decided to follow a few Americans and suddenly I got spammed by hundred marketing gurus!

    It's another world. Yes I think Twitter and the other platforms are important, but the USA and Europe are just too different. Another important detail: in some countries such as Belgium, surfing on your mobile is still very expensive and only a small percentage of the population use this service or even care about it.

    Twitter has what, 30million users? How many are really active and what percentage is European. I'm sure that if you make the count you'll realize it's just a drop in the European ocean…

  5. And so, why didn't you here about Deezer ? Shame on you ;-) You don't speake french ? Why do you thing we, french people, would so speak your language, and you not our ? Hu ?
    Ok, bad question… ;-)

  6. Deezer had to struggle a lot of time with french restriction about the music copyrights (same as Pandora some times ago) it costs them tons of money and time, during that time Spotify took advantage of this to launch the great product we know today.

    It's a race and in Europe, particulary in France, the worst ennemy of the entrepreneur is its own country and its governemental ****.

    The money will never be in France, because it's small, and only few people on earth speaks french, but when you start a startup in France and that you need money, it won't be a business model targeting the USA that'll get you what you need to start, we have no business angels compared to London or elsewhere… so the few banks or people lending money are also expecting that you target first the french market… and those people believe me…they love crappy ppt

  7. Thierry: I know Deezer is a successful business and is headed toward making a global brand. I interviewed its CEO on stage at LeWeb and you don't get on stage at LeWeb if you aren't doing something significant.

    But it isn't well known in US yet. Partly because it hasn't used Twitter to build relationships with tech journalists, plus its feed is in French so it's hard for English speakers to get value out of that feed (not impossible, but hard).

    Deezer definitely wants to compete globally, not just in France, by the way. How do I know that? The CEO told me and its competitor, Spotify, is definitely making a global brand (Spotify built a relationship with most of the US tech press six months ago or more. Spotify is doing it right. The others? Well, not so well.

  8. Hey Robert,
    Does startup are even a 100% french? meet us at Intruders TV, half-french-english-asian whatever… we have business cards, twitter account and even a gtalk adress! tbezier@gmail.com …We know about tech industry cause we are filming them…. so are we supposed to raise tons of millions?
    I think all your advices are good, BUT startups like deezer does profit & money even if you don't know it… there are huge internet services serving millions or hundred millions of people that you don't know like in China, Japan or south korea… that doesn't mean they are not good, it just mean you don't know them. Many startups lives and makes money without the “help” of techcrunch or you…

    I have no auction in deezer… but think about it, they serve ads and they got paid for the audience they serve…particulary french… it's like if you ask to a french guy if he know pandora… well no… cause there tweeter feed is in english… and that the service is only available in the usa… the world is not flat, people makes money everywhere and having your picture in Scobleizer or Techcrunch don't get you eternal glory or money… Innovation still rules.

  9. Good comments. yep, too confrontational. An angry angry man. I might register for twitter just to tell him…. nah I have friends in real life.

  10. you sad sad sad techno obsessed man. Not that I want to defend the french but creating and writing about creations are very different. After 4 hours sleep a night and coding for months on end to create something maybe you dont have time to tweet… and if you do it is while laying on your back with a glazed expression on your face and smoke coming out of your ears before softly mumbling 'tweet this'

  11. Fantastic article. I find that many Estonian startups are making the same mistakses: not leveraging social media enough, no video, no demos etc.

    btw, what do you think – should the French (or any other non-English language country) entrepreneurs have one or two Twitter accounts ? Ie should the account be bilingual or should they use one account in French and one account in English ?

  12. Very interesting blog post, and I found it has a personal resonance to me: I am French, work in London in social media and my girlfriend is American. As I might at some point trying to go to the US and work there for a couple of years, I feel I am well placed in this debate.

    Robert, I think everything you say is true, and I left my country that was for some reasons that you showed here: the reluctance to embrace change and innovation (especially when it comes from the US) being the main ones. But I feel you should understand that having such a confrontational style does not help you, especially with foreigners. Many countries have a complex of inferiority with the US (France included) and if you present anything too blunty they will reject it. On the other hand, and let's be honest, America also has a complex of superiority and the Valley does not escape from this. I know that people of the Valley usually have a point, but sometimes as a European, when I am listening to some American entrepreneurs or tech people, I feel they look at us we are retarded or stupid and I have to calm down in order to not to strike back.

    So if you are really serious about all the social media and community ethics you put forward, one thing, on both sides, would be helpful:humility.

    BTW Robert I read from you once you would talk to any geeks being around, I am coming to SF in early January, so let's have a coffee.

  13. Yeah, I know what you mean,

    Sounds like some people are behind the times, the biggest obstacle I encounter with business people is that they think Twitter is for teens only, how wrong they are.

    They have no idea how powerful Twitter really is.

    Plus I have noticed if someone have learned a few things, like word processing and presentation software, they think they know everything. Their know it all attitude blinds them to further new information.

    It is sad, but true among many people I meet.

  14. I can't imagine being pissed for someone not using Twitter. I mean, I love Twitter. I think it's valuable for my work and my brand. But I don't think I'd lose my shit and feel insulted if somebody wasn't using it. I'd just assume they didn't see the value of it. Not that they were personally offending me.

    It'd be an opportunity to graciously show how it could work for them.

    I guess when you become big, you don't have to be gracious anymore? I hope that's not the case for me when my career takes off.

    By the way, Portland is wonderful. And @travelportland rocks . And if you're insulting Oregon as a travel destination, you haven't been here. I'm sorry, Jean-Marc, that you've missed this gem. I hope you'll find time to visit us soon. I'd be happy to show you some amazing sites.

  15. Yeah, there's that problem too. But maybe the technology was mediocre because they still haven't caught up to 2007, much less 2009 yet? But, seriously, there are some good things. Particularly in music. Spotify and Deezer rock. Plus lots of other stuff we love comes from Europe. TweetDeck, for instance, comes from UK.

  16. I guess I feel for the French and am just a big softie. They have to speak the language of a country that was their sworn enemy for centuries.

    I just felt the tech was lacking at Le Web. A lot of the companies created something that already existed or didn't seem to think everything through. For a conference that is supposed to be among the best, I didn't “discover” much. Mediocrity is a greater sin than not being on Twitter.

    Maybe you had access to companies I didn't though.

  17. Sorry, Michelle, but I'll have to graciously disagree. If you are trying to build a global brand you've gotta play a better game. I'd agree with you if this were 2007, but it's not, it's 2009. Twitter has been here for three years and if you can't see that there's 500 tech press on a single list (and I don't have them all) then you aren't paying attention and you should have your cage rattled a bit. People rattle my cage when I'm clueless and I always learn something from the process. Can I be nicer about it? Absolutely and I will try to be nicer about it in future.

  18. With what I've seen over the weekend about the Nexus One, I'd hate to be Apple's marketing team right now. Between AT&T being unable to deliver acceptable service in San Francisco and New York City and the Android handsets now providing better user experiences than an iPhone according to some (fairly) impartial testers, I think Apple is in trouble.

    Of course, I'm still holding out – neither an iPhone, Verizon Droid nor a (T-Mobile) Nexus One is in my 2010 budget. But I'll tell you right now – I'm seriously considering biting the bullet and learning Android development. Because I think it's going to be a replay of VHS wiping out Beta.

  19. I don't know why you'd get so angry about this.

    Not EVERYONE has to be on Twitter. They just don't. But you think they do.

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/02

    Though I am not in the same league as anyone you talk about, the only reason I have Twitter is to Twitterfeed my blogs and delicious links to the feeds, to add value. That's it. I hardly ever login, barely ever follow anyone.

    It's not killing me, that's for sure.

  20. I can definitely understand the urge to justify your tantrum, but have you apologized yet to the people in the room? You didn't in this post.

    It seems to me that what happened here is that you made a trip and it turned out to be different than you'd expected. You'd assumed this was going to plug-and-play quite nicely into your normal modus operandi, and thus be an efficient and productive use of your time. What you discovered was a group of people who were not quite “with the program,” and who — if you were going to figure out what's up — would require a lot more work.

    So I'm glad you decided to share your tips so that they could learn from your experience and improve along their own goals. But I truly don't understand why you have to do it while being angry with them because they made mistakes.

    There's an old-but-good term I'm sure you've heard, “Learning Culture.” Silicon Valley was once one vast learning crucible. Such cultures don't yell at people for making mistakes; it's about creating and tinkering and learning to do better. It seems very not-with-the-Bay-Area program to travel the world espousing rigid behavioral judgment. I'd have rather seen you foster some useful discussion about why a way that is dominant in so many places has somehow not caught on, despite a desire to play in the same playground.

    And there's a question involved on social media adoption where Paris is specifically noted as a place where social media adoption is unusually low – maybe you could've asked these people who are clearly leaders of THEIR community about this, and then you might have learned something useful. (Not my blog: http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2009/05/21/c…)

    I'm glad to hear that you're not normally belligerent, but I'm surprised then at your blame-the-victim attitude. It's not their fault that you flew off the handle. You did it.

    And all that said? Being a person who has wandered around the block a few dozen times, my experience is that when normally nice people are stretched the point of fury over something that they *should* be able to absorb in stride, almost invariably they're exhausted — not “tired,” but really fundamentally wiped out. Take your vitamins religiously, and plan some downtime, soon.

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