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How France wants to become a tech giant

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Vive la France — that was the dominant message of the day during a tour of the French tech ecosystem. But is it time to invest in French startups?

Around 40 partners of venture capital firms, as well as limited partners, came to Paris to talk about tech in France, from Andreessen Horowitz to Greylock Partners, Khosla Ventures and more. The two-day roadshow took place at Station F, the Vision Institute, iBionext and the Elysée Palace.

I grew up in France and it always surprises me that the same clichés come up again and again. When Symphony founder and CEO David Gurle answered questions about what it’s like to build an engineering team in France, it could have been easy to predict the questions — labor law is not flexible enough, French people are lazy, they go on strike all the time…

According to Gurle, who is great at storytelling, Symphony has been looking at around 15 countries for their next office. They first selected Singapore but couldn’t put a team together.

“We went to the board and said the next step is to invest in France,” Gurle said. At first, the board was really reluctant, citing the same concerns.

Chairman of Business France and Ambassador for International Investments Pascal Cagni has been dealing with those concerns for years. For instance, when it comes to labor law, he says the regulatory framework is now predictable and limited — unlike in the U.K. or Germany, for instance. You can fire people whenever you want. It means that you’ll have to pay a severance package, but everything is laid out.

Silicon Valley is overheating right now. It’s become increasingly expensive and challenging to build a company — the tech industry is getting bigger and the biggest tech companies now dominate the talent market. That’s also part of the reason why Silicon Valley veterans are looking outside of their comfort zone.

Speeding things up

The question wasn’t about whether startups in France are a thing or not. The tone of the conversation was about pace and intensity. Is it time to invest now or should we wait?

“We’ve noticed that we started investing more in European startups without even thinking about it — not just French startups, but all over Europe,” Battery Ventures General Partner Chelsea Stoner told me.

Depending on the study, France and the U.K. are battling to be the first European country when it comes to the number of VC deals and the total amount of money raised.

When I said three and a half years ago that France would be the tech leader in Europe, nobody believed that — and it’s happening. John Chambers

But even more important than hard facts, the momentum has been pretty stunning. A few years ago, I could cover every single deal over $1 million. Now there are so many startups valued at hundreds of millions of dollars that it’s hard to keep track of all funding rounds above $20 or $30 million.

France has some of the best engineering schools in the world. And now, most students want to work for a startup. So if France has a lot of capital and a big pool of talent, what’s missing? Should French startups get more support from the French government?

“Five or six years ago, I would have said keep the government as far away as possible and I was wrong,” former Cisco CEO John Chambers told me. Chambers is now ambassador for La French Tech and doesn’t invest in French startups in order to avoid conflicts of interest. “When I said three and a half years ago that France would be the tech leader in Europe, nobody believed that — and it’s happening,” he said.

OpenClassrooms co-founder and CEO Pierre Dubuc said during a panel that one piece of regulation that has helped his startup quite a lot is the French Tech Visa. Thanks to this program, the company can get visas for future employees in just a matter of weeks.

Chambers says that it works both ways. American employees apply to the French Tech Visa, work for French startups for a while and then come back to the U.S. It moves the needle when it comes to changing mindsets in the U.S.

The French tech ecosystem also needs time. While there are a ton of good engineers, multiple people told me sales people and marketing talent are nowhere near the level of American tech companies.

Some employees will need to go through 3 or 4 different companies and experience many different situations to become better. At this point, they can reinvest their knowledge into startups.

Big, late-stage VC funds can also help speed things up. “Many people misunderstand the value of venture capital,” Chambers told me. Well-established funds have strong processes and know how to hire top management. That’s why bringing those VCs and LPs to Paris could help change things.

Macron’s macroeconomics

Without turning this article into a political piece, it’s hard to talk about foreign investors coming to Paris without mentioning the yellow vests movement.

LVMH Chief Digital Officer Ian Rogers had a nuanced take on the changes in the tech ecosystem. “It’s clear that they are [changing the mindset] and it’s clear that there’s opposition,” he said. “This is an exciting moment, it’s also probably a bubble. Let’s see what’s on the other side.”

In other words, tech can be a destructive industry. Nobody wanted to state that so directly, but everybody had that in mind.

Ron Conway even told me that Airbnb could be the solution to address inequalities. “This whole yellow coats issue, that’s about income inequality,” he told me. There are 500,000 hosts in France generating $3 billion in revenue — and there should be more according to him. But I don’t think startups can solve everything, unfortunately.

“There are going to be a few setbacks along the way and we’re seeing that with the social movement, but we shouldn’t lose the end goal,” Chambers told me.

Of course, seeing France implode is in no one’s interest. VC firms are also looking at different opportunities because Donald Trump and Brexit make the future unpredictable.

But it’s unclear if minimizing social movements is wishful thinking or long-term thinking.

Moving as a group

What was interesting about today’s visit is that some people are already investing quite a lot in French startups while others are completely new to the French tech ecosystem. When you hear Tony Fadell say that he’s invested in French startups with Xavier Niel for a few years, it creates a fear of missing out.

“You see how the valley goes, it moves as a group,” Chambers told me.

Bringing dozens of investors to Paris created some form of emulation. Nobody wants to be the first one to invest in something new, but nobody wants to be the last one, either.

List of investors:

  • Joe Schoendorf, Accel Partners
  • Martin Casado, Andreessen Horowitz
  • Bernard Liautaud, Balderton
  • Chelsea Stoner, Battery Ventures
  • Philippe Lafont, Coatue
  • Matt Turck, FirstMark Capital
  • Hany Nada, GGV Capital
  • Dana Settle, Greycroft
  • Sarah Guo, Greylock Partners
  • Irena Goldenberg, Highland Europe
  • Erel Margalit, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP)
  • Samir Kaul, Khosla Ventures
  • Philipp Freise, KKR
  • Klaus Hommels, Lakestar
  • Scott Sandell, New Enterprise Associates
  • Isaac Hillel, Pitango Venture Capital
  • Boaz Dinte, Qumra
  • Ron Conway, SV Angel
  • Mark Suster, Upfront Ventures
  • Talbot Heppenstall, UPMC
  • Paul Graham, Y Combinator
  • Jessica Livingston, Y Combinator

+ 17 limited partners

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343 days ago
I hope they are successful. Would be great to see a 35-hour work raise productivity to a competitive level to show what is possible.
Atlanta, GA

Patreon de-platforms Gamergate heroes Milo and Sargon

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if you’re not familiar with Sargon, here’s a good rundown

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343 days ago
If tech companies had taken the women being targeted seriously at the time we might have a different president without so much free propaganda
Washington, DC
342 days ago
But hey, who cares about women's complaints in the tech sector? After all, they're probably just making it up for attention.
341 days ago
I wish it wasn’t sooooo easy to find examples of that being said seriously, by men who think they’re too smart to be sexist

Ammon Bundy Leaves Militia Movement After Criticizing Trump On Immigration Policy

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For more than six years Ammon Bundy and his family amassed hundreds of followers and supporters willing to pick up a gun at a moment's notice and rally to their side for a confrontation with the federal government.

Bundy led two armed standoffs against the feds in Nevada and Oregon, and his family quickly became the face of a growing militia movement, bringing a national spotlight to armed groups eager for a conflict with what they believed to be an overreaching government.

The militia groups, with members holding a mix of right-wing, anti-government, and conspiratorial views, had been growing since 2008 thanks to their heavy use of social media and binding opposition to then-president Barack Obama. The standoffs in 2014 and 2016 made the Bundy family, including Ammon, leading figures in the movement.

So when he logged on to Facebook last week to speak to his supporters in defense of the caravan of Central American migrants gathered at the southern border, a frequent target of President Trump, he figured he'd face some criticism.

"To group them all up like, frankly, our president has done — you know, trying to speak respectfully — but he has basically called them all criminals and said they're not coming in here," Bundy said in the video. "What about individuals, those who have come for reasons of need for their families, you know, the fathers and mothers and children that come here and were willing to go through the process to apply for asylum so they can come into this country and benefit from not having to be oppressed continually?"

Bundy went on, dispelling conspiracy theories that billionaire George Soros was behind the caravan or that terrorists were using the group to sneak into the US.

But the backlash from his supporters was immediate, with many repudiating Bundy for his views. Followers who had traveled to his father's ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, in 2014 during an armed standoff with federal agents over unpaid cattle grazing fees said they regretted doing so. Others claimed Bundy was being paid by left-wing "globalists" to switch sides. Some told him they wished he was dead, or that militias had never supported his family.

Bundy was shocked by the swift reaction.

"I expected to get a decent amount of pushback, but I also believed that I could explain to them why I'd taken those positions and why," he told BuzzFeed News. "But you know, I've always had these kinds of thoughts that people were not really listening to the principles of things, that they had aligned with me for some other reasons, and that some of those [reasons] are good and some of those might not be, but this last video kind of confirmed that."

So on Tuesday, Bundy shut down his social media accounts and said he was stepping away from the public light and the "patriot groups" that had gained national attention while supporting the Nevada ranching family. The decision to quit wasn't an easy one, Bundy said, but the movement's unforgiving opposition to the migrant caravan and what he called a dangerous and blinding support of President Trump left him with no choice.

"It's like being in a room full of people in here, trying to teach, and no one is listening," he said. "The vast majority seemed to hang on to what seemed like hate, and fear, and almost warmongering, and I don't want to associate myself with warmongers."

Bundy's sudden exit marks a defining moment in the so-called "patriot movement," one his family helped bolster over the past four years. Members of militia groups would talk about being part of the Bundy standoffs as a point of pride, a sort of street cred for militia.

While Bundy said he supports many of Trump's policies and is grateful for his presidential pardon of the ranchers at the center of the 2016 standoff in Oregon, he disagrees with his depiction of immigrants at the border and his approach to governing.

"I believe President Trump, the best way I could explain it, is that he's a nationalist, and a nationalist in my view makes the decision that best benefits the nation, not the individual," Bundy said. "That is not freedom, and that is not what America was built upon."

For those who have followed the Bundy clan and their clashes with the federal government, the 43-year-old's defense of immigrants was not a complete surprise, even if it was to his supporters.

His father, Cliven Bundy, has previously defended immigrants from Mexico and Central America, citing their desire to provide for their families as a human right — an opinion echoed by Ammon Bundy in his videos. Both men have said they believe migrants have a legal right to apply for asylum in the US, and that it is lawmakers' duty to give them that opportunity.

And although the family has generated a mishmash of support from militias, conspiracists, sovereign citizens, right-wing politicians, and critics of federal public lands, the Bundys' ideology has always stemmed from their specific brand of Mormonism, emphasizing personal freedom, empathy toward the persecuted, and conflict with the government.

"Fear is the opposite of faith, faith is the opposite of fear, and we have been asked by God to help, to be welcoming, to assist strangers, to not vex them," he said in his video. "As we do that, the Lord is going to bless us and bless them."

Religion has always played a central role in the Bundy family's ideology, Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow and an expert on right-wing extremism for the Anti-Defamation League told BuzzFeed News.

"Although [the Bundys'] views are not orthodox, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is pretty welcoming to refugees," he said.

Yet many of Bundy's supporters are not members of the Mormon church, and their views on immigration are more closely aligned with President Trump's hardline stance.

"[Bundy's] followers come from several places in the right, but they are almost all from the far-right," Pitcavage said. "There are very few parts of the far-right that are welcoming toward immigrants. They tend to be nativist or xenophobic."

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said far-right groups, including alt-right and militia gatherings, have begun to show divisions and fractures since the 2016 election.

Many involved in the groups were united in opposition to the Obama administration, then to Hillary Clinton's campaign, and later in support of President Trump. But Trump's victory has left the groups without a target, and individual issues and topics have once again begun to split some of their followers.

"Once it changed from an insurgency into something else, once the left was thrown out of the hold of government, the expectations for the far-right changed," Levin said.

It's unlikely Bundy's decision to exit will further splinter militia groups, Pitcavage said, but the so-called patriot movement — which has for years pegged itself as an anti-establishment collective aimed at curbing government abuses — finds itself in a difficult position at the moment.

"The militia movement has been in this weird space, unlike anything it's experienced in its previous history because someone they supported is the head of government," he said.

The unequivocal support for the president by his followers was a big concern, Bundy said, and a factor in his decision to step away from the movement.

"Those on the right have been so fanatically loyal to him that any word of opposition to bring out light in what he might be doing that is incorrect draws hate," Bundy said.

He then took it a step further, comparing the support of Trump's base to that of Adolf Hitler's.

"The time we find ourselves in now that is closest found in history is Germany in the 1930s, and they had a leader that was loved, and it was the same kind of following," he said. "I don't want to say there is that extreme similarity, but it very well could go that way, and people just give up their thinking, their rights, and they give up their government because they were so willing to follow him."

Other militia leaders who had previously rallied to Bundy's side have called him in recent days to privately offer support and protection, he said, after his family received threats over the Facebook video. Some, Bundy said, told him they agreed with his views critical of Trump but did not want to air their opinions publicly for fear of facing a similar backlash.

For now, Bundy doesn't want to be associated with the militia movement and said he was considering writing a book about his experience.

"I think they have their leader," he said. "I think, you know, President Trump is clearly their leader, and I think wherever he tells them to go, they'll go."

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344 days ago
I wasn’t expecting to read this
Washington, DC