Yesterday, President Nicolas Sarkozy and Google CEO Eric Schmidt sat down with some French Googlers to answer questions. They came together to inaugurate the opening of the new Google France building, a big step for Google, which previously lacked substantial footing in France, despite its popularity. In Eric Schmidt’s opening remarks (he was rather brief, as the audience, guests, and president were all French), he pointed out that Google had gone too long without a foothold in France, and that in order to know French consumers better, they needed to really dig in to the country.
From there the event passed on to “Question & Answer” – I put the term in quotes, because it was more like “ask a question and listen to Sarkozy’s 15 minute rant.” Normally, I’m no fan of listening to any politician around election time, but I was surprised at how in touch and upfront President Sarkozy was about Le Web.
“When someone succeeds, we always add in the ‘buts’… “He succeeded…buthe lied, he stole, etc.”
Sarkozy was surprisingly upfront with his judgment on French people for the inability to cope with failure, and success. He seemed to be aware that one of the things that allows American entrepreneurs & their companies to succeed is their ability to be realistic about success. “Success is very rare,” he said, “and it doesn’t come without failure.” He pointed out that the French are not comfortable praising someone’s success – this is something I have heard often from French entrepreneurs; in fact, there is even a phrase for how journalists treat stars in the media: “they leach, they lavish, then they lynch.”
FailCon, a conference dedicated to the recognition of failure and it’s ability to teach others, came to Paris this past september, and the turnout was very interesting – the ability for French entrepreneurs to break cultural stigmas of failure and resentment of success will prove vital in their ability to succeed as a startup country.
“I am speechless at the French progress in e-commerce.”
Sarkozy also seemed to recognize what startupers have been noticing for years – the French rock at e-commerce! Young entrepreneurs who have succeeded have 9 times out of 10 done so through e-commerce.
In talking about this, Sarkozy also talked about how French companies that have remained major players through the evolution of the internet over the past 20 years have done so by adapting. Citing La Poste, France’s postal service, as well as Deutsche Post (Germany’s postal service), Sarkozy poitned out that, while 20 years ago these companies were just mail deliverers, they have remained notable by adapting their business to the changing times – the same cannot be said for the United States Postal Service.
“The French have adapted much more than some of us would like to admit”
The stereotype of the French rejecting all that is American is a familiar one, but is it still relevant? I have heard many “progressive-thinking” French startupers talk of other French people as being behind in the times, as hating America, and as being, well, French; yet, I don’t know one French person who lives up to this stereotype. I’m not talking about France’s love for ‘McDo’ or the fact that they watch more TV in english than in French, and neither did Sarkozy.
While Sarkozy may get killed for suggesting that French culture is being Americanized, he was not shy about pointing out that French culture has lost some of its older habits. In a country defined by its old buildings, old wine, and old habits, it seems that new offices for Google are just the tip of the iceberg for the wave of new that is sweeping through Paris.
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