I’ve been living in San Francisco for more than 2 years. I wasn’t an entrepreneur when I moved here and I’m still not. Hopefully one day I will be, but I guess those 2 years have been more of an introduction to entrepreneurship. Discovering the tech startup world in San Francisco has been far more fulfilling than my last 5 years studying in college. Coming from France, attuning to American culture has been a long process for me, and it has taken some time for me to embrace it. Here are some takeaway lessons I’ve picked up over these last years.
American Story Telling
The simple example I have in mind is that we (as French people) don’t know how to talk about ourselves. Actually, I feel more comfortable to speak about myself in English than in French, probably because I first learned to tell my story in english. So you might ask why I didn’t learn to tell my story in French first? I believe it’s culturally and linguistically different. French is a refined and elaborate language and we really care about our look but sometimes I feel like it’s too much, and we don’t get straight to the point. For instance, at the end of a formal letter, in English we usually write “Yours faithfully” or “Sincerely“, while in French we would write “veuillez agréer, Monsieur Dupont, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués“, which translates to “Please accept, dear sir, the expression of my most humble greetings“. In the end, our desire to appear so eloquent adds many barriers and limits our effectiveness as story tellers.
Don’t get me wrong! French is a beautiful and complex language, but when the matter is business or to market a product, French doesn’t sound so great. Just check this iPhone ad taken from apple.com and apple.fr:
There’s 1 thing that I would point out: it’s “dernier cri” which means “latest fashion”, my guess is that “dernier cri” was the less worst translation they could find, that expression is way too complicated and it’s not commonly used in french, and ironically to me it’s almost old fashioned to say “dernier cri”.
American Positive Thinking
The most striking thing to me since I’ve been here is how positive people are day to day. Here I have noticed everyone gets excited for all sorts of things: trying a new restaurant, a new product launch, etc. In French, we don’t have any equivalent translation to say “I’m excited”. The closest equivalent would be “Je suis enthousiasme” (I am enthusiastic), but I would never say “Je suis excité(e)” unless you are talking to your boyfriend or girlfriend with a sexual connotation :)
Lack of French Role Models
This lack of our expression of excitement about anything could turn against us. How could you build a successful company if you can’t show how much you’re excited about it and how much you believe in it? At Miso, sometimes I feel like I am the most skeptical person because I don’t always know how to show my excitement about something. It becomes alarming if you ask me if to name any french entrepreneur role model… Certainly not Bernard Arnaud (CEO LVMH), neither Arnaud Lagardère (Groupe Lagardère). I’ve a lot of respect for them, but it’s not that kind of entrepreneur that I would admire.
Xavier Niel (CEO Free) would be the first I would name, he’s one of few willing to make a difference, willing to change how wireless market works in France, that by the way one of the things Americans should take example of. Also I’m pretty sure there’re a lot successful french entrepreneurs out there, it’s I think we don’t have enough inspiring models in France, Michel Lévy-Provencal (CEO Joshfire) or Stéphane Distinguin (CEO faberNovel) could be good candidates, it just a matter of exposure.
On other hand if you ask the same question for americans, that list can be very long. If I had to pick one, I would name Kevin Systrom (CEO Instagram), I’m still amazed how successful Instagram has been. Only a 2 year old company and less 10 employees with 25 millions users and only on iPhone! I would recommend to watch this interview to see an example of a good role model.
For the time being, I enjoy being a software engineer at Miso and watching Somrat and Tim as entrepreneurs. It is inspiring to me and to the rest of the team, and eventually one day I will step up to try for myself. First things first though, let’s change the way that people watch TV. #drinkthesoup