Enclaves

French Startups Take Refuge in New York

French entrepreneurs are building a Little Paris in New York's tech scene.
ilan French Startups Take Refuge in New York

Mr. Abehassera.

We won’t attempt to spell the way Ilan Abehassera pronounces the word “entrepreneur.” It’s as elaborate, grand and guttural as you’d expect from a French native, but you can tell he’s holding back a bit, Americanizing the consonants and clipping his vowels just slightly. It’s probably unconscious; the entrepreneur has been in the U.S. for eight years, most of them in New York. “NYC Entrepreneur” is the title of his website. He is the founder and CEO of productivity suite Producteev.

It’s funny, the tech industry is so obsessed with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. “I’m an entrepreneur,” says Justin Timberlake in the Social Network, with a cocky half-smile, as he pulls a shirt over his head after bagging a Stanford hottie. It’s a favorite descriptor in Twitter bios and LinkedIn pages. Lately, nothing is sexier than “an owner or manager of a business enterprise who makes money through risk and initiative.”

We forgot it was a French word, we admitted. Mr. Abehassera laughed. “I don’t know why though, because you have much better entrepreneurs than in France,” he said.

We reached the founder by phone this morning to chat about the French startup scene which he says is taking root in New York. Besides superstar Fabrice Grinda, the ubiquitous imp who made a name for himself by launching cookie cutter versions of U.S. startups (eBay, Craigslist) in Europe, there are a number of French entrepreneurs in the city, Mr. Abehassera said. “Not many have taken notice but NYC has indeed become de rigueur with us French tech geek entrepreneurs,” he wrote in an email.

“France is not a country where they really promote entrepreneurship,” he explained. “From an administrative standpoint, starting a company in France, it takes a month and a half. Here it’s like 20 minutes online.”

There are other barriers, he said, including high taxes, a small pool of hiring talent, and restrictive rules. “It’s impossible to fire someone,” he said. “If you don’t get along with someone you just hired and it’s often the case, there is no way you can let him go. He will tell you basically, ‘I will stop working, I will leave every day at 5 p.m.,’ and you can’t have nothing to do. If you fire him, he will put you to court and he will win.”

Employees can’t be fired unless they’ve done something really serious or criminal, he said. It’s a great country for employees, but not so great for new companies.

“It’s not a country for entrepreneurs,” he said. “You do have innovation, but like, just name one French startup that you know. You can’t! Some of them have made it in the U.S., like Netvibes and a couple ad tech companies.”

Fred Wilson has observed the same. “Entrepreneurship is a French word and modern day venture capital was invented by a Frenchman named George Doriot,” he wrote in 2008. “If you don’t know about Doriot, you haven’t been reading this blog recently. But even though the French have a historical connection to entrepreneurship and venture capital, the French economy and society doesn’t seem to be particularly supportive of entrepreneurship.”

And so the French are coming to New York. It’s closer to France than Silicon Valley, and they like the city. “In addition to Producteev, FreshPlanet, Dashlane and Totsy are a few other examples of Paris-originals that are benefiting from the local tech community,” Mr. Abehassera said in an email. “FreshPlanet’s founder relocated from Paris a few years ago, and is quickly becoming a young social gaming darling. Totsy is another example. They are a member-only private sale site for moms and kids products—and one of Forbes 2011 Most Promising Companies. Dashlane just got funding from NYC-based VC and is looking for office space to hang a shingle in NYC.”

Dashlane is currently shacking up with Producteev in Chelsea, he said.

And Mr. Abehassera is doing what he can to make the newcomers feel welcome. “In the past couple of months, I’ve received way more inbound meeting requests from French people than ever before,” he said. “One to five emails a week from people I don’t know who are coming to New York and want to meet. I had way less before. Now I need to say no once in a while.”

He co-hosts a weekly show about French startups in the U.S. for the tech blog French Web, and he and four other French entrepreneurs are organizing “something we call the New York French Geeks.” It takes place on the first Wednesday of the month at Bubble Lounge in Tribeca with “Francophiles or French people” in the startup scene.

french geeks French Startups Take Refuge in New York

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com

Comments

  1. hello everyone,
    Well done Ilan. I just want to promote here my start-up (yes i’m another french living in NYC and one of  the founder of New York French Geek)
    My company is a video content provider for media and financial institution. We are available in 9 languages. The company is 5 years old, create 10 jobs (i’m the only french :) and profitable for 3 years.
    http://www.nyfp.tv 

    and you can watch our video on the Huffington Post

    and we have 200 distribution  partners worldwide ;
    as Huffingtonpost : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/business/
    or Youku in China ; http://i.youku.com/u/id_UMzYxODEyMzMy

    contact@nyfp.tv

  2. hello everyone,
    Well done Ilan. I just want to promote here my start-up (yes i’m another french living in NYC and one of  the founder of New York French Geek)
    My company is a video content provider for media and financial institution. We are available in 9 languages. The company is 5 years old, create 10 jobs (i’m the only french :) and profitable for 3 years.
    http://www.nyfp.tv 

    and you can watch our video on the Huffington Post

    and we have 200 distribution  partners worldwide ;
    as Huffingtonpost : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/business/
    or Youku in China ; http://i.youku.com/u/id_UMzYxODEyMzMy

    contact@nyfp.tv

  3. Well what about ventesprivees.com for a start up ? but Basically I agree it’s far too complicated to hire and fire in France unless you are in the geek universe :-) but then things can’t be always perfect. In  2008  when I created http://www.chambrescarnac.com the administration blocked me for one Year ! they pretended a sample of color was missing in an application for the renovating of my building !
    it took lawyers and ended with the mayor resigning  in order to let me create 3 jobs  they even asked me why ? Are you so obsessed with creating jobs ? i was puzzled !

  4. Sam BESSALAH says:

    Here’s another french douche, blabling about how so painfully hard it is to start a company in France. What a load of crap. It should have been very excruciating for all those people who are actually starting their own business. The startup scene in Paris is growing at much faster than before. And pretend that  there’s small pool of talents is just another fantasy for someone who’s apparently have spent so much time in his bubble hoping to find a low paid tech slave. 
    Now nothing is perfect, but common wanna engage in some french bashing, at least try to outsmart the previous zealots who engaged in this activity.

    1. Ilan says:

      Thanks for the kind comment. Nobody said that nothing was happening in France in tech, just much more difficult to succeed there than in the US. Disagree? Other than that, stay classy ;)

      1. christiangross says:

        Is France difficult? Probably…  Is France impossible? I would say no. If you want to work in Paris, sure life is hellish. But hey who on earth would want to live in Paris in the first place.

        I used to live in the South of France and worked in Sophia Antipolis. Very different attitude there. Was it hard to recruit workers? Not really! Actually not hard AT ALL! People actually want to live in the South of France.

        And if you don’t like the French government then you can start a company in Monaco, while living in France. Have done that as well.

        BTW you can fire employees. Keep them as contractors. That is how we lived in the South of France. Sure you could get an employee contract, but then your wages went downhill.

        Oh wait now I get it… You want to underpay and overwork… Ah now that makes sense…  Sorry not going to happen in France..

      2. Ilan says:

        You’re typically describing why it’s complicated to make it in France. Yes you can fire people if you hire contractors (didn’t know contractors were employees), you can start a co in Monaco instead (have you seen any successful startup out of Monaco?)… My whole point is : we have very few successful tech cos in France, and there are reasons why it’s the case

      3. Phil Jeudy says:

         You have a new friend in life :)

  5. Carolyn @DigitInterAct says:

     soyez le bienvenu-I hope this is correct-love your invite and hope to come-is Social Media Week in NYC so the city should be buzzing…do you know of the contingent of French in Larchmont New York? We have the French American School here and am told tone of the largest french communities in the US…Do you know the CEO of Nuxeo? another French based newcomer..

  6. Carolyn @DigitInterAct says:

     soyez le bienvenu-I hope this is correct-love your invite and hope to come-is Social Media Week in NYC so the city should be buzzing…do you know of the contingent of French in Larchmont New York? We have the French American School here and am told tone of the largest french communities in the US…Do you know the CEO of Nuxeo? another French based newcomer..

  7. Laurent Ohana says:

    It’s extremely difficult to start a new company ANYWHERE, Paris or NYC (try Shanghai if you want to see what difficult really is…).  Even more difficult then starting is making it work.  There is no glory in being a startup.  It’s about creating a business that succeeds.  And it’s impossible to do that without an ecosystem that is receptive to supporting young companies, including Angel investors, VCs, employees willing to take risks, and on and on.  That ecosystem is strongest in Silicon Valley.  It’s harder everywhere else.  Period.  All entrepreneurs share a passion in common, they ought to find ways to help each others deal with the difficulties while continuing to compete with each other to create the best products for their customers.

  8. I look forward to meeting you soon!
    I am French, living in New York, working for a German startup (http://www.carpooling.com) and promoting Europe’s newest peer-to-peer transportation network into the US.
    New York is the best home away-from-home…

  9. I look forward to meeting you soon!
    I am French, living in New York, working for a German startup (http://www.carpooling.com) and promoting Europe’s newest peer-to-peer transportation network into the US.
    New York is the best home away-from-home…

  10. If nothing else, this guy is bringing some sexy to the NY startup scene. Seriously, while New York is equally or more expensive than Paris, a lot of things are much easier there than in France or Europe in general. I won’t totally go against the guy who said start the company in Monaco, because all of the big finance companies form their companies in Delaware (tax reasons) then set up shop in New York for similar reasons. But New York is not exactly a haven for people looking for low wage labor, so I’m not getting this “underpaying” animosity.