A hot summer for France’s dynamic start-up scene

Summer in Paris might make you think of a leisurely walk in one of the city’s beautiful parks or just watching the world go by from a pleasant café. But don’t forget about technology and innovation – France has a dynamic start-up scene and the momentum never stops. Recently I attended Futur en Seine, the largest free open meet-up on innovation in Europe. The event was held in Paris from June 9-19th and brought together French inventors, developers and major players with innovators from around the world. It was total immersion in demos, conferences, workshops and non-stop networking.

I worked in Silicon Valley for 10 years before moving to Europe. I’ve watched the increasing vitality of tech entrepreneurism in France. In the past, if you wanted to create a startup in France, you had to fight against the fear of failure and a mountain of bureaucratic challenges. Today, everything has changed. OK, it’s still not 100% perfect, but we have a government that is encouraging intelligent risk-taking in business and entrepreneurial growth. Things are happening…

I read some statistics that 75% of French graduates with MBAs want to create a startup as soon as they finish school. 15% of the 2015 graduates from the number one engineering school in Europe, Polytechnique, spent six months of their curriculum at the Center for Entrepreneurship at University of California in Berkeley, learning how to create a startup. Now they are back in France and building their own tech success story.

During Futur en Seine, Axis Innovation held its 4th annual Axis Cap Digital Paris event, a unique forum for French and European startups to pitch their technologies to top-level venture capitalists and industry leaders. I participated as a panelist in a “Fireside Chat” session on how France can grow its startup success and I interviewed Sébastian Burlet, Founder and President of Lemon Way.


Chatting with Sébastian Burlet, CEO of Lemon Way at Axis Cap Digital Paris

Lemon Way was founded in 2007 and was a fintech pioneer. Lemon Way is a mobile payment service provider that lets users pay and transfer money with their mobile phones. The company has been called a French version of PayPal but less expensive. I would call it very successful – the company had 4 million in revenues in 2015 (revenues tripled in 1 year)!

  • The first French fintech start-up
  • 1,8 million customer accounts opened in France and Europe
  • The payment system is operating 30 countries and is gaining new customers in African countries.

Sébastian Burlet shared many interesting lessons learned from his entrepreneurial experience and one tip was for a startup to go international in scope right from the start. Some companies think it’s safer to build market share in their own country or region and then expand. Sébastian initially had greater success with his service in other countries and later Lemon Way made strong gains in France. In general, fintech was a little slower to catch on in France than in other countries and there’s been resistance from the traditional banking sector.

Fintech is a special interest of mine; I’m an advisor for WeCashUp, a rising star start-up that is based in Marseille and has its sights on global success.

If you’d like more info on the startup landscape in France, please contact me. I work with companies and development agencies on communication-related projects. If for some reason I can’t your question, I’d be happy to put you in contact with the right resource.




Keep projects on track with these simple tips

ACpostingHere are some tips I’ve learned that can make a project go more smoothly and with less people conflicts or administrative headaches. I use them in my work and you may find them helpful too.

Good briefings for good results

Resist the tendency to have a preliminary discussion about a new project and then decide ‘OK, let’s get going’. It seems proactive but in the long run this could be a recipe for disaster. Improper planning can result in a project getting derailed on timing and going over budget. Take the time to really define the messaging and scope of the project then create a briefing that addresses both practical and strategic issues.

Example: People focus on some details but neglect others. I received a briefing from a client that provided lots of background information, more than I really needed (huge PowerPoints and Word docs), including links to a company intranet that I could not access. Here’s what was missing:

  • Who exactly is your target audience for this document?
  • When a person reads the document, what do you want them to do ?

 Who really needs to know about the project?

I’m not suggesting that you cc: everyone in your company or the planet. Just consider who needs to be informed about the project during its various stages. People involved in the early planning phase may not want to be copied on ongoing correspondence. They may be satisfied with periodic updates – find out so you can keep everyone informed but not overwhelmed by details.

InflueI recommend that you also pay attention to the subtle but important role of an influencer. Every organization has people who don’t directly make decisions but they are very much in the loop and influence those who do make the decisions.

Example: I learned this the hard way earlier in my career. I started on a new project that seemed clear and straightforward. I informed the people who I felt needed to know…but I missed one. This person was an influencer; someone who wanted to be in the know, even if he didn’t have an active role in the project.

 Just as the project reached the validation stage, the influencer spoke up and began to derail the whole process with new input and objections. As a result, some work had to be revised at the last minute. A colleague told me, ‘if you cc: him early in the process, he’ll be perfectly happy. If you don’t, he’ll feel obligated to create waves later on.’ Lesson learned!

Standardize file names and version control

My last tip seems obvious, but it’s a common problem. As content goes through revisions, it’s crucial that everyone is working with the most current version of text. Clearly establish rules for how to name and update files. You’ll save time and greatly reduce the potential for mistakes, especially if your files have to be checked by people in different departments.

Example: One of my clients outsources the writing and design of a quarterly 40-page corporate magazine. The source language is English and the articles are translated to Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian. Accuracy is crucial throughout the writing, revision, translation and validation process, which includes review by the legal department.

Edits and last-minute changes are not unusual, so some files are updated continuously. It’s a big project, so I depend on some colleagues in my dream team. Fabien (translation expert with an incredible patience level) and Zorica (charming but strict project manager and content maven) taught me the value of proper file names. Here’s their formula, of course you can create your own criteria for the title. Just be consistent!

File name: Edition of magazine_Year Month Day. Name of Article_version.doc CE7_20161702.ProductNews_01.doc

A good file naming system and version control is useful when you are working with cross-cultural teams where there is no common language except English. I often work with designers who are not fluent in English. They are experts in design but don’t read the text as they’re putting it into the layout. I make sure that they have the right text to work with; this prevents proofreading nightmares later on.

Thanks for taking the time to visit my site, I hope these tips were useful! Please contact me if you need consulting, copywriting or translation assistance with your next project. 

The magic that happens when we’re ‘real’

I like the cheerful uplifting words and music in Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy” and his video is fun to watch. The song quickly went to the top of the music charts and became one of the best-selling singles of all times.

What I find most interesting is that thousands of people have felt motivated to create selfie videos, showing themselves dancing and singing along to the music. On youtube, there are countless videos of people in countries around the world feeling “like a room without a roof!”

What made this song such a success? It represents effective viral marketing, for sure.  But I think there’s an equally important success factor – the song resonates with people because it feels real and speaks from the heart.

When “Happy” first launched, the song was initially slow to get airplay. Then the music video released on youtube and the rest was history…the song developed a life and momentum of its own.

In a short interview on the Oprah show, Williams acknowledged the impact his song has on peoples’ lives and briefly breaks into tears.

Oprah commented: “I get now why it’s (the video) is so infectious. Because it came from such a clear space, that the energy was uninterrupted by anything, other than allowing it to flow from heart to heart. And that’s what happens when you see it.”

I think this same magic can happen when we believe in a dream, turn it into a plan, and then work to make it happen. Be real and see what happens!

Interview: http://youtu.be/IYFKnXu623s

Full version of “Happy”: http://youtu.be/y6Sxv-sUYtM

Medical nutrition – promising new ‘super-food’ ?

Medical nutrition is a rapidly evolving sector in the food industry and recently grabbed news headlines because of a promising Alzheimer’s study. Alzheimer’s patients taking a medical nutrition supplement showed noticeable improvement with memory and verbal recall.

Medical nutrition is a fascinating area of research, an evolving field in terms of legislation (food or pharma?) and a new uncharted area for product marketing.

Here’s a quick overview, if you’re not familiar with medical nutrition. There are a variety of players but the big guys are Danone and Nestlé.

What is medical nutrition?

Medical nutrition helps to manage disease-related malnutrition and specific disease conditions. It can manage the symptoms, or the progression of a disease, by controlling malnutrition and meeting special dietary needs.

Are these products food or pharmaceuticals?

In Europe, they are not classified as pharmaceuticals, but medical nutrition products require stringent research and clinical trials before they come to market.

Developers of medical nutrition supplements typically  partner with external research organizations to share knowledge and participate in patient trials. From a legislative perspective, the products are classified as food, so some developers are marketing them as ‘advanced nutrition’.

Is medical nutrition a replacement for medical treatment?

No, medical nutrition supplements don’t replace traditional drug treatments. Think of them as a synergistic complement to a traditional medical treatment program for a disease. But who knows, future research may discover ways that targeted nutrition can reduce the medications that are needed to treat certain diseases.

How do people take these products?

By drinking or eating the supplement as a beverage, soup, meal, or dessert, or delivered to the gastro-intestinal tract via a feeding tube.

Where do you find medical nutrition products?

They are usually prescribed or recommended by health care professionals, may be reimbursed by health insurance, and are distributed in hospitals, care homes, pharmacies, and special home-delivery channels.

If you’re already healthy, don’t get overly-excited!

If you are a healthy person, you are probably not going to need these products. However, as more medical nutrition products come to market, I’m wondering if marketing people will eventually get the bright idea to create consumer versions marketed as ‘wellness formulas.’ This theory is just my own personal speculation.  Time will tell…

MIT’s Alzheimer’s study

A study sponsored by Danone examined the combined effects of uridine, choline, and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA to help restore brain synapses in persons with mild Alzheimer’s disease. These elements are naturally found in our bodies in low concentrations. But when patients in the study took them in a specially engineered ‘cocktail’, called Souvenaid®, the results were promising.

The study involved 225 patients with mild Alzheimer’s. Some took the Souvenaid® medical nutrition supplement, and others received a non-medicated drink, once a day for 12 weeks.

Patients taking the medical nutrition supplement showed significant improvement in delayed verbal recall tests.

This means the ability to remember and respond to previously explained information.

Bottom-line: Medical nutrition is an interesting concept and I’m going to be keep a close eye on developments.  An older member of my family has Alzheimer’s and I hope that he can benefit from the research developments in this field.

Do you know someone who has Alzheimer’s disease?

Learn more about the disease at this site, Alzheimer Group – Europe. They also offer information for caretakers of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and a Care Guide in seven languages.