Balderton’s partners drop into Station F in Paris for an informal ‘AMA’ with resident startups

The Balderton team invests at Series A across the entire of Europe. While any of us can technically go anywhere, we inevitably each end up focusing around certain specific cities. To ensure that we don’t lose the collective perspective that is a great luxury of being a European venture capitalist we force ourselves to decamp as a team and spend time in other cities every couple of months. 

Last week it was France’s turn and most of the investment team headed to Paris. 

We ran our typical Monday Partner meeting (only now it was in a conference room at Station F, not our boardroom in King’s Cross).

As usual we spent most of our time meeting angel investors, entrepreneurs and our peers (only this time they were all French ones).

And, as we do every week, we also spent time with media commentators and we arranged breakfasts, lunches and dinners to get people together (only this week, they were all in Paris and the menus were all in French).

As someone who has not spent a huge amount of time in France before but will be doing so going forward, I found it fascinating.  Put simply, Paris is on fire. And my colleagues BernardCaye and Nicolas, who spend more time there than I do tell me that it isn’t just limited to the capital – they see increasing activity in other key hubs like Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and Grenoble. Statistically, our own data suggests we saw six times more companies from France in 2017 than we did in 2012!

Statistically, our own data suggests we saw six times more companies from France in 2017 than we did in 2012!

Suranga Chandratillake, Balderton

While it’s good to experience a place in the moment when you’re there, I used the Eurostar back to London to jot down some more structured observations and thoughts on this growing transformation:

1) Technology talent 

Talent is available and ready to be tapped at scale: More even than its European counterparts, France has traditionally had a very, very strong emphasis on engineering. While the best-known manifestation of this is the Ecole Polytechnique, this is a cultural thing – the French value engineering and that is obvious in everything from their public transport, to the way their government is run and, of course, in their many highly, technical start-ups especially in sectors like artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, security, infrastructure software and more. We really saw this when we held a packed AMA at Station F – question after question from super-smart engineers-turned-entrepreneurs.

2) An ambitious generation 

An ambitious generation is at the heart of change: As we’ve seen elsewhere there is a generation of entrepreneurs who have been simultaneously inspired by the art of the possible in Silicon Valley and turned off by the post-2008 reality of traditional career routes. There’s a hunger and self-belief amongst these individuals that drives companies that are growing fast and not looking back. Huge exits in recent times like Criteo and Talend (both on NASDAQ, respectively worth $1.8B and $1.5B) are key here.

3) Capital has increased dramatically 

From the well-publicised state-funding provided by BPI and regional equivalents to individuals like Xavier Niel and Pierre-Edouard Sterin, France has many times the funding it had for technology companies just a few years ago. Even better, this capital is available at every stage – from seed through to growth. We saw this when we tried to book meetings with key players and realised we simply couldn’t fit everyone into our schedule, even when we split up as a team – we will have to return soon!

4) People are returning from Silicon Valley

Whether it’s Trump or just a matter of time, France is experiencing what we call the Valley Veteran effect – French people who have spent the majority of their career in the Bay Area and soaked up its ecosystem, know-how and experiences and are now back and keen to share it all with French start-ups. Interestingly the draw of Paris is such that even Americans are making this move.

My colleague Lars has written on this very topic, in the Telegraph, the Financial Times, and on his own Medium

5) A change in regulation has impacted the culture

Macron’s much-publicised labor reforms have had an impact. I’m still unsure as to whether the regulations themselves are affecting technology companies (although, theoretically, they should be a good thing) but I am certain that even opening this conversation has created a cultural shift. One in two people I met in France referenced these changes and that alone, I think, suggests that they are important to the ecosystem.

Which is all just a long-winded way of saying we are excited about France and the part it will play in our future investments. 

Our oldest active investment in the country is Talend – now public and the largest enterprise software company to come out of the country since my partner Bernard built and sold Business Objects. 

Over the last few years we’ve had the fortune to also work with some of the most interesting companies in the ecosystem — Vestiaire CollectiveSketchFab and Aircall are all growing rapidly and Sunrise was until it was acquired a couple of years ago. 

And, in the last six months we’ve made a number of new investments and are now working with the teams at VirtuoAndjaro and two more that have not yet been announced. And yet the year (and our current fund) is young – so expect to see more before too long!

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