-  Interview

A conversation with Dylan Tweney of Venture Beat

Dylan Tweney is an American writer and editor focused on technology and business. He is the executive editor at VentureBeat, a news publication covering the technology revolution and its impact on business and daily life. From 2008 to 2011, he was senior editor at Wired.com where he was responsible for the site’s gadget news and product reviews from and before that, in 2007, he launched the site’s business coverage.

After spending a few minutes with Dylan Tweney during the opening cocktail of the France Digital Days, we were very quickly confirmed in our opinion that it is imperative for French entrepreneurs to promote their know-how, their ambitions, and their innovative spirit abroad.

When we asked Dylan about his knowledge of French start-ups, he had only heard of Criteo and Dailymotion which is far cry from all that France has to offer.
And Dylan acknowledged: “Anybody with any sense would know that there is a lot of engineering talent in France. Because there are great universities here that have a very long history of being strong in electronics, aerospace, and computer science.”
He thinks France would win by making more and more connections. Initiatives like La French Tech are, according to him, a good first step in raising awareness of what’s happening in the French start-up industry and the opportunities that exists here for engineers from Silicon Valley. A first of many necessary meet-ups to foster bonds between the US and the French markets.

Here the full conversation between Cécile Brosset (Head of Innovation Development at Bpifrance), Adrien Cabo (Bpifrance Incubator Manager) and Dylan Tweney.

What was your motivation for coming here?

Two reasons: the easy answer is that Jerome Lecat (CEO of Scality), who I know, asked me to come to France and spend some time in Paris so I said of course! [laughs] Who could say no to that? But the journalistic reason, the reason I’m here, is to see the state of the French start-up ecosystem. It’s clear that there is a lot of engineering talent here. A lot of design talent. The economy is huge but then the question is “where are the start-ups?” In the US, just because we don’t hear about French start-ups doesn’t mean they don’t exist. So maybe there are start-ups that I need to know about that I haven’t heard of.

Does it mean that you don’t hear at all about French start-ups?

Not very much. Criteo, obviously, because they went public. And a few others like Dailymotion because they’re very big and Yahoo was going to buy them. But there aren’t a lot of other French tech companies in the early stages that we hear about.
But you said you know that we have talented engineers here?
I know that but I don’t know if the average American knows that. But anybody with any sense would know that because there are great universities here. The technical industries here in France have a very long history of being strong in electronics, aerospace, and computer science. But what I don’t know is how start-ups and entrepreneurs are doing.

What do you expect from this trip?

Well my big question is where is the next billion dollar French start-up coming from? Maybe it already exists. Can I find out what that is? But my next question is where are the rest? Seems like there has been one digital company in the last ten or fifteen years. Maybe more than that. I’m not counting all of them necessarily. But not many in the past ten years apart from Criteo. So why not?

Would you say it’s more because you don’t know about them, or because they actually don’t exist?

I just learned that there are a few that I hadn’t known about like Vente Privée, which is close to a billion dollar corporation. And then obviously there’s FREE, this ISP Telco which is also very innovative and ten to fifteen years old… and worth quite a lot. So there are obviously a few that I wasn’t very familiar with. As for the rest, I don’t know. Maybe they just don’t reach American markets so we don’t hear about them. And therefore maybe I’m just ignorant about what’s going on.

Have you recently come across any promising French start-ups?

Too soon to say. I’m hoping to meet some here.


I’ll ask you that question at the end of the trip then.

You’re going to be talking to the President this evening so what do you think you are going to say to him and what are your expectations?

I may not get very much time with him. But if I have one question to ask it will be “Mr. President, what are you doing to help create the next Criteo?” “What is your government doing to help the state of entrepreneurship in this country?” For me, it’s a matter of curiosity. I’m interested. I think for VentureBeat’s readers, there might be an opportunity to invest or partner with French companies that they ought to know about. But obviously for French entrepreneurs it’s hugely important because if the country could do a better job of fostering entrepreneurship then that could make a huge difference. Now maybe it already has. Maybe you just need better PR.

And what do you know about Bpifrance??

I know a little bit now but before last week I knew nothing. I know now that it’s a state-backed bank that makes investments in private companies and its whole mission is to encourage the kind of things that I’m talking about. So clearly you guys are doing something. And it’s not necessarily bad that I didn’t know about it before: I’m a US citizen so why would I necessarily know? Unless I’m considering moving to Paris and starting a company. Which after this week I might be seriously tempted to do. It’s a great city! [laughs]

What does an American citizen think about a government funded bank investing in private companies?

If you look at the past five years the American government has done quite a lot of investing in private companies. First with the bank bailout and then with the auto company bailout. Both of those were cases where the federal government gave large chunks of money. Essentially made large investments and then got the money back. Now it was very unpopular with many people politically in the US. But I think the people understand how the economy works and realize that that was a very smart and very necessary bet. So it’s not surprising to me. I think that’s the purpose of government. But maybe I’m a communist [laughs].

What would be the thing that makes this event a success for us? What should we expect at the end of these few days for us to make real transformation?

I don’t think transformation comes from hosting just one event. I tell my reporters, when they’re developing sources and talking to people that you have to meet somebody three times until they feel like they know you and you feel like you know them. So the first time you meet them you’re like “Nice to meet you Cecile and nice to meet you Adrien” and you shake hands. The next time I probably don’t remember your name and you probably don’t remember mine so we reintroduce each other. The third time, if we’re lucky, we remember each other’s names and we’re happy to see each other. And then when you see that person you smile and you’re happy to see them. And that’s a connection. So it takes about that many times before somebody feels comfortable telling you something that you’d want to report on. I think the same thing happens with connections between entrepreneurs or investors. You need repetition to make those relationships happen. And I think it’s the relationships that will make the difference with you. With Silicon Valley or New York investors and entrepreneurs.

Jerome Lecat (CEO of Scality) was telling me that they tried for a long time to recruit engineers from Silicon Valley to move to Paris. And they have had a very hard time finding anyone. They have one now but recruiting firms were telling them that it was impossible. Nobody will move to France from Silicon Valley. And that’s because nobody knows what it’s like over here. Nobody knows what the opportunities are. France is not regarded in the US as a technology destination. Success would be a few connections that start to shift that perception a bit. And I’m not saying that your ecosystem is dependent on having a relationship with Silicon Valley. You can go your own way. You don’t need us necessarily. But I think this kind of connections will help fertilize those ideas.