Wine, Cheese, Fashion... Now Tech?

A study of the mobile development start-up ecosystem

 in France compared to other major tech centers


My name is Olivier Chenneveau, I’m a business consultant for specialty recruitment consultancy Vertex Solutions International in London. Originally from a Swiss French background I was asked by Vertex to utilize my linguistic abilities to help them understand the French mobile development start-up ecosystem. Over several weeks I contacted industry professionals to gather information about the current ecosystem of the mobile development market. After speaking to 35+ professionals from junior developers through to CEO level I have come up with my interpretation of the current ecosystem in France, with a comparison to the UK/US ecosystems.

Where have the developers gone?

It seems that no matter who you speak to in France about mobile development, even if they live outside of France, you hear the same answer when it comes to supply and demand. France has an incredibly large need for mobile developers, yet the supply is close to fully exhausted. The few experienced developer that are in France are cherry picked by large companies or highly interesting start-ups. The rest have left for large tech countries such as the US and England.

Why are they leaving?

According to junior to mid level developers, it’s just more interesting abroad! Why would a junior developer stay in France getting around 30-40k euro’s a year. When he could move to the US or England and receive 10-20k more. Projects abroad also tend to become bigger and more interesting at a much faster pace. Don’t get me wrong there are many successful companies that come out of France, but in general this seems to be a deciding factor in young developers choosing to leave France.

How come it’s more interesting abroad?

It seems the mindset of French developers has a lot to do with it. The French are known to be highly nationalistic. When it comes to the companies they create, they tend to think too small in terms of market size. French tech start-ups focus on targeting the French market and nothing abroad. This tunnel vision approach to competition is self-deprecating severely restricting the customer target market, in turn not allowing the companies to grow at their maximum potential. Developers tend to stick to a project for a short time, constantly looking for new and exciting projects to work on. Without this rapid growth these developers tend to gravitate toward the large international sectors of innovation, the US and England.

What makes the US & England so different?

The US and England are risk takers when it comes to investment. Good or bad in some sectors of technology and industry. It’s the main driving force behind every next big idea. Whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Rovio, they all started as small start-ups and built up to massive companies utilizing angel investors and venture capitalists. In the US and England these large investment institutions tend to take much larger risks then in France, investing in the idea rather than the developed product itself.

Why is this important?

This key difference enables start-ups in the US and England to quickly develop, manufacture, market, and sell their product because of the seemingly endless amount of available capital. From million dollars first round angel investment deals to massively large venture capitalist rounds, start-ups are able to get the cash they need to recruit the people and skills they need. In France, start-ups are often left in the dust when their first initial round of investments is over. They struggle to gain the people and skills and therefore struggle to keep their projects on the cutting edge. This drives the developers away. Looking for new projects to sharpen their skills they move to the US and England.

What is France doing to improve their tech industry?

The French government has recently made it much easier to start a company. This has helped drastically in creating a large influx of start-ups into the technology market. In turn, it has brought about the creation of a multitude of incubators/accelerators to open up around the country. Mostly centralized in Paris, these private and public incubators are helping mature these start-ups from an idea to a developed product or service. A majority of these incubators are backed by the Banque Publique d'Investissement (Public Investment Bank) or the Minister of Finance. This gives financial backing to start-ups that are a part of these incubators. However, once the start-up has finished their incubation period they are thrown into the marketplace and cut of all these life lines. Without these life lines many of the start-ups don’t last very long since investment past the initial start-up money is very hard to obtain in France.

What needs to change?

The French business mindset needs to change. Start-ups need to think more globally. If they are going to survive they need to denationalize their business and instead market themselves as an international company who happens to be located in France. This in turn would attract international investment and international talent. Which not only helps them fast track their product and service to market, but helps them circumvent the shortage of French developers by hiring international developers.

Does anything else require change?

It seems that how techies are perceived needs to drastically change in France, if the industry wants to see its lack of experienced developer subside. It’s a social stigma that if you are still a developer in your late 30’s you haven’t done much of anything with your career. The French put a huge emphasis on becoming a manager/leader of a team or organization; they call this the “Grande Ecole” mentality. This much diminished view of techies does not give them much incentive to stay in the country and work for companies in France when they can go across the channel to the UK. Where in the UK techies that have stuck to pure development till their late 40’s or even 50’s are seen as guru’s and are extremely prized by some of the top tier companies in the world. This is true in the US as well where extremely veteran techies are often seen as legends within tech circles.  

How far are we from changing the mentality?

The environment is starting to change. Companies are starting to understand that they cannot sustain themselves simply targeting the French market. The younger generation is much more adventurous than their parents and are traveling abroad and discovering other cultures, developing an international mindset. Slowly and steadily the whole of the tech market will shift to think more internationally. France has an incredible opportunity to become the next big technology center. It has the technical knowhow, determination, and creativity to successfully create an ecosystem that is highly beneficial to inhibiting the growth of tech start-ups. Its schools are training some of the best engineers in the world, but are losing many of them to the already highly structured and veteran technology centers around the world. Mentalities and social stigmas need to change, but I truly believe that the industry is already on the right path and that the future is bright for this young and growing technology center.