Photos by Rodrigo Sepulveda (cc) BY NC SA

300 French web professionals – many from the entertainment sector – gathered at Microsoft’s national HQ yesterday for a series of sessions on the twin theme of youth & startups. The objective? Understand both better, and give concrete advice to budding “young sprouts” (as the French once called them).

Few could better advise the new generation than Loic Lemeur (photo), founder both of social media client Seesmic and of LeWeb, France’s primary web conference. As he spends a great deal of his time in Silicon Valley, the entrepreneur is well placed to explain differences between the US & Europe in startup and VC terms. “Investors get mobbed at US tech events,” he said, each speaker attracting around thirty budding startups after their conference intervention; as such, “startups can find money more easily in the US than in Europe.”

For US startups, said Lemeur, self-promotion & buzz creation is second nature. “Community managers are the most looked-for job on LinkedIn right now,” he said; and these new companies give advisory shares to major influencers such as Kevin Rose (Digg) or Ashton Kutcher, as they know they will talk about their startups in their huge networks. “You should go and see them!” encouraged Lemeur. “They’ll be interested, because they love the French! And also try Robert Scoble: he loves doing video interviews with new startups.”

Lack of fear is perhaps the most important prerequisite for both US startups and their investors, said Lemeur. The latter “think less about a startup’s business plan that about its traction or current following” – and as such potential – “and are not scared of failure.” Indeed, added Lemeur, “one US conference has a whole day about failed startups!” His invitation to do the same thing in Europe was warmly retweeted by those present…

Similar messages were driven home by speaker Frederic Montagnon, creator of wiki network Wikio and of blog service Overblog. The latter was created after an attempt by Montagnon and his then-young music-loving fans to make and sell their own multitrack music mixer developed into a thriving music forum. For him, their youth was key, because “when you’re young, you do things you don’t dare to do when you’re older. You’re not always sure what you’re doing… But you just do it anyway.”

VC Nicolas Celier, of Alven Capital (left), agreed young people’s strength is their lack of preconceived ideas. “One young entrepreneur we financed got his idea from watching (French business TV show) Capital!” In short, vision and enthusiasm is less important than experience. This also applies to his own team: “Young people such as our interns can often have better flashes of inspiration than VCs with 30 years of experience,” he said. Therein lies one tip for startups: get to know VC interns!

Celier raised the funding for MonShowroom, a fashion ecommerce site that set out to challenge national leader Vente Privee. MonShowroom’s founder Severine Grégoire (centre, with Techcrunch France’s Roxanne Varza, right) was introduced to Celier by a broker, after having been turned down by all the banks she’d approached as an inexperienced 25 year-old. After launching the site initially with €56,000, MonShowroom ended up raising €4.3 million in 2009, and now has a 25-strong staff. A fairytale story, then? “There is friction at first,” admitted Celier, “but you build confidence over time. You musn’t be afraid!”

“We had to take risks,” said Grégoire, “ignore those around us who said we’d never make it, and above all use the energy we may not have when we’re older!” Wise words…

Facing the music

Getting to grips with the ever-changing youth demographic was a key theme of the day. One company well-versed in that domain is radio network Skyrock, whose blogs still represent France’s biggest social network after Facebook. The company’s president, Pierre Bellanger, explained how it had reached 33 million active blogs since launching in 2002, despite the arrrival of Facebook: by remaining “integrated (with other platforms), yet different.”

Something that could just as well apply to young people themselves: as co-panelist Pierre-Eric Jacoupy, head of Microsoft’s Windows Live in France, explained, they are “keen to belong to a group, but also want to affirm their own distinct identity.” Does this mean young people suffer from multiple personality disorder? For one, said Bellanger “the 15-25 category in itself is absurd and discriminatory, as there are over-25s who act like adolescents too;” but he agreed that “anything monocontextual is anathema to young people.” As such, Skyrock users often have 3 or 4 blogs each; “but the first and foremost of those identities is your public persona: hence Facebook’s success.”

So what can one expect of young web-users, especially given their lack of disposable income? For co-panelist Tristan Collombet, of gaming network Prizee, “young people are far more viral than other age groups; they are as such our key evangelists; our first salespeople, if you will.” Jacoupy agreed that they are the main buying influencers for an increasing number of households, for example for new technology purchases.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean you can count on them, said Bellanger: “there’s always an inevitable proportion of cretins (on social networks); but I assure you, the new generation of creatives is on skyrock.com.” Why? “Because our model is permanent reinvention; advertising allows us to be free.” Such freedom allows for initiatives such as the creation of dedicated blogs for artists, which Bellanger claims has made stars of acts such as French R&B singer Kenzah Farah (her Skyrock blog is here).

The figures & the future

Delphine Gatignol, director of Comscore France, was also on had to give some key facts and figures:

  • 15-24 year olds – who number 8.4 million in France – spend 1 hour and 20 minutes on the internet every day, of which 24 minutes on social media (principally Facebook)
  • Facebook is the most-visted site, but Skyrock is second, followed by Windows Live. Myspace comes 5th, and Twitter 7th
  • Google sites (mainly YouTube) are video leaders by a long way, with fifteen times more views than number 2, Daily Motion; Facebook is just behind
  • Overall, said Gatignol, “instantaneity” is young people’s key technological requisite…
  • …and the growth in time spent on social media is the outstanding trend of this survey.

Finally, the event looked to the future with a startup competition, won by Boosket (above), makers of impressive shopping apps for Facebook fan pages. Also in the running was e-Djing, which allows users to mix videos and tracks 100% online. We just hope you have more luck getting it to work than we did!

In short, a rich day of learning for those dreaming of Zuckerberg-like fame: with perhaps just one main take-away: a little less conversation, a little more action, please!


About Author

James Martin

James Martin is Head of Social Media for Midem organisers Reed MIDEM. This includes defining and rolling out Midem's social media strategy, editing midemblog, influencer outreach, developing Midem's fanbase of 75,000+ music professionals and more.


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