Free, unsolicited advice for Station F: France’s future startup campus

October 13, 2016

“You get what you pay for,” is a good adage to bear in mind whenever I proffer free advice, and this time is no exception.

The beneficiary of my dubious and wholly unsolicited advice is Station F: France’s planned startup campus set in a former freight station in Paris’ 13th arrondissement, due to open next year. Specifically, I recommend that Station F establish and communicate one clear goal — not multiple confusing ones — ideally a hairy audacious goal. [Note: for guidance in goal-setting, consider the S.M.A.R.T. framework: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound]. Here’s my Rude suggestion for a big, hairy, audacious goal for Station F:

rudevc_station-fMake Station F the Startup Hub of Europe

Think for a second of the opportunity here. The uncertainty around Europe as a consequence of Brexit (and several minor factors contributing to the confusion) has given foreign investors pause. France in and of itself is not a big enough market to appeal to outsiders (I recognize that this is a bitter bill to swallow for some, but if it’s any consolation, this holds true for every EU country). The appeal of France to outside investment is largely due to its position inside a larger European market. Yes, we have great engineers in France, great schools, innovative thinkers, blah blah blah. But when foreign tech firms consider France, they do so in the context of a larger European expansion plan.

If Station F could earn the perception on the global stage as the best landing point for outsiders wishing to enter the continent, as the best spot to develop a beachhead for a European expansion, wouldn’t that be formidable ?!

If you prefer to limit your ambition, and restrict this to a Franco-French thing, fine. Encouragingly, however, your landing page’s tagline of “Join the world’s biggest startup campus” suggests that you’re aiming high. So if an audacious idea like Startup Hub of Europe resonates with you, let’s examine what the goal of making Station F the startup hub of Europe might entail:

  1. Make English the language of all correspondence, uniformly and without exception. If outsiders stumble onto a French website, they will likely draw the preliminary conclusion that you’re a French thing. Your current landing page defaults to a French site with an English option. My recommendation: ditch the French version and make it English only. This also means, by extension, that English (broken English is perfectly fine) be the working language for all staff.
  2. Consider something radical like offering any European tech startup a freemium product. For example, any eligible European startup could be granted a Paris mailing address and telephone number for free. Think about the value this might bring to a non-French, European startup eager to demonstrate that they have a pan-European footprint.
  3. Of course, you could offer a panoply of optional, paid services on an à la carte basis, such as: a physical office space, bank account facilitation, labor and tax facilitation, legal and accounting services, company registration, etc.
  4. Let go of the French pride and cheerleading of all things FrenchTech. In fact, for this to work, you must resist this temptation and enculturate everyone in the organization to think as Europeans, not as French.
  5. This also means, by extension, that you must dispense with the thinking that French politicians will draw foreign investors in startups. With all due respect to Monsieur Le Président de la République, I’m not sure his invitation to an opening cocktail/speech will clinch attendance from foreign tech actors. There is a risk, however, that it undermines the message that Station F is a truly pan-European initiative and hence nourish the perception of just another Franco-French shindig.
  6. Another radical and undoubtedly controversial thought: establish concrete metrics for European representation and limit the involvement of French startups to a minority.
  7. Finally, assemble a diverse, pan-European personnel organization from the beginning, which will facilitate all of the above.

Once your goal is clear, the task of crafting consistent messaging will prove easier.

Of course, some of you may respond that doing this is compliqué. In France it often is, given the morass of conflicting interests. My advice (for what it’s worth): transcend all that.

Our sweet spot reloaded

October 9, 2016

Years ago someone gave me the moniker of “Rude VC” because I had a reputation for giving curt (ok, sometimes rude) feedback to investment opportunities which we’ve chosen to decline. The moniker stuck, partly because I espouse the idea of being direct and transparent to entrepreneurs. Time is an entrepreneur’s most precious asset, so why string them along if I’m not convinced to invest? Moreover, I feel it’s my duty to the ecosystem to provide an honest opinion on an entrepreneur’s plan: building a company is a continuous process of adjustment and improvement. I believe good entrepreneurs will be receptive to a diverging point of view, and I’d like to think I’ve improved my bedside manner too.

The principle of transparency also entails being clear on one’s investment scope. Realizing that my previous explanation of our fund’s investment scope is nearly 7 years old, here’s a refresh.


europe_map2Outside of my existing portfolio, I am not actively making new investments in European startups right now. However, my partners are. Here is what currently floats their boat:

  • Financial innovation technologies – this includes Fintech, Insurtech, and even Hardware (to the extent that it is hardware-enabled-software or financial services)
  • Opportunities that could represent business partnerships or combinations with their existing portfolio companies, notably: Paytop, Smile&Pay, WizyPay,, Retency, Populis
  • Companies which are based in Europe (especially France and Benelux) yet target pan-European expansion
  • Startups which have already demonstrated some early market traction. Typically they prefer a minimum of 3M€ in revenue, but this may vary.


japan-mapSpending most of my time in Japan now, my interest area centers on Japanese startups. Regarding investment themes, I’ve written previously about the appeal of Fintech in Japan, but I also look at mobile gaming and AI. Although my criteria are not so rigid for the moment, I look for entrepreneurs who possess global ambition. I find startups that appreciate the potential of the developed “Rest of World” market (i.e. Japan, Europe, parts of Southeast Asia) particularly intriguing.

I am also open to hearing from European startups that are genuinely interested in Japan, a market which I believe merits serious consideration in some cases. But only from those willing to make the multi-year commitment necessary to succeed.

Portfolio job openings

October 5, 2016

jobs-portfolio-2016Many of our portfolio companies are seeking talented, adaptable individuals with a hunger to join a startup adventure. [For my views on why I believe everyone should consider working in a startup, read: Free your career].

Here are a few open positions among our current investments:


  • Ad sales manager – Japan
  • Medior Backend Developer – Java
  • Lead Game Developer
  • Senior Front-End Developer
  • Office Manager (native Dutch speaker)

At other portfolio companies (France):

  • CFO
  • VP Marketing
  • Data scientist
  • Media salesperson – “hunter”

And of course, internship opportunities abound, particularly in France, Holland, and Japan.

Any interested candidates are welcome to contact me directly by email.

Procrastination, doubt, and other good entrepreneurial habits

September 29, 2016

yodaProfessor of management and psychology Adam Grant released a new book entitled Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. He’s currently researching the qualities of some of the greatest innovators and original thinkers in history — Grant calls them ‘Originals’.

Citing the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Frank Lloyd Wright, Grant found that great innovators tend to operate in the sweet spot between procrastination (i.e. putting things off until the last minute) and precrastination (i.e. being driven by anxiety to begin tackling a task immediately).

Just as I found with his thinking on Givers, Matchers, and Takers, I find Grant particularly effective in bringing structure to a concept that intuitively resonates with me. Upon reflection, I would probably characterize myself as more of a precrastinator than a procrastinator. When facing a new task, I feel compelled to accomplish it quickly; the more daunting the task, the higher my drive to get it done.

However, I’ve found that I’ve been at my most creative when I crank out a first draft on a new task immediately, but then take my sweet time improving upon that draft, mulling it over, sleeping on it, etc. According to Grant, this reflects the happy medium in between precrastination (which is great for productivity) and procrastination (which is better for creativity).

Doubt can be healthy

His research into procrastination led Grant to another observation about doubt. Specifically, he classifies two kinds of doubt: i) self-doubt and ii) idea doubt. Self-doubt means lack of self-confidence and inhibits action. It makes you freeze. Needless to say, Originals suffer very seldom from self-doubt, or they consistently find ways to overcome it.

Idea doubt, on the other hand, is a healthy form of doubt. Grant found that Originals tend to exhibit idea doubt more frequently. Idea doubt means they relentlessly challenge their hypotheses to better crystallize their thoughts. It means acknowledging that first drafts are rough by nature, and can always be improved upon.

No disrespect to Yoda, but there is a Try

By acknowledging that most initial ideas are bad, Originals do not fear failure. Being less afraid of failure means that Originals increase the probability of creating game-changing innovations because they try more things.

The parallel with startup founders is compelling. Rather than falling in love with your first idea and stopping at that, keep churning out new ones. Furthermore, encourage people in your startup to relentlessly brainstorm and generate new ideas. Recognize that you need to spew out a lot of garbage in order to get greatness. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Read further for Adam Grant’s six practical secrets to being more original.

Goeido’s perfect sumo tournament: when talent and consistency converge

September 25, 2016

goeido-yusho-sep16For the niche segment of entrepreneurially inclined readers of this blog who also appreciate sumo, the latest tournament that ended today in Tokyo offers some relevant lessons.

Winner of this tournament’s yūshō, a 30-year old ōzeki from Osaka named Goeido demonstrated a flawless 15 – 0 performance. I extend my sincere congratulations to Goeido for finding his rhythm and delivering an awesome performance! This milestone also represents a victory for Osaka (first since 1930), for Japanese wrestlers (second in 10 years), and for the whole ōzeki rank (who have collectively impressed over the past 7 tournaments).

I always liked Goeido indirectly for his role as spoiler in numerous tournaments. Goeido often cleared the way for my favorite rikishi (yokozuna Harumafuji) to win by defeating the nearly invincible yokozuna Hakuho in key matches. However, of the four sumo wrestlers currently holding the #2 rank of ōzeki (second only to the three yokozuna, or grand champions), Goeido always struck me as least likely to win a championship. I was usually dismissive of goeido for one essential reason: inconsistency.

Goeido had never left us doubting his potential. Just as he often spoiled Hakuho, Goeido seemed to be able to conquer just the right opponent, whatever his rank, just when it mattered most. Yet his failure to compete consistently weaved him on and off the precarious kadoban status (threat of demotion from a losing record).

The importance of consistency extends more broadly to many areas of business: especially to entrepreneurship. I have the honor of working with a lot of high-caliber startup teams. All possess deep talent in their respective domains. High potential is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for scaling a startup successfully. Luck and market timing play a role of course. But among the factors one can control, delivering consistency is probably the most crucial, I submit. Building a business often entails accomplishing the basics, day in and day out, in a diligent and persistent manner.

When talent and consistency meet, look out; you’re unstoppable. Deep bow to Goeido-san, who demonstrated exactly that today.

Tour de Tohoku 2016

September 19, 2016

What an honor to return to Japan’s Great Northeast again for the Tour de Tohoku this past weekend!

The brainchild of Yahoo!Japan CEO Manabu Miyasaka (a visionary business leader and also an incredible athlete), the annual Tour de Tohoku bike race brings attention, visibility, and funds to the Tohoku region, an area heavily devastated in the after-effects of the 2011 earthquake.

Intermittent showers this year made the repeated climbs feel even steeper, though the views were no less breathtaking, and the supporters were no less energetic. The cheering residents of the region survived a freakin’ tsunami, so who am I to complain about a little rain? As usual, the race’s ambassadors included many of Japan’s champions: professional cyclists, triathletes, supermodels, and business leaders. Even actual Ambassador Caroline Kennedy rode the one-way course. Japanese pro-cyclist and Tour de France rider Fumi Beppu (and really cool guy) tore away from the pack to complete the 211km first like a leisurely walk in the park. Amazing, though I suppose that is his job!

The Tohoku region remains in reconstruction. While all of the rebuilding works in progress that I witnessed back in 2013 have been completed, much remains to be done. The devastation proved simply too massive.

My heartfelt gratitude to Miyasaka-san, Shimizu-san, Sunaga-san, and Kaji-san for your generous hospitality. Un grand merci to my fellow riders in our FrenchTech delegation. And most importantly, a deep bow to the people of Tohoku whose resilience inspires me so much.


French VC sector brain vastly under-illuminated

September 7, 2016

Remember International Women’s Day back in March ? Oh, so you’ve forgotten already…

Since apparently women in France are only slightly less attracted to entrepreneurship than men (and by slightly, I mean 0.1%), it feels like the French VC industry stands at a mere fraction of total brain capacity. What do YOU think?


[graphic credit: Julien Penguin]

One last cheeky summer riddle

September 3, 2016

As summer winds to a close, here’s one last cheeky brain teaser. What do the following entities have in common?


Here’s a more blatant clue:


Dash Camp Automne 2016 à Sapporo

August 28, 2016

Dash Camp est de retour !

Compte tenu du succés de l’implication d’une délégation #FrenchTech à sa dernière édition, on m’a accordé des places à nouveau pour le prochain évènement: le 17, 18 octobre à Sapporo, Japon.

Pour rappeler, Dash Camp représente le sommet de référence en Asie qui facilite les échanges entre les entrepreneurs innovants et les dirigeants des grands groupes tech japonais. Il est pertinent pour ceux qui souhaitent être sur le radar des acquéreurs japonais, chercher des partenaires commerciaux au Japon, ou bien attirer les investisseurs asiatiques qui ont une appétence pour l’Europe.



  • startups tech de moins de 8 ans d’existence
  • ambitions au-delà de la France pour le marché japonais (démarche commerciale, partenariat, m&a)
  • domaines d’intérêt: AI, objets connectés, fintech, adtech, agritech, jeux mobile, m-commerce, sharing economy

Informations et inscriptions

ようこそ !

Perceptions on the Brexit vote

August 23, 2016

Interesting graph from the FT this month. Could it be that France sees something that the rest of Europe overlooks ?



August 13, 2016

Ok it’s August holiday period so why not a little fun joining in Twitter’s #FirstSeven meme. Here are my first seven…


  1. Paperboy: SF Chronicle and SJ Mercury News
  2. Dishwasher at a convalescent home
  3. Grocery bagger at Nob Hill Foods
  4. Stock clerk and Cashier at Toys-R-Us
  5. Manufacturing floor gopher at Raychem
  6. Reggae DJ: 89.3 FM radio and Chicago’s Wild Hare club
  7. Entrepreneur



  1. English
  2. French
  3. Basic
  4. Pascal
  5. Patois
  6. Dyula
  7. Japanese


RudeVC’s Summer reading list 2016

July 25, 2016

As long-time readers of this blog know, around this time every year I publish a short list of summer reading recommendations. The guiding selection criteria for books on this list are generally: i) some connection to startups, technology, VC, or Europe; and ii) not too heavy or intensely intellectual. I also try to limit the list to one business book, maximum.

Zero to OneFor the one business book quota this summer I’m recommending Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. The book is actually a compilation of lecture notes from Thiel’s course at Stanford, thus very conversational in tone. Regardless of your opinions about Thiel, Zero to One is an enjoyable read and will inspire some healthy contrarian thinking over the summer. The book also strikes me as quite timely given the controversy surrounding Thiel’s backing of the lawsuit against Gawker and his enigmatic participation in last week’s Republican National Convention.


A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Awarded the 2015 Man Booker Prize, A Brief History… tells the story of Jamaica in the 1970s and early 80s, when the guns flooded in, CIA agents took up residence, and the island experienced one of its most violently defining moments. If you appreciate reggae music, you’ll know about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley, which the book recounts in deep context. This culturally rich island nation’s phase of excessive conflict and strife during this period represents a broader lesson for many fire-burning regions around the globe today.


AncillaryTrilogyThe Ancillary Justice trilogy by Ann Leckie. A science fiction writer and friend of mine recommended I try this three-book series by a relatively fresh new author to the genre. I started reading book one during take-off of a 12-hour flight and found myself still fully engrossed in the story during landing. Wow! My friend was right when she told me, “Trust me, you’re going to be rooting for the lesbian AI killing machine with a conscience.”



For those interested, here’s a list of what noteworthy business leaders are reading these days.