World-brand-building mistakes France’s entrepreneurs make

by on December 10, 2009 at 8:56 pm

Traveling GeeksOn Tuesday I joined up with the Traveling Geeks (a band of journalists/bloggers/influentials who visit startups around the world, picture of them above in a Paris subway station) in Paris and we saw a ton of startups. Some of them, like Stribe, were very good. But overall they just didn’t measure up. In fact, they even got me to be rude to them, which caught everyone off guard. I’ve been thinking about why they got me so angry ever since, and that’s what this post is about.

First, if you meet with journalists, influentials, and bloggers who are coming from outside your country I assume you want to build a world brand. After all, if you only want to be big in France then why waste your time meeting with USA journalists?

So, since you were meeting with us and since we’ve spent precious resources getting there and had sizeable opportunity costs, I figure entrepreneurs should be better prepared. In this case you get to learn from their mistakes.

1. Don’t be on Twitter. This was a HUGE mistake many French CEOs made.

Four CEOs told me their companies weren’t on Twitter and that they didn’t have enough time to join Twitter. That got me quite angry. Why? Because in the room were people with hundreds of thousands of followers (and not just me). If you aren’t on Twitter I can’t follow you, I can’t pimp you after the event, and I can’t follow up with questions. IT IS A MAJOR TURN OFF. But it’s worse than that. The world’s tech press is on Twitter, so if you say you don’t have time to join Twitter you are telling 500 tech journalists who ARE on Twitter that you don’t have time for them. Well, then they’ll say back they don’t have time for you. But worse than that, I have a list of 500 tech startups and a separate list of 400 older tech companies (I will soon be making a new list of startups, because Twitter limits us to 500 accounts per list and I already know of lots of other startups). These are companies you should be watching and partnering with. If you watch them you’ll get tips of how other companies are working with influentials and also creating buzz (and you’ll be first to see when other companies are getting news, so that helps you talk with journalists).

Luckily I’ve found 500 tech company founders who ARE clued in and found Twitter to be important. Why is Twitter important? Well, it might have to do with the 422 venture capitalists and angel investors who are on Twitter or the hundreds of tech company executives (these are your exit possibilities!!!) who also are on Twitter. If you know of people who should be on this list that I don’t know about, please leave a comment here. By the way, when I told off the entrepreneurs sitting next to me a CEO whispered in my ear “I agree.” Who was that CEO? Kamel Zeroual, CEO of Stribe. Who is Stribe? The French company that won best of show at LeWeb, the world’s biggest independent web conference. He and his company are one of the few that were on Twitter.

2. Make lame and anemic marketing materials. First of all, if you really want to look lame with a group of bleeding edge tech journalists, please use PowerPoint. It puts us to sleep.It was amazing how poorly some of the entrepreneurs did at this. But, if you need to share information with us, please use Google’s Docs. Do NOT send around Word Documents or PPTs. Why? Some of us don’t have Word loaded anymore and some of us have limited email space (I know tech journalists that already have filled up their Gmail account, for instance). Also, some of us do all of our journalism on mobile phones now and it’s better to have documentation available on the cloud. It also marks you as “with it.” It also is more likely to get through my spam filters for some reason. Finally, the documents should include a link to your Web site, a link to your key Twitter accounts (you ARE on Twitter, right?), a link to your Facebook Pages (you turning down interactions with 350 million people? What, are you NUTS?), screen shots of your best features, your company logo in many different sizes (so we can copy and paste it into blogs), and contact information for ALL of your top corporate executives.

2b. Don’t do a YouTube video of your product. Look at Appsfire Contest Winner Sketch Nation’s YouTube video. THAT HELPED IT WIN (I was one of the judges, here’s a list of all the winners and here’s a video of the awards’ announcements). If I didn’t have a video I would NEVER have gotten how cool this iPhone app is. (Note that Sketch Nation is on both Twitter and YouTube).

3. Don’t do a demo. One company talked to us about their robots, but didn’t bring one to show. I’m sorry, I do videos. Seeing a PowerPoint slide presentation is NOT acceptable in today’s age. Do a demo. Compare to what Pearltrees CEO (also a French company) did. Oh, and Pearltrees is on Twitter. So is its CEO. Is it any wonder that Pearltrees got on CNN today?

4. Don’t worry if your product is on an industry battlefront. If you read any tech blog, or tech news site, or better yet, follow Techmeme, you’ll see a common set of themes. I call them battlefronts, because if you land a great product on a battlefront you’ll get noticed. Some common battlefronts right now? Mobile. Real time. HD video. New payment systems. New identity systems. Etc. If your product doesn’t fit into a common battlefront you better explain why not and why the entire tech press should consider your company a new battlefront.

4b. Don’t worry about your competition, or even better, don’t have any at all. Listen to how Deezer’s CEO, Jonathan Benassay, took on Spotify (his competition) on stage at LeWeb in the Music Reborn panel I ran (Deezer knows its competition and positioned it well, any wonder why it already has 18 million unique visitors a month and isn’t well known in USA yet?) Anyone who says they don’t have any competiton immediately gets marked as a loser in my book (see point #4a). I heard that too often this week.

5. Don’t know anything about the hot app or news of the day. If I ask you what you think of Foursquare or Red Laser (#1 iPhone app) or Gowalla (they just got $8 million in funding) and you say “I don’t know” you instantly mark yourself as someone who doesn’t care about the industry and isn’t actively looking at new things to see if there are any good ideas inside. I kept hearing this from French Entrepreneurs, which is why I got so mad. Sorry, it’s 2009. If you aren’t on Twitter you are lame. Period. If you haven’t tried Foursquare and have a reasonable explanation of why you like it or don’t like it you are lame. Period.

6. Don’t pitch to specific people. If you are speaking to Mike Arrington, founder of Techcrunch, or Dana Oshiro, writer for ReadWriteWeb, don’t read their blogs for the past week. That seemed to be the approach some entrepreneurs take. Oh, and don’t pull them aside and make a custom pitch for their blogs. No, that never works, does it? (Seriously, ask Brian Solis how he does it. Or Jeremy Toeman, who helped many companies win best of show at CES and get companies like PogoPlug and Sonos tons of great PR. The best companies ALWAYS do a custom pitch).

7. Don’t bring business cards. Worse, don’t include your email and Twitter addresses on those cards. I guess they don’t think we might have some new questions to ask once we get back to our hotel rooms and try their products? Nah, no one will ever try their products, right? The best CEOs also give me their Skype and Google Talk addresses. It’s amazing how often I’ve needed something in the middle of the night. Even right now it’s 9 p.m. and if I were writing about your company I might need more info. Mike Arrington often calls execs at midnight to complete blog posts, by the way (I’ve seen him do this and it pays off with a better blog from him).

8. Don’t visit the United States and build relationships with a good cross-section of bloggers and journalists. How did I meet Patrice Lamothe, CEO of Pearltrees (a French company)? In San Francisco. How did that pay off? He’s on CNN today and we had a great fireside chat on stage at Leweb (watched by thousands in audience and tens of thousands online).

Anyway, these are the mistakes I noticed French Entrepreneurs making. Of course, if you said that not just the French make these mistakes, you would be right, but it’s their week because of the big LeWeb conference that just finished.

Of course, maybe the deck is stacked against French Enterpreneurs. When Deezer’s CEO pointed out on stage at LeWeb that he had 18 million unique visitors a month I asked “why have I never heard of you then?” He answered “because we’re French.”

I should have answered back “no, it’s because your Twitter feed is French.” :-)

Got any other mistakes that entrepreneurs make when trying to build a global brand? Leave a comment here.

He answered “because we’re French.”