Above: Jonathan Løw, CEO of Denmark’s Listen Louder, speaks at FailCon Toulouse.
Image Credit: Chris O’Brien
TOULOUSE, France – Don’t snicker, Silicon Valley. Yes, French entrepreneurs need help learning how to fail.
The French tech economy has seen a groundswell of startups and venture capital in recent years. But the culture’s fear of failure is still holding it back, say veterans of the French Tech scene. And so, this week in the southern city of Toulouse, they organized a FailCon to spread that word that failure is a good and necessary part of the startup process.
“I really want people to understand that we need to fail fast and learn quickly,” said Benjamin Böhle-Roitelet, founder of the Toulouse startup accelerator, Ekito. “This is an important lesson for the ecosystem here.”
The timing of the Toulouse event was a tad awkward. Earlier this month, the San Francisco-based founder of the FailCon conferences, Cassandra Phillips, was featured in a New York Times article explaining why she was ending FailCon. With everyone in Silicon Valley talking about their failures so publicly all the time, she reasoned, holding a conference on the topic seemed redundant.
But that’s not the case in France. And her interview didn’t seem to dampen excitement for the Toulouse version, which drew 150 people and sold out.
Yesterday, attendees gathered in a conference room located on the eastern side of the city. FailCons have previously been held in Paris, including one this past April. But this was the first FailCon in Toulouse, France’s fourth largest city and which is best known for being the headquarters of aeropsace giant Airbus.
Over coffee and croissants, entrepreneurs networked and swapped startup stories before settling into their seats for the speakers. First up was Jonathan Low, a Denmark-based entrepreneur who talked about pivoting his previous startup five times before finally developing a successful product: Sprout, a pencil you can plant when it gets too short to use.
“The more you fail, the more creative and curious you become,” Low said. “I also know that I will fail again.”
Speaking later in the afternoon was Olivier Hascoat, a former general manager for MySpace in France, and now a startup advisor based in Paris.
“The Internet culture has started to change things for young people,” he said, in an interview before his talk. “But the French are still very risk averse. Here, you reward security.”
Throughout the day, speakers emphasized some key themes. It’s essential to know you will fail again and again. What matters is what you learn and how fast. And on a broader scale, it’s important to talk publicly about failure so that entrepreneurs in emerging tech ecosystems, like the one in Toulouse, can learn from each other and not make the same mistakes over and over.
Geoffrey Vidal, is co-founder of Demooz, a startup that allows users to try products of other companies and evaluate them before buying. During a morning break in the program, he said the most important message so far from speakers was to build something other people genuinely needed, and to keep adapting it based on their feedback.
“Focus on the product and who are the users,” he said.
Tristan Laffontas, founder of Moichef, was attending his first FailCon. Moichef is in the early stages of developing a French version of Blue Apron, the service that delivers recipes and ingredients to amateur cooks.
“We have to know we are going to fail at some point,” he said. “You don’t like to think about it. But we’ll learn from it to get better.”