Thanks to a complicated series of events and (possibly) mistaken identity, I found myself in Paris last week for three days. A large global bank were under the false impression that I could help fix their doomed business models and funded the entire trip.
I went to Viva Technology — which has usurped the now defunct Le Web conference as the biggest in France.
I did a ton of cool stuff, including;
- eating at the #1 cereal cafe in all of Paris,
- listening to talks from Eric Schmidt and DeepMind’s founder Demis Hassabis,
- meeting the Google self-driving car,
- having my mind melted by the new Oculus Rift,
- chatting to the always-affable Mike Butcher,
- watching President Hollande nearly crash a drone,
- as well as obligatory touristy stuff like la Tour Eiffel and Musee des arts et metiers
It struck me that France has a bit of an inferiority complex when it comes to tech and startups. They think France is lagging behind (compared to London, Berlin, etc), but I saw a really vibrant tech scene on display — full of ideas and energy. They need to believe in themselves more.
However, by far the most interesting stuff happened away from the tech and with the real people I met.
Yes this is about the UK and the EU.
I made a lot of new friends and without exception the French were keen to talk about le Brexit. They were always good-natured, but every conversation was couched in a mood that can summed up as:
“Oh wow, you Brits have really f**ked it up this time”
They tried to console me, but there was an almost-overwhelming sense of sadness in all our conversations — from both sides — and a kind of disbelief that this was actually happening. “Why do you want to leave us?”, they said.
“Well, you are welcome in Paris any time!”
— A nice French business man
The stereotypes about French (and particularly Parisian) rudeness are utter bullshit — everyone was really nice, kind and friendly — certainly more so than any tech event I’ve been to in London.
So, à bientôt Paris.
Let’s hope I don’t need a visa to get in next time.