“If there’s innovation, there’s investment” Lessons from the French startup ecosystem by Liam Boogar, Rude Baguette
We sat down with Liam to talk about the evolution of the French startup scene and the development of Rude Baguette as a technology and media company.
For those who don’t know you, who is Liam Boogar and what’s Rude Baguette?
My name is Liam Boogar, and I am the co-founder of Rude Baguette, and CEO of Rude Media, the company that runs Rude Baguette. Rude Baguette is an English-language blog covering the French Tech Market – we cover French startups and their activities worldwide, international startups and their activity in France, as well as the digital policy of the French & European governments.
Rude Baguette has turned 3. What moved you to create the blog (and the company) at the time?
When I arrived in France in 2010, I began working for a startup, and discovered a world of activity happening around me. After reading this article written by VC Mark Suster, I began writing myself, choosing to write about what I was seeing around me. A few months later that activity became Rude Baguette, a one-stop shop for daily news on the French tech scene.
When I think about Rude Baguette I think of a media startup more than digital publication. How do you define yourselves and how does Rude Media operate?
It wasn’t until a year and a half after RB launched that we began thinking seriously about what we wanted to do. We started with the hypothesis of “write it, and they will come,” and once we validated that (Jan. 2013: 100K+ Unique Visitors, 60% international audience), we decided to either quit (it was taking up all of our time, and making us no money) or to build a real media startup.
I think of Rude Media as an ongoing experiment – most online media companies are having trouble monetizing online, so we decided that, instead of following paved roads that led to struggle, that we would carve out our path. Today, that path means that we are largely a technology company, with 50% of our team being technical, and another half managing content, events & sales.
We operate under a common vision, and that vision has enabled us to hire great team members, to organize great events, and to write great content.
5 years ago there were no English publications covering specific European markets or countries. There are now at least one in each key ecosystem. What do you think has caused this change? Did you ever consider launching Rude Baguette in French?
My philosophy thus far has been that media are merely reactive, either to what is announced or to what is happening. I think that Europe needed English publications, and so those publications were formed. Much like the Primordial Soup theory around how cells first formed on Earth.
So I think Europe has changed – we believe strongly in the ‘single market’ philosophy, and anyone encouraging the federalization of Europe will benefit in the coming years. Therefore, it’s not currently on our roadmap to produce content that isn’t in English.
How does Rude Baguette add value to the ecosystem and to French startups and investors?
I’m not sure if we ‘add value,’ but I believe we provide transparency to the ecosystem which allows those who are doing business in France to make their own value judgments. The only value I could take credit for is that, where many blogs focus on cheerleading their local community, we’ve focused on providing an honest account of what’s happening. This has largely attributed to our success so far in France.
“We’ve focused on providing an honest account of what’s happening and this has largely attributed to our success so far in France” Liam Boogar
From reading Rude Baguette I get the sense that the French startup scene has changed significantly over the past few years. What has changed for the better and what still needs to improve even further for the ecosystem to grow?
It might be too early to say, but our most recent discussions – with big companies, with government officials, with startups, and with investors – lead us to believe that France, by and large, has woken up to the necessity to internationalize. This means much more visibility in English, and much more activity outside of France. French companies have found a comfortable model – R&D in France, Business in the US – that will pave the way for companies to grow and justify growth potential to investors.
The biggest thing holding France back today is our nation branding, but that is simultaneously every citizen’s responsibility (much of the negativity comes from within), and under no one’s control.
For a while investors were reluctant to invest in media companies. However, we’ve recently seen significant investments in US-based publications such as BuzzFeed or Vice. How do you see the evolution of media and its relationship with investors and VCs?
It’s no secret that media companies are having trouble monetizing online – if the New York Times’ own internal reports say things are dire, then you know it’s dire for everyone. I think that, where as 2007-2012 challenged the ‘Content is King’ mentality, 2013 & 2014 have reaffirmed the power that media have, and the commoditization of online advertising has accelerated the need for media to innovate.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs that might be considering building a media business or publication?
Just start writing great content. Write three articles a week, and learn how to do that. Learn how to build an audience on Twitter & Facebook, learn how to build an email following, and learn how to great ‘News Data Deal Flow’ so you don’t run out of content. Then, 18 months down the road, you can start thinking about what the value you bring to your readers is, and how you want to monetize.