Life advice: if anyone ever offers you an all-expenses-paid press junket to Paris, bite their hand off. Not just because it's an all-expenses-paid week in Paris, although that's obviously nice too; because the whole journalist-on-a-junket experience is so strange and surreal.
How so? Well: We guzzled champagne with Moët Hennessy's Chief Digital Officer at the French Open while projection-mapped art played on a jeroboam above us. We ate chocolate and drank wine beneath the rococo forty-foot-high painted ceilings of the Hôtel de Ville. We danced and drank rosé (are you beginning to see a theme here?) at an open-air bar on the banks of the Seine. We spent time with "France's Steve Jobs" Xavier Niel, the CEO of a major French bank, a cabinet minister, and the deputy mayor of Paris. The mayor herself blew us off at the last minute, alas.
They mostly clearly saw those encounters as unpleasant (the cabinet minister, one Axelle Lemaire, born in Canada, was outright scathing about "the American media" perspectives of France; unfortunate timing, given that the nation was half-paralyzed by strikes while we were here, and her government's approval rating is slipping towards single digits) but necessary, because apparently people have begun to view tech journalism -- tech journalism! -- as somehow important. This is *hilarious*, of course.
(The exception to that rule was Niel, who seemed like a pretty cool dude, and I think actually enjoyed hanging out with us at the legitimately awesome new engineering school he has built.)
We -- about twenty of us, half from Asia, half from America, chauffered / herded from place to place in three minivans --- had startup after startup after startup trotted before us to give their pitches, as if we were VCs. The French government is trying to make Paris a tech startup hub, in its own very French way, and is trying to get that message out.
It offers some pretty sweet deals; La French Tech Ticket offers startups €25K per founder, a one-year residency permit, logistical assistance, and free co-working space, in exchange for ... nothing. They take zero equity. Zero. They're so bought in to the cult of the startup that they're willing to pay that just to foster a startup ecosystem. I know, right?
(Niel the multibillionaire, being Niel the multibillionaire, clearly thinks the government approach is ridiculous half measures, and is building a massive complex near Bercy to host 1,000 startups -- yes, you read that correctly -- all of which he will presumably take an equity share in. Construction is already well underway.)
Fortunately we also had a bunch of spare time, not least because as the week progressed, more and more of us dropped out of the scheduled events. (I was one of three to attend the last one.) I went roaming around the city, dined at my favorite Italian restaurant ever, had dinner with phrawzty
, went for some excellent runs (past la Tour and along the Seine; around the Tuileries; around the Jardins de Luxembourg), caught an old film noir flick on Rue Champollion, drank wine and played foozball with our conference host, went drinking with Scoble and a really cool guy who was on the original iPhone team, roamed La Défense a bit, watched the Champions League final in a crowded bar, etc., all of which was great, but most of which can be done whenever I come to Paris. The junket, though, that was some weirdness.