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Roxanne Varza, Director, StationF

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Roxanne, The #1 Start-up Lover…

Roxanne Varza currently leads Microsoft’s start-up activities in France, running both Bizspark and Microsoft Ventures programs. In April 2013, Business Insider listed her as one of the top 30 women under 30 in tech. Prior to Microsoft, she worked for several European start-ups and was also the Editor of TechCrunch France.

She also co-founded the French and British chapters of Girls in Tech and is the co-organizer of the Failcon Paris conference. More recently, she co-founded Tech.eu, a European tech publication. Prior to TechCrunch, Roxanne worked for the French government’s foreign direct investment agency in San Francisco helping fast-growing start-ups develop their activities in France.

The Start-up Lover !

She has spoken, moderated, mentored and judged numerous start-up events and programs throughout Europe and also helps European start-ups with content and communications. She has also contributed to other publications, including The Telegraph, The Kernel, Betakit and Business Insider. Roxanne is trilingual, an epilepsy advocate, and holds degrees from UCLA, Sciences Po Paris and the London School of Economics.

I am particularly happy to welcome Roxanne again on Frenchy and this time dedicating an entire post to her.

Recognised by many in the US as « The Cheerleader » of the European Tech Scene and more specifically of the French one since 2009, Roxanne would be able to legitimately claim a full series of titles…

Given all she did and continues to do IN and FOR the French Tech ecosystem

You could in fact see her as an Influencer, a Speaker, a Facilitator, a Connector, a Mentor, an Event Organizer, an Editor, a Spoke Person but the title which suits her most to me is clearly the one she had chosen : Start-up Lover !

I can tell you Roxanne :

I am very envious about your title ! Nobody else I know would deserve it more than you do… and sometimes I would love to borrow it from you… just for a while 😉

To appreciate how vital it is for the ecosystem that an American citizen with the experience and credibility of Roxanne accepts to play that role, we have to realize that for some of the Anglo-Saxons industry makers, France is still a little bit perceived as the third word of Digital and Tech ! I am conscious that this point of view is a little bit extreme but trust me, not that far from the reality in terms of perception sometimes !

That’s exactly why, I think more of us should follow Roxanne’s and others’ example to contribute in pitching the excellence of the French Tech abroad !

And that is precisely the idea of The French Touch Conference

Despite all of this, Roxanne never tries to keep all the honors and light on herself and remains pretty discret. So I was very happy when she told me that she enjoyed going through this questionnaire.

Her thoughts and words are always very deep and you will notice that she subtlety tells us a bit about her… which is very rare !

I hope this will leave you as touched as I was when I discover it for the first time…

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Crédit photo : @francois / eventpixr

Frenchy : Your favorite word ?
Roxanne : In English, I like British words, like « lift » and « flat ». And inappropriate British words too (which I’ll refrain from specifying here), I know it’s not very deep but it’s entertaining 🙂

In Persian, I like the word « Tarof » because this concept is uniquely Persian and captures the essence of everything that is terribly annoying and terribly lovable about Iranians, in my opinion.

In French, I like the words that the Académie française goes out of their way to invent, like « mot-dièse » for hashtag or « courriel » for email. And I love « septante, » « octante » and « nonante » because they are so much more logical than soixante-dix, quatre-vingt and quatre-vingt-dix 🙂

Frenchy : What would you change if you had a magic wand ?
Roxanne : I think I would change the number of times I get to see my brother every year. It’s far too few 🙁

Frenchy : What is your favorite quote ?
Roxanne :

« Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. »

(Oscar Wilde) or

« If you’re going through hell, keep going. »

(Winston Churchill)

Frenchy : What could seduce you immediately ?
Roxanne : I love meeting people who aren’t afraid to share their true passions or interests.

I meet so many entrepreneurs that are building apps, that talk to me about their businesses, that need favors. So when I meet someone that talks about something else, that doesn’t ask for something and is just a genuinely humble and has other interests or passions, it’s quite refreshing!

Plus, I admit I’m also a sucker for anyone who is interested in Iran 🙂

Frenchy : What is, according to you, the secret of happiness ?
Roxanne : Look, happiness isn’t this big complicated thing. It’s sunshine. It’s naps on Saturday afternoons. It’s listening to Sam Cooke. Maybe it’s all three or maybe it’s none at all.

I’m pretty sure most people are living happiness – little moments of happiness – all the time and don’t even know it 🙂

Hapiness is often confused with success and actually I think :

Success is a happiness killer in many ways…

People who are successful aren’t necessarily happier, and more often than not they are not happy at all. Because they enjoy smaller things less. Which I find to be quite sad.

That said, I also think we shouldn’t obsess about « being happy » all the time because other emotions are good too, they are real and they are part of life.

We don’t need to cover them up but rather experience and enjoy them as well. People will have ups and people will have downs, and that’s just how life goes! Stop trying to rub miracle cream on it and just live 🙂

Frenchy : If you were a dessert ?
Roxanne : I would really like to be a fruit tart, with lots of different fruits and proper custard. Something you eat in the summer.

Frenchy : What in your day to day life remains so French/American ?
Roxanne :

French: JE RALE !! I enjoy being able to voice my opinions. I feel it’s more accepted in French culture. And I drink about a million coffees.

American: I confess, sometimes I really like getting my coffee to go! Plus, I do really enjoy mixing English words into French. There was a time that I would try to hide being American. Now, I kind of flaunt it.

Frenchy : What do you enjoy the most in the US/Fr way of life ?
Roxanne :

I think I enjoy living in Europe far more than I enjoyed living in the US. I feel there is a certain freedom here, I don’t really know how to describe it. 

I love the fact that there is life after work. I love the way people socialize in Europe, I find it very different from the US. I like the way Europeans enjoy certain things in life that I feel Americans kind of overlook. And I like their natural appreciation for arts, cultures and politics.

However, the US is nice because everything is rather straightforward and uncomplicated.

Though I confess I like some of the complication sometimes, I know it’s crazy !

Plus, nobody is ever a foreigner there because everyone is a foreigner.

Sometimes being a foreigner can get a little tiring or frustrating. In France, I don’t always get all the references to everything and sometimes it’s like someone was whispering « hey, you are not from here. »

And in England, I thought it would be better but people would hear my American accent and immediately think I was on holiday even though I lived there for over 2 years!

Frenchy : One thing where American/French people are particularly good at that you would like to develop yourself ?
Roxanne : LOL, oh dear, now we’re getting into clichés. Well, I’d really like to be a better risk-taker, believe it or not.

I consider risk-taking to be both American and French à la fois. I consider risk-taking to be French in an avant-gardist type of way, and to be American as risk-taking is a bit innate in the American Dream. 

I have definitely taken some good risks in my life, and for the most part they have all panned out rather well.

So maybe it’s time to take a few more…

Frenchy : In the US, failing is seen as the first step to be successful later, how to bring such a state of mind in France ?
Roxanne : Well hopefully I have contributed to this by bringing Failcon to France. But I actually believe a lot of this stems from the French educational system and the student-teacher relationship.

French students (from what I experienced) are not encouraged to take risks (as stupid as they may be) but are rather encouraged only to speak when they have the correct answer. Whereas in American classrooms, the point of asking questions is simply to gain clarity into a subject. Therefore, Americans are less afraid of asking questions, however stupid, because the point is not to show one’s intelligence. I find this to be more constructive – both to learning and to risk-taking. People are not scared of « failure » as a result.

There are other differences in US/French classrooms that could also impact how these 2 cultures view failure, like how the grading system works. But in short, I think a lot of the change needs to happen in the classroom with the younger populations.

Frenchy : What is it to be a French/American guy in the US/Fr? Could you tell us a specific anecdote that happened to you ?
Roxanne : Being an American in France…I don’t know what French people imagine when they imagine an American girl, but apparently it isn’t me. I’ve gotten all kinds of crazy comments from French people when they discover I’m not French.

When I first moved to France as an exchange student in 2005, I didn’t speak French very well. I went to a party and found myself with a group of French kids criticizing American politics, the usual (Bush was President at the time). Some guy started telling me how he hated Dick Cheney, only he pronounced his name with a thick French accent (something along the lines of « Dee-Shay-Nay ») and I couldn’t understand who he was referring to. When he discovered that I didn’t know who « Dee-Shay-Nay » was, he lectured me on being an ignorant American. I finally discovered after about 5 minutes that we had been talking about Dick Cheney and I died laughing. I bet the poor boy probably never dared to speak English again.

Frenchy : A French / European GAFA could be possible if…?
Roxanne : You mean it doesn’t already exist?

Seriously, Spotify, Skype, Deezer…can we stop obsessing about this yet?

Frenchy : Who are the 3 entrepreneurs who most inspire you ?
Roxanne : Hmm…everyone probably says Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. So I’ll go a different route :

1. My Grandma. She is an Iranian poet. She is 85 years old and still at it!

2. Mounia Rhka – my Girls in Tech Paris cofounder. She has worked at 2 VC funds, and also cofounded a startup in Morocco (MyDeal). I feel like she has such a methodological way of working, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her running a massive organization one day. She’s a joy to work with/for.

3. Pauline Laigneau, cofounder of Gemmyo. I have only met Pauline a few times, but I feel there is something very real and human about her approach to business. She doesn’t have this « we are revolutionizing the world » attitude, but rather has this very healthy « we connect with all of our clients » way of going about things. Also, I loved her speech at Failcon about how not getting into l’ENA was actually a good thing – I think many other people would have been scared to admit this but she spoke about it with so much dignity and sincerity, I was blown away!

Frenchy : The 3 most promising French/US start-ups, top of your head ?
Roxanne :

1. Blablacar (FR)
2. Leetchi/Mangopay (FR)
3. Mink (US, her pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt in NY blew me away.)

FrenchyAccording to you, what is the French touch ?
Roxanne :

Class. Anything French has natural class. It mind sound cliché but it’s Louis Vuitton, it’s La Durée, it’s that type of thing. I know it doesn’t sound relevant to tech but it’s actually just about a whole new level of experience. And we should leverage that. 

Merci Roxanne !

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More about Roxanne :

IT Web.tv (Spark)

Silicon Real radio programme

IT Web.tv (Girls in Tech)

 

About Microsoft Ventures Accelerator Paris :

Microsoft Ventures is a strategic partner for promising startups around the world focused on business growth & development, industrial strength technology and beautiful usable products. Build locally, scale globally. They help smart companies take flight.

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