Summons by Robert Francis

I must be in romantic mood as I feel compelled to share one of my favorite poems 🙂


Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I’m not too hard persuaded.

Robert Francis

Cameron Rules, Sarkozy Sucks!

Over the last two weeks I had the pleasure of attending the eG8 Summit in Paris at the invitation of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and being invited to tea with David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK, at 10 Downing Street. I wanted to share my reflections on both experiences.

The fact that Sarkozy got 1,000 Internet entrepreneurs together in Paris in less than 6 weeks was actually a very impressive feat. Moreover, the who’s who of the Internet was there: Mark Zuckerberg, John Donahue, Eric Schmidt, Sean Parker and many others!

McKinsey started by sharing the findings of a very interesting study they did on the Internet where they showed that:

  • For every job destroyed by the Internet, it creates 2.6 jobs
  • The Internet accounted for 3.7% of GDP in the countries they surveyed
  • The Internet was one of the fastest growing components of GDP in the countries surveyed

Sarkozy then gave a very eloquent speech where he stressed the importance of the Internet to France and as a force for liberty and freedom around the world as displayed during the Arab uprisings. Unfortunately, this is where my compliments end.

Sarkozy kept emphasizing how important it was for the Internet to be “civilized” (e.g.; regulated) and for intellectual property to be protected. The conference itself was boring as the old guard was talking to and at the entrepreneurs rather than talking with them. Worse, the smaller working “forums” were useless as the concluding slides had been written before the conference and their content in no way reflected the discussions in those forums (if anything, they said the exact opposite)! All the political “conclusions” had been reached before the conference even started!

The French government was not ready to heed the advice of the delegates. Eric Schmidt suggested: “Technology will move faster than governments, so don’t legislate before you understand the consequences. You want to tread lightly in regulating brand new industries. The trend is that incumbents will block new things … nobody who is a delegate here would want Internet growth to be slowed by some stupid rule.” American journalism professor Jeff Jarvis stood up and asked Sarkozy to take a “Hippocratic oath” for the Internet: first, do no harm. In response, the president of France said “of course,” but couched his reply in terms that address the need to protect security and privacy.

The event had no real point and seemed merely to be a photo opportunity of Sarkozy chatting with Internet leaders under the pretense he consulted the industry before passing any laws. From a content perspective LeWeb is much more interesting! Fortunately, the networking opportunities at eG8 were great and I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up with all my good French Internet friends.

The meeting at 10 Downing Street with Cameron could not have been more different. There were less than 100 Internet entrepreneurs, but all extremely relevant (which made it much more productive). Moreover, Cameron came in saying: “I disagree with Sarkozy’s conclusions and there are three things I want you to know:

  1. The Internet represents the future of economy and is a great driver for growth and we want your companies in the UK.
  2. We understand we don’t have the best environment yet, but are working hard putting in place the right and extremely friendly environment from a regulatory and tax perspective.
  3. I have a great team of advisors here to help, lean on them as much as you want.”

Instead of Sarkozy’s: “We want to tax, regulate and control you”, it was: “We want to set you free to do whatever you do best and let your creative spirits run wild!”. The contrast is all the more farcical as France just banned the use of the words Facebook and Twitter on TV to the astonishment of every Internet entrepreneur in the world!

Even their personal styles could not have been more different. Sarkozy’s mannerism and tone reek of condescension and arrogance. By comparison Cameron was jovial, approachable, light hearted and self-deprecating: “I sat between Obama and Zuckerberg at the G8 and could not believe I belonged in the room!”

No wonder Loic is seriously considering moving Leweb to London: Cameron’s team is offering to help while the French government seems intent on competing with him!

The conclusion is ineluctable: Cameron rules, Sarkozy sucks! Now if the Brits could just do something about the weather in London, I might even consider moving there 🙂

Why India is behind China!

I recently wrote how the world is less globalized than we suspect it is and how we now spend $88 billion a year in visa processing fees. What is not included in this figure is the extraordinary opportunity cost of time and inefficiencies imposed by the visa obtaining process. I recently experienced a telling experience which illustrates the differences between China and India.

OLX is present in both countries and I typically visit both countries every year. China unfortunately requires a visa for French citizens but has a very efficient process for obtaining and delivering it. You can pay a surcharge and obtain it the same day from their visa processing center on 12th avenue and 42nd street in New York. The processing center is very well staffed and even where there are many people in line, you rarely wait more than 30 minutes.

India by contrast makes it an ordeal to get a visa. I was supposed to keynote an Internet conference in Mumbai last December. I started going through the process in October. The application required my French birth certificate, notarized and apostilled in France, which as you can imagine is extremely difficult and time consuming to obtain from the US. It required a formal letter inviting me to India. It required a notarized copy of my visa for the US and copies of various bills proving my residence in the US. You then apply through a visa processing center where even the expedited process takes weeks during which they have your passport and you can’t travel anywhere!

You first apply online, which you need to do at least 5 times given the lack of proper instructions regarding specific requirements which seemingly vary on a case by case basis! To drop off the application you then have to wait in line for hours in front of the processing center. Several times, after waiting for 3+ hours they simply closed down the center saying there were too many people in line, asking us to come back again the next day!

Worse, it is basically impossible to get anyone on the phone at the visa processing center to get the status of your application. After several weeks of harassing them, they told me that my application was on hold because my new visa for the US was less than a year old and they would need notarized copies of all my past visas to prove the continuance of my US residency. I duly provided the required documentation and again waited for weeks before being told that because there was a gap of 6 weeks between two of my visas, I could not apply in the US and would have to apply at the Indian embassy in Paris! The fact that I live in the US and that I had no intent or reason to go to Paris did not dissuade them! By the time I finally got my passport back the conference had passed!

I pushed my trip back to late January, asked a good friend of mine in India to write a letter saying he was looking forward to hosting me during my vacation there and reapplied for a tourist visa. This time I had all the documents on hand and two weeks later, I had my visa.

Granted it is hard for Indians to get European and American visas, but imposing “reciprocity” with such complexity is insane and self-defeating, especially if it is the representation of Indian bureaucracy in general! Driving through the streets of Shanghai and Delhi, you can’t help but wonder how less stark the contrast would be if India streamlined its bureaucracy!

New York is now complete!

I have always had one favorite restaurant: La Petite Maison in Nice. I have always loved Mediterranean food and been amazed how very simple dishes with great ingredients served tapas style can be extraordinarily good. Even the tomatoes and lemon they leave on the table before the meal are succulent!

I am happy to report that La Petite Maison just opened in New York! The setting is not nearly as cute as in the one in Nice, it is awkwardly located (54th between 5th and 6th), you can’t go for a walk in the Cours Saleya or the Promenade des Anglais after the meal and the scene is very French, but those quibbles aside, the food was so good I felt nostalgic for Nice!

You just have to try the artichoke heart salad with olive oil and parmesan, the truffle macaroni, the Nicoise onion tart and the grilled sea bass!