Guillaume Santacruz, an aspiring French entrepreneur, brushed the rain from his black sweater and skinny jeans and headed down to a cavernous basement inside Campus London, a seven-story hive run by Google in the city’s East End.Thus writes Liz Alderman in the New York Times.
A year earlier, Mr. Santacruz, who has two degrees in finance, was living in Paris near the Place de la Madeleine, working in a boutique finance firm. He had taken that job after his attempt to start a business in Marseille foundered under a pile of government regulations and a seemingly endless parade of taxes. The episode left him wary of starting any new projects in France. Yet he still hungered to be his own boss.He decided that he would try again. Just not in his own country.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Why would you ever leave France?’ ” Mr. Santacruz said. “I’ll tell you. France has a lot of problems. There’s a feeling of gloom that seems to be growing deeper. The economy is not going well, and if you want to get ahead or run your own business, the environment is not good.”
… From 80 to 90 percent of all start-ups fail, “but that’s O.K.,” said Eze Vidra, the head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and of Campus London, a free work space in the city’s booming technology hub. In Britain and the United States, “it’s not considered bad if you have failed,” Mr. Vidra said. “You learn from failure in order to maximize success.”That is the kind of thinking that drew Mr. Santacruz to London. “Things are different in France,” he said. “There is a fear of failure. If you fail, it’s like the ultimate shame. In London, there’s this can-do attitude, and a sense that anything’s possible. If you make an error, you can get up again.”
Mr. Santacruz had a hard time explaining to his parents his decision to leave France. “They think I’m crazy, maybe sick, taking all those risks,” he said. “But I don’t want to wait until I’m 60 to live my life.”France has been losing talented citizens to other countries for decades, but the current exodus of entrepreneurs and young people is happening at a moment when France can ill afford it.
… Some wealthy businesspeople have also been packing their bags. While entrepreneurs fret about the difficulties of getting a business off the ground, those who have succeeded in doing so say that society stigmatizes financial success. The election of President François Hollande, a member of the Socialist Party who once declared, “I don’t like the rich,” did little to contradict that impression.
… Today, around 1.6 million of France’s 63 million citizens live outside the country. That is not a huge share, but it is up 60 percent from 2000, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thousands are heading to Hong Kong, Mexico City, New York, Shanghai and other cities. About 50,000 French nationals live in Silicon Valley alone.But for the most part, they have fled across the English Channel, just a two-hour Eurostar ride from Paris. Around 350,000 French nationals are now rooted in Britain, about the same population as Nice, France’s fifth-largest city. So many French citizens are in London that locals have taken to calling it “Paris on the Thames.” …
Taxes, Frustration, More Taxes… “Making it” is almost never easy, but Mr. Santacruz found the French bureaucracy to be an unbridgeable moat around his ambitions. Having received his master’s in finance at the University of Nottingham in England, he returned to France to work with a friend’s father to open dental clinics in Marseille. “But the French administration turned it into a herculean effort,” he said.
A one-month wait for a license turned into three months, then six. They tried simplifying the corporate structure but were stymied by regulatory hurdles. Hiring was delayed, partly because of social taxes that companies pay on salaries. In France, the share of nonwage costs for employers to fund unemployment benefits, education, health care and pensions is more than 33 percent. In Britain, it is around 20 percent.
“Every week, more tax letters would come,” Mr. Santacruz recalled.
… Diane Segalen, an executive recruiter for many of France’s biggest companies who recently moved most of her practice, Segalen & Associés, to London from Paris, says the competitiveness gap is easy to see just by reading the newspapers. “In Britain, you read about all the deals going on here,” Ms. Segalen said. “In the French papers, you read about taxes, more taxes, economic problems and the state’s involvement in everything.”… Mr. Hollande’s government is now trying to re-brand itself as business-friendly, especially for start-ups. … These changes were welcomed by business, but the more than 20 French expatriates I interviewed said their country was marked by a deeper antipathy toward the wealthy than could be addressed with a few new policies.“Generally, if you are self-made man and earn money, you are looked at with suspicion,” said Erick Rinner, a French executive at Milestone Capital Partners, a British-French private equity firm, who has lived in London for 20 years.Mr. Hollande’s election, and especially his proposal — since ruled unconstitutional — to impose a 75 percent tax on the portion of income above one million euros (about $1.4 million) a year, have only reinforced that perception.“It is a French cultural characteristic that goes back to almost the revolution and Robespierre, where there’s a deep-rooted feeling that you don’t show that you make money,” Ms. Segalen, the recruiter, said. “There is this sense that ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ means that what’s yours should be mine. It’s more like, if someone has something I can’t have, I’d rather deprive this person from having it than trying to work hard to get it myself. That’s a very French state of mind. But it’s a race to the bottom.”Sharing Space, Waiting Tables
“In London, every day is a fight,” [said Emilie Bellet, 30, who in less than a year raised a half-million pounds to finance her venture, SeedRecruit, which finds talent for other start-ups]. “But then you get rewarded. I don’t think this would have been possible in France.”
… Back in France, Mr. Santacruz’s parents were still trying to grasp their son’s decision. Having spent her career at the state telecom company, his mother, like many others in her generation, assumed that her children’s main aspiration would also be lifelong job security. …
France? Maybe for Retirement… Guillaume Santacruz was grateful for the benefits that his country gave him. But he wanted something else — to innovate. By September, his project was not where he wanted it to be. Yet he maintained that he was better off pursuing it outside France.… Even if [the company that Mr. Santacruz was trying to build (Zipcube)] fell apart, he told me one chilly weekend at his Kensington flat, where paint was peeling off the walls, “I would not change my mind and head back to France; I see only cons to doing that, no pros.” He was skeptical that the government’s recent offensive to spur France’s entrepreneurial environment would quickly bear fruit.Several of his French friends in London felt the same way. “I asked them, if things don’t work out, will they go back? Not one of them would,” Mr. Santacruz said. “Maybe for retirement. But not for work — we’d rather go to the United States or Asia before returning.” France seemed to have lost another citizen in the prime of his productive working years.… And while the bar to succeed was high, “I’m confident I’m going to make it,” he declared.