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A French Tech Tale: Lessons from Slite’s adventures in Silicon Valley

If the French Tech ecosystem is looking for an anthem, it should probably consider The Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” It’s the question never far from the mind of any Paris-based entrepreneur as they gaze across the waters to Silicon Valley.

In the case of Paris-based Slite, the company stayed, and then it went, and then it came back. And now it’s in Paris, at least for the moment, where Slite founder and CEO Christophe Pasquier is thinking hard about the pros and cons of each location based on his experience running the company in France and Silicon Valley.

“We believe we can accomplish this huge mission,” he said. “For a company like us, we need a U.S. presence.”

Slite has taken the fast-lane to initial success. The company built a collaboration tool that is optimized for teams in a way Pasquier believes rivals like Google Docs, Evernote, or Microsoft Word are not. That “huge mission” boils down to beating those tech giants at their own game.

From just a slidedeck 18 months ago, the team built the first version of Slite in six months. Based on word of mouth, the company now has 3,000 users from 250 companies. That momentum allowed it to raise a $4.4 million round of venture capital that was led by Index Ventures.

But the announcement of the deal was delayed because Slite was accepted into Silicon Valley’s famed Y Combinator. The 8-person team packed their bags and relocated from Paris to Silicon Valley where they rented a house in Santa Clara. Pasquier said that even with the fundraising deal, there were a lot of attractive reasons to do the Y Combinator program.

Just by virtue of the association, he said the company’s valuation got a nice bump. There was also, of course, the mentoring of the team at Y Combinator. And then there was the chance to participate in the big Demo Day spectacle at the end, though there was not so much pressure given that they wouldn’t be hunting for immediate money.

The geography held another benefit. Pasquier said in France, companies have been much slower to adopt SaaS solutions for their business. But in the U.S, particularly in Silicon Valley, he didn’t have to spend time educating potential users on SaaS, or convincing them of its benefits. Everyone seemed to be already using some kind of SaaS tool, and as the Slite team networked, other entrepreneurs were eager to give their product a look.

“It gives you a huge pool people who are more inclined to try the service,” he said.

When the program ended, the team had to come back to Paris because their temporary visas had expired. Being in Paris again reminded Pasquier that there is still great access to engineering talent at much more reasonable salaries than Silicon Valley. And even in Paris, the cost of living is lower.

“The huge plus of being in France is the talent,” he said. “It would be three times the price in the U.S. and then you don’t get the best people and there is a lot of churn. When you are in the French ecosystem, people are more loyal to the company.”

But…there is the question of fundraising down the line. While the venture capital scene has improved in France and Europe more generally, there is no getting around the fact that Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley still offers a far greater concentration of VCs to write later-stage funding checks. And as the team grow, finding experienced candidates with more specialized management skills would likely be easier in the U.S. as well.

In the short term, Pasquier said he and other employees will be traveling back and forth between Paris and Silicon Valley. The sales team will probably be located in Silicon Valley, eventually, with a healthy number of employees still in Paris.

As for where he will settle, and where the official headquarters will be located, well, that remains to be seen. The defining factor will be where he thinks the company can grow at the greatest velocity.

“We are trying to make a bridge between San Francisco and Europe,” he said. “But when you want to be the leader, you’ve got to be super fast.”