20 VC 061 Roxanne Varza on Pitching A VC in 10 Minutes and Maximising Media Exposure For Your Startup

Summary Notes


Harry Stebbings interviews Roxanne Varza, the startup lead for Microsoft in France, on "20 minutes VC." Varza's multifaceted career includes roles as editor of TechCrunch France, co-founder of Tech EU, and Girls in Tech, aiming to increase women's visibility in tech. She's recognized as a top influencer, with accolades like "Top 30 Women under 30 in Tech." The discussion explores her career journey, starting with her role promoting French investment in Silicon Valley, her insights on the French tech ecosystem's growth, and the impact of government initiatives and VC funding. Varza also shares her experiences with Microsoft Ventures, emphasizing the importance of customer feedback and avoiding platform dependency. Additionally, she offers advice on gaining media exposure and discusses the future of Girls in Tech, stressing the need for educational reform to address gender imbalances in tech.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Roxanne Varza

  • Roxanne Varza is the startup lead for Microsoft in France, overseeing Microsoft Ventures Paris and Bizpark.
  • Previously worked as the editor of TechCrunch France and contributed to The Telegraph and Business Insider.
  • Co-founded Tech EU with Robin Waters, providing comprehensive coverage of the European tech industry.
  • Co-founded Girls in Tech in Paris and London to enhance the visibility of women in tech through events and programs.
  • Recognized with numerous accolades for her influence in the tech industry.

"Roxanne is currently the startup lead for Microsoft in France, running both Microsoft Ventures Paris and Bizpark. And prior to Microsoft, Roxanne was the editor of tech Crunch France and has been a guest author for the likes of the Telegraph and Biz Business Insider. Roxanne is also the co founder of Tech EU, one of the few publications to cover the European tech industry as a whole with the brilliant Robin Waters."

This quote introduces Roxanne Varza's current role at Microsoft, her past experiences, and her contributions to the tech industry, including her efforts to increase the visibility of women in tech.

Roxanne Varza's Early Career

  • Roxanne's career began in San Francisco, working for the French government foreign direct investment agency.
  • Despite growing up in Silicon Valley, she was initially more interested in France than in technology.
  • Her role involved encouraging American startups to open offices in France, which led to her appreciation for the tech ecosystem.

"So I guess that started actually in San Francisco. I was actually, despite having grown up in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, actually never really that enamored with tech. I was actually much more interested by France."

Roxanne shares her early career focus and how her initial interests were not in tech but in France, setting the stage for her eventual immersion in the French tech ecosystem.

Advice on Moving Abroad for Opportunities

  • Roxanne believes living abroad, especially in a non-English speaking country, can provide unique opportunities and help individuals stand out.
  • Moving to different countries can expand one's network and offer a fresh perspective, which can be beneficial for career growth.

"So I think actually moving to especially a non-English speaking country, for an English speaker, I got a lot of, I think, opportunities that I may not have had elsewhere, and then going from there to the UK, I think when you have actually access to different ecosystems, you have a completely different network, a completely different vision."

Roxanne emphasizes the advantages of moving abroad, such as gaining a unique profile and access to new opportunities that may not be available in one's home country.

Growth of the French Tech Ecosystem

  • Since Roxanne's arrival in France in 2009, she has observed significant progress in the French tech ecosystem.
  • The growth included the launch of new funds, accelerators, and increased government attention towards creating a conducive environment for entrepreneurs.

"Oh my gosh, it's been incredible. So I actually often tell people know the Bay area is very impressive and there's a lot going on in Silicon Valley, but the progress and the development that I have seen since arriving in France has really just outperformed Silicon Valley."

This quote reflects Roxanne's perspective on the impressive growth and development of the French tech ecosystem compared to Silicon Valley.

Role of VC Funding and Government in Tech Growth

  • Roxanne credits both venture capital funding and government initiatives for driving the growth of the tech sector in France.
  • She acknowledges the challenges posed by French tax regulations but notes the government's efforts to make France more attractive for investment.

"I think the government has potentially played a huge role in trying to make France more attractive."

The quote highlights the significant impact of government policies in enhancing the attractiveness of France as a destination for tech investment.

Comparing French and UK Investment Incentives

  • France has investment incentives such as the ISS tax benefit, but they are not as advantageous as the UK's SCIs and EIS schemes.

"Not to the way that the UK does. So we have know they play. Especially when Sarkozy was in the office, there was the ISS kind of tax benefit which still is available, but they're nowhere near as advantages as SCIs NeIs in the UK."

Roxanne compares the investment incentives between France and the UK, indicating that the UK's schemes are more favorable.

Increase in VC Funding in Europe

  • There has been a significant increase in VC funding across Europe, with France experiencing several large funding rounds for companies like Deezer, Sigfox, and BlaBlaCar in recent years.

"That was all of Europe, so we didn't have specific numbers per country. But France, I can tell you just by the sheer number of funding announcements that we've had in the last few years."

Roxanne discusses the rise in venture capital funding in Europe, with a particular focus on notable funding rounds in France.

Perspectives on a Potential Tech Bubble

  • Roxanne finds the discussion of a tech bubble amusing, suggesting that the strength of emerging companies is a positive sign and that the bubble's status will be clear in retrospect.

"The talk about the bubble, I think it kind of cracks me up because we're going to know we're out of the bubble when we're out of the bubble."

This quote captures Roxanne's view on the speculative nature of a tech bubble and her belief in focusing on the present growth of strong companies.

Startup Founders and Local Ecosystems

  • Roxanne advises against the necessity of moving from local ecosystems for startup founders, highlighting the potential for growth in emerging markets like Croatia.
  • Building a network and gaining international experience can strengthen one's understanding of the global market.

"I think Europe as a whole is really going to start working together."

The quote suggests Roxanne's optimism about the integration and cooperation of European tech ecosystems, which can benefit local founders.

Uniting European Tech Communities

  • Roxanne sees potential for more collaboration across European tech communities to create a unified digital market.
  • She advocates for more uniform legislation and data laws, as well as increased cooperation between initiatives in different countries.

"But I do think that even when you look at, for example, local lobbies, local initiatives, it still feels like a lot of European countries are competing with each other."

Roxanne points out the current competition among European countries and the need for a more collaborative approach to unite the tech communities.

Collaboration to Foster Startup Ecosystems

  • There are countries that still lack organizations to foster startup ecosystems.
  • Collaboration is essential for the development of these ecosystems.

"And there's countries that still don't even have these organizations. So I think there's still a lot that we can do."

This quote emphasizes the need for more work to be done in establishing organizations that support startup ecosystems, particularly in countries where they are absent.

US VC Interest in European Tech Market

  • US venture capitalists, especially top-tier ones, are increasingly interested in Europe.
  • Notable figures like Fred Wilson have acknowledged investments in Europe.
  • All top-tier American funds have at least one European investment.

"But a few months ago I started to feel like, I was feeling like a lot of these different us vcs, especially the top tier ones, were starting to look more and more to Europe."

Roxanne Varza notes the growing interest of US venture capitalists in the European tech market, indicating a shift in investment focus towards Europe.

Benefits of Diverse VC Investment

  • Having both European and American VCs is beneficial for global business growth.
  • Local VCs in different markets contribute significantly to business expansion.

"So having a european VC, having an american VC, that's just going to help the business grow stronger."

Roxanne Varza explains that the collaboration between European and American VCs can provide a stronger support system for businesses aiming for global expansion.

Microsoft Ventures' Mission and Activities

  • Microsoft has a long history of supporting startups, beginning with programs like Ed and Bispark.
  • Microsoft Ventures is an accelerator program present in seven countries.
  • The program focuses on accelerating businesses that have already achieved certain milestones.

"So we built an accelerator program that's present today in seven countries."

Roxanne Varza describes the global reach and purpose of Microsoft Ventures' accelerator program, highlighting its role in advancing startups to the next level.

Microsoft Ventures' Application Process

  • The application process involves an online form, interviews, and pitches.
  • It is a three-step process with intensive screening, culminating in 10 finalists from 250 applicants.
  • English proficiency and the ability to present internationally are essential.

"And then we invite 20 finalists to pitch in front of us."

Roxanne Varza outlines the rigorous application and selection process for Microsoft Ventures, which narrows down a large pool of applicants to a select few finalists.

Criteria for Selecting Startups

  • Microsoft Ventures looks for solid teams with in-house technical development.
  • They prefer startups with a technological focus rather than service-oriented ones.
  • Understanding the motivation and expertise behind the startup is crucial.

"But understanding what drives them, what expertise they have that can really make their business a success, that's actually quite rare."

Roxanne Varza expresses the importance of understanding a startup's driving force and expertise, which is a key factor in their selection process for the accelerator program.

Microsoft Ventures' Deal Terms

  • The program does not take equity or charge for space.
  • Startups are offered cloud services worth half a million dollars.
  • Participation in the cloud offer is not mandatory.

"So we don't take any equity. We're not charging them even for space."

Roxanne Varza clarifies that Microsoft Ventures offers support to startups without taking equity, emphasizing the non-monetary benefits of the program.

Avoiding Platform Dependency and Ensuring Product-Market Fit

  • Fewer startups are now solely dependent on a single platform or distribution channel.
  • Microsoft encourages diversification to ensure long-term success.
  • A week of intensive customer feedback is part of the program to ensure product-market fit.

"So we do a full week where they actually have to go out into the street or call up whoever they're working with and just get tons and tons of feedback."

Roxanne Varza highlights the importance of obtaining extensive customer feedback to ensure that startups are developing products that fit the market's needs.

Startups and Media Attention

  • Startups struggle to gain media attention in a crowded market.
  • TechCrunch has a specific, high-level approach due to the volume of incoming information.
  • Entrepreneurs often mistakenly believe their product launch is inherently newsworthy.
  • Roxanne Varza emphasizes the need for startups to find and sell a unique angle to their story.
  • Selling a customer story or a different use of the product can be more compelling than announcing a launch.
  • Guest posts can be an effective way for startups to gain exposure when they don't have news.
  • It's important to show expertise and vision rather than focusing on the product itself.

"But I would say a lot of entrepreneurs think that their product launch is news, and a lot of the time I have to sit down and tell them that's not news."

This quote highlights the misconception among entrepreneurs regarding the newsworthiness of product launches, emphasizing the need for a unique story angle.

"Another tip that I actually give a lot of companies when they don't have news... is actually publishing a guest post."

Roxanne Varza suggests guest posting as a strategy for startups to gain media exposure by showcasing their industry expertise.

Writing and Pitching Guest Posts

  • Publications often look for exclusive, high-quality content from industry experts.
  • Startups should not write the guest post in advance but pitch the idea with bullet points.
  • TechCrunch and other media outlets have specific policies for guest post submissions.
  • Exclusive information is preferred over content already published elsewhere.

"So don't write the post first. A lot of these publications want exclusive information..."

This quote advises startups on the correct approach to pitching guest posts, emphasizing the need for exclusivity.

Gaining Journalists' Attention

  • Personalized emails and referrals from trusted sources are more likely to catch a journalist's attention.
  • Strong email titles, particularly those related to fundraising, can be effective.
  • Timing is crucial when pitching smaller, anecdotal stories.

"I would pay attention to emails that were personalized or that came through a referral."

Roxanne Varza explains that personalization and trusted referrals are key to getting a journalist's attention amid a flood of inbound emails.

Compelling Stories

  • The uniqueness of a product's impact can make a story compelling.
  • Entrepreneurs should look for unique angles that highlight what their product enables users to do differently.
  • An example given: a software that allowed an eight-year-old to create a magazine became a compelling story.

"What does it really let people do differently?"

This quote encapsulates the essence of what makes a startup's story compelling: the unique applications and impacts of their product.

Girls in Tech

  • Girls in Tech has expanded in Europe, with more teams expected to form.
  • Projects like free coding classes and the Lady Pitch Night have been successful.
  • The initiatives aim to increase visibility and credibility for women in tech.
  • Support from influential figures and top tech conferences has bolstered these initiatives.

"So I expect that we'll strengthen all our technical kind of workshops that we do, and then we do the Lady Pitch Night..."

Roxanne Varza details the plans for Girls in Tech, focusing on strengthening technical workshops and pitch competitions for women.

Improving Gender Balance in Tech

  • Education plays a crucial role in improving gender balance.
  • Microsoft's Digigirls event aims to show young girls the possibilities of a tech career.
  • Overcoming stereotypes and clichés about tech careers is essential.

"I think a lot will actually come down to education..."

This quote by Roxanne Varza emphasizes the importance of educational initiatives in addressing gender imbalances in the tech industry.

Rethinking Tech Education

  • The current tech education in schools is not adequately inspiring or informative for students.
  • Students are not shown the creative potential and possibilities within the tech industry.
  • There is a need to demonstrate to students how technology is involved in creating the applications they use daily.
  • Educators should convey that students with great ideas could potentially work in tech, which could lead to more interest and engagement.

"Very sad. It is very sad. And when you kind of dig deeper, you realize that what is presented to them as tech in school, so they have some tech classes or how to type and these different computer programs and things like that, that they learn, but it's not presented to them in a way that really shows how creative one can be, that really shows everything you can build."

The quote emphasizes the lack of depth in current tech education, highlighting the need for a more creative and comprehensive approach to inspire students.

Literature and Personal Growth

  • Roxanne Varza shares her favorite books, which include "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" and "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
  • These books are valued for their exploration of themes such as beauty, betrayal, and the human experience.
  • Reading is seen as a way to expand one's horizons and gain deeper insights.

"I cried at the end of the book. I thought it's an amazing exploration of beauty of betrayal. I thought it actually is incredibly deep."

The quote reflects Roxanne's emotional connection to "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" and the profound themes it explores.

Tech and Business Inspirations

  • Roxanne's inspirations in the tech and business world change over time, aligning with her current projects.
  • She admires Brent Hoberman from the UK and Xavier from France for their ambitious projects and impact on the tech ecosystem and government landscape.
  • Inspirational figures are recognized for their entrepreneurial spirit and contributions to the tech community.

"So the one in the UK will be Brent Hoberman... And then the other person in France, which I tend to quote a lot because I think he is really making a difference. And this will come as no surprise to anyone. It's Xavier."

The quote identifies Brent Hoberman and Xavier as influential figures in the European tech scene, admired for their innovative work and impact.

Advice for Aspiring Tech Professionals

  • Roxanne advises launching a personal project to gain experience and expand one's network.
  • She encourages attending international events and conferences to broaden perspectives.
  • Learning the basics of coding is recommended, as coding is likened to a universal language of the future.

"So I tend to give three pieces of advice to everybody, regardless of their gender, their age, whatever. So I would say the first thing is to launch a project."

The quote outlines Roxanne's general advice for anyone looking to enter the tech market, emphasizing the importance of initiative and hands-on experience.

Starting with Coding

  • There are many online resources available for learning to code, including webinars and MOOCs.
  • Roxanne recommends specific programs such as 42 school and Levagon for their quality and accessibility.
  • Initiatives like Girls in Tech also offer introductory coding classes.

"So I think you actually have tons of online resources that are available. You have tons of webinars and moocs and things like that."

This quote underscores the abundance of online learning materials for coding, highlighting the accessibility of education in this field.

Favorite News Sources

  • Roxanne does not stick to a single blog or media outlet but uses Product Hunt's newsletter for curated articles from her network.
  • She also reads Techcrunch headlines, tech EU, and enjoys The Economist for broader insights.

"And that actually brings in articles for my network. So it emails me that every day. And that's actually what I tend to turn to."

The quote explains Roxanne's preference for a curated newsletter that aggregates articles of interest from her professional network.

Promising Tech Startups

  • Roxanne is excited about a company called Reminisce, which specializes in visual face recognition technology.
  • Reminisce has grown from a small startup to a successful business with a full team and significant contracts.
  • The company's progress is a source of pride and represents the potential for future success.

"They're called reminisce. They're an application that essentially does visual face recognition."

The quote introduces Reminisce as a notable startup in the tech industry, recognized for its innovative face recognition application and growth trajectory.

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