Roxanne Varza  interviewing Satya Nadella (CEO Microsoft) Microsoft Ventures Demo Day Nov 2014

By @SimonCocking

Interview with Roxanne Varza @roxannevarza startup lead at Microsoft | Microsoftventures France. Cofounder tech_eu, girlsintech_uk, gitparis, and failcomparis. Also ex TechCrunch France editor, epilepsy advocate.

LEANIN

 

Me & Girls in Tech Paris team with Sheryl Sandberg (Early 2014)

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

My background is a bit all over the place 🙂 I grew up in California and studied French literature as an undergraduate. One of my first jobs out of university was working for Business France (formerly known as Invest in France), the French government’s agency for foreign direct investment. I was based in San Francisco and working primarily with Silicon Valley startups to help them open offices in Europe/France. Unfortunately, a lot of American businesses seemed to think France was 35-hour work weeks, strikes all year round, complicated labor laws, etc.

In 2009 years, I moved to Paris to pursue my master’s degree at Sciences Po – and when I arrived I realized there was a lot more going on in the tech industry that nobody knew about back in California. More importantly, a lot of the business clichés were not necessarily true! So I began blogging (Techbaguette.com) in 2009 and several weeks later TechCrunch contacted me and offered me a job. I eventually took over as Editor in Chief of TechCrunch France.

Since then, I have been very involved in the European startup ecosystem. I launched Girls in Tech in France and the UK, launched Failcon in France, cofounded Tech.eu.

I joined Microsoft several years ago to run their startup activities in France – and it has been wonderful building the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program in Paris. It’s really an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Europe!

Roxanne Varza DigitalK

Roxanne and Mike Butcher (TechCrunch) from DigitalK in Bulgaria (May 2015)

You’ve got a lot of interests! How do divide your time between them all?

It was hard and I was very disorganized at first. But over the years we’ve also built some great teams so I don’t actually do as much of the dirty work as I used to.

Our Girls in Tech team in Paris is now 20 people and they all bring A LOT to the team. Tech.eu also has a growing team (I think we are 8 or 9).

I dedicate a lot of my time to Microsoft but I also am able to do a lot of different projects relating to startups/tech because it all ties in with my job; they’re all very complimentary and they actually benefit each other!

Roxanne Varza LeWeb 2013 VC Panel

Moderating the VC roundtable at LeWeb (Dec 2013)

Have you been to Ireland? Will we see you over at a Web Summit?

Believe it or not I have never been to Ireland. I had planned to come for Web Summit last year (I heard it was incredible!) but we had our Microsoft Ventures Demo Day with Satya Nadella (Microsoft’s CEO) the following week – it was a lot to prepare!

Are you based in Paris / London or elsewhere now. What is good about it for you, especially in a tech / fun way?

I’m now based in Paris but I used to live in London. I adore Paris – and it has been so exciting to see the tech ecosystem grow these last few years. Naturally I love the culture and the lifestyle of Paris – but one of the main reasons I stay/came back was for the ecosystem. There is just so much to do! And I feel that with some of these younger ecosystems, as an individual, you can have a much bigger impact. So it’s been great to see how some of the projects I’ve been a part of have actually contributed to building the ecosystem here.

What does a startup lead do?

I actually used to call myself a “Startup Lover” because I felt it better encompassed everything I did – Microsoft, Girls in Tech, Failcon, Tech.eu.

At Microsoft, I run the startup programs – Microsoft Ventures and Bizspark. So I essentially am the person that all startup contact whenever they want to work with Microsoft, and I can help guide them to the right program or contact.

How was 2014, what went well?

Ha! 2014 was incredible! I have been really lucky actually, I feel that every year since I have moved to Europe something bigger and better has come my way. In 2010 it was TechCrunch. In 2012, I joined Microsoft. In 2013, Business Insider listed me as one of the top 30 women in tech under 30 – and I also was invited to Elysée Palace to meet the French President. That was also the year we launched Microsoft Ventures in France!

In 2014, so many great things happened. But I think some of the big things include the Microsoft Ventures Demo Day in Paris with Satya Nadella. I was really fortunate in that I got to interview him on stage. He was just incredible.

2014 was also the 3rd edition of Failcon in France and it was the first edition of the conference that received support from French Minister Fleur Pellerin. She invited us to hold the event at the French Ministry of Finances. If you had told me that Failcon would be receiving attention from the French government when I first launched the event in France in 2011, I would have never believed it!

Finally, 2014 was also the best edition of the Girls in Tech Lady Pitch Night. We’ve built this event into the biggest pan-European competition for female-founded startups. In 2014, we had 200 startups apply from 22 different countries (one of our finalists was Irish startup Cortechs). We had some incredible speakers at our event, including Joanna Sheilds (TechCity), Neelie Kroes (European Commission) and Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook).

Anything you’d do differently?

Of course, there are always things I look back on and think I could have done better or differently. I actually wish I had more time to write – I don’t blog as much as I used to. I also have worked very hard to get better at managing my time – so I have really cut back on events (perhaps I would have attended fewer in 2014).  I’m actually always working on being more organized and efficient.

Plans for 2015 and the future?

I always have too many plans and projects, I wish there were more hours in the day!

We recently announced the 5th edition of the Girls in Tech Lady Pitch Night – the biggest pan-European competition for female-founded startups. This year’s event will be phenomenal.

Microsoft Ventures has also been going extremely well. We’ve changed our program to work with later stage startups and to help them secure funding. And we should have some good announcements shortly.

I’m also looking at helping Tech.eu launch some new projects – be sure to stay tuned!

And of course there are loads more projects – both in tech and not – that I have in mind but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

You have a great following in twitter, is this part of how you do business (guessing yes) – how has it helped you?

I always say I owe A LOT to Twitter! Twitter is how TechCrunch first discovered my silly TechBaguette blog – without Twitter I may have never worked for TechCrunch. It’s also allowed me to build audiences for Girls in Tech, Failcon, and more.

Twitter has also allowed me to establish relationships with some really incredible relationships. Believe it or not, I actually DM with some Ministers or government officials rather than email. And the day Marc Andreessen started following me I think my heart stopped 🙂

Girls in tech, in Ireland CoderDojo is doing well, with a good % of girls involved. What sort of initiatives are you working on?

With Girls in Tech, we have lots of different projects in different countries. In France, we have hosted some free introduction to coding classes that got a 80% female turn-out and were sold out within 2 hours.

We also host the Lady Pitch Night, the biggest pan-European competition for female-founded startups. We received 200 applications from 22 different countries last year!

All the European chapters have been doing wonderful things – the UK launched a mentoring program with the Prime Minister’s office, for example. It’s really incredible to see everyone so interested in fixing the gender gap.

Blogging, who do you follow / like what they do; Neil Patel, Blog Tyrant, Ted Rubin or others?

Hahah, none of these – although maybe that should change! I think I try to follow some of the big industry experts – top VCs/investors, government officials, journalists/bloggers, etc. I actually really love a lot of the VC bloggers, I don’t know how they find the time!

Being a big user of social media, how do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

I think I used to struggle with it – but now I find it just kind of happens naturally. There were times when I would remove applications from my phone for certain periods of time. Now, I just put my phone on airplane mode 🙂 it’s nice not to be connected all the time! I think generally on the weekends I try hard not to do too many work related things – meetings, emails, etc.

Anything else to add / we should have asked you?

My family is originally from Iran – if you want to know about Iranian startups we can discuss. But maybe for another time 🙂

And it would be fantastic to include this link (Application for female startup founders to apply to the Lady Pitch Night) would be great. Last year we had an Irish finalist (Cortechs)

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