Born in San Francisco, Roxanne Varza grew up around American tech startup culture. But, from an early point in her career, she was drawn to France’s. Her Persian parents had some French books lying around the house when she was young, and Varza randomly chose French as her foreign language in high school, but she can’t figure out why exactly she completely fell in love with the culture of France.
While studying French literature in college, Varza began working for a French development agency in Silicon Valley, where her job was to convince companies that they should open offices in France.
“People were like ‘What the hell, why? You’re an American, you’re from Silicon Valley!'” she said. But she was excited about the prospect of studying economic development in the country, so in 2009, she moved there to pursue a master’s degree at Sciences Po Paris.
When she arrived, Varza realized she was more interested in the European startup scene than she was in economic development. She altered her major to focus on tech startups, and ended up writing her master’s thesis on venture capital. At the same time, she started a blog called TechBaguette as a joke, covering the French startup scene in English because no one else was.
Two weeks later, TechCrunch offered her a writing position.
She was nervous about covering an ecosystem that she was still a stranger to, but she received a piece of advice from TechCrunch editor Mike Butcher that has stuck with her ever since. He told her the reason she would do well was because she knew how to listen.
“Working in a foreign country, you have to listen a thousand times more than if you were in your own country and that’s also whats made a lot of the things I’ve done successful,” she said.
Varza ended up finishing her master’s degree in the UK at the London School of Economics and worked in several tech startups there. She also founded two chapters of Girls in Tech — one in Paris, the other in London. Since she is now more focused on starting companies and organizations, she doesn’t write as often.
In 2012, Varza became a Microsoft researcher, leading the company’s effort in the French startup market. She splits her time between the main Microsoft office and Microsoft Ventures’ open startup space in the middle of Paris. She assists startups in harnessing Microsoft technology, though they don’t have to exclusively use Microsoft products to utilize the spaces or participate in the acceleration programs.
Varza is also a co-founder of Tech.eu, a European tech news analysis website that was launched last year, and recently started hosting Failcon in France, a conference to help developers and entrepreneurs study failure to become more comfortable with the subject.
All of these endeavors can become difficult to manage at times, but the diversity of the projects allows Varza to learn about different aspects of the tech industry at large. She loves the experience of working with limited resources, from the ground up, to create something impactful.
“Something I like about myself, but also hate it, is that when I get excited about something, I just want to go for it. When people pitch ideas, like ‘we should do this together, launch this event, do this media site,’ I just say yes because I get super excited,” she said. “Then you have to actually deliver. That’s where it catches up with me.”
Watching the French startup scene grow is inspiring and exciting for Varza. In the last few years, she’s seen seed funds started, new startup programs created, accelerators built, and watched coding education become popular in universities and schools. There’s an “explosion of tech” there, she said. Some of the most recent success stories are companies like Bla Bla Car, a popular ride sharing service, and Criteo, a company that serves personalized online advertisements.
People often ask Varza why she doesn’t return to Silicon Valley. She tells them there is no comparison between the two, and she has no plans to leave the one she’s become an integral part of.
According to Varza, European governments are paying more attention to the tech space now than they ever have before. It wasn’t always entrepreneur-friendly, though, as regulations made to protect jobs often stifled innovation or projects that could bring about new ideas.
“Sometimes in Silicon Valley, there is so much that exists and so many resources, people have this been-there-done-that attitude about even the smallest ideas, whereas people here [in France] are appreciative of everything,” she said.
In her own words..
What are your hobbies?
“I have started traveling a little more for fun. I definitely sleep a lot. I like cooking, I used to do a ton of art. I read, go out with friends. I’m a pretty social person so I spend most of my time chatting with people when I’m not doing work.”
What type of art do you do?
“I used to paint a ton in high school and college. It has slowed down in the last few years — not as much time — but I made some crazy collages, acrylic and water, oil pastel paintings, things like that.”
What type of foods do you like to cook?
“My parents are Persian and when I moved to France, I went into withdrawal from Persian food so I learned how to cook some Persian stuff. More recently, I really like cooking ceviche and fish and lighter summery foods.”