PARIS — Now in its third year, the Viva Technology conference in Paris flexed its growing muscles, with French President Emmanuel Macron lending further weight by hosting his “Tech for Good” summit the day prior.
Signs of the growth included the crowds that clogged entrances and exits — organizers estimated visitors would top 80,000, up nearly a third from last year.
Speaking at the conference, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, who met with Macron the day before, pledged to implement European privacy rules on a global level.
The French president opened the conference by outlining his efforts to draw investors to the French tech scene.
“It’s because France is changing like crazy that we can say that France is back and that you can choose France,” he said, estimating that the country’s start-ups benefited from a record 2.5 billion euros of investments last year.
Advertising guru Maurice Levy, who co-organizes the event with luxury titan Bernard Arnault, said he was moved by the turnout, noting Macron’s summit was a boon. “It shows that France is at the heart of the digital planet,” noted Levy.
Discussions centered on how to harness technology and artificial intelligence to bring well-being for society as a whole, with executives like Microsoft ceo Satya Nadella stressing the importance of diversity.
“The technology industry must mirror the makeup of the world if our ambition is to serve everyone,” he said.
Arnault, chairman and ceo of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, noted that for his luxury group, which was involved in the creation of VivaTech, technology has been part of the strategy for a long time.
“To start with e-commerce, with Sephora, I think we’re the largest in the beauty area, we’re number one in the U.S. and we’re growing fast,” said Arnault.
While the group’s Innovation Prize focuses on start-ups that relate to the luxury industry, through LVMH and family funds, Arnault has invested in pure technology companies, including Google in the Nineties and Netflix, with a 20 percent stake early on.
LVMH’s investment in Lyst, which it recently increased, represents Arnault’s confidence that the fashion search business will not encounter the type of pressure on margins felt by companies selling products, he explained.
“We are minority shareholders, definitely minority,” he told journalists in a briefing before taking the stage to present the Innovation Award.
With European General Protection Data Regulation coming into effect, many discussions centered on privacy issues.
“Privacy is key for the relationship with the customer,” said Arnault. He stressed the importance of showing consumers that their data is protected and not used to their detriment or to “follow the user to make money,” he added.
LVMH is using artificial intelligence in a growing number of areas, including to speed up craftsmanship by showing what a product will look like, Arnault said. AI technology will eventually help for trying out clothing.
“You will be able to see yourself in the dress and moving with the dress — it’s not done yet, but I’m sure we’ll be able to do it in the future,” he said.
Oyst, a start-up that simplifies online payments, squeezed past a lineup of 30 finalists to snag the LVMH Innovation Award, bringing the focus on finance technology and user experiences at this year’s conference.
“I never buy things online because the forms are unbearable — I would even go further and say all these forms are an insult to users, taking them for administrative agents,” explained Julien Foussard, cofounder of company.
“No one asks the question — does the user want to enter something for the 40th time? Does the user remember his password?” he continued.
The 32-year-old Frenchman, who has been an Internet entrepreneur for a decade — he started out selling Christmas trees online —said he expects the prize will encourage companies to sign up for the one-click shopping service offered by Oyst.
“For companies that are barely starting their digital transformation, they also need recognition like this type of prize,” noted Foussard. The company began selling its services in January following two years of research and development.
“Like LVMH, we want to make our clients feel special,” noted Foussard, as he collected the prize. “I hope very soon that all of you will be able to buy a Kenzo perfume with a single click.”
LVMH gathered a high-profile jury that included its own executives as well as IBM ceo Ginni Rometty, Farfetch ceo José Neves, JD.com ceo Richard Liu, Microsoft business development executive Peggy Johnson and Jimmy Iovine, cofounder of Beats Electronics.
“We wanted to turn to people who we thought might be an interesting introduction for a relationship with the start-ups,” noted the French conglomerate’s chief digital officer Ian Rogers.
Two other companies were mentioned as runners-up: Kronos Care, which manages after-sales services, and blockchain provider VeChain.
Jérôme Grillères, who directs European operations for VeChain, expressed surprise at the honorable mention for his company, which was founded in China in 2015 by Sunny Lu.
“We are extremely proud and excited — we didn’t dare to imagine it,” said the former banking industry executive. After working in London and Paris for Goldman Sachs and Barclays, he decided to venture into the startup world.
Slipping a chip into items like handbags, the company can track products to the end user, and help fight illicit sales by third parties. In once case, the technology enabled a company to discover that an influencer flogged a gift bag on the Internet.
VeChain seeks to work with large companies, and has also developed a system to track maintenance for cars for Renault.
Jean-Paul Agon, chairman and ceo of L’Oréal, said no sector was untouched by technical innovations.
“It’s not a transformation, it’s a revolution,” he said in a speech. “It has revolutionized completely the relationship between our brands and the consumers. It has changed completely the way we work. It has changed completely the way we interact. It has changed completely the way we sell products. And we are just at the beginning.
“It’s a positive disruption,” he added. The beauty industry is well suited for digital channels, asserted Agon, citing the visual and social aspects of the industry.
“L’Oréal is enjoying a great acceleration of its sales, its market-share gains everywhere in the world, and that’s also thanks to the great opportunity of digital,” said Agon.
E-commerce will soon generate 10 percent of L’Oréal’s sales, which in the near future will hit the 3-billion-euro mark.
“But digital is not only e-commerce,” he said. “Digital is the acceleration of your business created by this new interaction that you have with consumers.”
Agon said he sees Amazon as an opportunity for L’Oréal. “We are partnering with them very well, and I have to say the development of our business with them is great, we are even inventing with them some special services,” continued the executive.
Lubomira Rochet, chief digital officer of L’Oréal, called all the big players like Google, Facebook and Amazon as fundamental to the digital era since the beauty giant’s consumers are already on them. “Our job is to serve our consumers where they are,” she explained. “The thing is to be able to trade with those big platforms, really also to build your own competitive advantages.”
Such advantages include data, content and audiences being built by L’Oréal, which today has more than 1 billion visitors to its web sites and over 300 million followers on social networks.
L’Oréal’s stand at Vivatech showcased new technology from ModiFace, a recent L’Oréal acquisition, including a step-by-step tutorial and coaching session with a makeup advisor.
Arnault’s message for the start-ups shortlisted for the Innovation prize: “I think many of you should leave the start-up area in a few years and become a very big company.”