Welcome to Silicon Valley Mr Hollande

Francois Hollande is visiting Silicon Valley in February. The main question has been for many days whether he will be accompanied by the first lady (at the time) or an actress. Once he clarified his personal situation, the topic of discussion among the French community switched to the legitimacy of his trip.

We all know that France has shown a very debatable view of innovation. More importantly, a political view of the world, in which you believe a government should be involved in everything and regulate everything, is at the opposite of what’s happening in Silicon Valley. I mean, when you see the government passing a law to force Uber cars to wait for 15 minutes before they can pick up a passenger, to protect the “old taxis”, we’re not talking about innovation anymore, but stagnation, and potentially depression in the long term.

We know that France is run by a very old school elite. And we all know all the issues with an old school socialist model, which just doesn’t work in the global world we live in today. To be very honest, even Hollande himself has realized it, and has made very clear changes in his views that, if executed, could create some positive outcome.

His trip to Silicon Valley is a good thing. Good leaders are the ones who can learn – a lot and fast -, adapt, and execute. If we want a better France, we must welcome him, and educate him on how things are being done here. Not everything done in Silicon Valley is great, but there may be some things that can be adapted to France. And more importantly, we must help him:  I was at the White House two weeks ago. They had in the room federal employees and innovators in the job space, and we spent a day talking about how we can help the US government hire. At the end of the day, folks in the room had to commit on executing on something and come back in 90 days and present it to the whole group.

Why couldn’t we do this? Why couldn’t we put some of the folks who live and work in Silicon Valley in a room, with representation from the French government, and agree on a few hacks to bring some good things from Silicon Valley back to France or even just help innovation in France? Very tangible things, easily measurable, demoable, etc… Maybe it has been done before, but I haven’t seen it. I keep hearing people complaining all the time about how things are done in France vs here (funny part is I also hear many Americans envy our health care and education system). It’s true. Some things are broken. Like in any company. And the only way to fix it is to take responsibility and execute.

Our trip to Hawaii

Hawaian airlines is one of the best airline in the US if you look at safety record, on time arrival, lost bagages etc… (note that they haven’t been operating for that long) Your plane doesn’t go down. Your arrive on time. And if your luggages are lost, they find them for you and give it back to you fairly quickly. This is actually quite an achievement, and needless to say that the safety record is by far the most important one.

But in today consumer world, those “achievements” are taken for granted. Right or wrong, that’s the perception. When I buy a plane ticket, I expect my plane not to crash, i expect my plane to arrive roughly on time, and if my luggages are lost, i expect them to be found and delivered back to me.

Like in many other industries, all those services that were once seen as an advantage are today a commodity. The real advantage now is your relationship with your customer and how you serve them outside the obvious stuff (looks how pissed off you are if you don’t have a video feed and wifi in your plane these days). Companies now offer haircuts in the lunge, spa services, video rooms,  etc… They want to make travel a pleasant experience.

When your name is Hawaian airlines, and your mission is to fly people to paradise, you’re in an amazing situation. Imagine, all your customers when they buy your service are happy. They’re looking forward to it. You’re flying them to P-A-R-A-D-I-S-E. It’s not like going to the dentist. All your customers start their journey with your service with a happy face.

We had a happy face when we bought our tickets to fly to Honolulu with my wife and my 1 year old boy, Alfred. We were really looking forward to it. Our flight was scheduled for thursday at 9:30am. On tuesday, Alfred started to get sick. We went to see the doctor, explained we had to take a flight, and he gave us some pills that could prevent him from vomiting, at least when in the plane.

On wednesday night, he was still sick. The three of us are at home, packing. Then, at around 8pm my wife starts to get really sick. By 10pm, she’s in bed, shivering with fever. I continue packing, hoping that she will get better by morning. At 11pm, it’s my turn. Coming out of nowhere, I can’t stop vomiting. During the full night, every 45 minutes, I had to get up and go to the bathroom, with huge amount of pains all over my body. The last time I woke up is 5am, with our alarm set at 6 to drive directly to the airport.

This is where I start wondering if we’re going to be able to make it. Three of us sick in a plane for 5h 30 min, that’s not a good thing. Neither for us, but neither for the passenger next to us. Btw, latter on, we were told by doctors that we all had the rotavirus.

At 5:30am, we decide we just can’t make it. We don’t have the strength to do it, and we don’t think it’s reasonable to jump on a plane in that physical state.

We call Hawaiian Airlines. They had a choice: make it easier for us to deal with that situation, and make it very difficult. They decided the latter. Because of course, you know that people canceling their Hawaii trip last minute is usually without a good reason. So in the name of making a few hundreds bucks, after you explain your situation to them, they tell you:

- you pay us $200 per passenger on top of the fare you’ve already paid (which was around $800 for all of us).

- we give you $390 in credit towards the fare of the next ticket that we’ll have to buy

So basically, you pay us $400. You have to buy another ticket full price. And we give you back $390. If you need a translation, this means: FUCK YOU! We’re going to screw you dear customer.

You have a family in distress, and you’re trying to make money from them? The answer expected if you want me as a customer for life was very simple: don’t worry, we give you the fare paid as credit towards another flight you buy on our airline in the next year. By the way, is there anything we can do to help you right now?

The only reason why Hawaiian airlines doesn’t do this is because they don’t care. When we had to cancel our hotel (Westin Moana Surfrider), it took me one phone call and a very nice lady at the end of the line to make a very pleasant experience. I hanged up phone feeling better, and committed to visit that hotel. I’ll definitely pick a different airline though! And I will fly Hawaiian Airlines!

Update 1: we talked to them more, and have filed a proper complain. We filled a bunch of forms, and they said they will reply to us within 30 days (yes, you read that right, 30 days), to tell us what the next steps are. At this point, it is not guaranteed that they will do anything to help us.

Update 2: i’ve also emailed Avi A Mannis, VP Marketing and Louis D Saint-Cyr, VP Customer Service.

Update 3: they actually did come back to us very quickly and fix most of our problems.

D-Day

I lived for more than 10 years in Normandy, where the D-Day happened on June 6th 1944. All my youth, we would go to the beaches where one of the most terrifying and pivotal fight of all times happened.

Even as a kid, you can’tignore what happened. It’s still very much present everywhere. See that photo of what’s left today of the artificial harbor that the Allies forces had to build in Arromanches. As you walk on the beaches, you still see bunkers where soldiers were positioned to defend access to the land.

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My grand fathers fought that war. It was very real for me. I remember talking to them about it. It felt it wasn’t so long ago and i know it impacted our family tremendously in many ways.

Now that I have a son, I’m wondering what he will think of that conflict, that happened almost one century ago for him. Of course, there are plenty of movies, museums, and books about it. But to him, it will probably feel like those battles that happened at the end of the 19th century feel to me. Distant and from another world.

As a father, I think it will be my role to explain to him what happened and the sacrifice that so many people, who had nothing to do with France, made on June 6th 1944. Those men and women without whom our country wouldn’t be what it is today. Those men and women that we should never forget, whom we should always honor, and be eternally grateful.

It is even possible that he meets one of their descendants. I’d be so proud if he thanks them when that occurs.

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