A lesson in start-up growth: How to change without changing
by Jonathan Benhamou February 20 2018
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“This year will be the tipping point, I can feel it.” That’s what I said to my team at the start of 2015. And then again in 2016. And then again...you get the idea. But as it turns out, 2017 really was the tipping point for PeopleDoc. Looking at our year-end results, we doubled our revenue, hired 75 employees, gained 225 new customers and maintained 100% customer retention. At this stage, it looks like things should get easier. But this is exactly when it gets dangerous to lose focus.
We’ve spent the past 10 years perfecting the right product, expanding into 5 countries, taking care of more than 750 customers and growing a team of over 250 ambitious and talented people. However, this is just the beginning of the journey.
Our goal is to reach $100 million in recurring revenue by 2020. In order to get there, it won’t be enough to just do more. We’ll have to scale, but we’ll have to do so without losing the qualities that make PeopleDoc what it is today. We have to change without changing. How is that possible? We need to remain a culture-oriented company alongside being a revenue-oriented company.
About a year ago, we interviewed over half the company about what motivates them, why they like coming to work, what their aspirations are, etc. We found some commonalities across all geographies, all departments and all roles that inform the values that guide us today. But these values are more than a page in our employee handbook. They make up our strategy for growing and scaling without breaking the cocoon that is our culture.
If your employees are happy and get along, your customers will be happy, and that leads to revenue. Any time I sit down with one of my employees, or pass one of them in the hallway, I ask “Are you happy?” It’s a simple thing to ask, but it shows I care. The truth is most CEOs won’t ask their employees this question because they’re scared of the answer.
I know everyone won’t always be happy, but when something is wrong, I encourage everyone (managers, employees and executives) to talk about the issue. If employees are true to themselves and everyone else, that leaves little reason for anyone to be unhappy, which leads me to the next value…
At PeopleDoc, we have nothing to hide. Each week, we share the company’s progress with employees, and each month we give a global report. We do this consistently, whether the numbers are good…or not. Our employees value the transparency over positivity, and the fact we’re transparent builds trust. The same goes for our customers. We don’t focus solely on the positive and deemphasize the negative. We’re transparent with our customers, even when something is going wrong. Part of being true also means we never oversell our capabilities. Our customers appreciate that we’re realistic about what we can and can’t do—and I think that’s why they truly like working with us.
The truth is, every SaaS company has its flaw. What sets us apart is our vow to be better every day. That sounds like a lot, but if each of us improves by 1% each day—or even a fraction of 1%—imagine how far we’ll have come by the end of the year. We’ll get farther, faster by improving a little each day than if we think of improvement as a quarterly or yearly goal.
It’s easy to improve every day because each of us has something we can learn from one another, even myself. I ask advice from my employees all the time. That doesn’t make me any less of a CEO. Employees learn from their managers, but it works the other way around, too.
This equation shows how improving by just a small amount can have an exponential effect over time.
To be better, we have to be bold. As a technology company, we have to reinvent ourselves all the time. But there’s no standard process or way of thinking that ensures we can do this. What we can do is commit to being bold. That means encouraging everyone to bring all ideas to the table, no matter how silly. It means coming up with an out-of-the-box solution, or simply taking something that’s already been done and making it better. Most importantly, being bold is about accepting to fail—as long as you get up and try again.
We can’t be bold without being humble at the same time. We’re still a small company and we’re up against competitors much bigger than us who are doing amazing things, like ServiceNow (I know, that’s bold to name them). To be humble, and remain humble, we commit to learning every day from our customers, our colleagues, our partners—and even our competitors.
I’m very proud of the team for the growth we’ve achieved, but with fast growth comes the risk of losing the culture and mindset that got us here. These values will keep us focused. They’re the reason we’ve retained 100% of our customers and they’ll be the reason PeopleDoc will continue to grow, without changing who we are.
Jonathan Benhamou is a French entrepreneur, investor and CEO of the international start-up PeopleDoc. Jonathan co-founded PeopleDoc in Paris in 2007, which is now the leading provider of cloud-based HR service delivery solutions that has revolutionized the HR profession around the world.
In 2014, Jonathan moved to New York to oversee the global expansion of PeopleDoc. The same year, Gartner recognized PeopleDoc as a “Cool Vendor” in the human capital management space. Not only has Jonathan negotiated, raised and secured more than $55 million in funding led by Accel and Eurazeo, he also established offices in France, UK, USA, Canada and Germany, with more than 150 employees, to support PeopleDoc’s incredible customer base. PeopleDoc currently counts more than 500 clients worldwide, including Starbucks, Coach, American Express, Georgetown University, HSBC and Nestlé.
Jonathan is committed to using his personal success to invest in other young innovative companies and start-ups as well. Jonathan has been honored by many media, businesses and cultural organizations. He is a member of the delegation of Young Entrepreneurs of the G20. Jonathan also serves as Board Member and Business Angels of several start-ups (Clustree, BookandGolf, ISAI, Social Bar). He has been recognized as a Technology Young Leader- an honor awarded by 20 of Europe’s top technology leaders, including Apple, Google, Intel, Oracle, and Cisco.