While prepping for this year’s kick-off meetings, I thought a lot about where we’ve come from and where we are going. We recently released our 2016 business results and while I’m really proud of these results, they don’t say how we achieved these numbers. My team encouraged me to share my perspective so here are some of my thoughts on where we are and why I think we have an amazing opportunity in 2017.
A great team can take you anywhere. A great product cannot.
The most important job I have is to attract and motivate the best talent. It takes time to build the right team but when you have it, you can feel it. And I have this feeling right now. I trust the 180 people working for PeopleDoc around the world. Another entrepreneur asked me how I can have people who are so dedicated. I think it is because I really care about them as people and not just as employees. My personal belief is that you have to be happy in your life and this requires taking care of things beyond your job. You will probably have lots of jobs in your life but you only have one life, one family, one home. A lot of entrepreneurs are afraid of taking this approach because they are afraid it creates employees less dedicated to work, but I’ve found the exact opposite happens.
If your employees can have a smile every morning when they come in the office and can go back home with the same smile, then you know that you will achieve great things!
I ask myself every day if I really know each of our employees, if I can put a face in front of a name (it is starting to be challenging with 180 employees in 7 countries). With my partner Clément, we decided to challenge our self with a real test every year. Every Christmas period, we take one or two days off and we go shopping together. Our objective is to buy a personalized gift for each PeopleDocer that would reflect one hobby, one passion or one anecdote. If we are not able to find a present for one of them, then we don’t know him/her enough and we know that we should spend more time with him/her!
If you can make your customers your ambassadors, they will be your best sales team.
Your first asset is your employees; your second is your customers. We invest a lot in customer success and we try to know our customers well. We change the way people work and then they can’t imagine ever going back. It is similar to the experience we had after getting our first smartphones. We want everyone to get that “A-ha!” feeling as fast as possible so implementing customers is more important than signing them. We aim to have 95% of the workload on our side and 5% on their side to go live. Making implementation fast and easy is better for our business and for our clients. We aren’t perfect; like anyone, we do have issues but we solve any problem as quickly as we can. I think clients can forgive mistakes but they won't forgive not being there and being responsive when they need you.
When you are a startup, you almost have to be perfect.
Yes, you have to be fast but you also have to be much, much better than the big guys. When you are a well-known company, you can be “good enough.” A big company can absorb a lot of errors. When you are a startup, you constantly have to prove yourself and one big mistake can kill you. You have to sweat the details and delivery quality in every deal, every implementation, every hire because you don’t have a margin for error. It is frustrating when a prospective client feels they have to go with a “safe” choice because in reality, we are going to go much further and faster to make sure they are successful. I think our most enthusiastic clients partner with us because they know they aren’t just customers, but also part of a venture. We believe that together we will change the world.
Going global is hard and scaling is hard. There are no shortcuts.
I was once a classic French guy who loved life within my borders but then I stepped outside of those borders and saw how amazing the world is. A tremendous new potential unfolded before me. I have changed so much personally from working with different cultures; you really have to understand from scratch how to do things in each culture. When I moved to the US, I tried to apply my French approach and it was a failure. I started over using a US approach. When we expanded into the UK and Germany, I hired the right local leaders and they hired the right teams. I have to have people I trust because I can’t even read the marketing we are doing for my own company in some cases. While you grow, you also need to make sure your original team still knows they are important. I want our home country to understand why we are investing more broadly and how it will benefit them too. As they see these benefits firsthand, some of our local leaders are now also vocal about the benefits of being global and I give them a ton of credit for growing with us.
Balancing innovation and scale.
When we started out we built what clients asked for. They bought an idea for something they needed that didn’t exist and we went out and built it. We solved hard problems which meant we had to innovate. Then about two years ago, we knew we needed to invest in scale. We had to restructure the teams to invest in plans to scale operations, security and support. We are broadening our customer collaboration methods and evaluating new technologies. Now we will have scale and innovation happening at once. To us being innovative is thinking a few steps ahead of customers but applying that knowledge to products in ways that solve their real problems. For that reason, we don’t want a dedicated innovative working on “cool” stuff. We want our whole product team thinking about how to apply “cool” stuff to the customer experiences they intimately understand.
In 2017, we want to be recognized as the leader we are in HR Service Delivery. We want to grow over 100% and still stay as close as we can to zero churn for as long as we can. We want to stay on track to serving 10 million employees on our platform. We want to continue on the road to being cash positive. Most of all, we want to still be happy.
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 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.