You always remember a clean restroom.

Great customer support is to startups what clean, comfortable restrooms are to restaurant franchises. The best companies are able to turn the experience into something pleasant, and it always says something memorable about your business. 

I saw the parallel during a conversation with Scott Markovits, who used to be Head of Support at InVision. Scott is adamant that you can learn a lot about a business in the way it responds to its users’ questions. And I’ve also met some investors who make it a cornerstone of their decision-making process. 

It all made me think of this tweet:

Having great support sounds like something simple, that every business can have; but when you look around it’s clear that surprisingly few companies actually do it. 

And it’s not just about the customer’s experience, either. 

You can learn a lot as a business by investing significant resources in customer support. Often, founders dismiss support as just a cost center, even seeing it as being beneath them, unworthy of their time. But support should be a key driver of product decisions: what matters more than your customers’ experiences when deciding what features to build or workflows to improve? 

So in the earliest days, don’t delegate support to interns. You and your company would be losing way too much information when they leave. Don’t kill features without asking support. Support is where you learn what your users are doing at the margins, and huge opportunities arise from understanding those margins. 

If you pay attention, you’ll see that the best founders are completely obsessed with support. Patrick Collison of Stripe & Tobi Lutke of Shopify run 100B$+ businesses and they still find time to engage with their customers on Twitter. Even with support teams numbering in the dozens, if not hundreds, they keep support as a core part of their routine, a central component of their thinking about the product. This is also an incredible example of leading by example; if the CEO is speaking to users, there’s no excuse for anyone in the company to not do the same! 

There are many ways to get insights from support. You can look at which pages in your documentation people spend the most time on. You can survey your support team to understand what the most recurring queries are, or what tickets end up taking the most time to address. 

Whatever method(s) you pick, you should treat support’s feedback with the same level of attention as you give to your salespeople. Sales may understand what makes your product more attractive to new customers, but support will have key insights on how to keep customers engaged and transform them into hardcore fans that you can upsell. 

By the way, if you’re building something to make it easier to transform the work of the support team into actionable insights, I’d love to talk!


The Family’s directors share daily insights on building ambitious startups, no matter where you live. Our next 6-week batch starts in September - find out more here 💖

Train your investors to behave.

Last week I wrote about toxic investors being a mark of an ecosystem that’s still immature, one that doesn’t properly support founders. In essence, that kind of ecosystem can only get better once founders manage to gain the upper hand and defuse the worst practices coming from the investing side of things.

For instance, one of Jeff Bezos’s most admirable qualities is how he managed to “train Amazon’s investors to behave”, to quote a 2013 HBR article by Justin Fox:

What’s really going on is that Jeff Bezos has trained elements of the investment community to expect that low profits (or big losses) now represent investments that will eventually pay off, not signs of trouble. How has Bezos done this? Well, he’s a hedge fund veteran who has always taken a skeptical view of Wall Street, treating it more as a loopy rich uncle than the efficient information processor of standard finance theory. When Uncle Wall Street (also known as Mr. Market) is in a generous mood, Bezos is always ready to take advantage by putting investment ahead of profitability. But he’s also always been ready to shift gears when the mood turns stingy.

Are there lessons that early-stage founders can derive from Bezos’s track record in taming investors in Amazon’s cap table? I’d say yes:

  1. Antagonism is normal in a founder-shareholder relationship. Investors know Bill Janeway’s First Law of Venture Capital, which is that “All entrepreneurs lie”. Likewise, entrepreneurs should keep in mind that their alignment with investors can never be perfect: their company is usually all they have, while their shareholders are diversified across a large portfolio. 

  2. Not all investors are wired to deploy capital in high-risk ventures. Hard things such as uncertainty, optionality, and patience are difficult to understand for those who think tech startups are like any other business venture. Sadly, some situations are hopeless; in others, it’s up to the founder to educate investors on this new asset class they’re experimenting with.

  3. The context of a bubble obviously makes it easier for founders to grab an advantage. And what was possible for Bezos during the dotcom era might not be replicable in a more ordinary context. Bubbles are good in that regard: they attract non-venture investors into venture capital and provide them with an education, and they minimize the expectations regarding profitability.

  4. Your CFO will eventually make a huge difference. Most of what Bezos achieved from a financial perspective back in the day was thanks to a less-known but still important figure in the history of Amazon: the late then-CFO Joy Covey, who was making sure Amazon’s finances were in order regardless of the surrounding uncertainty (listen to this podcast to learn more about her). 

  5. High-quality professional services matter, too. This is not the sexiest part of ecosystem building, but it’s really important to have lawyers, accountants, and others who know what startups are about and who can deliver the best services to support smooth investor relations. Make sure to work with good firms, and realize that in a toxic ecosystem, those are scarce—if they exist at all.

  6. The best signal you can send is that you’re in control. Ultimately, good investors are aware of Janeway’s First Law of VC and of the fact that, well, in the startup world, sh** happens. The point you need to make is that, beyond the storytelling, you’re capable of navigating adverse circumstances, which is best done with Bezos’s frequent check-ins with reality:

“We believe in the long term, but the long term also has to come,” says Bezos, explaining that periodically Amazon wants to “check in” with its ability to make money.

Want to get better at finding good investors and then training them to behave, the Bezos-Covey way? Join The Family’s next batch in September!

Philosophy 101

In high school, I had a philosophy teacher, François Bremondy, who was just exceptional. He became a good friend, and ever since I finished my high school exams, we’ve gotten into the habit of regularly meeting up to have dinner and talk.

I was always fascinated by his mix of skeptical optimism, his caring sarcasm, his romantic ambitions that he hid beneath the features of a wise elder. I don’t know if he was ever really young; I’ve never been able to imagine him that way.

Thanks to his inspiration, and notwithstanding his warnings (more or less explicit, depending on the moment), I decided to study philosophy at university. It was… not great. And it had nothing in common with the person who had so captivated and enthralled me.

Years later—quite recently, actually—I realized that individuals always break free of their categories, and that my teacher was an entrepreneur of philosophy. And I realized most philosophy texts aren’t really that interesting. They merely serve as justifications for their fans, letting people benefit from that social proof (meaning the texts are really just there to justify one’s own thoughts, one’s own ideas).

Like all fields of human activity, philosophy is corrupted by our need to shine and to be carried to the summit by true believers. Loving philosophy can’t be about finding validation in the texts of great authors, you have to want to be their equal. And in the same way, entrepreneurs who seek out mentors only to then submit to their views are never as interesting as those who find mentors in order to speak to them as equals.

Philosophy can change someone’s perspective; a book can change the course of history. An entrepreneur can also change the course of things. Entrepreneurship is undoubtedly our contemporary philosophy: in its essence, a practice that over time is distilled into a theory.

So remember that in general, the worst books of philosophy are those that are detached from the real world. It’s crazy just how similar that is to entrepreneurship.

If you want to get into philosophy, do it both lightly and sincerely. Try to think for yourself, don’t just recite what others have said. And if you want to become an entrepreneur, build, don’t theorize.

Thank you, François, because it took me a long time to understand the real lesson from your class. I hope that in my own way I’m able to inspire others with that same lesson, even in a different field.


The Family’s directors share daily insights on building ambitious startups, no matter where you live. Our next 6-week batch starts in September - find out more here 💖

Entrepreneurship from a small island.

Like you, 2020 made me spend most of my time on Zoom calls. So in December, feeling like I’d been imprisoned for way too long in Paris, I decided to travel somewhere FAR AWAY, as far as I could. I jumped on a plane, with just a negative COVID test, my hand baggage, and my little sister. We landed in the Caribbean, on a beautiful island with less than 400,000 inhabitants: Martinique. 

It wasn’t long before my phone started getting notifications on Instagram & Facebook Messenger… Some local tech entrepreneurs were inviting me to their gatherings. As my work is my passion, I felt lucky to discover the land through the eyes of local entrepreneurs.

There are fewer taboos with entrepreneurs: problems need to be exposed in order to be solved. Thanks to them, I’ve learned a lot about the context of the Martiniquans. My view on it as paradise quickly switched to another reality. Before sharing with you some inspiring examples of founders I’ve met, let’s get some context.

The island’s history is rooted in slavery and sugar production.
In total, 216,000 enslaved Africans were brought to the island between 1500 and 1848 to work on the plantations. The legal framework for rights was set by the Code Noir, in which slaves are considered like “furniture”. 

The economy is locked up & the land poisoned.
Nowadays the Bekés - the descendants of the first European settlers - represent 1% of the population but own 52% of the agricultural operations & factories. Most of the commodities are imported from France, increasing the cost of living to make it 20% higher than on the mainland. And the unemployment rate is high, 18%.
Bananas are the top crop, which led to an ecological disaster due to chlordecone, a very toxic pesticide that has been outlawed since the 1990s but still largely remains in the soil.

The prevailing mindset is administrative.
25% of the working population is employed by the government.
From the ‘60s to the ‘80s, in an operation called BUMIDOM, 160,000 men and women of the French Caribbean islands, Guyana and Réunion, were recruited and sent to work in construction, the health services and local administrations.

And a few important things for tech entrepreneurs:

  • Fiber optic service only covers 14% of the territory. 

  • Local talent goes away - 3,000 people leave each year for their studies, only a few come back. 

  • Amazon doesn’t deliver here. 

  • And Stripe finally started to be available for local startups just a few weeks ago!

Alright.
Thanks to the Internet, entrepreneurs set their own standards of ambition by reading, watching and applying what’s shared by other great founders all over the world. And I must say that I was very impressed by how all of the entrepreneurs I met already knew The Family from our videos, both in English and French (through Koudetat).

All the barriers I mentioned above are making their innovations so different than what I'm used to, so specific. But these particularities aren’t just limited to their territory. They are potentially scalable as well.

Let me give you a few examples.

Empowering the kids: Learning Creole while having fun.
It’s crazy when you think about it, but there are no books for kids in Creole. So in just a few months Grégory started Yekrik, a box with cool comics sharing the Caribbean culture in its language. Hundreds of parents subscribe to receive their books each month. A tiny market? 1.5M people speak French-Creole and 76M people speak English-based Creole.

Allowing patients to book and meet physicians, offline or online.
When you’re living outside of the big cities of the world, you’re in what is called a “medical desert”. That’s why Rodolphe, an engineer and son of a doctor, started Clikodoc in Martinique. Today Clikodoc is serving more than 200,000 users and he quickly realized that Guadeloupe, Réunion and Côte d'Ivoire had the same “patterns”, being regions where the population has inadequate access to healthcare.

Helping women access natural cosmetics while recycling.
Every year nearly 270,000 tons of bananas are transported by boat to Europe, but 40,000 tons will never be sold. Kadalys’s mission is to recycle and valorize agro-waste generated by the banana industry. Introduced to the Creole pharmacopoeia at a very early age by her mother, Shirley, the founder, combines her desire to enhance the ancestral cosmetic virtues of the banana tree with her passion for plant research. And Shirley is inspiring young female entrepreneurs in building their own natural cosmetic brands, like Coralie, the founder of Nateya, who uses guava in her range of cosmetics.

Growing the rich variety of fruits and vegetables the land can provide.
Two sons from a family of farmers going back 4 generations and a web marketer started Petit Cocotier, delivering the best of local farms every week: fruits, vegetables, eggs, all grown in Martinique, all without pesticides. Hundreds of clients order their baskets each week. Not only have they managed to value their soil while teaching farmers better growing practices, but they’re proving that it’s possible to change. So many places around the world still suffer from an economic dependency on monocultures inherited from colonialism. Petit Cocotier’s know-how is precious and needed in many tropical environments.

Accessing pure water.
Vincent started Caribaqua in reaction to the chlordecone scandal. He’s been creating a filtration system that anyone can put directly on their tap to prevent all kinds of substances from flowing into your glass of water. And where in the world are we really 100% sure of the cleanliness of the water pipes? Vincent launched his product a few months ago and is already profitable.


If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that you can’t fake your drive. And your drive is directly derived from your own experience. These entrepreneurs have the determination to expand beyond their island and go global. Now that the world is trying to figure out how to wake up from the pandemic, they are building what seems to me to be the most important thing: an independent, sustainable and conscious economy.

And hey, who wants to keep on living in a big, crowded & polluted city now, seriously?

LOVE.


The Family’s directors share daily insights on building ambitious startups, no matter where you live. Our next 6-week batch starts in April - find out more here 💖

Learn to love your niche

"Start with a niche" is one of the most common pieces of startup advice, and yet I think it’s still vastly underestimated. It’s not just a strategy; it acts as a forcing mechanism, making you talk to a restrained set of users and build something they really want. And I really believe that go-to-market focus on a niche is highly beneficial to your company, and most founders should stick to their niche much longer, even once they’ve figured out their product-market fit.

Reducing the scope is a hard decision to make

Over the years I’ve spent countless hours arguing with founders over the need to drop B2B or B2C, to drop the large enterprise segment over SMBs, which verticals to drop, etc. As I try to convince them, examples from large companies being stuck in their B2C or B2B segments don't cut it, nor do articles like this one. Founders learn the hard way, until they come back saying, "We should have done it sooo long ago."

The arguments I hear are always the same:

  • it is exactly the same product for the two types of clients

  • the clients have very similar use cases

  • it doesn't take more to support

  • it is money being (stupidly) left on the table

But even if the product is similar today, the requirements of different segments will force you to perform the most epic of splits. Catering to large enterprises will force you to invest heavily in security, SLAs, on-premise... while catering to SMBs or B2C will push you towards slick design and easy on-boarding. As a startup, you have limited resources: don't try to master two products at the same time! It's the story of Slack versus Discord, or Box versus Dropbox. And know what? All of those are great companies.

Go-to-market will define your company

Most importantly, the go-to-market is different for those segments. Go-to-market will shape your organization, your culture, and your roadmap. How do you set up your targets? What type of people do you hire? What do you celebrate quarterly?

A typical B2B organization:

  • forecasts revenue based on the number of salespeople they can hire and their efficiency

  • has a culture that thrives on lavish dinners, golf courses and influence

  • rewards extremely high paid salespeople wearing suits

  • celebrates 7-figure contracts

A typical B2C organization:

  • forecasts revenue based on marketing spent and product metrics

  • thrives on product, design and its users

  • rewards extremely high paid engineers wearing slippers and robes

  • celebrates 0.5% increases in retention rates

Startups are building cults. You can't build two cults in the same space.

Catering to one segment doesn't mean you can't sell to other segments. It means you should treat them as regular clients and have the exact same go-to-market. Selling $5k ACV contracts and $100k ACV contracts is as different as B2C and B2B.

That's why as a Fortune 500 manager you could pay for Slack for your whole team with your corporate credit card. Only much later did Slack introduce inside salespeople to cater to large enterprises; and to really succeed, they partnered with Salesforce, a company that thrives on sales!

Stay focused!


The Family’s directors share daily insights on building ambitious startups, no matter where you live. Our next 6-week batch starts in April - find out more here 💖

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