Most startups take a long time to succeed. Even those that seem like “overnight successes” usually aren’t. For Alexandre Rambaud that’s just fine. After 20 years in the IT business, 7 years with Agendize (the startup he founded) and at least 5 years previous experience at three other startups, he knows what it takes to succeed. It takes time, perseverance and constant attention to delighting customers.
Agendize recently shifted their core business focus, taking their experience and technology focused on large enterprise customers and bringing it to a much bigger market of SMBs. They recently launched their “Conversion Suite” through a self-service system on their website. The Conversion Suite provides a slew of click-to-action features that can be embedded on any site, geared to get site visitors engaged.
The company now has 17 employees and expects to recruit 10 additional people within the next 12 months. They hope to achieve $20 million in revenue within 3 years. We spoke with Alexandre about his experience with Agendize.
NextMontreal: When did you start Agendize? Were you the only founder?
Alexandre: I started Agendize in July 2003 after being a key executive for 5 years at 3 different startups. Agendize was founded by four people: Christophe Berge (Chief Architect), Cédric Peyruqueou (VP Engineering & IT), Freddy Mini (CEO of Netvibes, on our Advisory Board and plays an instrumental role in our strategy and marketing), and myself.
NextMontreal: What’s your background?
Alexandre: I’m 46 years old and I have 5 children. I have a Masters in Finance & Accounting from the University of Paris, plus a 2-year executive program at INSEAD-Euroforum (paid by Oracle). I’ve spent the last 20 years in IT: 7 years at Oracle Spain, 5 years at 3 different startups – Mediapps (acquired by Ever Team), SLP Infoware (acquired by Gemplus) and Meta4 (went public) (Mediapps, SLP Infoware and Meta4) and 7 years with Agendize.
Prior to that: 2 years at L’OREAL, 2 years at Barclays Bank.
NextMontreal: Why did you originally start Agendize?
Alexandre: I was frustrated as a user by the difficulty in saving information for later online and saw an opportunity to build something that could respond to a real need. Also, after having worked at 3 startups, I wanted to start my own company.
After 6 months of brainstorming around different ideas, the idea came to me in bed at midnight one night. I went to my desk to write it down and returned to bed. The next day, I launched my new venture. I called my best friends to share the idea and set up our first meeting to discuss it in detail and set up the company. We spent several long weekends in a chalet in the country mapping out the core elements of the product, business model and go-to-market plan. We worked without salaries for over a year while we built the first version and won our first clients. We were almost entirely bootstrapped for the first 3 years, at which point we chose to do our first round of funding.
NextMontreal: How much money have you raised?
Alexandre: We’ve raised $3.2 million in total from BNP Paribas Private Equity and Enterpreneur Venture in France to fund the massive R&D effort we made to build the product; in total we spent 40 man-years to develop our Conversion Suite.
NextMontreal: The company was started in France, focused on big companies, and then you moved to Montreal, why?
Alexandre: We moved to Montreal because half of our business was already in North America and I wanted to grow it (we now do over 60% in North America – 20% in Europe and 10% in Asia). So it was important to be physically here when starting the subsidiary to recruit the most talented people and grow together.
Montreal is a great hub to recruit multicultural talent and enter the North American market.
NextMontreal: How much of the company’s activity remains in France vs. Montreal?
Alexandre: Most of the development is done in France. We have a 7-person R&D team in France. Almost everything else is now based in Montreal.
NextMontreal: Now you’re pivoting substantially with the launch of your new products and focused on small businesses. Why?
Alexandre: We continue to focus on enterprise accounts. That’s a key element of our business. But we saw a gap in the market, where many of the tools we offer are too expensive or technically complex for small businesses to use. We wanted to offer our robust technology to any company, whatever its size. This is why we launched a self-serve platform to allow any company or third party to customize and deploy some or all of our conversion capabilities. Also, with our pure “pay for performance” pricing model, we can accommodate both enterprise customers with high volumes and SMBs with very few actions. This pricing also reduces the financial risk of trying these tools to 0. There’s no reason a small company can’t get access to the most robust enterprise level solutions.
We want to have hundreds of thousands of customers. There are 20 million business in North America that can benefit from our Conversion Suite and generate more leads from their online presence.
Also, in the way that the creation of PayPal and other democratized payment providers enabled hundreds of thousands of online merchants to flourish, we strongly believe that Online Scheduling will represent that same kind of game changer for a huge number of bricks and mortar businesses.
NextMontreal: How did you identify the market opportunity with small businesses?
Alexandre: Small businesses are mostly service companies, and their actual sales transactions are done offline. Customers tend to research online and buy offline. So there is a growing need for SMBs to deploy Online-to-Offline services that will enable them to start a conversation with their future customers while they’re in that online research phase.
We rely on freelancers, interactive agencies and web developers to integrate our Conversion Suite (online scheduling, online chat, free call back) into the online services (web sites, emailing campaigns, SEM campaigns, online videos) they are offering to their SMB advertisers. We also expect, through viral marketing, to get web-savvy SMBs to know and deploy our solutions from our Self-Service platform on agendize.com.
NextMontreal: What is your value proposition to them?
Alexandre: We help them generate more calls, appointments and visits. They pay us only when one of their visitors actually uses one of our tools to make a call, schedule an appointment, or chat.
NextMontreal: What have you learned as the founder of a startup?
Alexandre: Like a fine wine, it takes time to build a quality product. Perseverance is key as well as direct contact and interaction with customers.
The importance of always recruiting the most talented people, and spending as much time as possible delighting your customers with service that exceeds their expectations.
NextMontreal: What’s in the works for the next 6 months at Agendize?
Alexandre: Now that we’re happy with the core functionality we’re providing in the platform, we have three big priorities:
- Getting as many people to try it out and using their feedback to further iterate the features (in fact, we’re actively recruiting a Communications/Community Manager right now! For more info: http://apps.facebook.com/workforus/tab/view?job_id=73601&ref_id=212206&page_id=260670548709)
- Refining the usability of the platform according to our analytics and customer feedback
- Building out a robust API that will allow other developers to integrate and build on top of our features however and wherever they want.