SaaS Founder Interview with Lucien Derhy, Founder of Digitevent
Andy Halko 0:03
Okay, welcome everybody to another Wednesday SaaS Founder Show. It’s Andy Halko, CEO of Insivia. Tony, my usual co host is having internet connection issues. So it’s just me today doing our interview and I’m really excited for our guests. And I’m going to bring on Lucien. So founder of Digitevent. And I really appreciate you being on the show today.
Lucien Derhy 0:36
Yeah, thanks for having me in. And I’m really happy to be with you today
Andy Halko 0:40
Where coming in from we hear an accent, don’t we?
Lucien Derhy 0:44
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. You’ll notice that. Now I’m based in Paris, France. So I no longer long distance. But actually, we we share some same reality as founders. So I think it will, it will work the same.
Andy Halko 1:01
I agree. It doesn’t matter. We’ve talked to founders all over the world. And I don’t think it matters where you’re at. Yeah. And the journey, there’s still very similar challenges. I actually wasn’t at an event with entrepreneurs in China, a year or so ago. And I mean, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s the same issues that tend to pop up,
Lucien Derhy 1:26
Unfortunately, otherwise, we would all go to the same place.
Andy Halko 1:30
Exactly. So why don’t you start out and tell us a little bit about you and your company?
Lucien Derhy 1:38
Yep. We pleasure. So. So I’m Lucien and I’m one of the two co-founders of Digitevent. And Digitevent is actually an event platform for both live and in person and virtual events. So we are originally based in Paris, France, we were founded in 2013, I think, yes. And personally, I manage all the tech and product part of the company. So I’m basically not the guy talking to the clients, but when something happens, and behind,
Andy Halko 2:18
So we can ask you all the tough technical questions here?
Lucien Derhy 2:23
Andy Halko 2:25
So right. You know, I was looking through your website, such a, you know, really timely platform with everything that’s going on, and the changes between both in person and virtual event events and hybrid events. So that’s got to be exciting. I definitely want to dig into how the changes in the world have impacted you. But maybe you could start out telling me a little bit about origin story. I really like to hear how did people get started? You know, were you in another role? How did you? How did you come up with the concept? And then how did you get into starting?
Lucien Derhy 3:05
Yeah, for sure. For sure, we have a lot to talk about the last year, which was just crazy. But actually, the beginning of the story of digital event is quite interesting, too, because I think we were not, I would not imagine that I will do what I do today. 10 years ago at all. I met my partner at the university, we were both studying finance. And we finished in 2010. And we started working for some time, he was doing m&a. And I was doing structured products for banking, banking. And every weeks, we used to call we were very friends, we’re still very friends. And every week, we used to call and say, Oh, that’s not for us. We want some adventure. Look at them, those bankers, it’s so boring. And, and we were just dreaming of doing things our own way and kind of, you know, just having fun, and any toys in 2011. And what happened at that time, was I don’t know if you remember that. But when people used to see an iPad, it was like, they were they were seeing a Ferrari on the streets. It was just too big, but you had an iPad at home and someone visited you and so the iPad and he didn’t even care that you had in your apartment, he just jumped in on the iPad and like to start playing with it. And and we say okay, that’s we have to do something with the ads and it was still it was not the very beginning but still it was really going up and and we said okay, what what are what is our skill set? Well, we know very well various because we were born here and we know very well the city and we have a chance to live in a city where we have the most like the most touristic city in the world. So let’s Buy some iPads, and let’s put them in hotels. And then let’s rent them to tourists with 4g, because 4g was extremely expensive. And don’t worry, I’m coming to the point because I know it’s
Andy Halko 5:14
No, it’s a great story.
Lucien Derhy 5:17
And after three months, we decided that it was actually a really shitty idea for many reasons. But we were very proud of not, you know, showing that fail then. And, and we, we started thinking, Okay, what do we do, we have two options. Option one is we go back into finance, or just more regular job, something we know we can have obesity. And option two is okay, we have this partnership with Samsung, back in the days, and we have like 50 tablets. And we knew that there was a market for renting tablet for events. So we said, Okay, let’s do it. We don’t really want to do that. But at least we will see. And we started renting the tablets. And every week, we were buying more and more because they were more and more projects and 50 and 70 100 200 300. And at some point, it became a real business and, and in 2012 there was an opening of a store for Mercedes in Normandy. And an agency wrote us and say, oh, you know what, I would like to rent like 10 tablets, and I need the software to do the checking at the door. Mm hmm. That’s, that’s interesting. And since since I was very young, I used to do like websites for my father and, you know, loved it. And I say, okay, you know what, it’s Wednesday, the event is on Saturday, that’s perfect. I have two days, I’m going to do it. So I counted the software in two days, took 10 iPads, took my grandma’s car headed to Normandy and DD event. And it was great. It was awesome. Awesome. And I went back and I said, I told my partner, look, there is something going on here. And it was the beginning, we started to do a mailing to some event agencies and staffing agencies to say we have this software, which is really cool for checking at events. And it started like that, and we’d created a different company from the rental company, which by the way, still exists that rental company. I think that’s the the topic of today. And we create a digital event from that day.
Andy Halko 7:39
There’s so much to unpack there. It’s such a great story, I think, you know, just for folks that are out there, the the idea that you started something, you know, you realize that you needed to pivot and change ideas, hacking something together. I love it. You know, I taught myself how to program years ago, and I you know, I love the idea, when you’ve got something, just figure out how to make it happen to see if it could work. And then really the the problem and challenge coming to you for the opportunity. You know, you always have to, you know, understand that the markets viable, but really that opportunity came to you.
Lucien Derhy 8:19
Yeah, but you know, also something I think a good teaching from that story, also, is, is that actually, you know, most of the time, we don’t make the effort to do the thing, because actually, we don’t see where it leads. And probably it was very irrational to do that at the time. But we were saying yes to everything, because it was underpriced. Because it was crazy, you know, and nobody would have accepted to do that. But actually, if you do something, just to learn and like, see and learn. Actually many, many things happen in life from those first tests. And I think sometimes it’s worth doing something that is not necessarily totally rational, just because something may come out of this, and it will not be 100% of the times. But even if it’s 5% or 10% actually can lead to outcome that is completely unexpected that that would never have happened otherwise. And I think that’s interesting somehow.
Andy Halko 9:21
Yeah, I love that too. I think I completely agree with you. If you’re kind of following a path and you’re too logical. Yeah, those like magical inventions and innovations might not happen. Yeah, there will be no
Lucien Derhy 9:35
Surprise. If you make perfectly rational dishes decisions of the time. It’s so predictable, that you will have no surprise at the end also.
Andy Halko 9:45
Yeah, and I think it’s interesting. You know, we talked to a lot of companies about strategic planning, and I’m sure you have and there’s this balance. And then especially as you get more established, obviously you have to plan so that people have objectives. And the direction and things that they need to, you know, follow. But I think in those early stages, like you’re saying that opportunity to be a little bit wild. Yeah. You have it a little bit more at those early stages.
Lucien Derhy 10:14
Yeah. And probably, that’s if you extrapolate that it may be one of the reasons why large companies have difficulties to innovate, because it’s so processed. And so structure that, you know, it’s predictable.
Andy Halko 10:29
Yeah. So let’s move forward a little bit. Yeah. What, I guess, how did you, you know, you talked a little bit about getting those first customers. So what was the path that looked like from kind of a product in its infancy, and a couple of customers to really help you start moving forward? And, you know, what did the first like, I guess, two or three years of an established product look like for you?
Lucien Derhy 11:00
Yeah. So we had that chance to have that rental companies that had many clients in the event industry, many agencies, those contacts, so it was kind of easy to just say, Hey, hello, you know, we have something new here. So I think that was a great chance that the second chance we had is that there was a true natural demand for the product in at that time, and we’re quite few actors doing this. So. So we had a natural attraction, also from the market. And then the third part is kind of a strength and a weakness also, is that we always did this the hard way. Meaning that actually, when you call people and you do good outbound, it’s just statistical, you know, you will have answers, and you will have projects. We probably didn’t do enough marketing at that time, and a lot of real structured sales with a sales team that was just with a good CRM and just doing the job saying, Hey, want to do a demo. And there was just project because there are events all the time. So I think that’s how we started it. And maybe that’s one of your next questions. But of course, this led to a lot of requests from clients, because the product was so young. And every day, really, every day, we had someone saying, Oh, but can we do that? And can we do that? And can we do that? And? And I think that until today, everyday we have and saying, Oh, we can we add that? And I think that’s how it went and how we develop the product so much until today?
Andy Halko 12:53
Why did you filter that? I think one of the challenges that I’ve seen with companies is they get all those requests, and then they get sent in wrong directions. Yeah. Well, you kind of handle that.
Lucien Derhy 13:06
Yeah, it’s it’s kind of tricky. Because at first our for the first month, we say, Oh, look, that’s that’s not what we want to do. We want to do something scalable, because if we go and say yes, everybody, of course, we will get lost very hard to to have good message to market the thing. And you know what, let’s just do the best checking up. And that’s it. And simple, efficient. We do it. The problem is we are in the event industry, and the event industry is very, very special in the sense that we not I think we are not a SAS, like in any other industry, because we have like there are big projects, and it’s very local. And it’s very diverse. And the clients are not really experts have technologies. And and they’re really needed an all in one solution. So if you tell them, Look, I have that thing for the check in. But you cannot do batch printing, they would say they cannot get the batch printing elsewhere and just you know, connected there is no set for that. Same for registration. Same for ticketing. So same for matchmaking, it’s, it’s kind of a hassle for them to match the solutions. Yeah, because it’s on a project based if you if you purchase a CRM, you can take the time to just connect everything properly and use all your tools because you know, you’re going to use that for five years. Right? Right. But for an event, you cannot do that. You they are you have a short term vision sometimes. So you need a product that kind of offers everything so that that is very tricky. And and I think the big challenge when you receive a request is to just understand that we create and just saying, Okay, does it make sense for the product as a whole? Or does it make sense only for the client? So that’s one big thing? If it makes sense for the product as a whole, is it the right time to do it? Or is there something that are much, much more important to do at the moment? Because it will have a much bigger impact on the platform? And how far does it push us from our current product? Does it change our strategy or not? And based on all that mix of information, you make a decision to add it, no, don’t add it or put it in the roadmap for later. So it’s, it’s a very special thing, and that that’s at the beginning, after of course, when you grow the business, you have your own roadmap, and, and you invert a bit how things work. But at the beginning, you missed so much to come to come, let’s say to complete the needs of the of the client that you became crazy. And I think all the even performed on the world had the same story. And if they say no, I think it’s not possible, even hoping to they have this add the problem. This is why they’re there. They’re buying companies everywhere all the time, because they miss so much. And and they know that they are they were good on the on the on the virtual events, but know that physically on in person even come back, they they missed 90% of the features. So you know,
Andy Halko 16:36
what I think one of the tougher things is when you’re in your early days, is that you don’t have as many clients, you’re really hungry for revenue. And so if you lose a deal, because you’re missing a feature, you’re instead got right reaction is I’ve got to get this built in there. Whereas when you’re more established, and you’ve got clients and you have revenue, you know, if one person says no, it’s not feeling like this is going to significantly impact the business moving forward.
Lucien Derhy 17:04
Yeah, I agree. But but it can significantly impact you if you know that he’s right, to say no, because he requested a feature that he deserved. And if someone says no, because I think he just wants something that is a bit like just crazy or just for him. Honestly, you have to just don’t pay attention, because that’s not your client. And it’s not scalable. And it does not make sense to, to, to have this client actually. However, if if his point is right, and you realize that actually his feature makes sense for his real need, you have to listen to the client, and too many startups on too many SaaS companies. They just say, okay, that’s my product you wanted, what you want it or leave it. And I think that’s also a mistake. Because if the feedback is right, and it makes sense for the user, you have to make your best effort to provide him otherwise, you just miss your your mission, you know, you have to make the right judgment. I think that’s the tricky thing.
Andy Halko 18:08
Yeah. And it’s, you know, I, in talking to founders, there’s a lot of different ways to do that. Some do it extremely logically, you know, others have different methods or democracy versus, you know, one person solely making that decision. But yet to figure out what’s right for you and for your company at the end of the day.
Lucien Derhy 18:31
Yeah. The probably the white right way is to have everyone involved as much as possible in the decision. Usually, if you ask the sales, he will say one thing, if you ask the customer success, they will say one thing. But then if you gather everyone around the table, and you say, Okay, guys, look, we have only this amount of time to do the development and we have five features. Now we have to vote or what is the priority for the long run of the product, then the decision will be completely different. And every 10 said, they will say, Oh, you know what, that is maybe not that important, given the list that you just gave? And and I think that’s a good way to start. If if, if you have everyone to agree on what we have, you have to do? Probably you’re not making the wrong decision.
Andy Halko 19:25
Yeah, actually, I think we interviewed a founder once and said that they would just sometimes put a button in the app to see if how many people would click on it, you know, and so there’s also the other side of, of getting feedback from the users and, you know, trying to really understand their drive as much as you know what the internal team thinks as well.
Lucien Derhy 19:45
Yep. And also one another thing that is can that can be a bit tricky is that usually the what what the client asks is is very often a solution not and that can lead to very variable very bad decisions from the from the SaaS company. If you decide to apply the solution and not wonder, okay, what does he try to achieve? You have good chances to give the wrong solution. So you’re really okay, but what is he really trying to do? And is it a perfect way to do it? Is it the more generic way to do it? And I think you have to deconstruct the each request. And that applies for product development. And that, of course, applies also to sales. Actually, you have to listen carefully, but never get the solution that is offered as granted. You have to come yourself to the solution and the demand. And that’s so important, otherwise, you you do really bad choices.
Andy Halko 20:48
Yeah, I agree with that, for sure. Now, in your journey, was there any certain tactic or moment that really helped you take off, I guess, or really become much more established? And what I’m looking for a little bit is, you know, for founders out there, are there things that you know, are catalysts for growth?
Lucien Derhy 21:14
Yeah, for sure. We had one chance is that since we do events, we have visibility, somehow. We have visibility, because we, we power, hundreds of event websites all the time. So that’s natural visibility for us. And I think that there is a there is a positive effect. With time more, the more you have, the more you get. Yeah, because the more you you’re seen, and I think that that’s huge. And same for a door event. Because when you when you have a check in every single attendee that stepped into the door, potentially sees your tablet, and ask question, and it has so many people say, Oh, I saw you at this event, or I saw you at that event. And I think that it really helped us. So that is one thing. And I think this the second one is probably when we got big contracts, I think it it really helps because it’s a good opportunity to communicate, and to re reassure everyone around you. Yeah, for example, recently, we, we won the project for all the events of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, right? So every time you say it, is Okay, so those guys, they must be kind of curious, otherwise get validation at in terms of how they work in terms of the quality of the solution, they will not have made it if not so. So I think that’s also very, very important. Thank you just use your references, because they are your best friend.
Andy Halko 23:02
But I will have to say that I think both of those are hard for early stage and certain types of businesses because some don’t get the visibility, you know, from a customer using their software, because they might be behind the scenes. And then others, you know, obviously when you’re starting out, you don’t have those big contracts. So, I mean, just for those that are out there, it’s you know, that’s that that can feel daunting.
Lucien Derhy 23:28
Yeah, something we didn’t do, and that I think it’s a very, very good and cheap strategy is actually partnerships. Partnerships is something that we really underestimate. And it’s so easy to do, actually, because everyone is looking for visibility. What we’re doing here is a good example, but we can do for everything. Let’s say that meant let me give you an example that was two hours ago. I Ay, ay ay, ay, ay registered for service online. And I received an email from the founder of that SaaS, right, and say, Oh, Hi, Lucien. I’m very happy that you became a client. Looky I think it can be interesting. If you would answer that survey and with this survey, we will do a client case on our website. And and we are in a blog article. And I think it’s great visibility, and it’s great SEO for you too. And and I think that’s brilliant, because if he does that, then probably once he will be published because he’s also a famous company. Once the article will be published, the first thing I would do is just LinkedIn it and I will just first I purchased his service. So I’m a client and for free, I will be happy and proud to just publish on his link on my LinkedIn, his service. And I did the work to write articles for him, right. So that’s kind of tricky things that is very cheap. But that really working provides visibility. And I think that when you start, especially if you don’t have a lot of money at the beginning, you should go very deep into those solutions. Yeah.
Andy Halko 25:10
Because we we we talk with a lot of, you know, folks about that, that what I call the hacking, like marketing or growth hacking of how do you find these unique ways to kind of get out there and find customers or, you know, leverage word of mouth or whatever it might be?
Lucien Derhy 25:28
Yeah, that that I would go for that. IE, if you have limited the funding for that. Yeah.
Andy Halko 25:35
Now, did you? It speaking of funds, did you bootstrap? Did you raise capital? How did you guys, you know, go about that.
Lucien Derhy 25:44
Yeah. So things are changing now. But we are very thing special in that thing, because we bootstrap from the beginning. And we started all or companies with 1000 euros. And today, on digit event, we are a team of over 30%. And with all the businesses, we are more than 60, which is quite cool. And, and I would I don’t know if I would suggest that to someone or not. Because there are amazing things with that. But also big problems, of course, big issues. But we still self financed at the moment, and it will probably change soon. But yeah, that’s Yeah,
Andy Halko 26:29
That’s great. I mean, I think, and I’ve had this conversation with many others is that everybody’s kind of got a different opinion about being funded, you know, versus bootstrapping. And I mean, there’s so many different factors that go into play. Was that a very conscious decision that you did not want to raise capital?
Lucien Derhy 26:50
Yeah. Well, the first thing is, don’t get funded, if you don’t need to know what you’re going to do with the money. As I told you that earlier, the even says, is something that is actually not real says because you have a lot of, of companies that is ranging from 500Ks to 5 million. And, and there was a reason for that, because we have an issue with scalability in the industry. And I think many companies that raised money, they just collapsed after because they were not able to scale as they imagined. So before COVID, I think it was an issue because the clients are very local, and the projects are local, and they want someone that is nearby. And, and I think it’s not that easy in the event industry to scale a lot, because you have little advantages to and hurt and big difficulty to reach outside your natural right area. And you see it in every countries of the world, for even American solutions. You don’t find them in France at all, even though some raised a lot of money. And you see Scandinavian sculpt solution in Scandinavia and Swiss solution in Swiss and German, Swiss and in Germany. And actually, that’s the way the industry is and there is probably a micro economic reason behind that. So I think if you don’t need money, you must not do it. But actually you must have sufficient funding to have a serious middle management, and not to bootstrap too much. And to make sure that you as a CEO, you your job is is is to is not to do the operational, but to really drive the company. Right. So if you have sufficient traction and business and revenue, to have that middle management and to kind of distance yourself from the operational, I think that you can be very comfortable in a self funded company. If you cannot do that. I think you have a structural issue. And either the business is not profitable anymore sufficiently profitable, or are you have to raise money. That’s how I said,
Andy Halko 29:12
Yeah, no, I agree. I’m just kind of moving a little bit in a different direction. Talk about your role, you know, and not just your role today. But what I’m always interested in founders is, what it started out as and how it’s evolved over time. And just because I think it’s interesting at every stage, it changes and adapts. And I’m kind of curious for you personally, you know, how is your position in the company evolved and changed? Yeah,
Lucien Derhy 29:48
I think for the five first years, clearly, that was a mistake. But, you know, you you as a founder, you kind of Have to see everything of it. Because when something happens in the end, you kind of see it because it’s in a small company, because we were like, from 10 to 20 at the time. So it’s not it’s too small company to really let your personal due and it’s too big to get involved, sir, seriously. So it’s, it’s tricky. sighs I think my role was I was CTO, and I was responsible for the product development. But the but also, you’re involved in the recruitment of, of your customer success when there is a new sales manager, you have to CTI in the interview. And, and also, you know, like every hour, you have all this strategy in mind. And I think it’s too much, especially if, like us, we have other because we have other companies that this issue. So you have to force yourself to delegate because it’s, your, there is no way you can survive otherwise, and you need people you trust, and you have to build a good team. So my advice is, don’t wait like me five years to do that. As soon as possible. And as soon as you know that your business, you’re on something that is serious, just build the right team and have the right people at the right, the right position and people you can trust. And and that’s just you have to do it. Even if it’s very hard, there is no way you cannot do it, because it has been done in every company all over the world.
Andy Halko 31:43
Well, I think early stage folks struggle with that finding the right people being able to attract them is something that is so early stage. I mean, sometimes it happens, but you know, especially today where the job market is, is really tight, and you know, the salaries can get higher, you know, it’s a challenge for sure.
Lucien Derhy 32:03
Yeah, you have to provide a good mix to your employees, you have to really have a project that in which you believe and you and you make them believe I think the company culture is something that really helps you to recruit. And you have also it must be a win win win relationship. So if you manage to create that Win Win relationship with your team, probably that in exchange, also you will get more loyal employees and people that really get into the adventure and really play the game. Every time I recruit someone, I tell them at the beginning and I say, okay, look, you’re going to step into a place that is set finance, and if we did everything we did, until today, it’s because everyone that joined us is really convinced that they have something to bring. And if you’re amazing, then you can change the thing for good because we are small enough. So that when you leave the company as the further possible, like in time, but when you will leave the company, you will you have you can say okay, this may change the person you impacted you in you can impact it and positively or negatively. So you have to understand the responsibility that you have. And when you tell them that and you show them that actually you consider the kind of business partners, actually, you see that they make the company and the product they own and it’s kind of their own baby too. And, and they can they can make it grow and they grow with you. So it’s awesome. And and of course there are many other things than that. But but really having people wanting to grow the baby is is fundamental to me.
Andy Halko 33:54
Now, are there with that culture piece? Do you actively Are there any things that you actively do the try and shape the culture? or, or? Or have you really let it you know, grow organically as the company’s grown.
Lucien Derhy 34:09
Um, what when we hire people, we try to make sure that they really fit with the team. We don’t only Well, there are many things we do. First on the skill part, actually, we are very, very demanding. So we prefer to wait a long time to hire someone that really we convince stuff because it’s too important. Most of companies are run by people if the people are not good or motivated enough or whatever. At some point, the company will not make the job because it’s people make the job in a company. So first we be extremely demanding when you hire someone. Don’t hesitate to say no even if you have a doubt and if you have a doubt usually means you have no doubt so just don’t do it. Because in the end You would just lose time and pay twice the money. So it’s hard, but if you have adult on, so that’s one thing. The second thing is, we’re always asked the team to see, to see the new candidates. And if there is an issue, or they don’t, the, it’s not the same culture or the same, we feel that they will not enjoy having lunch together. Yeah, probably we don’t do it. Because it has to be like a family in the end. So people have to, you know, they have to go and, and just have fun and have souvenirs together, and maybe, like, just drink in the weekend together. And, and, you know, just have fun, because remote work is fine. But actually, when you have a group of friends or, and you work with friends, that that’s just amazing. And, and you remember that for your life also, and I think, much more than just making money work is where you spend most of your day and probably more time than with your wife or husband. So it has, it has to be something you enjoy. And, and we try to, to hire people that we get along together very well. And for example, last year, we were very, very happy because we had a couple in the company and and this couple these are very, very serious. And for us, it’s it’s very satisfying to see that it means that, that it’s a group of friends and a group of people that get along very well and that it will last right? You know, even after even after they leave the company, people that used to work with us, they every time there is a party, they want to come back, they come back in the end they want they come just to to to say hello all the time. And I think it’s very rewarding.
Andy Halko 36:53
Yeah, that’s, that’s really, you know, cool. I think that’s such an important piece. And especially today, it’s a challenge, because some people aren’t in the office, are you guys currently, you know, working from home and virtual or you back in the office working together?
Lucien Derhy 37:14
Well, like everyone, for sure we we change the routine, the recent here, remote work was not at all, what we favored before. And, and of course, we have to change on that. I’m still not completely sure that it’s suited similarly to everyone. I think it’s very personal. And I think there is the rules must be very individual for the in that matter. And which makes it also very difficult. Because as a company, you cannot say, Oh, if you say everyone is allowed to go to work remote, three days a week, maybe it’s not enough for some people, then it’s too much for some others. So I think it has to be very individual. And it has to be after a certain time in the company. Because it’s impossible to do a service onboarding and to give that culture to the employee if if they are remote i You have to gain trust and reciprocal, like mutual trust. So So at the beginning, I think it’s very complicated. But for sure, there are great things with that in terms of concentration, to get the work done. I think it’s amazing. But it has to be very balanced. And and you have to really listen to your employee. And it depends on the job. If they if they if you think it’s necessary for them or not. At certain point of the life they have they have young children or not and and you have to accommodate you have to be very smart and not give one unique answer. That’s that’s one advice. And the second advice also is I think people same for hybrid events, or virtual events people are they rush a bit too much in saying oh, that’s the new thing. And I think we don’t have enough
I don’t know the word in English, of course. Distance, you know, to make a proper to make a proper judgment on that. Yeah, I’m with tell us because
Because it’s too early to really make a proper stick up. Is it really, really necessary for everybody and how much? I think it’s complicated.
Andy Halko 39:38
And I’m kind of curious how COVID impacted the business overall. And really the angle that I’m most interested in is, I think of it as a SWOT strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and how many people in the world had COVID under their threats, you know, external things and so on. You know, for me, it’s about these outside impacts that you can’t control. Yeah, can be very, you know, positive or negative very, you know, life and business changing. So how did everything that happened impact you? You know, the business? How did you think about it? Yeah.
Lucien Derhy 40:21
For sure, it has a tremendous impact, as you can imagine. It we, at first, it was a shock for the whole company, because in March 20. Well, we had everydays emails from clients saying, oh, you know, what, we can sell the event, we can sell the event, all the projects, all the quotes, oh, we’re not going to do it and say, Okay, well, what’s going to happen? Right? What’s happening now? So we were lucky also to be in France at the beginning, because we had a lot like very, very good support from the government to help us at the very beginning. That was a great chance. And, and, of course, we stepped back saying, Okay, we have to save what, we have to save the thing and change things a bit of thinking, like, Okay, what we what we did change on the long run? And how do we adapt to that? And how do we innovate, not just react and be defensive? You know, but just how do we use that as an opportunity to just change, change the game and also, because of the rolling the competition. So we had, we developed like, it was ready for June or July, we developed the whole set of features for live events, in three months, it was extremely intense. In three months, I think we developed what we used to do. In three years, it was crazy work all the time, it was a bit back in, like back in 2013. For us. Thinking a new product, asking the clients explaining the team’s marketing, do creative creating an offer, doing everything in just a few months. Of course, we had the chance to have the clients ready, and very open to new opportunities. So that was a great chance. But still, we have to convince them that this new product has potential and they have not to cancel the events. And that look, this is even much better than what you had before. So we develop a full solution to have program on the event where people could go to live sessions integrate with all visual conference platforms, like anything zoom go to Webinar, whereby teams and also developing something that I think is very important is how do we maintain connection between people and between attendees. So we created that matchmaking plugin platform where people can just you know, make meetings while being remote with some AI behind and and that just were was amazing for us because we had a lot of demands for that and we kept saying oh you know what, this is not our market this is not our market and we when when we decided to do it with this we did it for the virtual market from the beginning. So I think we had one of the best products we could ever imagine. And and we had a huge traction on that. And this year that started so bad turned out to be amazing for us and we were lucky because the event industry was so impacted that it was just crazy. It was just a crazy year I think
Andy Halko 43:54
Manage through the chaos you know if you did all of that in this tight time frame of software and marketing and all these other pieces one How did you manage the chaos a little bit and the two How did you keep team excited and engaged Wow, all of this is going on in the world?
Lucien Derhy 44:13
Yeah, well first we had to kind of reassure everyone saying that what’s happened is just kind of fate and we have something that we remember all our life because what we’re living now is just unbelievable and and we just have to say okay, we have to work as a you know, it’s like a mission you know, we have to to go back to to to exit that stronger together. And and I think everyone was really involved in order to do their best to just know show the world that we can do something South Sudan so that was cool. Then developing a new product is all is also very cool. It’s very hard, but it was also very cool. So for the deaf team because it was really nice for the for the for the marketing team, it was also very exciting same for the customer success because we were building something and having human people, human beings love to build things. So. So it’s very exciting to do that, of course, it was very stressful for us, we have to, we had not to show the stress too much. But after a few a few months, we saw that traction coming back. And it was very rewarding for everyone. I think.
Andy Halko 45:31
Now, would you say that all of this change the trajectory of the business? And I’m kind of thinking, you know, you’ve talked a lot about being local and regional. Is it now, you know, worldwide? Is? Is the roadmap completely different for the future? Like, is the trajectory different than you think it was before all this?
Lucien Derhy 45:54
Well, I think that this podcast is a great testimony for that. Now, for sure. What happened this year is that it changed it well, virtual events is a shift from local market to global market, right? Because there is much less specificity in the virtual event word that there is in the in person event, which make the platform’s much more scalable. And, and we checked, we were 90%, we had 90% of our clients in France. No, we should, I think we have 50 to 60% means that we gained a lot of traction from the, in the rest of the world, we also hired someone that is just accountable just for the international market. She’s interested only speaking in English all the time. And she just manages demand from everywhere except Europe. And, and that’s amazing for us. And I could not imagine that before COVID. So it was a huge accelerator. Of course, we are not alone, also, because it happened to many platform. But at some point, I think that either you’re in the right or on the left, and some just had the worst year of their life, and they will probably disappear because it was a bit too much. And, and some went out stronger of the COVID. So I think it’s quite hard. Maybe it’s quite necessary for an economy. But but for sure. There are some good points in that situation, because it helps companies to grow some companies to grow and do things better. And, and to scale. You know, talk better processes, better product, better solution, more clients. And it’s very virtuous, I think?
Andy Halko 47:54
Well, I mean, going back to where you and I started in this conversation of early stage, that chaos of trying new things, you talk about the world, forcing everybody into a little bit of chaos, to produce tons of innovation. And so it’s interesting that if you look at it from what we talked about earlier that I mean, it really did, what you’re saying is that people had to try new things and be adaptable. And there was a lot of innovation that happened.
Lucien Derhy 48:23
Yeah, it for it created a lot of innovation. I think we also same as remote work, I think we have to be cautious about what will be the post COVID event industry. I think for me, I’m going to be very honest. Now I think for many, many reasons. Too many people say that the future is hybrid and virtual. And but but I think it’s it’s the reason why people say that also is because they’re they have interest to say that. Because if you meant if you have an event that you maintain every year, and you have to do it virtual this year, because you cannot drop your brand, because an event is like a brand, right? You do it every year, if you stop doing it one year, you just use your clients use you lose your brand, use your attendee, and you give room to someone else to just take that market. So everybody says, oh, you know, virtual was amazing. It was much beyond our expectations. And, and we cannot imagine a world without virtual. I think there is some part that is true in that. But it’s probably a bit exaggerated. Because especially in the last six months where the I think the virtual market for events is a bit saturated, in the sense that you ever it’s so easy to start a wave to an event that actually you can spend your day in events, whereas so it reduces the quality. Everybody competes with each other in different vendors, I’m not talking about the platforms I’m talking about, I guess. Yeah. And, and it’s no longer that much a signal of quality or, or reference in the industry. And I think the reasons why people used to do events before, is because they wanted to create that experience that link that, you know, to tight links with attendees and show that they are the reference in the industry. And and the things that happen in, in within person relationship that actually doesn’t not happen with virtual. So I’m convinced that there will be much more virtual events, I think that some format for some events and form for needs, virtual is just awesome. But I don’t believe that much. And that that most event will be hybrid in the future. I think that’s either utopie, either just like you have to say it to be fashionable, or whatever, I’d say, oh, yeah, I mean, the good future is hybrid. I don’t believe that at all. But I can I can be wrong, because no one can tell you what’s going to happen.
Andy Halko 51:10
I mean, I like the pointer, you know, it’s a new point that I hadn’t thought about is that, you know, the barrier to entry of an event is so much lower, that potentially the quality gets lower, and you know, that that causes a reverse back to the other direction. It’s not
Lucien Derhy 51:27
necessarily that the quality is lower, it’s just that when you produce something that is live, the barrier between life event and just a replay or a TV show is just very thin, you know? And at some point, are you really trying to create an event? Or do you just want to promote a video or to do a landing page and just get leads? You know, and, and for sure, the video format will gain a lot from the COVID. And that’s no doubt. But why do you need always to do an event just to provide some content? And here there is something that is a bit touchy? You. And that does not always, like, you know, it’s not that obvious. Something also that is not that obvious is if you work in a company, and you say I take a day off to go to that fair, because I need to exhibit or I need to meet people or to discover new product, it’s fine. If you say to your boss, or you know what, I need the day off to go to these virtual events. It’s a bit like, you know, oh, yeah, he’s gonna watch TV all day. And it’s, it will never I don’t think we are ready to accept it the same way. In a post COVID. world, that would not be that easy. So many things like these get into get into, you know, into the situation. And yeah.
Andy Halko 53:01
So what’s the future look like? For you guys over the next, you know, two to three years? Yeah. What do you see happening for the business for the product?
Lucien Derhy 53:12
Yeah. I think that we have three main three main directions that that is very important for us. First of all, I think continuing to be global, is very important. Because we show that actually, we can have some very happy clients. Even not in France, and the clients who gain I think they know trust us and, and we have no that possibility to say, oh, you know, what, we worked with this guy in Mexico, or we work with that guy in, I don’t know, in Germany, and it’s a good, it’s the first step that will lower us also to get credibility, global globally. So I think one of our priority is definitely to, to go be below 50% of the French market, of our clients from the French market. That’s extremely important for us. And by the way, we are looking for distributors, or for maybe even complementary solutions, that would be interesting to partner with us. And to help us achieve that. So if you’re somewhere based in the US and you feel that, oh, maybe I should talk to this guy. Just shoot a message. We have nothing to lose. Yeah. That’s one thing, just to to do that. And to achieve that property, we have to move from a sales driven company to a marketing driven company. So for sure, the marketing is something of the future for us, and we invest more and more in that direction. And the third part is just continue to build a product that is awesome. We really believe that our product is awesome. And because when you use it, it’s you have the stickiness and, and you feel that, oh, you have to test the product to understand. But you know what actually, it’s really easy. The result, like the event website is just clean, beautiful, easy to create the flow, the UX, everything is perfect. And and I think that we have to continue and continue in that direction to create a product that is just perfectly aligned with our clients. And I think there is a big opportunity in that. Because if you actually in the even platforms, there is the same price for everyone. But the products are very, very different. So I think that’s a great opportunity for us also to demonstrate that we have something more than the others.
Andy Halko 55:57
Awesome. Before my last question for you, that I always close with. And you kind of hinted at this, but where do people reach you? You know, what are you looking for? You talked about, obviously, folks that might want to partner in the US? Who else are you looking to talk to? And you know, how can they reach you?
Lucien Derhy 56:19
Well, first, if you come by Paris, I will be happy to just you know, invite you to the office and just grab a coffee and show you where to see around. So if you come to Paris, it’s very easy. If not no way. If you if you’re if the first step is just maybe to ask me on LinkedIn, just contact me ask me anything. I love to talk and, and just to have interesting chats with people. So just send me a message on LinkedIn. And of course, have a look at the solution digitevent.com which is where you have to go if you are somewhere related to the event industry, or organize events or married to an event organizer, just print that work digitevent.com. And and if you say that you come from that podcast, and we’ll make sure that you have a special attention when you contact us.
Andy Halko 57:11
Awesome. So where I want to end is I always ask if you were able to go back in time, you know, to that 2012 timeframe, right before you really getting started and have coffee with yourself? How advice would you give to your to your past self about the future?
Lucien Derhy 57:37
Um, that’s actually a good question. Well, one thing probably is even though it was very hard for the for the market, I would maybe have tried. If you’re SaaS business, and you’re not based in the US just try to think of the code first don’t know don’t think global first. I think that’s something that really missed to most of the, of the SaaS businesses that are not based in an English speaking country on in not a very, very small country. For example, if you take Israel, for example, the reason why they succeed also so much is because they don’t have a national market, right. So if you consider your market as the word to start with, probably maybe a bit difficult. But if you scale up, you scale up for good. And at some point, we started a bit too much as an agency at the beginning and, and we still paid to maybe less, but we paid somehow today. And so think global that that’s I think that is extremely important. And the second thing also is probably related to the to the previous one. But if you feel that you have a momentum, at some point, don’t be conservative or pessimistic. Don’t over bootstrap things. Because you will pay things twice. It’s very good to construct a test. But once your test is validated, you have to just go for it and trust yourself. And and think big that that’s I think is extremely important.
Andy Halko 59:14
That’s awesome. Well, Lucien, thank you so much for you know being part of this conversation. I loved it. I enjoyed it. I know our audience well, so I really appreciate you being with us.
Lucien Derhy 59:26
Thank you so much, Andy. Thanks a lot. It was a pleasure.
Andy Halko 59:28
Yeah awesome, everybody. Well, we will see you next week and check out Digitevent and we’ll talk soon. Bye, everybody.
Lucien Derhy 59:37
Bye. Take care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai