Brand. Creating a product is easy in comparison to creating a brand. A brand is the irrational component of your decision making, brand is what people buy, is what investors invest in. Being unique, differentiated, loud, is something that takes years if not decades. So when a “startup” manages to build something like that in 4–5 years, it’s extraordinary.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gilles Bertaux, co-founder and CEO of Livestorm, the all-in-one platform for video communication.
As a first-time entrepreneur, Gilles co-founded Livestorm in 2016 along with Robin Lambert, Tom Forlini and Vincent Garreau. In 2020, Gilles raised $30M in series B to accelerate Livestorm’s presence in Europe and the US and scale its go to market strategies towards mid-market and Enterprise.
Now 4,000+ companies trust Livestorm to organize their meetings, webinars or online events. Livestorm has been recognized by G2 as a Leader 2021 in the categories “webinar” and “web conferencing”.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Livestorm was founded in 2016 as a final-year school project. After doing several internships in tech companies, I was looking for software that could not only stream live video but also manage the painful tasks around it. Like many other professionals, I was looking for an end-to-end management platform where I could organize, host, and analyze my online events in one place.
Recognizing that there was a gap in the market, my co-founders (Robin Lambert, Tom Forlini, and Vincent Garreau) and I built a proof of concept in three months. The product was very well received by our peers and we decided to continue the adventure further.
In 2019, we raised a $5.1M Series A funding round to strengthen Livestorm’s presence in the US and introduce new video use cases.
As you all know, 2020 was a very special year and companies needed a video communication platform more than ever. In a few months, Livestorm grew exponentially — our revenue increased by x8 — but even after the first few months of Covid-19, our momentum was staying strong. In November 2020 we raised $30M in Series B to accelerate Livestorm’s presence in Europe and the US, as well as to scale our go-to-market strategies towards mid-market and Enterprise.
Now 4,000+ companies trust Livestorm to organize their meetings, webinars, or online events and the trend of the use of video communication tools is not expected to reverse. Indeed, a Livestorm survey conducted in April 2021 of 1,128 American workers found that video conferencing will continue to be an important part of marketing and customer communications. 68 percent of respondents said they expect their use of video conferencing to increase (24 percent) or remain the same (44 percent) for the next 12 months — despite the fact that 60 percent of them say they’ll be back in the office at least part-time by the end of 2021.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Livestorm was our final exam project. We presented it by streaming our own presentation, and then everyone else’s, for 8h straight with hundreds of people telling us how cool it was. That was the “wow, we might have built something worth trying” moment.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My life partner definitely. It’s definitely a tough egoistic journey. Finding someone capable to put up with your choice and delaying theirs is quite exceptional. We’ve been together for 10 years and 5 of those were while me being CEO. I have been telling her about Livestorm for literally 50% of our time together. That’s commitment.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Traditional video conferencing tools don’t offer any promotional features or analytics for organizers, and everyone involved has to download an app or software.
Livestorm enables powerful, yet pain-free video engagements at scale. Its end-to-end video engagement platform enables organizations to create professional video engagements that can be easily managed in one place. Livestorm is a browser-based platform that doesn’t require a download, or setup.
Businesses can use Livestorm for on-demand, live, or pre-recorded meetings or events, and it supports all the workflows around a video engagement; including landing pages, registration, email follow-ups, and sharing video recordings.
Powerful end-to-end analytics helps you track and measure audience engagement. Our seamless integration with tools like HubSpot, Pipedrive and Intercom helps you manage all your insights in one place.
Organizers who host frequent events and want to have control over their events — for instance, controlling who gets to present, speak or attend — can benefit from Livestorm. Livestorm can be used for any size event, from two to thousands of people.
More than 4,000+ companies from startups to Fortune 500 companies rely on Livestorm, including brands such as Shopify, Honda, Spendesk, Front, Sephora and Revolut.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It’s a difficult question, and honestly I don’t know if I did, perhaps the thing I’m the most proud of is to have been able to actually create actual jobs (especially during uncertain times). I think I was also able to give a chance to people that did not have the“perfect resume” and grew up to become key contributors within our 120 people organization.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Ironically as an entrepreneur, I consider myself a cautious person. I often say that when there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt. It applies to a lot of things like hiring or fundraising. At the end of the day, you may take fewer risks but make mostly good decisions. This is probably less relevant when you begin, but the more you grow, the more you have people that count on you, and then the more relevant this advice gets.
One final thing that I often say is that we’re not in a sprint nor a marathon, it’s something in between. I believe this should drive how we do things: work smarter and don’t burn out so that you can build incrementally and progressively.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
“Ship as fast as possible”. I think there’s a misconception around “shipping fast”. It does not mean ship clunky products and debug in production, it means “spend time to find those 2–3 key features, build it well, and then iterate”. In the early days there were many examples of things we released without properly testing and researching, we wasted time at a moment where time was our most valuable asset.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When Livestorm was launched back in 2016, we had a few challenges to face: our brand awareness was non-existent, many large competitors were already present in the market and our SEO traffic was weak as we had just launched the website.
We built an early website targeting specific keywords and created a lot of content around our chosen topic. But when it came to prospects further down the buying process, we didn’t have any content to attract them to our website. In January 2018, we came up with the idea to create comparison pages on our website to address that problem. Our objective was to present Livestorm as an alternative to our main competitors, in a tone that was as neutral as possible.
This project was a success: the comparison pages generated 6% of Livestorm’s organic traffic and they generated links from over 130 referring domains.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
Seeing the product evolving every week, seeing those little (even tiny) successes one after one another, either for the client or for us, was very satisfying. In doubt, I always come back to the product and what’s in the works. I put myself in my marketer shoes, look at this product and ask myself: “am I still excited by what’s in front of me”, if yes, then continue.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder?
I have to thank the Imgur community. Honestly, finding spaces (physical or virtual) to blow off the steam is probably the best advice I can give.
Also, staying away from the toxic environment that is Twitter or Linkedin in Tech is important, never ending news of crazy valuation and rounds will make you feel like a failure if you keep looking at it, Twitter is the most biased platform for tech news: nobody talks about their struggle, their failure etc.
Finally, putting things in perspective sometimes helps (not always it’s true) and especially in the early days. What is the worst that can happen, in most cases, nothing you cannot overcome.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Often, think of raising capital as a strong river stream. If you dive in you better swim fast and adapt, but you’ll get carried away by the stream anyway. When raising funds you accept a certain level of growth expectations and you accept that you will likely be doing rounds after rounds. The reward will also be exponential and life changing in many aspects.
Bootstrapping is a difficult choice, in theory you accept to go slower and take the time to do your own thing, focus on the topics of your choice. But we often forget that it means you need to reach profitability as soon as possible to keep living on your own business and pay the people that work for you. It’s not easier, the pressure is just different.
I don’t know what the choices factors are but I can tell you why I chose to go for option a). As we grew, our ambition for the company grew with it, at a point where we were at a crossroads between reaching our goals in 10 years or 3 years. And, well, I’m quite impatient.
Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
First I think success is a sum of the point below, not factors to be taken independently:
- Successful startups are defined by the customers: it comes back to my Twitter point above. I don’t believe that the news or Twitter will define success, it’s a consequence at best. You can build an empty shell and go live on National Television. Customer satisfaction and actual reports will measure how good you’re doing.
- Another factor to be considered with the rest is obviously growth. Most successful companies have seen actual exponential growth year after year, at rates you don’t see “in real life”.
- Brand. Creating a product is easy in comparison to creating a brand. A brand is the irrational component of your decision making, brand is what people buy, is what investors invest in. Being unique, differentiated, loud, is something that takes years if not decades. So when a “startup” manages to build something like that in 4–5 years, it’s extraordinary.
- People are the backbone of the company, it’s hard to be all of the above without a strong foundation. Being surrounded by the best talents, being able to create this milestone in one’s career, on which a recruiter will say “s.he’s a former XYZ” it’s definitely a good marker of you building a successful organization.
- Now do all of the above by being a decent human being.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Focus on the big rocks when moving a mountain. Sometimes founders focus on theoretical market assessments, branding guidelines, painting company values on the wall. Just build: the product, the team, the financial model.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
Again, thanks Imgur. Also, think about it this way: by pushing yourself 12h a day there’s a good chance you will expect the same from the people you hire. Therefore, there’s a good chance that you will burn them too and you will have to hire them again. Do yourself a favour: take it easy on yourself, it’s a long term investment on your team. Focus on being more productive 8h a day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Before even considering creating a new movement, I believe that the main power lies in everyone’s hands every 4–5 years (depending on where you live). Think big rocks: free healthcare, education for all etc. The best people to talk to get elected every once in a while. I would start there.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Michelle Obama or Keanu Reeves. They seem approachable, kind, yet brilliant people. I would definitely learn a thing or two from them.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Your readers can find out more about Livestorm on our website (https://livestorm.co) where they can ask for a demo and discover for free our solutions.
They can also follow our blog (https://livestorm.co/blog) and our social media channels:
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/livestorm/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/livestormapp
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/livestormapp/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livestormapp/?hl=fr
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!