Let go. I know a lot of founders think their idea is going to change the world, but I never did. I took a chance on my knowledge of the market and a functional tool, and I was open to whatever starting a company meant. Letting go, accepting the process, and not being hell-bent on one idea is just another way of remaining resilient.
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yves Hiernaux. Yves is the CEO of BeeBole Timesheet, a company he co-founded after years of consulting Fortune 500 companies and seeing executive-level frustration with time tracking reports and managing employee data. He’s passionate about making that data accessible, and if he’s not behind a computer or in his garden, you’ll probably find him in the mountains.
Thank you so much for joining us Yves! 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?
From an early age, I loved computers. They came easy to me and, while most of my early experience was just playing games, I knew I was good at using and understanding the actual mechanics. So in college, I studied computer science engineering. And while that major had very little do with it, a career in coding seemed unavoidable as that’s what must computer engineers were being hired for. But I got lucky when I found a compromise in a company that created human resource software solutions for big companies. A small amount of coding made its way into my day-to-day, but it wasn’t the bulk of my job.
And although I wasn’t looking for a career in the software industry either, it was here that I realized how much I loved finding solutions to problems. I was able to dive into the various HR processes at huge companies, identify issues, simplify them and then translate all of that into a technical solution. In other words, it was my job to bridge this big gap between the IT and HR worlds, and I loved it.
Now this company started quite small, but it was acquired by another company, and then by another. As it went from a medium-sized business of 50 people to a global enterprise of more than 6,000 employees worldwide, I had the opportunity to go from a project manager to leading a team of 50. I was so grateful for that chance to grow and enjoyed climbing my way up through the company, but I also realized it wasn’t my cup of tea.
After seven years there, I came to a fork in the road. My wife was heading to India for a diplomat position, and I wanted to go with her. How was I supposed to move across the world and keep this role? Did I even want to? Turns out, the answer was no. I was ready to create my own company, and that was where BeeBole began.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I don’t believe in “aha moments,” so I can’t really say I had one. At this exact moment, there are other people in the world with the same idea as you, trying to bring it to life and trying to turn it into something. Who comes out on top is determined by a completely undefinable equation of resilience, hard work, luck, and circumstance. Let me explain.
My friend Mic and I came up with BeeBole at a bar in Covent Garden in London, where we were celebrating a recent multi-million dollar sale at the company we both worked at. He had just resigned, and I really wanted to move with my wife to India. Neither of us was sure what the right next step would be, but we got to talking and that led to some brainstorming right there on the napkins at the bar.
That was it. There was no great big idea, no life-changing moment. We both had experience creating HR solutions for big companies, and we realized there was a gap in these kinds of solutions for medium-sized companies. This was around 2010, so the entire SaaS movement was just beginning, and it was exciting to be a part of it. Instead of companies having to use their own servers and issuing software from within, SaaS allowed these programs to simply be available. And that’s exactly what I wanted to do with BeeBole.
For me, it wasn’t about this great big idea we had — we simply knew we had the skills to create a tool like this and that there was a need for it in the medium-sized company market. I wasn’t in love with this idea, and I wasn’t protective over it like some founders can be, which actually worked in our favor. As time went on and the company’s scope widened and then narrowed, I wasn’t hung up on my one big idea coming to fruition. In that sense, not having an “aha moment” was actually the best thing that could’ve happened.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I can tell you this: It wasn’t at the beginning of BeeBole. Starting a company is difficult in many ways — coming to terms with giving up being a full-time employee, monthly paychecks and the perks of having an office — but all of those worries were drowned out by the excitement of starting something new. At first, we didn’t worry about money. Both Mic and I took the odd consulting job here and there, and we got a small loan from the bank. After our first year, we had a small amount of revenue to add to the pot, too.
Three years in was a completely different story. On a professional level, we were running out of money, and on a personal level, I was going through a divorce. I felt as if I were on unsteady ground in all aspects of my life at this point, and the only thing driving me forward was the sense of control I felt around having the freedom to run BeeBole.
There was no way I was ready to give that up, so with company funds running low, I accepted a full-time consulting position, took my suits out of storage and shaved for my first day back.
For three years I worked a full-time job to survive. I went through phases of doing my BeeBole work after coming home from a day at the office as well as waking up extra early to answer emails before going in. But no matter how I divided the hours, I was exhausted. If there was any moment in the story of BeeBole that I should’ve wanted to throw in the towel, this would’ve been it. Miraculously, though, it never even crossed my mind. I saw the number of subscribers continue to grow and, despite me working full-time, despite having no marketing team and against all odds, I pushed forward.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Well, I’m no longer consulting, so that’s a good sign. We’ve grown from a team of 3 to a team of 10, and unlike many of the startups that began when BeeBole did, we’re still around, profitable, and continuing to grow. I never thought I had an “aha” idea, and our vision was never to change the world. And while that might sound contradictory, I think this mindset made us resilient and gave us the strength to pivot, test new features and ultimately build the BeeBole we have today.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I don’t believe in mistakes, either! Looking back, every decision I’ve made has gotten BeeBole to where it is today, and I’m at peace with that. Sure, there are things I could’ve done differently, but it just didn’t happen like that.
One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of finding direction and clarity. I’ve gotten so used to this concept (and the concept of not having it), that now I can almost feel when I’ve made the right decision.
When BeeBole first began, we had a million ideas for the software and, to be honest, depending on the day I still have that many bouncing around in my head. Over the years we’ve tried many ideas before deciding to kill them. Maybe you’d call those mistakes, but I don’t see it that way. The path and the journey I’ve taken was always my goal, which is why I really don’t believe in them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think we actually care. I’m not saying other companies don’t, but I’m not sure it’s the trend in today’s world. Our support team is available 24 hours a day between two of our biggest target markets (U.S. and Europe). If our team grew to house a bigger customer support team, one of my biggest concerns would be making sure the team remained just as empathetic as we are today.
Instead of one specific story to highlight this, I think it’s more about all the little micro-moments that make up our days. When one of our clients needs us, we’re a chatbox or video call away, and we get drawn into their world, their company, and their challenges. They come to us with an issue they’d like to solve, one that their boss has most likely given them, and we’re there to help.
Often, our customers will even ask us to walk them through an entire process in their company, including programs that aren’t BeeBole related. When you see one of us with Microsoft Excel open and somebody’s data-filled spreadsheet, I think that shows we’re not just here for BeeBole, but for them.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take time for yourself. Obviously, there will be stretches of long hours and very hard work along the way. That’s a given when you start a SaaS company. But you have to set yourself up for the long game if you don’t want to burn out. For me, that means taking time off every three months, for example, or even an afternoon here and there to spend with my family or in the garden. It’s not really about how often I do this, but just knowing I can whenever I want to. Finding the perfect work-life balance was always one of my goals, and now I have it. If I want to escape to the mountains for a week, I can. And so can anyone on my team. I don’t think work should be anyone’s entire life, and it’s this attitude that’s primed me to keep going.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My good friend Mic, who happens to be the co-founder of BeeBole and the one who I was scribbling ideas with on those fateful bar napkins, is the one who showed me that being an entrepreneur was a viable option. Growing up in Brussels, becoming an entrepreneur was not something people aspired to. But Mic was the first person to open my eyes up to what it would mean to leave the corporate world and start something new, and it’s thanks to him I actually did it.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We’ve got more than 1,000 customers that range from small companies to 1,000-employee enterprises all over the world (63 countries to be exact!).
How did we do it? Here are some of the things I think were most important.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff: I forgot about the daily to-do list and instead kept my eyes on the bigger picture. So instead of getting upset about missing a deadline or losing a potential customer, I stayed focused on the overall goal of making a profitable SaaS solution.
2. Bring great people together: This is a recurring step for me, but I can’t stress it enough. I’ve built a team of people I’m proud and happy to work with, who challenge me and who share my vision of building a great tool while also maintaining a great work-life balance.
3. Think about the structure: I avoided a traditional hierarchical setup because I don’t think it would’ve worked for BeeBole. We’re all collaborators working towards a common goal. I say challenge the norm, and find what works best for you.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
Our customers pay per user each month, and that’s how it’s been since the beginning. We’ve never considered other options, such as packages for certain user ranges, because it never made sense for the medium-sized companies we were targeting.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
Resilience, and let me tell you why.
1. Resilience: Keep going. Those days when I was working a full-time job and coming home or waking up to more BeeBole work were some of the longest days of my life. But I kept going because I had to.
2. Resilience: There have been all sorts of set-backs in my journey, but I never took my eye off the end prize, and I never saw the point in sweating the small stuff. When Google changed its algorithm and we saw a significant drop in sign-ups, I wasn’t discouraged. I accepted the challenge. In fact, I had known all along we needed someone with a marketing background to join BeeBole, and this was the perfect moment to fill that gap.
3. Resilience: Be open to change. The BeeBole that Mic and I sketched on a napkin is not the BeeBole we have today, and that’s because I was open to new ideas and to pivoting when we needed to. I still remember thinking we could offer compatibility with any other software program out there. We quickly realized this wasn’t sustainable and took it off the table.
4. Resilience: Stay true to what you really want. I built the ecosystem I knew I wanted; one with a work-life balance that I never had when working a full-time corporate job. My team and I can work from anywhere in the world, any time of day. And we don’t count our vacation days here. I believe in taking the time you need to be able to do your very best work.
5. Resilience: Let go. I know a lot of founders think their idea is going to change the world, but I never did. I took a chance on my knowledge of the market and a functional tool, and I was open to whatever starting a company meant. Letting go, accepting the process, and not being hell-bent on one idea is just another way of remaining resilient.
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. 🙂
Free hugs for everyone! It might sound silly to you, but take a minute to think about what would happen if we really embraced this. Situations come up every single day that could be improved with a hug. A heated discussion in the office, differences in political views, car accidents, and so much more. Give somebody a hug, and you can change the course of their next steps entirely. It would spread more good vibes, and it would bring out the inherent optimism in human nature. In my opinion, that might just make the world a happier place.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!