Ten years ago, on this very day (November 2, 2006), I sent the following email to email@example.com:
My name is Guillaume Lerouge, I am a french student on Erasmus year (3rd year exchange) in London. I am currently studying business and international marketing. I have a DUGEAD (ex DEUG) from Université Paris 9 - Dauphine.
I've been interested in wikis for a while and started writing my own blog on the topic (http://wikibc.blogspot.com). I feel quite comfortable on the subject and have been thinking about offering consulting services about the potential use of wikis, but as a student this is not easy to start from scrap. I would be really interested in working with your company for it looks like the competences you need and the skills I have to offer match pretty closely.
I am fluent in both french and english. I'll be back in Paris by june 2007, and until then I would be interested in remote working. I'll be in Paris from mid-december to mid-january if you'd like to meet me.
Looking forward to get in contact,
The reply was prompt:
When do you want to start!
Ok we need to talk first... But we are very interested.
Merci pour l'anglais... On parle très bien français dans le bureau à Paris.
Ce qui me paraît tout à fait interessant c'est déjà de voir ce qu'on peut faire sur le marché londonien d'ici juin 2007.
Ensuite il y a des choses très interessantes à faire au niveau marketing chez XWiki à Paris pour developper la stratégie marketing.
Roughly translated, it said that French people speak French very well, merci, but they'd be happy to chat with me. This was how I got my first job - a job I ended up keeping for 10 years. 10 years is a long time, yet it feels like it was only yesterday. I started as a 19-year-old intern, then an apprentice, then an employee, then a manager. In that timeframe, I also became a husband and a father (though not at the company!).
During the course of those 10 years, I learnt so many things that I'd be hardly pressed to list them all. How to hire someone. How a great product is built. The value of constructive disagreement. How to build a (very) simple web application. Why it's so fucking important to fix your messes *right now* - debt accrues fast, whether it's organizational, managerial or technical. How to sell anything - an idea, a project, a solution, a mission. Most important of all, I learnt the value of trust. Trusting that your colleagues will deliver under an impossible deadline. Trusting that your clients will keep believing in you even in tough times. Trusting that whatever happens, your boss will do the right thing.
Some lessons I learnt the hard way. What it's like to lose a deal that seemed set in stone. What happens when an irreplaceable employee decides it's time for them to look elsewhere. The year-long consequences of a bad product management decision. How it feels to let someone go - the burning in your stomach, the thought that maybe there's still a chance, the days that pass in indecision before finally making up your mind.
Towards the end, a question kept popping up in my head: should I stay or should I go? Am I still contributing enough? Am I doing my part? Am I living up to the expectations the company has of me? Those of you who went through similar motions know this: once you start going through these motions, it's probably too late already.
Ending a 10-year-long work relationship isn't easy, but Ludovic understood. I've done it in private, but I'd like to thank him one more time, publicly, for everything he's done for me over the years. He got me started when I was but a random Erasmus student getting in touch out of the blue. He trusted me with increasingly important missions, all the way from intern at an 8-person startup to the executive committee of a 45-people company. He was never afraid to point out my mistakes (and oh boy! the mistakes I did) and remained supportive all the way. I wish him and XWiki the best in their path forward!
Deciding what to do after such a long stint wasn't an easy thing. I was the man of one company. As I told Vincent, XWiki's CTO, when he asked me what I hoped to do next: "I spent ten years at one company, now I'd like to spend one year at ten companies". I had dabbled with short consulting missions towards the end of my time at XWiki, helping young startups define their go-to-market strategy and assumed I could do this full-time.
However, one thing quickly became clear to me: helping startups as an outside consultant is complicated. You have no skin in the game. Your fees are always too high for their constrained resources. You need to be on the inside. How could I reconcile this with my wish to work at 10 companies in one year?
In hindsight, the answer was simple: 2 weeks ago, I joined La Javaness, an up-and-coming French startup factory. I couldn't have hoped for a better place to pursue my career. Our worldview is simple:
- Several technological revolutions are currently sweeping the world (Blockchain, AI / Machine learning, Virtual Reality...).
- B2B tech startups are emerging in this space, but they have a hard time cutting through the noise and getting noticed by large corporate partners & potential recruits.
- Big companies are looking for innovative ways to embrace these revolutions.
Our mission is to bridge the gap between startups, corporate actors and tech talent. We do this in the following ways:
- We built a team of world-class experts in the fields we identified as the most promising - machine learning in particular.
- We developed a strategic partnership with Eurogroup Consulting in order to get access to the largest companies in France and help them make their digital transformation projects successful.
- We incubate promising B2B startups, giving them access to tech talent they would be unable to benefit from otherwise as well as corporate partners they wouldn't otherwise be able to reach.
My job at La Javaness will be to help startups and corporates build innovative projects together.
Effective today, I am also taking over the organization of Startup Grind events in Paris. Looking forward to meet you there :-)
On to the next 10 years!
Jason Fried has a great article about group chat software:
What we’ve learned is that group chat used sparingly in a few very specific situations makes a lot of sense. What makes a lot less sense is chat as the primary, default method of communication inside an organization. A slice, yes. The whole pie, no. All sorts of eventual bad happens when a company begins thinking one-line-at-a-time most of the time.
We’ve also seen strong evidence that the method and manner in which you choose to communicate has a major influence on how people feel at work. Frazzled, exhausted, and anxious? Or calm, cool, and collected? These aren’t just states of mind, they are conditions caused by the kinds of tools we use, and the kinds of behaviors those tools encourage.
Based on these discoveries, I’ve put together a list of the positive and negative impacts of group chat on an organization. If you’ve gone chat-first, or you’re considering heading down that path, I encourage you to review and consider these impacts on your own organization.
An absolute must-read if your company is considering using Slack, HipChat or Skype for business. We've been using Skype internally for as far as I can remember at XWiki. I couldn't see us running a distributed company without it, but the associated cognitive costs are real and should not be underestimated.
Continuing in the vein of yesterday's post, here's another great article from The Macro. This time it's Michael Moritz from Sequoia, sharing advice on how to build a company that achieves success over a long period of time (think 40+ years):
Yesterday is irrelevant
How have we done it? It all sounds very, very mundane. You can read a book about the principles of high performance, or great leadership, and it’ll all sound very straightforward and rudimentary. The difficulty is doing it every day, doing it every week, month, quarter, year, and keeping that beat up.
That was one of the great things about Steve Jobs, it’s one of the great things about Larry Page, it’s one of the great things about Jeff Bezos, or Reed Hastings. These are leaders who are capable of doing it. How do they do it?
They want to make sure that their product is fresh, that it changes with the times; that they never rest on their laurels, or get complacent; that they always have an element of insecurity about feeling that they can always get eaten by a competitor, and that past successes don’t mean all that much.
Which is part of the reason we don’t have all sorts of lucite blocks commemorating this or that anniversary of some company hanging around the office at Sequoia: Because all of that is yesterday, and it’s irrelevant to the future.
Achieving success once isn't hard. Sustainable success at the highest level is.
Y Combinator is publishing a lot of great articles through their outlet, The Macro. From an interview last week of Jacob DeWitte, founder and CEO at Oklo:
So how did Oklo, formerly known as UPower, start?
Jacob : At MIT, I’d met my co-founder Caroline Cochran, who was also in nuclear engineering and had a background as a mechanical engineer. We started really digging into how would we do something advanced in nuclear with a startup. But we didn’t want to be technology pushers. We wanted to follow what people wanted, what people needed.
We had a series of conversations with friends and contacts who were working in power development for remote communities – for projects like mining and gas. They’d talk about how much a pain in the rear it was to get power to these remote places they were working on. The common thing to use is diesel, but it’s a big problem: There are often no roads to deliver the fuel, it’s quite unwieldy, the weather can be so severe that it will freeze, and so on.
These people would say, “Well, diesel is the most energy-dense fuel we know.” But nuclear is 2 million times as energy dense. We’d ask them, what if there was a small enough reactor that you could bring out on a job site? They all said, “Whoa, who makes that? We would buy that in a second. As many as you could make.”
And that's how you get started building the nuclear reactor of the future!