The Peculiarities of SMB SaaS Businesses with Emeric Ernoult, CEO of AgoraPulse

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In this new Episode of The SaaS Revolution Show Alex Theuma speaks with Emeric Ernoult, CEO and Founder of AgoraPulse, a SaaS social media management platform. Emeric discusses with Alex Theuma the peculiarities of SMB SaaS Businesses and the keys to success for SMB SaaS.

You can listen to the full interview below and read the transcript, alternatively, subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher and never miss an episode

Alex Theuma:  Welcome to the SaaS Revolution Show.  I’m your host, Alex Theuma.

Super excited to be joined today by a SaaS entrepreneur and social media marketing fan that I met recently at the SaaStock 2016 conference.  Now, I enjoyed our conversation so much to the extent that I wanted to carry on and have this conversation on the podcast today.

Welcome to the show, Emeric Ernoult, CEO and co-founder of AgoraPulse.


Emeric Ernoult:  Thank you, Alex.  I’m thrilled to be here too.


Alex Theuma: Did SaaStock turn your SaaS up to 11?


Emeric Ernoult:  Oh, did we enjoy it?


Alex Theuma:  Yeah.


Emeric Ernoult:  Oh, my God, yeah.  You know we enjoyed it.  We’ve already booked our tickets for next year.


Alex Theuma:  Okay.  That’s good to know.


Emeric Ernoult:  We already bought their ticket for next year it means that it was a great event.


Alex Theuma:

We want to know a little bit more about you, about AgoraPulse and then we’re going to talk specifically around SMB SaaS.

I understand that you’re an ex-business lawyer, also serial startup entrepreneur.  Tell me more about who is Emeric Ernoult?


Emeric Ernoult:  It’s a complicated question to answer in a short amount of time but I’ll try to go straight to the point.

The root of my story goes back when I was a very young kid.  I was 8 years old and my parents took me to an iridologist.  I don’t know if that speciality rings a bell.  It’s someone who looks into your eye and apparently can see things about your health and who you are and your personality.  This guy looked in my eye with his machine and stuff and told my parents this young kid is never going to be able to work for a boss and he will have to own his own thing.  He will have to be his own boss and he will hate authority and all that kind of stuff.  And he was right.

I continued my studies.  I chose law because I had no clue what I wanted to do in life when I was 18 and about to choose what kind of university or school I should go next.  And in France, lawyers are independent, meaning that they can have their own clients, their own practice.  Even if they work for a law firm they can still have their own thing so it did sound like cool.

Law was a very interesting job but I lacked the passion and it’s a difficult job too.  You work an awful lot.  A lot of sacrifices on your personal life and stuff.  I got to a point where after 6 or 7 years, being pretty successful at that lawyer’s job, I got to the point where I realised that, well, the next step could be I start… knowing I want to be independent and I don’t want to have a boss and build my own thing, I better start my own firm or I go into something totally different.

Then I realised that there were a lot of issues with the service business that I was not happy with.  Like you’re not building an asset.  If you get sick, there’s no more business.  If you want to retire and get something out of what you’ve worked your butt off for 40 years there’s nothing left.  And I thought whatever choice I make, service or product, I will work a lot.  I will make a lot of sacrifices.  I will be stressed, anxious, have to do my payroll every month, buying clients’ business.  And in the service industry, I will never have that feeling that I’ve built something with a product business.  I may, if I’m successful, eventually get that feeling.

And what nailed the coffin of the service business was the fact that beyond the building an asset and stuff was the fact that I was looking for freedom and independence and not being a slave of my business.  And when you’re in service, you’re a slave of your business especially when you’re a lawyer because people want to work with this lawyer, that guy.  They want to work with the famous guy or the experienced guy or whatever it is.  You can’t really delegate.  It’s very, very difficult to delegate.

When you build a product business, you’re a lot let’s indispensable to the business.  At least that’s what you can build.  That’s something you can aim for.  Like getting to a point where your business is self-sustaining, you have a great COO, you have a great team, you give ownership to people in your team and you can take a little step back.  And instead of working 15 hours a day, we can include taking no vacation, we can start taking some vacation and working 8 hours a day and having a life.  I thought, yeah, having a life sounds like a cool goal in life so let’s try this.


Alex Theuma:

Now, you are your own boss.  You’re the CEO of AgoraPulse.  What is AgoraPulse and why did you found that particular product company, shall we say?


Emeric Ernoult:  Very simply put, AgoraPulse is a social media management software.  Everybody listening to the podcast probably knows about Hootsuite.  It’s basically a software that competes with a software like Hootsuite.  There are a lot of different software that are called social medial management software.  When you look at the self-service SMB-focused social media management tools, there are like 4 or 5 of them namely Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Buffer and us, and then a bunch of much smaller solutions that are less visible.  So we are playing in that field, which is cool.

The way the idea came to life is quite not the ideal best practice of how you should pick the business you want to work in and the product you want to build.  I’ve always been in SaaS.  I’ve always been in social media since 2000 so it’s like a long time.

Our very first SaaS product in 2000 with my co-founder and I was a tool that helps you build your own community online.  It was not called social media.  It was called communities at that time.  Then that didn’t really work out.  We had several pivots and one of the pivots in 2008 and 2009 was going to Facebook because building your own stuff, your own community didn’t work.  So we said, okay, let’s go leverage and help people leverage the existing communities where they may already have an audience and build tools for them to grow that, nurture that, measure that and so on and so forth, Facebook being the big guy then.  And we started there.

And we started with the big vision that didn’t really work at the time.  That was CRM, very CRM-oriented.  Know your fans, who they are, what they like, or get their email, try to match that with your email database.  So it was really about making sure that you know your fan base.  And I remember the baseline in the website at that time was your Facebook fans aren’t worth anything if you don’t know who they are.

And I was very happy about the idea because I thought it was great.  The market didn’t care.  The only thing they wanted at that time was more fans.  Yeah, who they are, I don’t care.  Give me more.

What we did is we built contests and promotions and apps, which was a big thing in 2009.  Everybody wanted to have a contest on its fanpage, Facebook Page to get more fans.  So that’s what we did.  And from there piece by piece, step by step, we pivoted several times to, okay, contest and promotion is a very shitty business model because people don’t stick around.  They come and they go.  They do their contest, their quiz or their sweepstakes or whatever that was and then they leave.  And the business model has a very, very low ceiling.  So we said, okay, we have to be a tool that they use every day so we have to provide statistics, moderation, reporting, team management and all that kind of stuff.

And Facebook is not enough because people were saying, oh, yeah, Facebook is good but I also want Twitter, I also want this, I also want that.  So from there we moved from Facebook, we added Twitter, we added Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn.  YouTube is coming soon.  So building horizontally across the available social networks and building vertically in the features set like offering reporting, offering engagement, monitoring user qualification and so on and so forth.  So that’s the story of the product.

It’s not like, oh, I have this bright idea that I’m going to build this and it’s going to rock, and I know exactly the trajectory that we’re going to take.  It was step by step, piece by piece that we realised where we needed to go and change a little bit every month for every quarter to go further to the direction that we wanted to go to, which is have a healthy business.


Alex Theuma:  And I guess the beauty of SaaS is that every week or when you need to, you can add features and take step by step and just, I guess, grow into the product that you are today by taking feedback on board and sort of learning what the market wants.  So it’s good to see your story of how you’ve been the sort of Facebook-CRM platform to now this social media marketing tool and platform as it were.

And I was sort of looking to see if you guys have taken on any VC money but I didn’t see anything online.  So are you bootstrapped?  If so, will you ever go down the venture road?


Emeric Ernoult:  If you look at AngelList, I think you can find a seed round that we did in 2012.  If you’re talking U.S. standards, we are bootstrapped.  Of course we took €250,000 of seed money, which is not even money in Silicon Valley language.  We also got a couple of business angels which all were very close friends of mine in 2009, in the very, very early days before we even got started with AgoraPulse.

So our big competitors, Americans and Canadians they’ve raised $75 million or $260 million.  So compared to them we’re totally bootstrapped.

The VC route it’s one of the challenge when you address a crowded market and especially in the SMB space is that it’s very hard to get VC money.  If you can’t show huge traction or very healthy SaaS metrics, you’re not going to get money.  So we tried many times to get more than the €250,000 because it was very, very challenging with super small resources that we had to build the big vision that we had and we were never able to convince them.

But we started again in spring of this year going back to the VC roadshow trying to get that VC money and we’re about to get something.  I can’t say anything because I’m NDA-covered.  We have something in the pipes.  And the main reason why we finally got something in the pipe was the SaaS metrics.  So they still have a hard time with SMB, they still have a hard time with crowded industries, and they still have a hard time understanding why you’re different, how you’re going to make it.

But as you can show them that with little or nothing you built something that’s significantly successful and that’s growing in a very healthy way then their anxiety goes away.  They say, okay, I’m not sure I understand what they’re doing.  I’m not sure I understand how they’re going to get there.  But they’ve already proved that they can do something pretty good with very little so I can only assume that with a little more, if they keep being smart, they’ll get better.  So that’s basically what happened.


Alex Theuma:  I’ll keep my eye out for the $10 million Series A.


Emeric Ernoult:  Because basically we’re profitable so we are now looking for the big round to stay unprofitable for another 5 years and just invest everything on growth.  That’s definitely been the kind of mindset we have.  We make profit every month.  The only reason why we want VC funding is to get that buffer of comfort that allows us to seize opportunities and grow a little bit faster as a team.  If we get opportunities to get three top-notch developers at once with our free cash flow we may say, “I don’t feel comfortable hiring the three of them right now.”  With VC money in the bank you can say, “Okay, let’s go.  They’re great.  We’re going to hire them.”  No questions, no worries.  So that’s the goal.


Alex Theuma:

We want to talk about SMB, SMB SaaS particularly today.  I know that you mentioned that it’s a little bit peculiar.  Before we go into the other questions around SMB SaaS, tell me what you find peculiar to you?


Emeric Ernoult:  Oh, I mean if you compare SMB SaaS to Enterprise SaaS, everything.  Everything is different.  There’s not even something important that’s similar.  The only similarity is software.  That’s all the similarity you’ll find.

The structure of the team is different.  We don’t have any sales team.  We’re an SMB SaaS product or super heavy on the product because the product is really central to converting users and conveying that value proposition very quickly and getting them to the Aha moment as fast as possible, where with an Enterprise product you don’t care.  The product can look like shit, you still have a sales team that will guide them and they’ll show them what it is and what it does.  And they will have an onboarding with trainings and stuff, so the quality of the product is less important.

Like when you look at Salesforce.  Probably the obvious product on the market and still the most successful one because they don’t really need to be a great product.  They need to have a great sales strategy.  Well, to be honest with them, I think they did a revamp of the interface and now they’re okay, but for years it was horrendous, it was horrible.

You need to scale a lot of things in SMB that you can spend a lot of time one-on-one manually, discussions.  And in Enterprise you can spend all the time I need for individual clients when you’re in Enterprise, in SMB you can’t.  So you got to have everything, you got to build everything for scale, for a large volume of people, a large volume of prospects, like large volume of clients so it’s a very different mindset.

Your support, your customer support, your customer success has to be engineered for low-touch where in Enterprise you can have much more.  When you’re high-touch you can spend a lot more time and have people who can spend a lot more time with that.  You don’t need such great processes to make that work.

Funding, we talked about funding.  It’s much easier to raise money for an Enterprise product because VC get Enterprise.  They get the sales process, they get the lever.  Oh, more SDRs here and more account managers and more this and more that, and it’s an engine that’s incredibly expensive because these people are incredibly expensive.  So that’s why most of them need funding especially when they start growing.  But they get it.  They understand the concept.

And when they see that the SDR, account managers and quota sales rep are working for a business then they feel okay to invest in that business.  For SMB and inbound and low-touch it’s more difficult because things are less mathematic in terms of how it grows and how it works.

Finding your persona is much more difficult because you can’t be super niche.  Because if you’re super niche you most of the time are missing opportunities when you’re SMB and on a large market with a low-touch product.  So I’m not saying you can’t, you shouldn’t do it.  You probably should at some point, but it’s much more difficult to nail the persona.

Metrics are very different too.


Alex Theuma:  On that point, on the persona point, I’ve spoken to… well, I speak to a lot of SaaS founders as you know especially around the SMB area because the market is very fragmented and, as you say, it’s very difficult to be niche when you’re SMB.  Finding the ideal customer profile and persona is something that they’re challenged with but still try to sort of pursue.  But many of them sell to everybody and that is a bit of a limitation.

So who do you sell to?  How do you market your product?  Do you market it to everybody?  Have you got an ideal customer profile?


Emeric Ernoult:  Yeah, we do.  Actually, I listened to a podcast two days ago that had a great answer on that question.  Basically when you start, you either know what your ideal customer is, you already know it.  I don’t know.

For example, if you’re building a point manager for doctors.  You know your customer as SMB your customers are doctors.  Or you’re building an accounting software for mechanics, or whatever.  I don’t know.  Whatever.  You know you’re building for that segment because you know the segment, you know their needs and you want to build a software solution for them.  So that’s simple.  That’s clear.  You know who you’re going after.

Or you don’t.  Like you’re building a project management tool or you’re building a social media management tool like mine or a CRM or whatever.  Then if you’re doing that, picking a niche very early on is super dangerous and difficult because what can tell you you’re right or wrong picking that niche.

So what I heard in that podcast, which I can’t remember which one it was, but he said early on you got to have a wide net.  You got to try to catch everything you can and not be too restrictive and learn from what you catch and see within the people that you caught in your net which are the ones that are paying the most, which are the ones that seems to give you the best product/market fit, which are the ones that seem to stick around, see value and learn from that.

Then once you’ve learned from that you can start being more specific.  You can start building a website that says social media management for agencies, because for us, for example, it’s 40% of our clients.  Social media management for businesses with that many people or that kind of industry and stuff like that.

But I remember going to Silicon Valley and talking to a lot of super experts there who told me two years ago, “But you’re not niche.  You’re not going to make it because you’ve not chosen your niche.  You need to dominate your niche and be the best in your niche.”  And at that time I thought to myself, “How can I do that?  I don’t have a clue what my niche is.  I don’t know.”

And you can’t guess that.  You have to test that.  And the only way to test that is go into market and see what works and with whom it sticks.  And the only way I’m able to tell you today, yes, small and medium agencies are one of our key target audience is because I have a bunch of them and I can tell you that it works.  Four years ago when I got started, I had no idea that that would be the case.

That’s my answer to the question is when your software can appeal to a lot of people and you’re not sure to whom it should appeal, it’s probably not a bad idea to go ahead and launch it widely and see what you can learn from that.


Alex Theuma:  I wonder if it was even my podcast that you listened to.  It rings a bell with Jon Miller of Engagio who was talking about fishing with nets in the beginning and then fishing with spears as your ACV increases.  But potentially it was another one.

Product as well there’s so many SaaS companies out there, so many SaaS tools out there today.  The key to success that we’re hearing from everybody who’s at the top of their game, people like Des Traynor, even at SaaStock, it’s not another plug but just he talked about product-first companies.  It was a great presentation.

Tomasz Tunguz talks about product being key for successful SMB SaaS companies.  And we look at the examples of those that have nailed their products, Slack and Intercom, two perfect examples of this.

What are your views about product being key?  And if we look at Slack and Intercom, what can we learn from them?


Emeric Ernoult:  Yeah, in SMB it’s the number one condition to success.  There is no question.  Where, like we said earlier, in Enterprise it is not.  You can have not such a great product but a great sales team and a great selling system that will make you succeed where in SMB very low-touch and self-service and the product is not killing it and breaking legs is not going to make it.  Whatever marketing you have and content strategy and viral videos, you’re not going to cut it because people are going to come in, see a product they don’t like and they don’t enjoy using and that’s it.  They’re gone.

The difficult thing with that and the more I read and listen to what Des from Intercom is saying and all the other product-passionate like me is it’s very impossible to know if your product is great or it’s going to do it or not.  And it’s very difficult to learn from people who made it, like Slack or Intercom, because their success seems like good luck.  Like most of the time you ask the Slack founder why he was so successful and what he attributes his success to he says, “I don’t know.”

And that’s the problem because there were products that were doing the exact same thing as Slack before Slack arrived in the market, like HipChat.  It was the one we used to use before Slack.  And HipChat you look on paper what it does, it does exactly the same thing.  There are little slight differences that wouldn’t speak to anybody’s mind if you just tell them, oh, yes, Slack has a slicker interface.  So what?  Slack has an integration with the ecosystem.  Yeah, why not.  HipChat has a couple of those too.  And it’s very difficult to really now know if you do this then you’re going to break it.

As for Intercom, it’s also difficult because I know Des, he has a very good slide that said if you want to build a cake, start with cupcakes and then expand it to a full cake, a full wedding cake, which basically means start small with a small feature addressing a small need and grow from there, and build a scalpel instead of building a Swiss army knife.  The Swiss army knife can come later, which is something they’ve done and it’s true and it’s their story.  But I also know stories of people who tried to go very, very narrow with a very simple feature and who were never able to get that simple feature to be enough for a business.

And right now, Intercom is a great product.  We love Intercom but it does a lot of different things and we use them so I can say that as a user.  And most of what they do is not ideal.  So if you take Intercom as a support software, it’s not as good as Zendesk.  If you take it as an emailing software, it will be not as good as some software that’s specialised at that.

So is it better?  Is it not better?  It works for them.  But would it work for a social media management tool?  Maybe yes, maybe not.  So it’s very difficult to learn from their success.  The only thing I learned from their success is you got to have a product that’s targeting a huge market, which is the case for Slack and the case for Intercom.  Their markets eventually are everybody.  A big business in the internet or doing business, period, if it’s for Slack.  That’s key number one.

You have to get people addicted massively, like a lot of people addicted to you.  And you have to create the whole effect very quickly.  That was what we had with Intercom.  The first time we used Intercom we connected and we saw our users live right there into our eyes.  “Oh, God, look at this guy.  I know him.  Yeah, he’s online right now.”  And this is an experience we never had before and that turned us crazy.  If you can create that very quickly then your product stands a good chance even if it’s missing a lot of things that it can add later.  These are the things that I’ve noticed that made Intercom incredibly sticky and incredibly successful.

And for Slack, it’s probably the ecosystem, the fact that it works with everything.  And I know they’ve made a lot of beta on this.  Like we want Slack to be a funnel for everything else, all your communications can go through Slack which makes a lot of things much easier and convenient because you don’t have to move away from Slack.  Everything can happen in Slack, which makes Slack pretty noisy at some point but that’s a different topic.


Alex Theuma:  You talked about Intercom from a product perspective.  They also do a great job of marketing as well.  And specifically for SMB SaaS companies, mass marketing is something that’s seen as very key.  Are you mass marketing AgoraPulse?  If so, what sort of campaigns prove successful for your particular use case?


Emeric Ernoult:  Well, if you’re targeting SMB you need volume in your communication, in the way you can present yourself to the market.  You can, Enterprise, you will rely on one-on-one sales calls and picking the right target and go against them and close them.  In SMB, in mass market like us, you can’t do that.

The problem when you start and you don’t have a lot of resources and a lot of money is you just can’t afford that and you don’t yet have a brand that allows you to scale that and to get big.  So that’s why we go back to the conversation we had 5 minutes ago, the product is key.  Because if people get to the product and love the product then you’re going to have that viral loop or viral effect or people are going to tell their friends who are going to tell their friends and so on and so forth.  And during that period, the product is the number one thing, and the number two thing is the customer feedback, customer discovery, customer engagement.  Try to nail that what will help you scale when you’ll be ready.

And we’re pretty darn sure Intercom has done a lot of that.  And we’ve done a lot of that too.  As a CEO, I was talking to customers at least three times a day for 2 years.  Like it was one of my key focus trying to have a very, very deep understanding.  And the more you strengthen that understanding, the more you can do the product they really need and that really solves the problem for them, the more you amplify that referral potential, word-of-mouth or customer advocacy which is very, very helpful.

Everything that’s as organic is what you should invest in because you basically, most of the time, will not succeed in paid advertising.  If you have a very low LTV, well, a low LTV which is anything below $2,000 or a little RQ, which is anything below $1,000 or $600 monthly recurring per client paid is very, very, very difficult to scale and to have a positive ROI from.  So you’ll have to rely on SEO, you’ll have to rely on content, you’ll have to rely on referrals, you’ll have to rely on a strong inbound system basically.  And that inbound system is made of and built on top of a lot of different moving parts, product being a big one which obviously include, will make referrals and word-of-mouth part of it and work for you.

Your SEO will be important as well.  You have to go very long tail.  You have to create a lot of content.  Content has been a big one for us.  It’s worked very, very well.  We have like 300,000 unique visitors on our website every month and it’s mostly because of the content.

For the referral part, I spent a lot of time connecting and nurturing relationships with the influencers in my ecosystem.  This is a very tough investment to make because it’s super time-consuming and expensive going to events and conferences and meeting the influencers and connecting with them, building that connection, strengthening that connection.  This can take 1, 2, 3 years before the connection is drawn.  And these people are more friends than they are like bloggers that you’re trying to get a backing from, which never works.

But once you’ve done that consistently over a long period of time, if you have something you want to massively communicate to the market, you have your channel now.  They can help you and they will probably do if you’ve done your job right.

The ability to massively communicate with the market is something you have to build over time step by step, piece by piece with a very, very determinate vision.  This is where I want to go in 4 years.  I cannot do massive communication right now in my market because I’m too small and I don’t have the money.  But in 4 years, when I’ll have my brand new super killing product that I want to promote, I want to have that tool in my hands.  So I have to start building that tool now.  So 4 years from now, I’ll have that tool and I’ll be able to do massive marketing or massive actions and communications on the market.

The answer is it takes a lot of time to be able to do massive promotion, basically.


Alex Theuma:  Awesome.  And I totally agree with you there.  We’ve talked about Slack and Intercom, two companies at the top of their game.  Recently, I read an article about MailChimp that kind of proved, or definitely proved that you can be hugely successful selling to SMBs only.  And also by being bootstrapped and SMB-only is I think they disclosed their revenues for the first time that they’re on track to hit around $400 million annual revenue in 2016, which is pretty good business.  Right?

Are they the exception rather than the rule, though, do you think, is I guess question one.  And question two, what have they done right?  I don’t know how much you follow MailChimp or even use the product, but what do you think is right about them that’s enabled them to succeed and get to this $400 million figure?  Perhaps it’s a bit of everything that we’ve spoken about but I’m just interested in your insights on that.


Emeric Ernoult:  Yeah, they are an exception because a SaaS business that gets to $400 million of annual revenue is an exception, the percentage of business that go that far.  Any industry B2C, B2B, Enterprise, SMB, whatever, this is a very small percentage of business that are lucky enough or successful enough to get to that point.

Now, if you look at SMB versus Enterprise, I think it can be successful in Enterprise.  It can be successful in SMB.  It’s great that MailChimp is achieving those kinds of figures because it shows people that, yeah, it works too even if the churn is higher, even if the market is more difficult to reach, even if all these roadblocks that VCs will throw at you if you’re in SaaS SMB you can still make it.

Also an example is Constant Contact.  It was I think $300 Million when they got bought for $1 billion a couple of months ago is also another example in the exact same space, email marketing.  So it’s feasible.  And there are probably a lot of Enterprise SaaS companies that would dream of getting to $400 million a year.  It’s just different.  It takes different paths and different routes to get there if you’re SMB or Enterprise.

What MailChimp has done right, well, the product if done right everybody knowing MailChimp know that they’ve done their product right.  There’s no question to that.  I think the freemium for them has been a killer.  To have high and quick penetration on a large market with a low-touch sales model, freemium, if it can work for you, if it’s not something that can kill you.  So be careful about that.  Ask yourself the question.

It’s a good tool.  It works pretty well.  It does work well for them.  It doesn’t work well for others.  It is working well for Slack.  So I think that was a very, very good call on their side.

And the branding.  I think their brand is great.  I mean their tone of voice, the visual, the chimp, the monkey, everything is done right.  I don’t know how they’ve done it.  It was probably a lot of work.  But when you look at the brand, there’s nothing wrong with that brand.  It’s just fluid.  I don’t know what you think but that’s my…


Alex Theuma:

What are any mistakes that you’ve made that you’re happy to share so that other founders listening can avoid?


Emeric Ernoult:  Sure.  So mistakes with an “S” because I’ve done many of them.  Well, I think on the high-level perspective, one of the mistakes that I’ve made that has cost me the most was trying a bad idea for too long.  Which is also a very difficult mistake to avoid because your heart always is balanced between trying something bad for too long or not trying enough something that could become good if you work hard enough on it and for long enough.  So you have to find where the cursor is.  Like don’t give up versus the kill it before it kills you when you’re working on a business.

And it’s hard to say.  Is it a year?  Is it 6 months?  Is it 2 years?  You actually don’t know and you can’t know.  You have to figure it out on your own.

But I definitely did work for too long on projects that had no future.  The problems I did know we had no future for too long that’s what made me make that mistake.  So try to see when you need to kill an idea.  Not too early but there is a point where if it’s dragging you down it’s better to kill it than to keep working on it.

On the more tactical specific mistakes, I would say one of the things I’ve done, and I think it was not a very good use of the money.  It’s not a big mistake because it’s only about money and it didn’t kill me, so it’s okay.  But it’s like sponsoring, spending a lot of sponsor money very early on when you don’t have a lot of money is probably not necessary.  It’s not bad but it’s not going to help you.  I remember being 20k for a conference in the U.S. and hoping that I would get my money back in a way or another, and you never really get your money back unless you’re sponsoring SaaStock because there you’re talking to your audience which is a little bit different.  It’s high end.  One client at SaaStock can get your booth paid for the entire year.

But I was selling a software at $29 a month, $49 a month.  Having a booth in a conference is never going to be ROI-positive with that kind of price point.  So it was not something I would do again.  I would go to the conference on my own and build a network and meet people but I would probably not have to do… I will go back with a booth when I’m big enough and rich enough and where doing great branding at a conference makes sense for my brand and for the budget I have.  But very early on when I was just burning money and not paying myself, spending 20k on a conference wasn’t a great idea.


Alex Theuma:  Okay.  Good save there.  Also it’s great that you’re kind of open and honest about these things.

What’s next for AgoraPulse apart from the $10 million Series A?  What’s happening in the near future?


Emeric Ernoult:  Well, being an incumbent and being a small guy in a big players’ market, one of the key to success, to succeed for us is to be different, is to have some level of differentiation that makes the product, the brand, the team look like, oh, these guys look a lot different than those other big guys or bigger guys.

And on the product side, we’re really, really working hard on the UI/UX on the one hand and the feature set on the other hand to not just copy what the other guys do and we don’t do but maybe sometimes we leave that aside and say we’ll do that later.  Yeah, we don’t do Twitter Lists.  I know the other guys do.  We should do it.  But are Twitter Lists going to change the way we are perceived and the value we offer?  No.

But this big thing that nobody else does and we think could add value would make a difference so let’s do that.  So that’s how I look at priorities and our roadmap.

And one of the big, big things we’ve had in mind since we started the business, and remember when I told you the first baseline in our website was your fans aren’t worth anything if you don’t know who they are, is user qualification in social media.  Because right now when you’re responding to tweets or Facebook comments or private messages on your social profiles or using a tool like ours, you basically don’t know who they are.  You have very, very little information about those people.  Maybe they’re clients but you don’t know.  Maybe they’re prospects but you don’t know.  Maybe they’re influential bloggers but it’s hard to find out.

And we’ve started to R&D a lot on that and work a lot on that to build a system where you can actually know who they are, you can actually score them, you can actually get information that’s valuable, that allows you to give them a value.  To say well, this guy is valuable for my brand.  I’m going to spend 15 minutes on that tweet or that comment because I know this guy is important.  And if I can build a meaningful relationship with this person, it will not be a waste of time.  Where right now you never know.  So you can spend 15 minutes on a tweet where a 90% chance is that you’re wasting your time.

That’s one of the big things we’re working on and we’ll be releasing over the coming months.  Yeah, that’s the main thing.  There are a lot of other small things but they are not worth out time today.


Alex Theuma:  Okay.  Awesome, Emeric.  We’ve come to the end of the show now.  It’s been a pleasure to have you on as a guest and to speak to you again and for you to give these fantastic insights into you, your business, and to have this conversation around SMB SaaS.  So hopefully that’s packed full of learning for those listening and particularly interested in that space.  So thanks for your time for being on the show today.


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