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Why Being Unique Will Grow Your Company More Than Being The Best

Host Jon Penland, 

After four years of working as a business lawyer, Emeric Ernoult knew he was made for entrepreneurship. He and his co-founder’s first company Affinitiz was launched in 2000 and the first ten years were faced with failures, setbacks, and very little money. Then in 2012, they launched Agorapulse, a social media management platform. Though still faced with challenges in the first few years, Emeric’s hunger to win and data-based decisions ultimately led the company to success. Agorapulse now employs more than 140 people worldwide and receives about $20 million of ARR. Emeric has been through all the challenges an entrepreneur can face and shares his learnings from each in this episode of Kinsta’s Reverse Engineered podcast.

Duration

38 minutes

Guest

Host

Episode Summary

If you plan to operate in SaaS, you must be prepared to enter a highly competitive space and be prepared to iterate, adapt to changes, and constantly learn. 

While it is important to know your goals and believe in your vision, it is equally important to know when it’s time to say goodbye to an idea. Yes, it’s hard to give up on your dream, but if you don’t see results and don’t make enough money, maybe it’s time to look for alternatives. 

In this episode of Reverse Engineered, we hear from Emeric Ernoult, the Founder and CEO of Agorapulse. Emeric is a true source of inspiration and will show you, through his example, not only how to succeed but also how to deal with failures and to look at your problems and say “I’m going to fix you.”

Emeric and our host Jon Penland discuss the evolution of Agorapulse, the challenges they faced along the way, and the importance of being unique if you want to stay relevant in the market.

Key Insights:

  • Saas before Saas and a social network before social networks. In the early 2000s, before Facebook and other social networks, Emeric and his business partner developed a social network that allowed people to connect with others using their real identities. In addition, they operated as a SaaS company even though the space and the companies operating within it were known under a different name — application service providers (ASPs). Since then, they have iterated and adjusted to changes happening in the social network space, which has allowed them to scale. “In 2012, we launched our present product. It was a struggle in the early years. The first four years were tough. But we reached there; we broke even in 2015, three and a half years after we started. And since then, we’ve been profitable, and we’ve been growing at a healthy pace. It’s a social media management software, and our team is now 140 people in 19 countries.”
  • Don’t aim to be the best. Aim to be unique. SaaS is a highly competitive market. Businesses that want to stand out and be relevant must determine what differentiates them from competitors. It isn’t easy to position yourself as the best, and that should not be your goal. Instead, focus on being authentic, define your customer persona, and work on solving their specific problems. Also, the space is constantly changing, and you have to be able to adapt accordingly. Be open to innovations and meet your customers where they are. ”If you want to keep growing, if you want to keep being relevant, then you have to keep iterating and reinventing.” 
  • Being successful means being open to constant learning. Most changes that companies make result from the necessity to stay relevant in the market. One way to grow your business is to watch, listen to, and learn from different subject matter experts, not necessarily just those in your field. If anything, the digital era gives us access to various learning resources. Our guest, for instance, turns to books for knowledge and inspiration. ”I love the latest book from Reed Hastings, No Rules Rules, on how to build an amazing company with amazing talent. I love Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It’s about being candid with your boss, manager, leader, or direct reports and how to do it right while being human and staying true to your core values. Among the latest books I’ve read is Amp It Up from the CEO of Snowflake. I love Work Rules! — that’s one of the books I’m reading right now. The Great CEO Within — if you want to be a CEO, it’s an amazing book. It’s not very well known, but it’s like the handbook of being a CEO.”

Today’s Guest: Emeric Ernoult, Found and CEO of Agorapulse

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Emeric was a business lawyer. Now he’s a CEO who believes in his goals and long-term business relationships. He and his business partner have been working together since the early 2000s. 

Episode Highlights

You Don’t Build a Business on a Hunch

“You build a business on a carefully customer-validated or potentially customer-validated idea. Usually, you have an idea because you’re in a job or a position somewhere, and you see something that’s broken, or you see something that’s broken as a consumer in your day-to-day life. And you feel like, ‘Oh, that would be an amazing solution to that problem.’ And what you do next is that you do customer discovery.

A book I wish I had read before is called The Mum Test, and it explains how to do customer discovery and how to ask the right questions because most of us will ask the wrong questions which will give us all the bias back. 

So read The Mom Test, do the customer discovery, and talk to all these potential customers or users of your product to validate that you’re not just fooling yourself with what you think is a great product or a great solution for them, and it is indeed something the world needs.”

How Agorapulse Evolved Over Time

“The transition came out of necessity because we were failing. We were not making enough money to have a decent life. […] 

You’re always looking at what should I do? What can I do? And we kept looking at something else, trying something else, until we got to the first version of Agorapulse, which is completely different from what we have today.

Back then, it was apps, promotions, contests, and quizzes. It was 2002 when it was released. All of that we’ve removed from the software. It doesn’t exist anymore. […] We do the whole nine yards of social media management, which we did not do in early 2012.”

Know When to Give Up 

“The one thing I learned is that you have to decide if you give up or keep going. And the one thing I learned that you could use to decide between the two is something Gail Goodman, the founder of Constant Contact, shared in one of her talks.

She also had it hard while growing Constant Contact, which is an email marketing company. And she said, ‘As long as it goes up and to the right, you’re onto something. Keep doing, keep growing, and keep at it. If you’re not going up and to the right, there’s probably a reason for that, and you should probably give up.'”

Authenticity Helps You Stand Out in a Highly Competitive Market

“In 2022, in SaaS, who is not operating in a highly competitive space? You’d better get ready to be in a competitive space and think about how you can make it work, rather than trying to find a space where there is no competition.

The way I go at it is pretty simple. When you look at the big, well, the biggest thinker in strategy, it is Michael Porter. And when you read Michael Porter, the one thing you learn is — if I have to summarize Michael Porter’s thinking process in one sentence, I’d say, ‘If you want to win, you have to be unique. You don’t have to be the best.’

If you’re trying to be the best, you’re screwed because, at the end of the day, it will end up in a price war between you and the others who are also trying to be the best at the same thing you do.”

Transcript

[00:00:00] Jon Penland: Hey everyone. My name is Jon Penland, and Reverse Engineered is brought to you by Kinsta, a premium managed hosting provider. In today’s episode, I’m speaking with Emeric Ernoult, Founder and CEO of Agorapulse. Emeric, welcome Reverse Engineered.

[00:00:19] Emeric Ernoult: Thank you, Jon. I’m very excited to be here. 

[00:00:22] Jon Penland: Yeah, we’re really thrilled that you’re here with us today. So, to get us started, can you introduce yourself to our listeners?

[00:00:25] Emeric Ernoult: Oh, of course. So, to make it short, because I’ve been in this entrepreneurship world for more than 20 years, I’m a business lawyer by trade, so I’ve studied law and passed the bar a long time ago in Paris, and I worked in the US for a while as well. I did that for four years, then I realized that I was made for something else and I started my first business with my co-founder, Ben, who is our CTO today and that was in July of 2000, so 22 years ago. I like to say that Ben and I have been operating like a couple for 22 years, which is a very long time to be married with a business partner. 

[00:01:04] Jon Penland: Very long time, it’s true.

[00:01:05] Emeric Ernoult: And yeah, it’s says something about our willingness to work together, and there are so many stories about founding teams who are not getting along, so I feel very lucky that we’ve been able to go through that and still be together today. So, the first business we started was already SaaS, and it was already in this community space. It was named Affinitiz, and the ID back then was to create a social network where people could stay connected online with their real identity.

[00:01:29] And in 2000 that was new, because all the communities were based on people sharing passions and having nicknames, but not having their screen names, but not having their real names and sharing their real-life relationships online. Facebook came with that idea in 2004, they’ve been much more successful than we were with that first venture.

[00:01:50] We went through 10 years of failures and setbacks and basically having a very, very small business with making very, very little money, which was a big, big challenge and quite difficult. And in 2012 we launched Agorapulse, our product from today, 10 years later, 12 years later. And it still was a struggle in the early years, the first 4 years were tough, but we reached, we broke even in 2015, so 3 and a half years after we started.

[00:02:20] And almost 4 years after we started and since then, you know, we’ve been profitable and we’ve been growing at a healthy pace, and our team is now, it’s a social media management software and our team is now 140 people in 19 countries or Asian countries, like, a lot of countries across the world. And we are about $20 million of ARR, and yeah, and we have big ambitions and having a lot of fun growing the business. 

[00:02:46] Jon Penland: Awesome. That’s, like, a great overview of your history leading up to today. I do have to ask, so those early days, I was looking at the founding of those first ideas back in 2000, 2001 and I had to Google, like, when was Twitter founded, when was Facebook founded and it is before MySpace, right?

[00:03:04] Like, you were really looking at social networks before social networks were really even a thing, at least from my perspective, which I should mention, I graduated from high school in 2001, so this is kind of the era in which I’m becoming aware of the internet really, at that point. So, how did you end up in that social network space at a time when social networks weren’t really prevalent? How did that idea come about? 

[00:03:33] Emeric Ernoult: It’s a great question. I don’t think there was a grand vision behind it. I think I had a vision, I had something I wanted to build, and Ben had something he wanted to build, and we tried to connect the two because there were not the same things, and we really wanted to start a company together.

[00:03:45] So in order to get that company started together, we said, “Oh, let’s take Ben’s idea and Emeric’s idea and create something.” And it ended up becoming Affinitiz. That was basically the evolution of our back and forth of conversations and, “Hey, what do you think of this? What do you think of that?” And that’s what it ended up being, but I would say to those who are listening and want to start a business, this is not the right way to start a business.

[00:04:08] In 2000 that was okay because nobody knew anything about how to start a business on the web, but in 2022, there’s no way you should be doing that. It’s really not. You should be solving a problem that you validated with customers, you’ve done discovery, you’ve done your homework on validating that there was something worth solving.

[00:04:25] What we did in 2000 was really, “Oh, I have a hunch. Let’s do this.” And that’s the best way to fail, which we did, fail, so it’s telling you something about it. We were too early in the wrong country. France was not the right country to start something like that, that’s why Facebook was successful in the US, in Europe and the world was not. The term ‘social network’ was not even coined by then. 

[00:04:48] I remember Ben and I having arguments about social network and disagreeing on, and whether or not we should be using that term. So, it’s just to tell you how early we were in, too early and when you start a business, you don’t want to be too early. That’s a very bad spot to be on. 

[00:05:02] Jon Penland: Yeah. It’s really amazing that that’s a space that you ended up in, and I was reading a little bit about the history, and it sounds like at one point, you actually pivoted that product into more of a SaaS model. Is that right? Was there a time where you kind of took that social media element and said, let’s try to make a SaaS play out of it?

[00:05:20] Emeric Ernoult: It was a SaaS play for day one. It was called ASP back then, application service provider, but it was already the same idea. It was something in the browser. It was a piece of software you can use in the browser, and you don’t need to download discs or anything like that. It became SaaS, but it was already that, and we were charging a monthly fee, like, I think it was two euros a month or something for anyone to use or advanced premium features as we called them back then. What we did then is we became B2B because the B2B, the B2C version of the product, you know, was making out, I don’t know, like, a thousand bucks a month, like, it was ridiculously low, and we became B2B, and that allowed us to make a little bit more money. So, yeah. It was 2002, I think, the first B2B client that we got with that technology. 

[00:06:04] Jon Penland: Yeah. You alluded to this a little bit, you talked about France being the wrong country, and you were just too early. Ultimately that project didn’t pan out, but aside from being too early and France being the wrong country, is there anything else that you think looking back, “We really should have done this differently or that differently, and maybe the project could have been a success?”

[00:06:20] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, well, how it panned out, I want to give two numbers, so the listeners realize how bad it was. We started this first project in 20, in 2001. It was, we started working on in 2000, but it was released in 2000 early, 2001. In 2011, so 10 years later, that project was generating $140,000 a year of revenue. Today, I make that kind of money in three days. 

[00:06:49] Jon Penland: Right. Yeah. 

[00:06:49] Emeric Ernoult: It gives you the, see that, oh, the craziness of after 10 years, I was generating revenue that today I can generate in three days. On the why it failed, like I said, you don’t build a business on the hunch. You build a business on a carefully customer-validated or potential customer-validated idea. So, you have an idea. Usually, you have an idea because you’re in a job or in a position somewhere, and you see something that’s broken, or you see something that’s broken as a consumer in your day-to-day life and you feel like, “Oh, that would be an amazing solution to that problem.” And what you do next is you do customer discovery with that. There’s a book I wish I had read before that’s called “The Mom Test” that, basically explaining to you how to do customer discovery and how to ask the right questions because most of us will have the wrong questions that will give this, give us all bias back where so, everybody was, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea. Yeah. That’s a great idea,” even though they feel really it’s a shitty idea. So, you got to read “The Mom Test”, and you have to do the customer discovery and talk to all these people who are potential customers or users of your product to validate that you’re not just fooling yourself with what a great product or a great solution to them, the world, something the world needs. 

[00:07:56] Jon Penland: It is interesting to think back to that do think something was fundamentally different about that time, those early 2000s, where I can remember again, you know, I’m coming out of high school in that 2001 era and I can remember just getting on the internet to figure out what platforms are out there. What’s, what have people done with this thing? Nobody does that anymore, right? 

[00:08:15] Like, nobody’s out there trying to figure out what new things are out there. But I feel like, at that time, there was an attitude of, “We don’t even know what we can do with this thing called “the internet,” so let’s just try something and see what happens.” And so I do think there’s a fundamental difference between building things on the internet today versus 20 years ago in that way. 

[00:08:38] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. There are many fundamental to fundamental differences between back then and today, you just said is really right. And by the way, most of the businesses that were big in 2002, 3, 4, they don’t even exist today anymore. Or their Yahoo, they became super small compared to others that came after that. There are very few businesses where we nailed it and are still around. Google is one of them, by the way. The other difference is back then, there was no infrastructure. You had to build everything. You need a server, go buy it, put memory card and memory, you know, motherboard and everything in it, like, physical, take it in your car and drive it to the hosting company.

[00:09:10] Today, you go on AWS, and you click a couple of buttons and have, here you have three servers, and you’re up and running. There was no payment processing system. There was no advertising, you could use self-serve. There was no Google Analytics. Think about everything you could use today to start a SaaS software; none of that existed back then. You had to build all that yourself, which makes things a lot more difficult. 

[00:09:33] Jon Penland: So, how did those early efforts, because you’re really in the same industry today, how did those early efforts evolve into what is Agorapulse today? How did that transition work?

[00:09:45] Emeric Ernoult: I don’t think, I know the transition came out of necessity because we were failing, we were not making enough money to have a decent life financially speaking, and that, that the big motivator, right? When you’re suffering financially speaking, you want to get out of your hole you’re in, so you’re definitely always looking at, “What should I do? What can I do? What else can I do?” And we kept looking at something else, trying something else, until we got to the first version of Agorapulse, which, by the way, is completely different than what we have today.

[00:10:14] Back then it was apps, promotion, contests, and quizzes on Facebook. That’s what it was in 2002 when it was released. All of that we’ve removed from the software. It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone. And it was Facebook only, today, we have, like, 6 or 7 social networks that are included and we do the whole nine yards of social media management, which we absolutely did not do early 2000, 2012.

[00:10:36] So, I think the recipe is always be listening to what’s going on, looking at your numbers, seeing what doesn’t work, like, for apps, contests, and promotions, it was super high churn, like, 20% or 15 to 20% per month, which you quickly learn is not sustainable, even in 2012, and you’re like, “Okay, that doesn’t work. People are not sticking around. What could we do based on what we have today that people would stick around with?”And for the last two years, we’ve been thinking about going up markets because our churn was too high or expansion was too dose, or unit economists were not allowing us to grow at the pace we’ve thought we could grow, so we decided, “Okay, we got to stop serving the bottom of the market because that market is basically stopping us from growing and getting the result we should be getting. We have our software. They don’t see the problem.” So, you always are in the iteration mode.

[00:11:30] You all, you never stop thinking, “What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing I need to change? What the next thing I need to stop? What’s the next thing I need to start?” 

[00:11:36] Jon Penland: Yeah. I do think that’s something that’s fundamentally different about building an online business versus building perhaps a traditional brick and mortar business, like a restaurant, which is that with an online business, if you ever think, “I’ve built this thing, and now I’m just going to ride this particular product or service or model into the future,” you’ve got maybe a two-year lifespan. It’s not going to last long.

[00:11:58] Emeric Ernoult: Well, you have a two-year of lifespan of growth. Maybe you can last a little bit longer, but you definitely have a limited lifespan. If you want to keep growing, if you want to keep being relevant, then you have to keep iterating and reinventing yourself. 

[00:12:11] Jon Penland: Yeah. So, as you mentioned early on, there was a ten-year period from when you first launched your first entrepreneurial venture in the social network space, and 10 years later, you make it $140,000 a year revenue with that company. What kept you in this space? Why didn’t you go do something else? What kept you staying in this social media, social network world?

[00:12:32] Emeric Ernoult: Again, no grand big vision, just the events of life. So, when we were doing Affinitiz, the previous thing, so eventually, what we ended up doing in the B2B space is building community spaces for brands. And because I was pushing brand communities, I was going to conferences and speaking a lot about, “Oh, here, look at this brand community that was successful and that one and this one,” trying to convince them and evangelize the idea and one day at the end of one of these talk, a lady came to see me and said, “Oh, I love what you said about brand communities. Do you do games and feed, contest, and Facebook?” And that, I needed cash so bad I said, “Yes, of course.” We’d never done any of that, but, “Of course we do. Yeah. Easy, easy. What do you need? I’ll send it to you.” I went back to the office, I told my co-founder and CTO and the dev we have back then, “Hey guys, you got to learn this API from Facebook. I have a client who wants something like that, needs that.” And they learn it, they build it, and they work well and then we started doing second, third, fifth, tenth, and we did a lot of those, but bespoke, and then the competition started to grow, and I say, “Oh, that is bad.” And we’re becoming an agency, I don’t want to be a service company. And then we saw a wildfire coming out of the US that was doing that, but self-serve on the platform, and my co-founder and I looked at that, “So, that’s what we need to do. That software. We love that.” So, we platformized all these contests and promotion into Agorapulse, the first version and then we released it, and it went well. Little story here. I was kind of burned out when we released the Agorapulse in 2012, and I told Ben, “Ben, we’ve been at it for 12 years. I’m exhausted.” And just so you know, I told you I was a business lawyer back then, and in 2012, I was making, like, a fourth of what I was making at 27 years old in 2000 when I left my law firm. So, I said, “I love minimum wage. It’s great, but I’d love to make a little more if that was possible.” 

[00:14:14] And I told him, “I’m burned out. We need to get to success with this new venture. And I give myself a year to be at 50K MRR. So, for 1000 clients being as 49$ a month or I quit. It took us three years to get there, not one year, so just keep patience. And what I learned back then, the one thing I learned is, yes, you have to decide when you give up or if you give up or if you keep going, and the one thing I learned that you can use to decide between the two is something Gail Goodman, the founder of Constant Contact shared in one of her talk because she also had it hard growing Constant Contact, which is an email marketing company software, and she said, “As long as it goes up into the right, you’re onto something. Keep doing, keep growing and keep at it. If you’re not going up and to the right it’s probably, there’s probably a reason for that and you should probably give up.” 

[00:15:02] So, when I looked at Agorapulse in the early years, even after one year, we were far from 50K MR. It was going to the right, every single month was a little bit more, you know, 500 more MR, like, something. And I thought, “Okay, it’s going up into the right. I’m going to, I’m going to keep going.”

[00:15:19] And it’s iterating every time you see, “Okay, it’s going up into the right, but the churn is still 15%. It’s not sustainable. What do I do?” And then, “Okay. They want Twitter. Let’s add Twitter. Okay. They want those contests and promotion are not a good idea, let’s pivot slowly to full social media management.”

[00:15:35] So, it really was always having the hunger for winning, you gotta be hungry, you gotta be willing to win. If you’re not willing to win, if you don’t want to be successful, then it’s so freaking hard that you’re going to give up because you’re sane, like Steve Jobs said, “People are sane they gave up.”

[00:15:54] It’s too hard. And then you have to constantly analyze and, you know, don’t ignore your problems. Look at them in the eyes and say, “Okay, you’re my problem. I’m going to fix you.” Or like, “What are you? Like, high churn, no expansion, acquisition is too hard, lower end of the market is not seeing value, they don’t want to pay the price. We’re spending millions in building this thing, and they don’t want to pay more than 20 bucks a month. There’s something that doesn’t work.” So, you always have to be very aware of all these things and keep iterating of them. 

[00:16:21] Jon Penland: Yeah. As I’ve been thinking about your story, listening to your story, that line being “Hungry to win,” yeah, I feel like it’s a little bit of an answer to this question that I keep having, which is why is this guy who was a fairly successful lawyer in his 20s, right, still sticking around after 10 years trying to build a SaaS model or business around software product and making, you know, minimum wage at that point?

[00:16:45] And I think that hungry-to-win pieces, the key there, you said you have to be hungry to win or your quit. How do you keep winning, how do you keep the idea of winning in front of yourself? Does that make sense? How do you keep that target out in front of yourself so that, “Yes, I’m winning.” Right? Because I don’t think everybody would instinctively say, “I set the goal of, you know, a thousand customers paying us $49 a month, and it had to happen in a year, and it took three, and I still didn’t quit during that time period,” right? I think a lot of people, after one year, would have said, “All right, we didn’t do it. I’m done.” So, how do you, I guess, define winning in your own mind that keeps you coming back, chasing that?

[00:17:23] Emeric Ernoult: Well, first of all, I look at alternatives. What are my alternatives? If I decide I didn’t win enough, so I’m going to quit and do something else, what’s the something else? And then I look at this something else, and I say, “I’m not super excited about something else. Okay. So, let’s, I know I didn’t reach my objective, but let’s keep at it for another year or something because the alternative is, like, go work for someone else, doing I’m not sure what, and that doesn’t feel like an exciting opportunity for me.” Maybe I was wrong with us the way I looked at it. So, I always look at what else is there for me in the world to do, rather than this, and as long as I didn’t see something amazing that was attractive to me, then I said, “Okay, well, I’m probably better trying to keep making that work instead of trying to go work for someone else. And then there’s starting another business, and when you, when you have no money and, um, no-potential new project that you’re excited about and no potential new co-founder, it’s really, really hard to start a new business out of the failed business, so you really say, “I’d probably better double down on this thing and try to make this thing work because there’s already something, there’s already a team, there’s already a bunch of clients is already, then go and build.” So, it’s basically being an employee in a company or staying at it, most of the time and if you still believe there’s a remote possibility of you being successful at, with that current business, that will always win versus we’re going to work for someone else. Because if you’re an entrepreneur at core, you have the independence in your brain, like, it’s wired in here.

[00:18:58] It’s not that I’ve never liked working with other people. I’ve worked with people in my law firm, and one of them will became my best friend, he was an amazing, amazing boss. I didn’t have any problem working for someone, but once you have this vision that I want to create something of my own, I want to be, I want to have the pride of looking at what I built and say, “I was part of building this. That’s amazing.” Once you have that, it’s quite hard to go do it for someone else. 

[00:19:21] Jon Penland: Yeah. Sure. I want to shift gears a little bit and look at Agorapulse, your current business. I’m struck that you operate in a very competitive space. You have competitors, right? You have well-established competitors. How does Agorapulse go about differentiating or standing out in a really competitive space?

[00:19:42] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. So, first of all, great question. Second, I don’t know in 2022, in SaaS who is not operating in a highly-competitive space, so I think you’d better get ready to be in a competitive space and think about how you can make it work, rather than trying to find a space where there is no competition because there are so few of them. The way I go at it is pretty simple and I think that’s why we eventually succeeded, is when you look at, the biggest thinker in strategy for me is Michael Porter and when you read Michael Porter, the one thing you learn, if I have to summarize Michael Porter’s thinking process, thought process in one sentence, I’d say, if you want to win, you have to be unique. You don’t have to be the best. If you’re trying to be the best, you’re screwed because at the end of the day, you will end up in a price war between you and the others who also try to be the best, the same thing you do, and you guys all do. So, it’s, you gotta find a way that makes you unique, to vertical unique, to, you know, because of something your product has and maybe it’s protected or patented or unique in some way for a specific persona or a specific type of customer. That’s going to see you and say, “Oh wow, I love that. It’s done for me, and nobody else does that.” So, in the early days, what we was unique, well, in the very early days, what we did that was unique is we took those contests and promotions, we built on Facebook for $20,000 and put them for 99 bucks a month or even 49 bucks a month in a self-serve product then everybody started to do the same thing. The second thing we did that was unique in 2013 is we invented the social media inbox at a time where everybody was like TweetDeck or Hootsuite and column, and column, and column with messy, a little bit chaotic presentation of the social media content.

[00:21:03] We said, we basically thought, “Why don’t we present that as an email inbox, like, everybody knows how an email inbox works, it’s chronological, and everything is in the same thread?” So, we did that, Sprout two years and six years later, and then it was not unique anymore. And what we’ve done now that makes us unique is we have built an ROI engine to our software that’s basically telling you how much revenue and how many leads and prospects and website visits you generate through your work on social media. So, we’ve built an entire engine that helps you see the business impact of what you do on social media and that’s something that we’re the first software to do, so. And, so this one, I don’t want them to copy me as fast as they copied the past one, so I’m patenting, it’s being patented right now. And by the way, that’s a piece of advice. If there is a level of protection you can get from something really smart that you’re doing, think about it because why not?

[00:22:13] But maybe the patent won’t work, and whatever, and that will make us unique for two or three years, and they will copy us, and then we’ll have to find another. So it’s always that quest that you need to have in mind, if, because if you end up competing for the best, well maybe you raise hundreds of millions, but there’s going to be one player in your industry who’s going to do that and that’s it. So, maybe it’s you and good for you, but probably it’s not, and then you’ll be in a bad spot. So, try to be the one thing that is amazingly tailored for that persona in that market, for that feature, for that need. That will make you win. 

[00:22:47] Jon Penland: Yeah, that’s an interesting idea, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. The thing that strikes me is that if you try to be the best you are going to constantly be in this comparison battle where it’s, selling proposition is always going to be, “We’re better than option B and here’s why we’re better than option C and here’s why.” Whereas if you have something unique, it’s not so much about the comparison as saying, “We’re going to help you solve a problem that nobody else really helps you solve in the same way.” And so you kind of are able to get out of that continuous comparison loop in the sales process.

[00:23:27] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. So, if people come to us and say, you know, “Well, how different are you?” We’re going to say, “Oh, we’re as good as the big players, you know, around. We do a couple of things that they don’t do. They do a couple of things that we don’t do. At the end of the day, do your audit to make sure that what you really need is in the feature list on their side and our side. But there is that one thing that we do, and they don’t, and if that matters to you, then we’re definitely the best solution.” And that’s a much easier way to position yourself into, “Oh, we’re better at this. We do multi-photo on Snapchat.” “Yeah. I don’t care.”

[00:23:58] We do mobile publishing on TikTok.” “Who knows.” And then you end up in a feature list that most people don’t care about, and it’s a really, really hard sell. And also, when you think about outbound, if you want to start doing outbound sales, think about trying to do outbound to sell something that looks like everything else, with no differentiator whatsoever and think about doing outbound to a specific persona in a specific industry with a specific job title that you know are in love with that value proposition and think about the response rate you’re getting, case number one in case number two and that’s night and day. So, if you want to start growing and go reach your market sell to them in a more proactive way, you got to have this unique-value prop. 

[00:24:40] Jon Penland: Yeah. That’s, sounds super clarifying for sales and marketing teams, right? Now, suddenly you don’t have seven personas to go after, or you’re not trying to go after the entire space. And you will actually attract some of those other users who are not. And that’s awesome. That’s fantastic. But it gives a lot of clarity sales and marketing and to your product teams, right?

[00:25:00] Like, this is who we are, this is who we’re serving, very specifically. That’s awesome. Another thing that I’m struggling about in the space that you in right now is that there’s lot of challenges coming out of data privacy legislation. There’s been a lot of new data privacy legislation, let’s say five years, GDPR being the one that everybody there are others CCPA and there’s legislation in Canada and other places. So, as you think about a company that’s operating in the social media space, what sort of challenges do you think data privacy laws will create for Agorapulse or just for the social media industry in general, as you look out over the next couple of years?

[00:25:38] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. For Agorapulse not much because we’re the mirror of what’s happening on social networks. So, what I keep telling our clients is if you’re worried about data privacy and Facebook talk to Facebook, I’m just mirroring what they do, and I don’t even host most of you know, we’re just using their API to display the content, but we keep almost nothing that’s personal. Like, you know, we don’t have any email on those Facebook users, of those Twitter users. For Instagram, we don’t even have the name of the user. So, what we have is so basic that there’s no privacy issue with that. The only privacy issue we have to the data of our clients, their name and their emails, but, you know, we don’t collect anything medical, gender or anything like that, so the level of protection that the data we govern needs is, like, minimal. Like, I don’t care if my first name and last name is, and it’s probably on every SDR database in the world anyways, so as my phone number and my personal email. For social network, there are challenges, but, I mean, those social networks are so big and so into everyone’s lives that they’ll have to find a way with the regulators. I don’t see a regulator coming in and say, “Oh, okay, we’re going to shut down YouTube. Like, people are going to be in the streets.” 

[00:26:49] So, I think the regulators have done a lot of mistakes. When you look at GDPR, it’s really not a good law. It has basically had the opposite effect that it was supposed to have. Instead of protecting you and I, it’s protecting Google. That’s what he does. Because right now, and Facebook because right now, as we’re connected to them all day long as we browse the web on Chrome and as we have Facebook open and so on and so forth, they are able, and nobody else but them, have that privilege because we don’t connect all day long on these other services. So, now Google owns everything and knows everything, and everybody else knows nothing. 

[00:27:31] It has created a very unfair market where you can’t ask Google to not have you connected because then, if that’s the case, you can’t use Google anymore and you and I, we want to use Google, don’t we? So, we’re going to say, “No, no, no. I keep my connection to Google on all the time ’cause I have my Gmail, I have my Calendar, I have my Drive, I have all my stuff in there. I cannot not be connected on Chrome.” So, at the end of the day, by doing what they did, the, the European legislators, it just made Google the biggest company owning all the data, the world, in the world. I think that was a mistake. They should’ve done it differently. They killed businesses like Criteo, the French retargeting company, or they didn’t kill them, but they killed the business that they used to have and they killed independent businesses and they made big ones, the Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and Apple though, basically monopolies in what they do, which I think was not the intention of the legislator when they did that. 

[00:28:24] Jon Penland: Sure. That’s a really interesting perspective. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard somebody explain that perspective, and I just want to echo back what I think I heard to make sure I understood kind of what you’re suggesting there. So, the idea here is that, Google, Facebook, they’re such a core part of fundamental use of the internet, right? Like, if you have a Google account, you’re probably using it to sign into 20 or 30 different services. So, when all of a sudden, Google pops up a thing that says, “Hey, to continue using our services, you need to opt into all this stuff, and it needs to include right clear consent to transfer my data anywhere in the world and the standard contractual clauses and whatever else we say,” you’re going to just accept it, right?

[00:29:03] Because you have to have those services. Opting out is not a realistic option for you, and the same could be said for Facebook and some other, perhaps, media. Well, those are probably the big two. And so the idea here is that if you want to compete with Facebook, if you want to set up a new social media platform, nobody’s going to accept those same terms or those same structural choices that you are going to have to accept to use Facebook.

[00:29:32] And so where Facebook and Google we’re already so entrenched that everybody, the average person was just like, “Sure, that’s fine.” A new company or a less established company just doesn’t have the same penetration across the entire internet ecosystem to make the same choices. Is that a fair assessment of what you suggested?

[00:29:51] Emeric Ernoult: That’s exactly the assessment. Totally.

[00:29:59] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that stated quite that way because you do hear about news about “Facebook getting fined for this” or “Google getting fined for that,” and they’re not tremendous fines, but you do hear that, that that is where the legislative or the regulation action is happening.

[00:30:10] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. They get some fines, but at the end of the day, if threatened to just leave a region because it’s becoming too complex and too expensive, think about if Google is saying tomorrow, “We’re going to leave Europe. We’re not going to be available in Italy, Spain, France, the UK, like, The Netherlands, the North.” Wow. I can’t even think about that. It’s unbelievable as a possibility, and I think the legislators know that. They’re probably all using Google themselves, so at the end of the day, I’ve created a monster. Why did I do that?” 

[00:30:43] Jon Penland: Right, right, right. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, one thing I want to ask about, something you’ve mentioned on social media and at other and some other interviews that I read, is you’ve talked about fitness or being active as being an important part of your life as an entrepreneur, and I don’t hear that a lot from other entrepreneurs and founders, so can you speak a bit to what role fitness or being active has played in your journey as an entrepreneur?

[00:31:05] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. You know, when you feel really, really shitty, going to exercise for an hour makes you better. I think there is a chemical plant inside our body that creates that our body needs to create to feel better when we exercise. And I remember the worst times in my life, going to the gym with, you know, “I’m going to quit. I’m never going to make it. It’s going to be horrible,” and getting out of the gym and feeling like, “Okay, I’m going to fight this. I’m going to crush that.” And so I think there is a chemical element that we need in our body that exercising will release, and sometimes we need those chemicals.

[00:31:42] We need that boost of something that makes us feel like we can make it, rather than that boost of something that makes us feel like we’re depressed and it’s not going to work. So, yeah, it did help with that a lot, and for some reason, I have an image of myself and my buddy when, when I look at myself, and I have six more kilos than I should, I don’t like myself.

[00:32:00] I’ve got to work on it. It’s me and myself, like, I have no judgment on anybody about how they look and how they see their body, but I know with mine that there are things I tolerate and things I don’t tolerate, so when I get to that point, I just work it out because I don’t like, I want to like the way I look as much as I can.

[00:32:19] Jon Penland: Yeah. I’ve definitely had the same experience of something chemical happens when you exercise, especially exercise regularly. I like to run, and I was actually just talking to a couple of other folks at Kinsta, and they were asking, “Do you ever experience a runner’s high?” And I was like, “I don’t really think so. I wouldn’t describe that experience as a runner’s high.” Well, but what I was going to say is like, what I told them is, like, “When I finish running, I feel good. I feel happy.” And it really doesn’t matter, like, what kind of stressors have been going on in my life, I start my run, and I’m really stressed. I finished my run, those things are still present, and it’s not, and it’s not that  I don’t care and that there are no longer stressors, reaction to them has shifted from being one of a sense of overwhelm to a of, I can do this. I canwork through this.” 

[00:33:11] Emeric Ernoult: It changed your perspective on the problem. And it is a chemical thing, entirely. The human body is amazingly well-engineered to deal with that. 

[00:33:32] Jon Penland: Yeah, it actually doesn’t have to be super strenuous, exercise, like, I think that’s something that some people, “Well, I, you know, I’m, I’m not a good enough shape to run.” Right? “I’m not in good enough shape to whatever,” a 30-minute brisk walk will do it. Right? Like. 

[00:33:32] Emeric Ernoult: Let me tell you what I do, and it is nothing extreme, nothing even close to what you do. I do, I walk with an incline, with a 15% incline, and trust me, walk for 40 minutes, 45 minutes with a 15% incline, you’re in sweats, and you’ve had a good exercise. 

[00:33:48] Jon Penland: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think people, as a runner, I know what a 15% incline is. That’s a serious incline. Like, once you get above 12 or 13%, you’re not running anymore. You’re hiking. 

[00:33:59] Emeric Ernoult: And you can buy a treadmill, a walking treadmill on Amazon for 300 bucks and do that at home. Like, there’s really, if you want to do that, there’s no excuse. It’s cheap, it’s affordable. They can put it under your desk if you, I have a standup desk and how I got started. Now I go to the gym ’cause it’s easier, and I do it more, but it’s, anybody can do that. 

[00:34:19] Jon Penland: Yeah. Yeah. Well, definitely two votes coming out of this conversation for exercising in some fashion on a really regular basis. It’s not just about health. That really does help with your mind as well, absolutely. So, as we come to a close in our conversation, I have two wrap-up questions for you. So, the first is what is one resource you would recommend to our listeners? It could be a book, a conference, a newsletter, anything. What’s something that has added value to your life that you would recommend that our listeners check out?

[00:35:34] Emeric Ernoult: So, I’m going to talk books, and I’m sorry, I’m going to share more than one book. I read two books every month so that gives you an idea of how many books I have on my bookshelf. So, I already mentioned “The Mom Test” to do customer discovery right? I loved and credit to my co-founder for that, I love the latest book from Reed Hastings, “No Rules Rules,” for the founder of Netflix. It’s so inspiring on how you build an amazing company with amazing talents. I absolutely love “Radical Candor” from Kim Scott, be, you were being candid with your boss, your manager, your leader, or your direct reports and how you do it right, being human and staying true to your core values. And among the latest book I’ve read, “Amp It Up” for CEOs, an amazing book from the CEO of Snowflakes. I love “Work Rules,” that’s one of the books I’m reading right now. “Great CEO Within,” if you want to be a CEO, it’s an amazing book, not very well known, but it’s, like, the handbook of being a CEO. If you are learning go-to-markets and yeah, I’m going to stop there because I could show you books again and again and again, but I love reading books. Sometimes, some evenings I go to bed, and I feel, “Okay. Do I watch Netflix, or do I read 30 pages of my latest book?” And Netflix win 50% of the time, but the book win 50% of the time. 

[00:36:00] Jon Penland: Very nice. That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. I go, through reading goes through phases in my life. My youngest daughter was born just over a year ago, and leading up to that, I was reading a book or two every month, and I have not read a book since. 

[00:36:12] Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, understand that. 

[00:36:12] Jon Penland: Yeah, it will come back, and we’ll make sure and get all the ones that you mentioned into the show notes so folks can check those out. So, the last question for you today, where can folks learn more about you or about Agorapulse?

[00:36:26] Emeric Ernoult: The one network I’m trying to be active on is LinkedIn. I gave up on everything else, so they can connect with me on LinkedIn. And just, if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn, just mention where you’re coming from ’cause I get 10, 15 requests per day, and I engage with most of them because otherwise, I would spend my days doing that, doing that. And obviously, learning more about Agorapulse, go to agorapulse.com, and that’s probably the best place to learn more about the software. 

[00:37:39] Jon Penland: All right. Emeric, so look Emeric up on LinkedIn, mention that you listened to his episode on Reverse Engineered, he’ll accept that connection request. Emeric, thank you so much for hanging out with me for a little bit today on Reverse Engineered. 

[00:37:05] Emeric Ernoult: It was very fun, Jon. Thank you for inviting me. 

[00:37:06] Jon Penland: All right. And thank you to our listeners. That’s all for today’s podcast. You can access the episode show notes at kinsta.com/podcast. That’s K I N S T A.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to Reverse Engineered and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or the platform you’re listening on right now. See you next time.

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