Our guest today is the COO of Connect&Go, Francois-Pierre Moffet.
Connect&Go is a world leader in smart wearable solutions for guest experience in leisure & entertainment. Francoise-Pierre specializes in helping visionary founders & investors scale companies by building high performance teams and establishing a structured & disciplined operational foundation.
At Connect&GO, Francoise-Pierre led the transformation of the company from being a service provider for the events space to a product company driven by recurring revenue from permanent installations such as amusement parks, family entertainment centers, and resorts.
Previously, he was COO at Sofdesk, a leader in solar and roofing software, where he tripled the monthly recurring revenue in less than 2 years.
Francois-Pierre and his wife are proud parents of two daughters, and you will find them on the ski hills in the winter and on baseball fields in the summer.
In This Conversation, We Discuss:
- How Connect&Go proactively adjusted during the early months of COVID-19 amid various operations and event cancellations
- How Connect&Go gained the entry points into the larger events and businesses
- Pivoting out of the events space
- How Connect&Go culture was built and how it has shifted during the pandemic
- The organizational structure, roles, and responsibilities of employees
- The art of running a skip level meeting
Connect with Francois-Pierre Moffet: LinkedIn
Connect&Go – http://connectngo.com
Get Cameron’s latest book “Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable.”
Our guest is the COO of Connect&GO, François-Pierre Moffet. Connect&GO is a world leader in smart wearable solutions for guest experience in leisure and entertainment. François-Pierre or FP specializes in helping visionary founders and investors scale companies by building high-performance teams and establishing a structured and disciplined operational foundation.
At Connect&GO, FP led the transformation of the company from being a service provider for the event space to a product company driven by recurring revenue from permanent installations such as amusement parks, family entertainment centers, and resorts. Previously, he was COO at Sofdesk, a leader in solar and roofing software where he tripled the monthly recurring revenue in less than two years.
François-Pierre and his wife are proud parents of two daughters and you’ll find them on the ski hills in the winter and on the baseball fields in the summer. As we were getting started, FP said that as soon as he’s done doing this episode, he’s hopping in the car to head off to the ski hill. Thanks for sharing with us. I appreciate it.
Thanks for having me.
Are you getting the same snowstorm that we had out West? Is it starting to hit the East now?
I don’t know if it’s the same but that’s the big one that hit New York in particular. As you know, sometimes down South, the storm is a big area there than here but took good time. I believe in work-life integration, so I did the field day at work and then we’ll enjoy a couple of hours before dinner.
Tell me a little bit about Connect&GO. I’m curious about what the company does and what installations where the products are.
Connect&GO was started years ago as a company specializing in events using RFID wristbands, specifically doing access control, guest activations, and cashless payments. The founders grew a very good business, did the big events in Canada, such as the Osheaga and ÎleSoniq Festival in Quebec, and went to the Super Bowl, Olympic Games, and South by Southwest up as well the fire festival. If you have seen the documentary and the wristband on which they’re supposed to have money, it was a Connect&GO wristband.
I was not with the company at the time but it was a turning point of moving from the even space where business is not necessarily reliable. You don’t know if you’re going to get the same gig year in and year out. As we add an example, organizers are not financially solid. The decision was made at a time by the funding team, Dominic and Anthony, to move towards a more bricking model of revenue in permanent installations such as theme parks, water parks, and resorts.
We’re the same technology. RFID and the software behind can be used to manage access like unlocking doors and gates, being able to manage a guest profile, living different experiences like activate a sun and light show, and making cashless payments. About at that time, I joined the team to help that pivot from the event space. With hindsight, it was the move to make as with COVID. There have been no events and this is why we’re still alive and thriving.
No kidding. That would’ve been a big shock to the system. Years ago, when my kids were young, they had these little leg bracelets for when they were skiing and it would show where they were on the mountain. Does yours do that stuff as well?
As I said, all the intelligence is in the software behind. We want to make the technology affordable for the midsize and smaller size attractions. Therefore, we use very affordable chips and all the intelligences and the data that we have behind in the systems.
Where is your technology built? Is it built in Canada? Do you have teams in the US? Are you over in Europe?
We’re 100% made in Montreal, Canada. We have sales offices in Orlando, US and Paris, France.
The fact that you’re Canadian probably gives you a good entry point into the US because our cost of labor is so much cheaper up here than it is in the US. Is that true or not?
For any company, it’s a big advantage to be in Canada, whether it’s Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, or the Waterloo-Kitchener Corridor. I have access to great talent and also the fact that we’re in the middle between Europe and the US and we are our biggest target markets.
How many employees do you have?
We’re at 25.
It’s a small base. Is it because the technology is already developed? Is most of your team sales and marketing or what’s the make of the 25?
We’re about 2/3 product and tech and the rest is sales and marketing. As I was saying earlier, with COVID, we downsized. We were very proactive and quick to downsize the company. We were about 50 to 55 at the beginning of COVID. We moved very quickly in order to preserve cash and made sure that we would go through the crisis in parallel, continue to invest in our product, in keeping a great company culture in making sure that the whole team is engaged.
How did you make the decisions on what to cut and what to invest in? When did you start making those cuts?
It was a crazy period. It’s a little bit like a car crash where everything happens in slow motion. The first big sign for me was spring break of March 5th, Sequoia Capital published an article of the Black Swan of 2020 where they predicted what the impact of COVID could have on businesses. They were some key elements in terms of preserving cash, try to raise additional capital if you can, expect longer sales cycle, and make sure you consider downsizing your marketing expense because you may not get the same return.
At the time, things evolve very quickly. It wasn’t seen as a big trap but within a couple of weeks, it realized and we went from a Friday to a Monday to be 100% working remotely. We were seeing the events being canceled one after the other. We reacted pretty quickly. Maybe less than a week after the confirmation of that confinement and the events being canceled, we let go and put about fifteen people on temporary leave.
One of the few acted very fast. We said, “We’re proactive,” but it was just the beginning. Weeks after, unfortunately, we had to let another ten people go. Everybody related to operations and events was put on furlough. With the hope that things would go back somewhere in fall of 2020, we made those decisions. After that, we focused on who are the key people in your organization that are multitalented that can help us go through the crisis.
At the same time, as we were building our new product for permanent installation, we didn’t want it to touch to anything that is on one end, building IP and on the other hand, continue to use the opportunity because we were seeing the impact on all our competitors that were in financial distress. It’s time to invest in building new relationships, so we kept our full sales and marketing staff.
I liked some of the decision-making around the multitalented people, too. In the very early stage of a company, you look for a lot of jack of all trades, master of none. They’re people that can do everything. Whereas, when you get bigger and more mature, you need the experts but those are, unfortunately, sometimes the first people you have to cut too, if that’s all they’re good at. How’s the company doing then?
We’re doing good. Even during that whole period, we took the opportunity to focus a lot on improving internal company culture and engagement. Even what’s a bit surprisingly exciting for us is that our level of employee engagement was higher after all the layoffs we had to do because we took a lot of time to improve as well with the fact that we were now remote to improve internal communications. From moving to having a monthly team get-together, we moved to a weekly get-together. In the beginning, just because we were in crisis, management is something that we kept since then.
We took time to establish a mentorship program as well where we helped connect people from our team with technical mentors to continue their growth and development. The rest was all about product development. It allowed us even during the pandemic to deploy thinking products and intrigue major attractions here in Quebec, Canada, and the US.
We were able since then because we made all those moves very early. We were able to make a few hires since then. We were able to raise some additional capital from our current investors. We’re well positioned and now more in investment mode as we see COVID will slowly get away, and in an aggressive position.
How much have you raised in investment capital?
We raised $7 million in 2019and we raise another $4 million back in the spring of 2022.
Where are you raising that money, in the US? Are you raising it in Canada as well?
Are you doing anything with Espresso Capital?
No. I know the guys at Espresso but not working with them now.
Who are you working with up here?
We’re working with a couple of angel investors. I can’t mention but one of the well-known businessmen in Quebec is backing us. That’s good to see their involvement and the fact that through the crisis, they appreciated the fact that as a leadership team, we were proactive on top of things. That’s why they decided to reinvest in us.
Cirque du Soleil went out of business and they were the big Montreal huge success story. Are they going to come back into the event space at all or do you know what’s happening with them?
The creative industry in Montreal is pretty close. We’re constantly talking about opportunities with them thinking as well as other great names in Montreal like Moment Factory and Thinkwell, for example. Maybe the difference between Cirque du Soleil or a business like ours is that they’re 100%. From one day to the next, they have zero revenue because they’re 100% dependent on shows. Again, I’m not there to tell what Cirque du Soleil should do but maybe it opens opportunity because they have a lot of great content and other ways to monetize it than live shows.
At some point, they’ll come back maybe in a slightly different way but that was a big shock when I saw that one happening. Montreal has a strong technology center that’s been building there too. How did Connect&GO get the entry points into some of these large events? How do you sell to those large events and large businesses?
It’s a matter of network building. The agency’s world remains a small world. That’s one part and one of the cofounders has been in there since the beginning and developed a big network. Typically, one success leads to another. The event space, in particular, is pretty hectic and demanding. In the early years of Connect&GO, it was an all-star team of people that would give it all during an event of 3 to 4 days where sometimes they couldn’t even sleep. That’s how the company built its reputation. From the moment you start to have big names, it creates credibility and people naturally come to us.
From the moment you start to have big names, it creates credibility. And then people will naturally come to you.
You mentioned South by Southwest. Were they an entry point for you into some of the events as well?
Yes. Every time we go to or we do an event, it’s an opportunity for us as well to bring potential clients of us to show our technology, the way we operate, meet with our team and typically, that’s an entry point for new opportunities with them.
Talk about the pivot that you then made from the event space into the new space? What did you call it?
We called it internally Permanent Installations. Looking at clients, we can work on agreements of 3 to 5 years versus an event that will be 3 to 5 days.
Was that a strategic decision that you made as a company or did you stumble upon that opportunity and then say, “We like this better?”
It’s a strategic decision. That’s a bit how that the first big round of funding was based on. It’s the same application as how you help people in terms of purchasing a ticket, accessing a site securely, doing cashless payments, and live experiences. Rather than taking the experience and making it work for three days, it’s to put a solid infrastructure in place to have it working year-round at the customer’s premises.
You mentioned offices in Montreal, Florida, and Paris. Are you going after Disney? Is that a target client for you?
It’s a little bit of the playbook of many tech companies going up the ladder. What we’re looking at is the small and midsize markets because we’re able to develop technology and make it affordable for your small or medium park that will have maybe 100,000 guests or less per year as Disney. It’s a little bit like the feedback we had. Some guests in parks say, “I feel like I’m at Disney in a medium park here in Quebec.”
It makes sense. It’s interesting, I watched Starbucks in the early days and how they broke onto the airlines to start having their coffee served on airlines. They first went after Horizon Air then after Horizon, they got Alaska. After Alaska, they got United. They didn’t go right for United. They had to get into the space and grow up from there. How many countries do you have your products in now?
We’ve done events all over the world. I can’t name them. We’ve been on all continents but from a permanence installation base, North America, so Canada and the US.
It’s similar to the COO Alliance. We signed our member from our sixth continent, the COO Alliance. Somebody is saying we need the COO from the Antarctic installation. I’m like, “Whatever. We’ll work on that one.” You mentioned culture. I’m curious how your culture had to shift when COVID happened but then also talk to us about your culture internally inside of Connect&GO.
We had to face COVID. We were facing as well that pivot from events like a services-based organization to being a product-based organization. We had to be a lot more intentional and deliberate about everything we do. We use the whole opportunity as operationally, we’re less occupied in day-to-day to introduce OKRs implemented.
We had done a few rounds of quarterly evaluations that strengthened that part. In all the foundations, we make sure that there are one-on-ones across the organization and measure that. On top of that, we took the opportunity to review our company values. With time, we’re not necessarily reflecting the team that we had and find opportunities. It’s a bit funny because we’ve been far away from each other for a long period of time but as a team, we’ve never been as close and in contact. We increased communication as crazy. There’s still some work to do but we’ve been a long way.
You mentioned that the values weren’t aligned with some of your team. Explain that to me. Was it that you had some of the wrong people in the company because of the core values? Did you have to change the core values or the people?
I’d say we did a bit of both with first the transformation as again, moving from a services organization to a product organization. In the past, the company valued effort over performance a lot. We became more of a performance and results-oriented organization. It’s normal in any startup. You don’t have necessarily all the insight and experience. They came from the top and were brought down to the team.
In that case, we turned the model all around. We involved everyone from the ground up to come up with the values. It made the exercise a bit tedious and risky at some point but useful. My role was to be the mediator or the negotiator between the team, the founders, and the CO and find our common ground where we’re all aligned. It required a lot of work but we’re very proud of what we’ve done because we were able to find the essence that connected everyone in the company.
Dominic and Anthony were the two Founders. Are they still both with the company now?
What was it like for you to come in as a senior person from the outside? How many employees were there when you joined?
We were about 30 to 40 at the time and on the verge of doing an acquisition that happened a few weeks after I joined. What I like about the setup is that it’s a little bit in the same environment that I joined at the previous company I was with, Sofdesk. The two founders are very charismatic. They have a great vision and creativity and raised some new funding.
They needed someone to operate the business and be the adult in the room a little bit, and get them off the day-to-day where they felt that they didn’t have what was needed then for the company as well as bring structure and help scale the company. When I joined the founders, that’s a bit what I became. “We want someone who’s going to act one day as the operating president where we focus on business development and strategy.”
What was it like coming into the company that already had a management team in place and you were the outsider coming in as a senior person? First, what did they do to make it work? Secondly, what did you do to make it work?
They’ve done some very good work with our advisory board. They took an outside advisor and consultant specializing in leadership and HR. That was part of bringing me in the organization. That’s something very interesting. I went through a lot of tests to find the different types of personalities that we had between myself, Anthony, and Dominic.
I was right there where they had some gaps and the opposite as well. They had some strengths that I didn’t have. That’s a bit of how I came in. In terms of the leadership team, we’ve done a pretty big turnaround. A few of the management was let go before I joined. After that, what’s good is that they gave me the opportunity to start from almost a blank slate and rebuild the leadership team.
You mentioned the acquisition. I wanted to ask you about that because it sounds like the acquisition did not go well.
It was a great opportunity for the company but the company cleared that. Rather than building that new technology for permanent installations, theme parks, and waterparks, they added a technology that they developed were more than ten years. Customer satisfaction was not great. We saw a lot of technical depth in the product. We give it a go for a period of six months to push it to the best we could. At some point, came decision time.
It’s either we invest heavily to make it to the level we want or we divest and build our own solution. It was honestly a big gamble at the time to say, “Let’s go build a new team and divest from that acquisition and build a new product.” COVID helped us a lot because it gave us a lot of time to focus on making it right. A few months later, we came out as winners out of this. On one end, we improved the quality of our product and customer satisfaction and reduced our cost base. Doing that acquisition still was very useful as we were able to get a good grasp as a company of what it is to operate a waterpark or our cultural attraction.
Was the company that you acquired local? Were they Montreal-based or where were they?
It was local.
Did you keep some of the people?
Ultimately, we ended up selling back to the owner who’s maintaining and still running the business. We had to work with a very good team and people. Although it was a few kilometers away, you may think, “Quebec, it’s all the same culture,” it’s a different culture that was not necessarily a fit but it was working well from a relationship perspective. It’s not necessarily in line with the goals that the company had of being ambitious and aiming at international success.
Acquisitions are not easy. If you can get them to work, they can be good but they can be tough.
Honestly, we spend the time. For most of the integration part, I used to spend an alpha day in one office and an alpha day in the other office. We did everything that was in our power. That’s what helped us take the decision fast to say, “We’re not at the right place. Let’s focus on the right things now.”
Doing everything in your power can help take the decision fast to say, “Okay, we’re not at the right place. Let’s focus on the right things now.”
You talked about focusing on OKRs. How is that bringing OKRs into the company?
It’s a big cultural shift of being effort-driven that you see a lot in startups and being more of a scale-up and growth company where you should focus on the outcomes and the leading indicators that bring you to the outcomes. We’re a full year through it. We improved our process quarter after quarter. It’s in our faces. We look at them with the leadership team every week.
It’s a way for us to say, “There’s the day-to-day that we manage,” and we’re focusing the OKRs on being separated from the day-to-day and say, “What are the steps that we are going to take as an organization this quarter?” For example, if there’s one specific element that we want to improve or structure in how we do customer support, is there anything special that we want to improve in our development process? We use that to take the organization forward and not be cut all the time with the day-to-day urgencies.
How about on the people side of things? You said you had to do two rounds of layoffs. It was 15 people and then 10 more people. How did you manage the people through that process? Tell us about the layoffs first. How did you do those? How did you execute those? How did you manage the survivors afterward?
Maybe because of our size, we took the time to do a human and personal approach. Although at that time, due to COVID, we were not able to meet in person but either I or Dominic, the COE took time to speak with each and every one that we had to let go. We took time to help them to reference letters to our own networks to find opportunities and what’s good in other areas of the tech market and things are doing great.
Even with people that were for a period of time on temporary furlough, we took time even to organize meetings to involve people that were not active in the business to keep them in touch and informed. We were doing a monthly newsletter for people that were temporarily laid off. For the people in the company, we made sure that we were transparent all the time about what we know, what we don’t know, and why we were making certain decisions and explaining to them.
I took the opportunity to do someone very methodical about my own one-on-one but I now do skip levels. Every quarter, I make sure to speak to everyone in the company. Also, we have Sophie who’s handling people. With our team is someone good as well who’s at the same time getting the pulse from a different angle. We try to be very proactive about any issue or risk going on with our team so we can address them before any problem surfaces.
I like that. I wanted to ask you about your one-on-ones then you mentioned the skip levels but let’s start with your one-on-one meetings. How does the structure for your one-on-one meetings work?
Typically, it’s very simple. First, I try to take time to engage on a personal level with different, wonderful people on the team to know how things are going on in their personal lives or any topic or hobbies that they have. After that, open the floor for specifically whatever they want to discuss either on the ongoing projects, which we try as much as possible to keep or other cadences of meeting to manage everything related to projects, sales, and products. After that, I use the opportunity as well to provide coaching and feedback.
Sometimes you can be shy of providing direct feedback on, “This is not what’s going well.” There’s a surprise when you come to the quarterly order review. I made the habit of being blunt and direct. I have had a very good impact on the team because we were able to build more of a culture of learning and self-improvement. Everybody’s transparent about it and it’s all about getting better.
Being blunt has a very good impact on the team because now it builds a culture of learning and self-improvement. Everybody’s transparent about it. It’s all about getting better.
Being blunt and direct doesn’t mean being bad either. It just means being direct.
You don’t need that much structure for a company of 25, but as long as when you make the expectations clear, you say, “These were the results we were aiming at. We didn’t achieve it. Tell me a little bit about it. How can I help you achieve there? I’d like you to focus on this and that in the next week or in the next quarter.” The greatest thing I find as a leader is when you see people take that feedback, run with it, and succeed. My passion is how I can make the team perform the best they can and individuals develop themselves the best they can. That’s my pay at the end of the day.
There’s an art to running skip-level meetings. Tell us about how your skip-level meeting process works.
Try to engage and know the team. Specifically, during COVID, there are very few opportunities to get to know the people on the team and connect on a personal level. I’m asking a lot about feedback on what’s going on in their day-to-day, specifically what they see that’s working well and what they feel that’s not working well, and everybody is always uncomfortable answering my killer question. I say, “If you were in my position, what decision would you take? What would be the one thing you would change in a company?” At every skip level, there’s always one little thing I’m able to find that we can take away, improve, and tweak in a business.
How do you deal with the fact when an employee brings something up? If somebody says, “We should do this,” you say, “We should do it.” How do you prevent getting too into what their boss should be dealing with?
I try to be very transparent and sometimes, it’s good feedback. I bring back to their boss about, “I had that discussion with Joe and he thinks we should improve this and that process. I’d like to get your perspective. What are we doing on that?” We were able to create an environment where people are pretty open and candid about their feedback. There are no people with an agenda. Everybody’s seeing the effort leadership is doing to improve and they’re part of it as well.
If we’re to go back to the 22-year-old François-Pierre who’s graduating from college and getting ready to start in his career, what advice would you give yourself back then?
I slowly went through more of the entrepreneurial and startup way. I would’ve taken more risk earlier. I spent my first ten years in NC in the great flight simulation company where I had the opportunity to travel all over the world and do many jobs. I find the CO role is so fun, impactful, and rich in terms of the experience that I would’ve liked to make the jump earlier than that in that type of role.
I like the entrepreneurial zone, too. François-Pierre Moffett, the COO for Connect&GO, thanks very much for sharing with us. I get this is a Connect&GO. We get to do the show and now you are off to the ski hill. Thank you very much for your time.
Thank you very much.
About Francois-Pierre Moffet
I am an experienced leader with a rich track record as a COO in the tech ecosystem. I help visionary founders scale their business and structure operations for rapid growth. I have built and run all aspects of a company: finance, sales, marketing, engineering, product/project management and HR.