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Our guest today is Sendinblue’s COO, Olivier Legrand.
Sendinblue is the leading all-in-one digital marketing platform for small to medium-sized businesses. In his role, he is responsible for overseeing strategy, operations, go-to-market, talent, and international growth.
Before joining Sendinblue, Olivier was the VP and Managing Director of Asia Pacific and China at LinkedIn, and under his watch, LinkedIn’s Asia Pacific doubled its membership and tripled in revenue.
Prior to that, Olivier served as Director of Marketing in Asia for The Wall Street Journal’s Asia franchise, driving marketing and advertising initiatives across both print and online platforms.
Olivier holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Paris School of Business.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- How to operate a business with multiple distinct markets
- How to reject ideas from the internal group without squashing company morale
- How long it would take to feel as though you have transitioned well into your role
- How to prioritize what resources to utilize that will produce the highest ROI
Connect with Oliver Legrand: LinkedIn
Sendinblue – https://www.sendinblue.com/
Connect with Cameron: Website | LinkedIn
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Our guest is Sendinblue‘s COO, Olivier Legrand. Sendinblue is the leading all-in-one digital marketing platform for small to medium-sized businesses. In his role, he’s responsible for overseeing strategy operations, go-to-market talent, and international growth. Before joining Sendinblue, Olivier was the VP and Managing Director of Asia-Pacific and China at LinkedIn.
Under his watch, LinkedIn’s Asia-Pacific doubled its membership and tripled in revenue. Prior to that, Olivier served as a director of marketing in Asia for the Wall Street Journal’s Asia franchise, driving marketing and advertising initiatives across both print and online platforms. Olivier holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the Paris School of Business. Olivier, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Cameron. It’s a pleasure to be here.
I’m going to ask you about Sendinblue in a few minutes, but can we go backwards? I want to talk mostly about your experience of working in the Asia-Pacific area and what you were doing with LinkedIn. I’ll ask you what you’re seeing with that region right now. Maybe talk to us a little bit about that.
I came back to France after nineteen years in the Asia Pacific. I spent 8 years in Hong Kong and about 11 years in Singapore. Hong Kong was the place where I started my first business, by the way. That was my journey into entrepreneurship. I started a company called Creasia over there and then I worked for the Wall Street Journal.
Long story short, I did a lot of digital jobs for non-digital companies. I started in banking for a big French bank called BNP Paribas. I worked for myself and the agency then worked in publishing. I wanted to be working for a pure player. That’s when I came across LinkedIn in the very early days of the business in the Asia Pacific. I try LinkedIn in 2012. Funny enough, LinkedIn at the time was pretty much the size that Sendinblue is now. It’s about 600 people or about $100 million ARR.
I did the journey from $100 million to $10 billion with LinkedIn and all of that from Asia. What can I say about Asia? It’s an incredible region. It’s very diverse. When your region goes from Australia to India, from Japan to China, you have to learn that Asia is not one market or one region. It’s a multitude of markets. You spend a lot of time, especially in global companies. I work for LinkedIn, which is a Silicon Valley-based company. You spend a lot of time educating about the fact that you don’t have a region, but you actually have a portfolio of markets. I used to think about that portfolio in the form of a core insurance strategic and saying, “My core markets are Australia and say Singapore.”
A lot of the behaviors on the LinkedIn platform back then looked a lot like what you would see, for example, in the UK or the US. I would say the strategic market for me, for example, where India for the longest time, and then other parts of Southeast Asia. I would say outside of Singapore, particularly Indonesia because there, we had both a strong product market fit, but different kinds of a challenge when it came to monetization.
The type of members we’re acquiring were different. The type of customers we’re servicing was different. I had a bunch of venture markets, which were typically Japan and China, which were the hard ones, where the product market fit was complex and the monetization piece wasn’t straightforward. Often time, this piece required us to think about the product.
When you build a global business on technology, especially a global software business, we all want to build a product that’s as ubiquitous as possible that everybody can use pretty much in the same way everywhere in the world. The more you can achieve that, the better it is for your ability to scale the business. Sometimes you come across markets that have very unique whether it’s business requirements, if you think about China or cultural requirement, if you think about markets like Japan, for example, or even India. That forces you to think about your value proposition slightly differently. That’s what I’ve learned during those twenty years in Asia. It is to focus on the core and the things that are common.
Whenever you talk to your team and I have the same here at Sendinblue, when you go to Germany, people tell you, “It’s different here in Germany,” then if you go to India, they’ll tell you, “It’s different here in India.” It’s very true but there are many things that are common. Business is business. You need to make more money than you spend. There are a bunch of foundational things that are common, but there’s also sometimes the need to listen and understand how you can do better and serve better the audiences that are in this market and what differentiates them from others.
It’s interesting that you mentioned that. I was speaking to my wife. We’ve been to 34 countries together in the last 4 years. I’ve been to 62 or 64 countries or something like that now.
How did you do this during COVID? It’s crazy.
We figured it out, but what was interesting is we were driving on a highway in Poland and I said, “So much of what we’re seeing in Poland is the same as North America. Yet it is so completely different.” It looks at times like you could be in any North American city. I’m from Canada, but then, culturally, it can be so different. What I’m curious about is how you operate the business with so many of these three distinct types of markets you mentioned. Do you operate with very different plans for each market or very different teams for each market? How do you keep them focused when one group is working in one direction and one is different in a completely different direction?
It’s a bit of what I meant when I talked about this core strategic and venture applied to the way we looked at the markets. It was like a proxy to maturity, product-market fit, and ability to monetize. We also had a similar approach to our activities through a core strategic and venture. The core things were, to my earlier point, quite ubiquitous that were working across multiple markets from which we were getting the most leverage.
On this, you could line up your team and focus on execution. It’s basically going through a playbook that you’ve done somewhere else, rolling it out, and applying that playbook. That allowed you to have a lot of consistency across your team everywhere and then you get into your strategic and venture bets within those markets. It’s a bit like you’re managing your money. You don’t put everything on the venture or on the things that are safer bets.
What you need is an incredible team. I spent nineteen years in Asia. If I were to tell you that I’m an expert in India, Japan, and China, I’d be stupid. Even after twenty years, you keep learning. You do lean on people whose culture and country is China and who have been doing business there. We lived and grew up in China, and the people that have done the same in India and Indonesia. You have to hire very well and smart people that are very aligned with your mission, your vision, and the culture you want to build because they’re going to be your champions in this market and you have to work with them.
Part of working with them is to listen to them and hear them talk about what’s different, what’s specific, and how they think you can crack the market. Your job is to pass through all this and prioritize and decide what is it that you’re not going to do and what is it that you’re going to pursue because you don’t want to run after every opportunity in the same way. A lot of prioritizations and a great team is always focused.
That was what I was going to ask about. When you mentioned leverage, I’m curious as to how you decide your ROI or what your decision around that leverage is going to be. We have those resources of people, time, and money, and how to get the highest ROI off those. You mentioned some of it has to be strategic allocation. How do you prioritize or decide? How do you also let the people down or let the departments down that their idea isn’t getting used or it’s not getting used now? How do you say no without killing the spirit and the energy when we become this kumbaya group hug that we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings?
I’ll use the proxy we use on LinkedIn. It’s hard when you’re in a large Silicon Valley company. You optimize a lot for the tools and the features that are going to be used by the maximum number of people. If you look at some of the venture bets we did, they were essentially in the market that has a huge town. If you look at China, India, and Japan, those were very big markets and opportunities. There’s a moment where you’re looking at, “I’m going to do something slightly different. Are we going to try to approach our value proposition slightly differently?” However, it’s worth it. The amount of opportunity that we’re going to unlock at the back of this initiative is worth the venture bet.
A lot of the education and work that I was doing with our leadership team, Jeff Weiner, and the rest of the team was around building those cases and saying, “We’re asking here to do something in a slightly different way. We’re not running every opportunity. Equally, we’ve done our own work, and here is the opportunity that’s ahead of us. Can we do it? Yes or no?” This happens during the multi-year process. One year, India, Mexico, and then two years later, China, Mexico because we live in a finite world from a resource perspective. There are so many engineering man-hours that you have. There are so many go-to-market people.
Even if you’re a very well-resourced company and should hire fast, it takes time to hire people and round them up. The throughput is the throughput. You can’t go further. It’s about prioritization. To answer your question, I had those conversations so many times with my team in Asia because when you are the guy in Japan, day in, day out, you’re breathing the Japan opportunity and you see it in front of you. You see all these things that you could be doing.
Basically, you come and you fight for them. Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don’t. You know that a portion of your team is going to be disappointed because their projects aren’t going to make the cut. We were extremely transparent about the process. We’re saying, “From the beginning, know that we’re not going to be able to do everything. We’re exploring all of it. Here’s the choice that we’ve made and here’s why we’ve made those choices. By the way, your shareholder of the company, and your incentive is for the company to win, not just Japan to win.”
You need to build a leadership team. In this environment, it’s true in Sendinblue. Every member of your executive team is the custodian of the partner they’re responsible for, but more importantly, their essential goal is to make the company win, not just their department win. When people understand that what’s going to get the company closest to a win is to follow the priority that we’ve all agreed upon, they’ll wait.
The good news is 6 months or 1 year later, they’ll get a win and be able to address one of those pain points that they’ve seen that’s been hurting them in their guts because they know we could do better for their customers. It’s funny I had this conversation with our German country manager. My point to him was, “Never give up. You are asking for these things that you believe and you know will improve the experience of your German users.”
We are not always going to be in a position to say yes, but never get tired of fighting on behalf of the customers you represent. You’re doing your job when you’re doing this. Even if it’s not a win at every fight, it’s okay. You got to be mature about it. You got to understand that you’re here for the team to win and not just your subset of the team. It’s a system subsystem conversation. You work for the system and you’re responsible for a subsystem.
How do you balance your position there so that you optimize somehow for your subsystem, or you inform, you create, and you give the information to the team that’s going to make the arbitrage? At the end of the day, the best job you can do is to make sure that you represent as fairly and as accurately as possible the opportunity that sits in your market. It can be arbitrage in the best way possible so that the best decision can be taken for the system and the company.
It makes sense. I want you to go back and tell us a little bit about Sendinblue. What does the company do? Who is Sendinblue? Why would you have left such a huge organization to go to more of a mid-size organization now? What grabbed you?
Sendinblue, as you said, is a one-stop shop for digital marketing CRM. It’s all channels that small and medium businesses need to communicate to their customers. Our vision is to democratize access to digital tools and technology that for the longest time were made available to the larger organization. When I say democratize, I mean we want to make them accessible in all forms. Accessible both from a usability perspective, want to develop tools that are simple and very small businesses can use, can onboard it on quickly, and are also affordable to use. It’s something that fits into the unit economy of small businesses. Now we’re serving 300,000 customers across 170 countries. Eighty-five percent of our business is self-served.
We’re building a solid mid-market and enterprise component as well. Some of our customers are graduating to be bigger, but we grew from the ground up. It’s Armand’s vision. He’s our CEO. He started the company a few years ago in India and then came back to France. This democratization was the idea of empowering the small guys so that they can compete. This is the change. The True North is there for those who want to continue to do this. We increased the fashion that we’re doing this. We’re doing this for email marketing, but also for SMS marketing, push notifications, and CRM. Many of those new features have happened through a bunch of acquisitions that the company has.
For you, what was it that grabbed you? What was it that you saw?
I had an incredible decade at LinkedIn. It’s absolutely a life-changing organization. I learned so much there. First of all, when you’re ten years into an organization, you get comfortable. I got to that place where I wanted to get outside that comfort zone that LinkedIn had become for me. It wasn’t always a comfort zone. I got stretched and pulled in so many ways in this organization. After a decade when you’re running a region, I felt I wanted to get a stretch.
When I started to reflect back on what was the moment in the life of the company that I enjoyed the most, that moment where you’ve established a product market fit, which is the case for Sendinblue. When you have this amount of customers and you’re starting to hit a certain level of velocity and looking at a very large total addressable market, which is our case. This moment of scaling is one that I found super interesting and exciting. That’s the energy I wanted to find.
After nineteen years in Asia, first I decided to leave LinkedIn. I took a 10 to 11 months break, which was amazing. I spent quite a bit of time in France because we weren’t able to come back during COVID. Asia was pretty close, as you probably know. When the time to look for a new opportunity came up with my wife and my kids, the question was, “Do I look again for another round of 5, 6, or 7 years in Asia or is it time to look in the direction of Europe and get closer to home, although I called Asia home for a long time?”
This is when I came across Sendinblue. I met Armand and I was really interested in the stage that the company is at that moment of velocity and a strong product market. That moment where the organization was big and across borders with 600 people in North America, all over Europe, and people in Paris, Berlin, Seattle, Toronto, and India. There’s a whole set of new complexities on how to scale the foundation of a company like that. That was attractive to me. The vision and the mission of the company, this idea of helping the little guys compete is something that I like.
I’ve always been nervous about hiring somebody from a big organization and bringing them into a not entrepreneurial. You’re not entrepreneurial anymore. You are more of that mid-size organization. What do you think that you had to do, or what did you do to make sure that that transition was smooth for you to move into more of a leaner, faster organization than LinkedIn? Maybe I am wrong. LinkedIn was more entrepreneurial because it was tech too.
LinkedIn was very entrepreneurial for a very long time. The other thing is LinkedIn continued to grow at a really fast pace at a massive scale. When you have a multi-billion-dollar business that’s growing at 40% to 45% year over year, it’s a very different experience. It’s the same size business that’s flattish or growing in the low teens.
That’s what was impressive and interesting at LinkedIn in terms of the challenges that it was bringing that look a lot like what we’re living here, which is the business is 40%-plus. It’s not at a multibillion-dollar scale, but that’s our objective. We want to 10X the business from 100 to 1 billion in revenue. For that, you need to continue to grow at scale. That’s really important.
In terms of the transition, I’m a few months into the business, so I don’t want to be presumptuous that I fully transitioned as well. On the first day, interestingly enough, we decided to do business together. I joined Sendinblue and I started in early April 2023. I remember that first day when I left my place in Paris, took the tube, and went to Sendinblue.
Although I had interviews with a lot of people and I’ve been to the office a bunch of times and so on, I was very nervous. I was like, “What is it that I’m going to find? How different is it going to be from what I’ve experienced for the past decade or in the past 3 to 5 years?” One thing that I was really worried about was, “Am I going to get into a very French office, French environment, and so on?”
What I’d say is the culture and the team I found, and the work environment I found here was a lot more familiar than I would’ve expected. In the Sendinblue office in Paris, you hear people speaking English, Italian, and Spanish. Every meeting I was in was conducted in English. Every notion, documentation, and Slack, everything is happening in English. The company was already, even before I came in, very international in nature because of how the company was built over time and the nature of our customers. You adapt as well to the customer you serve. What I’d say is it made it a lot easier for me to come in and feel at home from day one.
That led to my next question. What were your first 90 days like or maybe give us the first three months in three segments? What was month one? What was month two? What was month three? What did you do to focus on? What did you avoid doing?
The first part was a lot of listening. What I was trying to avoid is assuming that I understood the business before being into it. Sometimes you tend to oversimplify businesses. I’m glad I did this because the Sendinblue business is quite complex. You don’t have that many companies that have cracked SMB acquisitions in the SaaS world. Most SaaS companies are going for the higher-end customers because that’s where it aligns better with their cost of sales. We crack acquiring at scale very small businesses on a self-serve platform. The first part was listening, getting to know the team, understanding the talent and the people that were in there, and understanding the energy that was in there.
The second phase was to try. I don’t want to say quick wins because that’s not really what they are, but relatively obvious places of opportunity. One of the things that I realized quickly is as the company grew, there was an appetite for more structure. In every conversation I was having with the marketing, with the sales team, with the customer experience team, with our product team, there’s this moment where everybody was saying, “We have a lot of things going on at the same time and it’s getting more complex. There was a bit of a push or a pull toward a bit more process and structure, which was really interesting.”
For me, the second phase was to identify those areas of opportunity. For us, we have a massive area of opportunity in North America, for example. It’s about 20% to 25% of our business. It could be way bigger. I’m looking at this and I’m like, “That should be super interesting.” We have a very high-performing mid-market and enterprise team, which was a good surprise for me. I started to think that’s cool when you are developing tools for the small guys when the big guys decide to buy them. It means that you’re doing good on your mission and vision. You’re democratizing and bringing tools that all the small guys to compete and the small businesses, proper businesses, and real businesses.
To see that bigger companies are sometimes gravitating toward that simplicity, efficiency, and cost efficiency as well, and are buying your solution. One of my first reflections when something is doing well company, I’m always wondering how you can push that further like putting gas on the fire. How do you make space in a company that has such a strong self-serve DNA for a proper go-to-market team that is going to be speaking to bigger customers and service that and so on to bring some of that? That’s one of our opportunities. It’s something that we can pursue going forward.
I wanted to ask a little bit about the go-to-market stuff, but specifically even more on the sales and marketing side. I’m curious, you’re a marketing SaaS business, not so much a marketing agency, but a SaaS marketing. What percentage of revenue does Sendinblue spend on sales and marketing?
It’s a big portion. Our performance marketing is a big engine. For us, if you think about a business like ours, marketing is sales for the self-serve business and sales is sales for the enterprise business. This is how we grow. This is how we bring in, acquire small companies, onboard them to the platform, and have them start using it. Marketing is a big chunk of investment. I don’t have the percentage top of mind but marketing acquisition is important in a business like ours. If you want to build a scalable high-velocity business like the one we have, it’s an important growth engine. It’s very important.
Are you working with any outside marketing agencies or you’re doing it all in-house?
All in-house. We do the whole performance marketing, SEO affiliation, and partnership. We also connect through plugins with all the ecosystems from Shopify to other web editors, etc. We have to be on all those marketplaces and plugged in. Our customers can have classic email marketing needs or SMS marketing needs. More and more with COVID, our customers started to build a presence on eCommerce, which has been driving some of our M&A as well as some of our acquisitions.
How many companies have you acquired and what is your focus around M&A? Part of that would be what percentage of your growth is going to be focused on M&A versus organic?
We’ve acquired 6 to 7 companies. The first acquisition was a big German competitor of ours. We’re buying a company that was doing what we’re doing. Since then, we bought PushOwl, Metrilo, MeetFox, and a number of companies. There’s been 1 or 2 acquisition that was in the core business. The others were to bring in features.
If you think about PushOwl, it’s all about push notifications in the Shopify ecosystem. If you think about Metrilo, it’s about eCommerce analytics and being able to provide this to our users that are starting to build their eCommerce presence. If you think about MeetFox, it’s about scheduling and when you run a small business, at some point, you want to be able to create as part of your CRM easy ways to schedule time with a customer success person or a salesperson.
It’s an addition. That’s one of the things that I’ve appreciated at Sendinblue. I’ve told Armand, “We’re very pragmatic from the build versus buy perspective.” If you think about most Silicon Valley tech companies, they build the company first. You work with engineers that are really smart. They can build anything and they want to build stuff. Sometimes you point them at something and you say, “Look at this. There’s this thing we want to build. Somebody has already done it.”
How about we bring these guys in? Maybe their business standalone is not as strong, but their business is part of us. It is finding a lot of leverage. Coming from Silicon Valley companies, there’s this strong DNA and default toward build versus buy. Although LinkedIn has done a number of great acquisitions, it’s not that restrictive. I find that here ammo and our tech team are a lot more pragmatic about this and recognize that CRM is something that not everybody knows how to do.
You can learn, but you can bring in people that are good at it and understand deeply, they’ll add up to the opportunity that eCommerce and Shopify ecosystems are interesting, but they have their own complexities and some people are fluent in them, and know how to leverage them in the most efficient manner. How about we’re bringing people like that? Shout-out to the CEO of PushOwl. He is amazing at that and is bringing a lot to our exec team by bringing that expertise and a lot more together in order to reduce it to this.
I have a couple of questions still on the transition, then I want to go back into talking about the Asia Pacific for a second. On the transition, just briefly, how long does it take, do you think, to feel like you now are in place like the transition is over, you’re there, and you’re solid? Secondly, what can you teach us about when a seasoned COO is hired to come into an organization that already is there and exists, and you’ve got people that might have been vying for the job or people that are now that have been there for years that are now reporting to you? Any lessons that you can give us around that as well?
In terms of the time to get your feet under you, it’s pretty much now. I’m months old. I’m starting to feel that way for 3 weeks to 1 month maybe, where you start to have clarity on what you want to work on and what are your OKRs. You start to have a bunch of quick wins under your belt. This is the moment when you start to know the people as well. I should start there. Feel you’re a part of the team, know the people, understand their side of the equation, and not just have a one-sided view of the challenges that are in front of you. It’s a good 3 to 6 months all in to get fully situated. Some people might be faster than I am, but that has been my journey.
In terms of coming into the organization, it varies from one organization to the other. First of all, I interviewed pretty much every single one of those people. They hired a point of view to give on whether I could be a good fit or not. I’m pretty sure through the process, even though not all of them were the final decision makers, they played a part in bringing this in. The general sentiment I’ve had at Sendinblue is there’s so much to achieve that they want to win. A lot of what I felt, not just from my team, the people that I work with, or my peers, but a lot of them were excited to see that the company was able to bring in someone with a background in a bigger organization like LinkedIn.
There was a bit of pride as well in saying, “We’re capable of getting talent like that.” That’s a great sign of culture. Companies that are able to bring in strong talent and see the value in this and the value of building a winning team is incredible. I have a document which is my first 100 days and so on. I feel what we’ve had over the last few months is a combination of a solid historical team like our CRO, CPO, and CEO. A lot of people have been here a long time, but also, I came in. We have a new CTO that came in. We have a new Chief People Officer, Laure, that just came in that is amazing. This ability to build that team has been incredibly encouraging for me. It’s been a very strong signal to the marketplace and to the team.
It sounds like you’ve done a good job with the transition, and I love that whole point of, “It’s a bit of a badge of honor when they can realize they are able to now hire these people.” That’s a huge sign for the organization. It’s an exciting stage. I know that this is going to be an impossible question to answer, but what are they doing better in Asia-Pacific that North American or European companies can learn from? What are they doing better in India? What are they doing better in China? Pick something from each of the three types of areas you talked about in the APAC.
That’s a hard one, especially in the emerging part of Asia. From China to a certain term, is the scrappiness. The people are hardworking. They can be scrappy. They try every angle. They have very strong resilience and scrappiness. They’re bringing the environment in which you grow up and the opportunities that are presented to you at the moment. If you think about Europe or the US, generally, we have a pretty sweet life. Access to school and access to many things is taken for granted. In some parts of Asia, it’s not. It creates grit and scrappiness in people which is a superpower.
I want you to go back to what you mentioned that you were hitting this flat period at LinkedIn and you wanted to be challenged again. Now that you’re back in this next organization and next role for yourself, where are you growing? What are you focusing on in terms of your skillset to continue to grow? We always are.
I’m learning, I’m challenged, and I’m growing a ton in understanding and getting into the details of the business and what everybody on my team is doing. During my entire career, I’ve had the belief that I needed to hire people that were better than me or what they were doing. I do not need to be a better marketer than our CMO. I do not need to be a better seller than our sales nor be a good customer experience person to be the person that our customer experience. I do need to have a base understanding of what their day-to-day business is so that I can be helpful, coach them, and help them look in a direction that because they’re day in and day out in it, they might not.
In LinkedIn, because I grew with business, I felt that baseline grew with me. Here, I need to fast-forward that learning. It’s like a back-to-school. For example, our CEO is built this business brick by brick for the last decade. The level of instincts, hunch, and understanding that he has for the business that’s really situated in so many repetitions, situations that he’s seen leading like A means B means C. That’s the part that I find super challenging. I lean a lot on him at the moment and his instincts.
My role is also to go and check the data and try to find if those instincts can be converted into actual action that will make the business better. I want to build more and more of my own stuff. For now, my own instincts are more anchored in external experience on the fact that I’m new to the business and that I have a new angle to it. I want to add to its depth and knowledge to it. That’s going to take time.
The other part is in a company our size. As the CEO, he has an overview of everything, but he focuses his time on tech and products. I’m more on the go-to-market, customer, and HR side of things, like revenue, marketing, customer care, HR, and operations. Everything is interconnected and intertwined, our product and engineering team. The variety of challenges that are coming over the course of the day is incredibly fast and there’s a lot to learn in this environment.
What you touched on earlier was about you don’t need to be as good as the people reporting to you in their functional area, but you need to understand that enough to be able to coach them, develop them, and support them. That’s very unique for the COO and the CEO. The head of marketing could almost be the head of marketing for any organization.
The head of IT could almost be the head of IT. They’re very, for the most part, fairly plug-and-play. The COO is so different because you have to understand the whole organization and all the different functional areas and be really good at the stuff the CEO doesn’t want to work on. How do you get good at that stuff? Is it just by osmosis? Is it by being around it? Are you a quick learner?
I’m relatively new at being a COO so I don’t know if I’ve nailed it already. There are a few things that set you up for success. One thing that attracted me as well to Sendinblue is how complimentary Armand and I are in terms of our past experiences and our personality. We’re very different people. A lot of the opportunity comes from that complimentary from him being incredibly good at things that I can absolutely grow toward and me having a certain experience in some areas.
I came out of school and started this company and it’s almost a home run from the beginning. There was a journey to get to where we are now so there are difficult times, I’m sure. He’s been basically investing life and blood in this organization. I worked overseas and in different industries. The complementary piece is extremely important.
You mentioned something to me before we started, which was interesting, and then I want to wrap up with the final question. You said that most of your customers are real businesses. They’re not all venture-backed. They’re real businesses and PNLs so your customer base is solid even though we’re in this bit of a weird time right now with the economy, inflation, and potential recession. Are you guys venture-backed?
We are. Our last round was at the end of November ’21. We raised $160 million. We’re backed by the French investment fund and also a venture capital firm called Partech and Bridgepoint. We’re absolutely venture-backed. I’ll repeat what I said to look at our customer. Their real business is not in the sense that venture-backed businesses aren’t real but we’re not a company that’s built a SaaS product that we’re selling to other startups. We’re a company that was built to help mom-and-pop businesses and medium size businesses, and now bigger businesses to start using the digital tools they need to be successful.
There are some startups in there and they’re awesome and we love having them as customers. We have yoga teachers, restaurant chains, coaches, and a lot of different shapes and forms companies. I think that’s a driver of resilience for our business. Those businesses have been around for a very long time. They’re able to adapt quickly. One thing that we do that I think they will always need to do is help them speak to their customers. You can think about recession and inflation.
The last thing you should stop doing if you’re running a business is engaging with your customers, having a conversation with them, and telling them what you can do to help them navigate through this. We do that with our own customers. We help them navigate. We try to understand their reality in this world. We want to be an affordable solution as well. We want to continue to be that and we want to help them maintain that connection with their own customers.
You’re certainly the cool kids on the block right now. I did a post on social media asking what company should we look for email automation and SMS marketing. It was all Sendinblue. It’s 2 or 3 to 1 from a very a fairly savvy group of entrepreneurs, the young president’s organization, an entrepreneur’s organization, and a very good group. I was surprised because I hadn’t heard of you yet, but you were everywhere. The last question is to the 21 or 22-year-old Olivier Legrand. You’re just starting off in your business career. What advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true today?
That’s a question that I’ve been asked before and I always give the same answer. It’s don’t shy away from complexity. I work with new graduates and different development programs I had at LinkedIn and other companies and here. That’s a personal experience from when you start work. There’s always that moment when you have a choice from a bunch of projects. You could do this and you could do that.
One of those products looks really hard and another bunch looks pretty easy. My advice is to go toward the hard one. There are a couple of reasons for that. There’s science behind this. First of all, if you fail, nobody is going to be surprised because you pick the hard. If it’s been on the table for a long time, probably a bunch of people fail before you.
Expectations are different. However you look at it, you’re going to learn a ton of things about the business. In complexity, there’s always learning and growth. You’ll have a depth of understanding and view of the opportunity with the business that will be stronger than anyone else’s. I know that sometimes as humans, we’re like, “This is easy stuff. I could do it.” One might pick that one. It looks fun and easy but especially when you’re early in your career, go for the hard stuff.
That’s cool advice. Olivier Legrand, the COO for Sendinblue, thank you so much for sharing with us.
Thanks for having me.