The strength of a leader is about listening, showing humility and being truthful and transparent. In this episode, Talend COO and CTO, Laurent Bride discuss their beginnings in France and the expansion that made them a global company. He also shares how and why he moved to Talend from Business Objects. Laurent emphasizes that it’s important to have and keep the positive culture of a company. He touches on the challenge of hiring and developing people in competition with other big companies and why it’s OK to say “I don’t know.”
Laurent Bride is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer at Talend. Talend offers a single suite of cloud apps for data integration and data integrity to help enterprises collect, govern, transform and share data. When he joined Talend, Laurent brought seventeen years of software experience, including management and executive roles in customer support and product development. Before Talend, Laurent was CTO at Axway, where he was responsible for R&D, innovation and product management. Previously, he has spent more than nine years in Silicon Valley, working for Business Objects and SAP. Laurent holds an engineering degree in mathematics and computer science from EISTI.
Laurent, welcome to the Second in Command podcast.
Were you at SAP and Business Objects when they acquired Crystal Decisions or Crystal Reports out of Vancouver?
Yes, absolutely. I’ve been at Business Objects for a long time. I was part of the acquisition team when we acquired Crystal Decisions Vancouver.
One of our board members and a good friend of mine, Eric Patel, was the Head of Finance at Business Objects. Helen Sheridan was the head of HR. I recruited Helen and hired her to come and work with us at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. We hired a bunch of your great employees out of the Vancouver office.
Business Objects and Crystal Decisions were two great schools for people to grow up. When people touch base with me, they often go back to my Business Objects days. It’s a small world. The Business Objects alumni are everywhere in the world.
Do you call them BOBJ?
That was the ticker at the time. We call them BOBJ. Bernard Liautaud was the Founder and CEO of Business Objects. They held a BOBJ alumni dinner in Silicon Valley. I was not able to attend. They do that every year. It’s interesting to see how many people joined from so many different companies.
That would have been an incredible alumni dinner. The talent in that organization was strong. Talk to us a little bit about what Talend is. I’d like to go back to BOBJ and find out some of your skills. You probably pulled a lot of your strengths from there into your career. Tell us what Talend is and then tell us where you got some of your strengths to be the COO.
We are a cloud integration company. What fuels integration is data. What Talend does is all about integrating data and do that into different patterns. When you look at Talend and how we came to be, we started as an ETL company, extracting data from various types of sources. They are databases, files, any format applications. We take that data, merge it, cleanse it, transform, it and then we load that into a different system. That’s how Talend started. At the cover, we have the Talend Data Fabric. That’s the core platform that does all of those transformations.
On top of that, we have a lot of what we call data applications. They are targeting different personas based on what you do with the data. We have the core integration software, where we build complex jobs. We have lightweight integration patterns that we address like data ingestion. We acquired a company called Stitch to do that lightweight data ingestion. We have other types of application data apps that address different personas like data stewardship that focus on the curation of data or data preparation to cleanse the data in an Excel-like environment with a great UX. That’s the integration in the data quality business.
We also address different types of data integration patterns. Whether you’re doing a batch, every load, every transformation, whether you do that through a streaming type of data integration pattern or application integration pattern like through our ESV, where you are dealing with messages versus a structured data. That’s what we do, data fabric at the core with a lot of data application of data apps on top of that. When we look at data nowadays, every company that is successful is data-driven. The idea behind Talend is to make that whole data to insight data chain shorter. That’s what we do in a nutshell.
Your client base would be all enterprise-level companies, correct?
We cover a big spectrum of companies. We have big enterprises and we also have small customers that will only spend $10,000 a year. They might go with some of our cloud self-service applications. The big transformation that we’ve had over the years is all that moved to the cloud. We are covering a big spectrum of customers, size of customers, segments of the market from the small ones, to medium-sized to big enterprises. We do that in many verticals. We have a lot of customers. We have anything from banking, retail, healthcare and technology companies.
You’re truly a global organization, correct? How many countries would you have customers in do you think?
We cover the entire globe. I don’t have an exact number of countries or customers in those countries. Talend was created in France. Being a French company is helpful. We had the development center in France. There were two French co-founders. One stayed in France and the other one moved to the US quickly. We have that uniqueness of how we grew the business. Right away, we went overseas. If you look at Talend, we have operations in APAC, North America, and Europe. We are global from that standpoint, even though we are 1,300 people at the company. We are more global than any company that I worked with.
You almost describe that as being small because you’ve worked with some big organizations, but 1,300 is still big. How do you orbit the giant hairball? How do you stay away from all the corporate stuff that weighs down companies and stay entrepreneurial as you have?
It’s all about the DNA of the company. The culture is key at Talend. That’s part of how can we stay away from all that cooperate politics and so on. The Talend Chairman at the time was Bernard Liautaud, who was the CEO of Business Objects. I already knew Talend because when I was at SAP or Business Objects, we had some competing offer with an enterprise integration management software. Bernard was not in an operating role anymore at Business Objects or SAP. He called me and said, “We have a role at Talend. The founders want to move on. We had the CTO of Talend and the Chief Product Officer at Talend. We are looking at somebody who has strong French roots and understands the culture. Also, somebody who can bring that culture into new centers and ensure that the culture stays as we expand.” Bernard said, “I’d love for you to join Talend and I believe that you will find in Talend what you like at Business Objects.”
That was one of the reasons outside of the product and the success that Talend had that made me join the company. If I look at today and where we are as a company, that’s something that we are pushing for. We make sure that we had that culture when we were 200, 300, and 500. We make sure that we can replicate that culture every time that we open up a new office. We are making sure that we have a culture of transparency, support and innovation in serving customers. We’re not just talking about it. I’ve been in different companies in my career. I’ve also been engaged with many companies from many verticals and everybody comes with their values. They often look similar. It depends now how you lived through them and how you ensure that you keep the DNA.
It’s interesting that the thread that you tied between Talend and Business Objects because I have had a minor love affair with Business Objects Vancouver since the early days. I loved Crystal Decisions and some of the people. We hired a number of their team into 1-800-GOT-JUNK? like Jerry Gratton, Rodan Gopaul-Singh, Helen Sheridan, Eric Patel. It was five or six people that were mid to senior level that we hired. They were all amazing people, skilled, great at communication and conflict management. All are customer-centric. Is that the thread that is carried in with Talend with you as well?
Yeah. I also hired some people from Business Objects that I worked with for a long time. People from Axway joined me as well. The traits of character that you described are what we are looking for. Beyond being good with data, understanding our market and so on, the character traits that you described are those that we like.
How do you find that character? How do you look for it? How do you codify it? It is separate from the skills of doing their job. It’s their DNA of the human first. How do you look for it? How do you build it into your recruiting systems?
Part of the hiring process is the questions that you are asking. You are looking at resumes. If you can get some people in your network or someone who knows someone, you can share good stories. As part of the hiring process, you need to ask the right questions. When people struggle, how do they react? When the company is going through bumps, are they the ones that will jump ship? Will they be the ones that stick around and solve the problem? When you look at Business Objects, not every time, things were all pretty. I remember at some point, the stocks hit $8 but people stuck around. Bernard and his team were pushing. When you have these leaders in charge, they will inspire you. They will coach you.
In our hiring process, the question that I often ask is, “Have you been through some of those struggles? How did you react? How do you assemble your team? What are the key things in leadership? What’s your emotional intelligence skills?” It’s not just about hard facts but, “Tell me your story. Who are you as an individual? How do you recruit? What are the big challenges that you went through? What are the transformations that you had to go through?” That’s part of the hiring process and the culture fit is also something that you have to sense. It’s not just the leader. You have to make sure that across the organization, you have different relays of that culture. When you’re going through the hiring process, you ask those questions, “Is there a good cultural fit?” I know that when we look at the reports for every hiring process that we do, we have that checkbox, “Do we have the culture fit? Yes or no?” If this is no, that’s a showstopper.
Do you train all of your managers on doing interviews as well?
That’s part of the manager 101.
What’s the rest of manager 101? I’ve always believed that a leader’s job is to grow people and I have a feeling like Talend is focused on that.
You need to look at the skills. What’s important is where do you want that person to be in five years or three years? We’re transparent with the candidate on those. Also, hire for potential. I’ve been in different companies where if you have not done this and that, you’re not going to be on that shortlist. At Talend, we hire newcomers and people who have a lot of potentials. As part of the management 101 hiring process, depending on the role, there might be questions tied to that. Are you looking for somebody who has done the job or are you looking for somebody who has potential? Based on that, what are the various questions that you need to ask? That’s what we’re trying to do. What works well is the referral program. It’s even better than going through the traditional channels of talent acquisition. We are big on referral at Talend. It’s always good when you have a leader when you see people following that leader.
We had the leaders following some of the junior people. We saw some of the managers that we recruited first and then the leaders start to become the second. We’re like, “This is getting cool now.” How is the French company culture different from what we know in North America? I grew up in Canada, but I’ve worked and lived in the United States. I’ve coached people all over the world. How do you think that the French company culture is different and what can we learn from French companies?
I have a good friend and a colleague who works for me. I’m not going to tell you what he does because then people will figure out who he is. We had a discussion about culture. Sometimes, we have big arguments. French culture is all about the arguments. We like to argue. It’s not for the sake of arguing. We want to make sure that we are heard and that we are focusing on an outcome. Sometimes, it could be heated because we have Latin roots. We like those lively discussions. What he told me is, “Sometimes, we struggle with cultures.” I said, “Describe culture.” He said, “There are three major cultures in the world. You have the Americans, who see America as the center of the world. They like to drive. They are outcome-driven. You have the Japanese culture which is much more introverted. All of those are great cultures. There was no ‘one is better than the other.’” “What’s the third one?” He told me, “The French.”
I was surprised. It was not Europe. It was the French. French culture is different in a way. We like to argue. We are also open. We are good with data, mathematics and computer science. Where we are not so strong with are the business model growing and marketing. There are some specific areas in France where we are good at that. Overall, the US is much stronger when it comes to sales culture to marketing culture. When you mix the French and the Americans, they are moving mountains. We started in France and we quickly went overseas with one of our founders moving to the US. What we kept in France is R&D. Having R&D in France, we are not competing so much about Talend here in the US. We’re also good at computer science. People are loyal in the sense that I’m not saying they are not loyal in the US, but they are not jumping from one company to another every two years or every three years. The French culture is that uniqueness in the sense that we are attached to the people and to the management.
A lot of people in France will go after work to have drinks. Maybe in the US, it’s a little bit more complicated because if I look at where we are in the Silicon Valley right now, there’s no bar around where we can hang around and rest after work. When you are in the center of Paris, it’s easy. If you like to spend time together after work, what you see a lot is a lot of friendship between colleagues in France. That has pros and cons. The pros are people are tied together like a family and they will support one another. They will jump in whenever there’s a challenging situation and so on. That’s a lot of the pros. The cons are sometimes when it comes to making a decision because somebody is not performing or you have to go through rejection, because they have that culture of closeness and friendship, it’s much harder. We don’t have the saying, “I’m sorry. It’s just business,” in Europe.
What was the French telco? Is it Alcatel?
I met the CEO of Alcatel years ago. I was at the CEO of Sprint’s home for dinner. I don’t member the French CEO’s name. We were sitting and talking, just the three of us. You could almost see the merger of that French culture and American culture and the meeting of these differences, but an amazing friendship between the two. It was cool to see. You spoke about the war on Talend. There’s a question about the competitiveness for people, especially in the Bay Area now in Silicon Valley. How is Talend dealing with that? What lessons are you seeing? I’ve started seeing almost not an exodus but companies are moving out of the Bay Area a little bit or they’re opening offices in other areas because of Talend. Is that happening in your space?
If I look at the core team here in Redwood City, we have some marketing. We have some sales. We have some IT and so on. We don’t have R&D. It was a choice that we made. We might have a couple of guys doing SRE, cloud apps or taking care of our cloud production. That’s about what we have in the Redwood City office. We have all the exact team here in the Redwood City office. When it comes to R&D, we made a choice to go to Europe. We have a center as well in China and it was a center that we created several years ago. The choice that we made was to remain in France or Europe.
Years ago, I opened up a new center. As part of the opening of that new center, we had to go through some criteria as to where are we going to enter. When you enter a new center or when you build a new center, you are looking at different constraints. How far is it from the existing centers? What’s the cost? What does turnover look like? We have a strong university around. The Bay Area was not in the first year of that. It’s not because you don’t have talents here. You have a lot of talents. It’s also not because you don’t have universities, because you have strong universities nearby. It’s hard to compete from a cash perspective with companies like Google and Facebook.
Even if you could, the challenge is how long are they going to stay in the company? When you look at code development, it might take six months for a code developer to be productive on the job. You’re going to train and invest in the person because we invest a billion on people. After six months, he’s good. He’s productive. He’s going to stay another year and then he’s going to tell you, “I have an offer. It’s going to pay me 20% more. I’m going to move on.” That’s one of the main reasons that we didn’t open an R&D center here, but we are still growing in Redwood City between different functions.
There is a strong war on Talend when it comes to core development. There’s a strong war on Talend for everything else but we are finding good resources as well in marketing, in sales, in some specific leadership functions, in customer success, and the likes. Here, how we win that war on Talend. We’re trying to match cash but it’s not always the solution. We have good perks, but nobody can compete with Google. Where do you compete? You have to compete on what you’re going to do for the company or how much autonomy that you’re going to get or what difference you can make within Talend versus other companies.
Let’s say that you are a developer or you’re on marketing and you joined Talend. The impact you can have on the company is going to be much bigger than if you are someone lost in the middle of those big companies and corporations. Even though you have all the perks on the side, you might have more on the cash on the start front. What impact are you going to have? How well are you going to fit with that culture? Every time I interview people, I share with them the story, why join Talend and so on. That becomes some ammunition in the war on Talend. It’s not just the perks and the cash and so on. Can you move the needle in the company? Can you have a big impact? What’s the potential of Talend? When you look at the transition that we made to the cloud, when you look at the growth that we have on our cloud business, we are one of the most appealing company, if you focus on that. That needs to be part of the decision criteria for somebody to join us.
Years ago, we opened up a new development center in Nantes. I don’t know if you are familiar with that area. It’s closer to Normandy. We started from zero. We are about 145 people in that office. We were able to scale big time. Turnover is in the 2% to 3%. It’s good if you compare that to some of the companies in the Bay Area. They are talented people. If I want to close the loop with that whole DNA and culture, one of the things that we’ve done when I look at Suresnes and Nantes, we took a couple of guys with a couple that we moved from Suresnes to that new office in Nantes. Part of their objectives was to make sure that we keep our culture, make sure that we can replicate that. There are tight relationships between all of the centers. That’s something I’m proud of.
Culture, when it’s done right, becomes a magnet for great talent. You gave me the real recruiting advantage that you’re going after, is the meaning in your work. What value are you going to find day-to-day and showing up and working so hard if you’re just in a big huge company?
One last thought on that one is also the resume. You mentioned Business Objects and the alumni network and so on. You have people leaving Talend. That’s part of the game. My dad spent his entire life in the same company. I didn’t and I’m not expecting my kids to do. One great thing is, “You are a Talend alumni.” That needs to be a big pro in your resume down the road and that’s what we are aiming for as well. Having spent time at Business Objects was a big positive on my career and my resume. I would hope that Talend is the same.
You mentioned the referral program. Can you tell us what your referral program is or how you run a referral program? Is it the mindset of, “We’re always looking for more great people like you?”
You know your network and you know the people that you work with. When you refer somebody, it’s a win-win situation. If you refer somebody, you put your name on the table. I’m not going to refer somebody that I worked with in the past that’s a weak performer. By focusing on your network and your referral, you ensure that the quality of the people is already high. As part of the referral program, people get bonuses as well. When you hire somebody in the company or somebody that you used to work with and that person turns to Talend, you get a bonus. Of course, that person needs to perform. That person needs to stay a certain amount of time at Talend, you get a bonus. It’s a win-win situation because it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you hire the right talent, if you find the right leaders and usually you hang around with the people you like, the people who share the same value, I see that as a virtuous circle. When you can hire people that you used to walk with and you know their strengths, you know their weaknesses and so on, you’re transparent with it, then it takes the company hireable.
I heard a great recruiting bonus idea from the group at Topgrading from Brad and Geoff Smart. They said, “Let’s say you’re paying someone $100,000 a year, you put a recruiting bonus in place of $50,000. It’s paid $10,000 a year for the next five years and it’s paid at the end of each twelve-month period as long as both people are still with the company.” It becomes a huge recruiting bonus. Because it’s spread over five years, it’s amortized. It’s a meaningful number, but it also becomes a retention bonus. It’s only paid at the end of 12 months into 24. You’ve got eleven months to know if the person is going to work out anyway.
The retention piece is important. You want to make sure is that those people are performing over the five years.
If they’re not performing, they’re going to get fired anyway. They’re certainly not going to jump ship. If you’ve recruited three people into the company and all of a sudden, you’re making $30,000 a year because of your recruiting bonus. It’s a good little perk. Tell me about your leadership skills. What do you think makes you a strong COO, especially when you’re straddling the CEO/CTO roles?
I’m not the usual COO in the sense that I didn’t grow in the business like in the sales, in the field, in the finance organization, or anything like that. Of course, I interacted a lot with all of those, but I’m not your typical CTO either in the sense that I held various fields position and I work closely with customers all the time. Part of French traits is we like to be humble. We are not talking a lot about ourselves and so on. I’ll try to be a little bit American here. What makes me good at what I do is I like to get my hands still dirty. I do build corporate messages, strategy, and so on, but I am trying to stay close to the field. I’m trying to stay close to developers, to architecture, to customer challenges that they have currently. We’re trying to solve all challenges when they implement the product. I’m also trying to stay close to the sales organization, understand the market, understand their struggle, understand whenever we have a go-to-market strategy, how does that fit with them, listen.
When you look at the strengths of leaders nowadays, it has to be about listening, show humility, get your hands dirty and spend time in the trenches with your people. Whenever you go to battle with somebody, you like to go to battle with somebody who has a few scars, somebody who knows that they will stick with you through the fights and the challenges. For me, it’s being humble, listening to people, being truthful and transparent. When something goes well, you have to highlight it. If we are running through some challenges, you have to be transparent about it. You have to show that you know where you’re going and you have options and solutions to a problem. It’s not just about being transparent like, “We have a problem. Go and figure it out.” You have to show that you know what you’re talking about.
That’s how you build up credibility with the team. The listening piece is when you don’t know. You need to ask and realize that. I’ve worked with people in the past or I’ve seen leaders, not with my current teams, who were afraid to lose face if they say, “I don’t know.” It’s okay. It’s part of the hiring process and being a leader, especially when you have a lot of different functions that you manage to have people that are stronger than you in some of those areas. It’s like, “I like to hire a stronger architect than I am. I like to hire the right people who drive a technical alliance or product management.” Obviously, you want to know enough to add value across the board, but your role as a leader is to enable and it’s okay to have smarter people in the room than you. It’s mandatory.
That’s such a huge skill when a leader can grow to that level that they do. We’ve always heard it that it’s smart to hire people better than yourself but there’s a confidence that comes with that when you start doing it and you realize that you will be okay and you’re not going to get displaced. I’ve always joked about how proud I am of how humble I am. I’m so proud of my humility. The French are so proud of how humble they are. When you have to do skip-level meetings and you have to jump over one of your direct reports to meet with their team, do you have any lessons for us on how to do a proper skip level meeting?
It depends on the people you skip. I have a couple of French people that don’t like that because they will see that as a threat. In older Europe, depending on the people you worked with, it might be old school when it comes to hierarchy and you have to go through that. Most of the people I work with are okay with that and the reason they are okay with it is you explain why you want to do that. It’s either to gain time or for you to have first-hand feedback on the situation. The employees are like that when they have the ability to go and skip one, two, or three levels. I’m often talking to developers that are three or four levels down. That’s completely accepted because the management that you skip knows that you do that not because you’re trying to have a different version, so you don’t believe what they are telling you. If they feel like you are doing that for the right reasons, it’s okay to get a grasp on the situation to educate yourself. I like to educate myself on what’s happening and to keep in touch with the ground.
If you were to go back and give your 21-year-old Laurent some advice that you know to be true today but you wish you’d known earlier in your career, what would that be?
Maybe if I go back to when I was 21, I will not be a COO and a CTO, I would be a doctor. That’s what I wanted to do. Maybe that’s what I would ask myself. Believe in yourself. If you want to do something, do it. Believe in yourself, take risks. I took many risks. I would not change that. If I go back to when I was much younger, I sometimes had the wrong fights for the sake of the argument or maybe that was my strong French culture there. I want to be right and I’m going to take on some fights that were completely futile or useless. I would look at those twice and don’t do that again. You might have some people that are wiser than you and it’s good to listen to them and maybe find even more coaches or mentors. If I look at the past twenty years or so of my career, I had a few high-level or highly skilled and valuable mentors. I owe them where I am today. I’m listening to those guys even more and sometimes I drop some of the fights because it’s going to get you all worked up for no value.
Why don’t you drop each of your mentors a little quick note and say, “Thank you for all the experience?” I’m sure they’d love to hear from you today.
That’s a good one and I know who they are.
I’ve done it a couple of times with one of my early-stage mentors from twenty years, 30 years ago. Thank you for your wisdom. Laurent, thank you for shipping with us on the Second in Command podcast. I appreciate it.
About Laurent Bride
Talend offers a single suite of cloud apps for data integration and data integrity to help enterprises collect, govern, transform, and share data.
When he joined Talend, Laurent brought 17 years of software experience, including management and executive roles in customer support and product development. Before Talend, Laurent was CTO at Axway where he was responsible for R&D, innovation, and product management. Previously, he has spent more than nine years in Silicon Valley, working for Business Objects and SAP. Laurent holds an engineering degree in mathematics and computer science from EISTI.
Innovative leader with track records of thinking strategically and executing tactically to achieve business goals.
Great manager and mentor capable of building high-performance teams, maintaining top talents motivated and engaged in company’s success.