I am Guillaume Simon, 36 years old, happy husband and dad to be. I’ve spent the last 12 years doing one of the things I enjoy the most in life (except freeskiing and spending times with family and friends) : building web products.
I was born and raised in a very small town in the east of France. As far as I can remember, computers have always been a part of my life (thanks dad). In 1995, my father took me to his work and introduced me to something that would change my life forever : The internet. I bought my first domain name in 1999 and built my first website for a personal street art project called “No cakes crew”. That was my “aha” moment.
After getting a MSc in Electronics and Telecommunication, and following an Advanced Master in Marketing & Communication, I realized that none of the jobs I was supposed to get matched my expectations. It was 2006 and I was spending a lot of time (way too much really) on Myspace, Youtube, Flickr, Vimeo … I was so excited by startups, by those new online behaviors introduced by social features, by the people creating them, I wanted to be part of it, I aspired to build something .
I have always been fascinated by creators. The ability to build something out of nothing and watching people use it, listening to it, loving it, sharing it, fascinates me.
Jason Fried (37signals), Zach Klein (Vimeo & DIY), Des Traynor(Intercom), Brad Smith (Virb), Dave Greiner (Campaign Monitor), Jeffrey Veen (Adobe) are some of my entrepreneur role models.
Even if my resume can give you many hints at what I did during the last 10 years, mainly as VP Product, I think it’s very important to tell you my story, the story of the rise and fall of the company I created : Tigerlily.
This is the journey of a product-driven entrepreneur.
Where everything started
Back in ’08, I created a design and development agency in Paris called Yeasty Mobs (certainly not the best name ever, I agree) with 3 partners.
As 37signals fans (I still read Getting Real at least once a year ), we were convinced that it was possible to deliver delightful user experiences powered by robust code to our clients in a faster and smarter way than other agencies.
From day one, we strived to deliver high-quality apps and Design Thinking was an inclusive part of our company’s DNA.
I was in charge of both UX & UI design for clients and was also doing the interface between our development team and clients.
Hack and Win
During summer ’09, someone told us about a hackathon only opened to Ruby on Rails teams, “Rails Rumble”. We decided it could be fun to enter the competition and a great way to get noticed by RoR developers and eventually hire new talents.
2 days, 1 night that would change my life forever.
At that time, Facebook was getting bigger and Pages for business were quite new. We had this feeling that social media was the next big thing. Having a custom tab on your Facebook Page required one to learn and master FBML which was really a pain in the ass.
I had the idea to try and create a user-friendly CMS for Facebook Tabs that marketers without development skills could use. 48 hours later, we finished among the best teams of the hackathon with a first version and lots of bugs, judges were crazy about it. Tigerlily was born.
Building a successful Social Marketing company
We turned our buggy prototype into a SaaS product available to everyone within a few weeks. We gained great traction and we felt something big was happening.
It turns out we won silver at the startup competition at Le Web 09’ and decided to focus more on Tigerlily. We killed Yeasty Mobs and invested all the money we earned from the agency into Tigerlily.
At that time, we were 3 co-founders : Matthieu Chereau was the CEO, Mathieu Fosse was the CTO and I was the Product & Marketing guy.
2010 : Bootstrapping and growing
During 2010, we created new Facebook marketing apps to complete our offer alongside our CMS. Brands were getting crazy about Facebook marketing and were coming to us with so many needs.
The Tigerlily Apps Suite now consisted of 6 Facebook apps including : a CMS, a music app, a shopping app, a couponing app, a video app and the most important one, a publishing and moderation app for Pages.
We introduced our freemium business model and started generating revenues.
Our revenues grew from 0$ to 300.000$. Pretty nice when you know that at that time the company was made up of 7 people and included mostly developers and no marketing team.
It was an amazing year for our team and exciting times as a co-founder. Our assumption that companies would move from traditional digital marketing to social media marketing was validated.
2011–2013 : The rise of Tigerlily
We became the first French Facebook Marketing Partner in 2011, which was huge at that time and Facebook started introducing us to their biggest customers in France.
A very important move happened that year when we decided to add a Twitter engagement app to our suite. Tigerlily wasn’t Facebook exclusive anymore.
We launched the Tigerlily Social Marketing platform. At that time, the most popular part of the platform was our Twitter and Facebook engagement apps. The main features were :
- Publishing : scheduling, targeting, custom attachments, albums, drafts and collaborators reviews were included
- Moderation : hiding or deleting Facebook comments, automated workflows, liking or favoriting
Tigerlily was split into two main activities :
- SaaS software editor : Building and selling the Tigerlily Social Marketing Platform.
- Social media agency : Strategy / Advertising / Apps / Consultancy under the name of Tigerlily Studio
We switched from an open SaaS business model where anyone could try our platform to a more traditional distribution model where people requested a demo and our sales team was in charge of closing deals. This switch occurred as we noticed that most of our clients and leads were now large companies as they were more willing than small and medium businesses to pay for a social marketing suite.
2012 and 2013 was the golden age of Tigerlily : we increased our team to 34 people and generated €1.5M in revenues.
Tigerlily was now one of the most successful social media marketing companies in Europe.
We worked with 60+ fortune 1000 clients across 40 countries, managed 50M incoming messages and registered 55M user profiles that year. Nice metrics.
Our mission was simple : Help companies become social businesses.
Our most important asset : the people
Most importantly for me, people loved working at Tigerlily. We successfully created a great corporate culture. We hired people according first and foremost to cultural fit. We also instilled a high level of freedom, trust and empowerment among teams in order to help our employees be more confident and happy, which ultimately leads to happy customers.
I believe that no program, activity or set of rules surpasses having happy and fulfilled employees who feel that what they are doing matters. Our 6 core values were instilled in every team member from day one.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
The game is never over
Those were great times but the storm was ahead and we didn’t see it coming.
Market consolidation is a threat
A real earthquake started shaking the Social Marketing market over the period of just a few months during 2012 and we hardly noticed it : Salesforce acquired Buddy media, Oracle acquired Involver, Google acquired Wildfire, Adobe acquired Efficient Frontiers. We were not competing with startups anymore, we had to deal with large companies backed with millions $. We were looking at all those giants fighting with each other in North America and we had felt the European market was all ours. First mistake.
Don’t put all eggs in one basket
In 2012, another important event would change everything : the Facebook IPO. In a matter of months, Facebook sales, who used to send lots of clients to our agency, changed their speech and asked their clients to spend money on Ads, not on Page Apps. Agency revenues, which were a big part of our revenues, literally started collapsing in 2013. We knew that it would eventually happen, but not that fast. Second mistake.
APIs are your best enemy
APIs are awesome. Building on top of Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, Google+ and all those giants is an incredible feeling and you can go so fast. They add new features, you add new features. They remove API endpoints, you remove features. Hello quicksand! We really underestimated the maintenance cost of relying on APIs. Third mistake.
Lack of focus can kill you
As clients were coming around to the idea that social media shouldn’t be siloed, they were asking for more : new features, new products. They all had excellent ideas, they all had understandable needs. As the pressure from our competitors started increasing by mid-2013, we started working on a social CRM product , on an ads management product, on a custom audiences product and we also started to integrate with youtube and Instagram. Fourth Mistake. Biggest Mistake. Critical mistake.
We had lost our focus. We didn’t have enough resources to build that many products the right way. We didn’t have enough resources to maintain our existing products the right way. We had no chance to win over our giant competitors anymore.
As VP product, as co-founder, I pulled the alarm in April ‘14. We had to refocus. We had to pivot.
The pivot : Sleek
We interviewed lots of clients, analyzed the Tigerlily platform usages and it appeared that something was hidden in plain sight.
Clients were telling us since day one that we were the best at getting all the messages sent to brands by customers from Facebook and Twitter, and by all I mean 99.99% of private and public messages.
With the rise of messaging apps like messenger, WhatsApp or Telegram, we knew that brands needed a way to manage multiple conversations with customers over multiple channels in one single app.
Buffer was focused on publishing at that time and validated the need for vertical tools for small and medium sized businesses.
We decided to build a real-time conversation app for social medias. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
We strived to create a simple yet powerful app: Sleek.
Sleek was defined as a collaborative inbox that lets companies dispatch, manage and classify their social media conversations in real time.
Few companies were actually doing the same thing at that time. Actually, none of them were dealing with both Facebook and Twitter conversations in real-time :
We released the first version of Sleek in October ’14 after a 3-month period of Beta test with some of our customers. The business model was quite simple : a 14-day free trial and 2 plans starting at 9$.
Feedbacks were great, metrics were excellent. We saw a 15% week-to-week growth, our churn rate was null, 70% of our users used the app at least once a day.
As our clients were already using customer support apps, we launched powerful integrations with Helpscout and Zendesk.
However, we felt that some important things were missing :
- Sleek was message-centric and it was hard to get a clear view of all the conversations happening with customers. We had to move to a conversation-centric app.
- Customers were asking for powerful search features.
- Working on mobile and tablet was a real concern.
It took us 4 months to introduce Sleek V2 in October ’15. A very short amount of time with a team of only 5 developers and with only one person designing every single screen app (me!) but way too long for the market.
After 10 years building products with my teams, Sleek V2 is to me the best app I have ever conceived. Fast, easy to use, powerful, it had everything to be a success. Customers loved it.
One thing was missing though. Actually two : time and money .
We were approached by a few companies interested in acquiring our team but none of our talks led to a happy ending.
In November 2015, we realized that we couldn’t reach the critical numbers that would make Sleek a sustainable service. We had to cease operations.
Sleek officially closed its doors on November 23rd and Tigerlily studio, our agency, was acquired by a big French agency.
Some people may think that we failed as we had to shut down Tigerlily but I consider this incredible journey as a real victory.
Meeting Jack Dorsey in the backstage of LeWeb (I didn’t recognize him), trying to pick-up a french minister on stage of LeWeb, building a Facebook-connected photo booth for Tigerlily’s birthday, playing endless Fifa games, signing our first deal with Universal Music, enjoying our not that serious wine tasting sessions, working with Spotify or Dots, doing the Harlem shake, hacking for fun, eating raclettes for christmas, attending the 2011 f8 in SF… All those moments spent with our team are somehow my best memories.
We started with the belief that everyone has the potential to create innovation and that technology can unlock that potential.
I’ve learned to put the product vision first. I’ve discovered the hard way how important it is to play by your own rules and that having a great product is not the only thing that makes a company successful.
Most importantly, these are the 3 most valuable lessons I learned from this journey :
Without vision, you’ll die. Without focus, you’ll die. Stay true, stay you.
Get things done.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. — Rob Siltanen
I’d really like to thank Mathieu Fosse and Matthieu Chereau , my partners in crime, for this wonderful journey. See you soon buddies. I also want to thank Matthieu (the 4th partner), Marion, Damien, Kevin Tunc , Julien, Vincent, Flavien, Charlie, Marc, Emiland, Pierre, Luky Vj , Quentin and all the fantastic people who were crazy enough to trust us and work with us. 🙌