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Why Timing is Everything in Business (Episode 7)

In the year 2000, Emeric Ernoult had a vision similar to Facebook – but it was the wrong timing, wrong country and poorly executed.

For the next 10 years and after multiple failures he and his business partner finally succeeded.

It was only after a decade of pivoting and persistence they stumbled onto an idea of what is now a very successful venture.

They initially built apps that helped people run competitions and games on Facebook. But it was bespoke and didn’t scale well. From that discovery and technology they built a platform that allows people to manage and publish content on multiple social media platforms.  

He is now the CEO and co-founder of Agorapulse, a Paris based Social Media Management Software launched in 2011. Agorapulse is currently being used by more than 17,000 users across 180 countries and generates over $11 million a year in recurring revenue.

What you will learn

  • Why persistence is an essential entrepreneurial character trait
  • The need for clear focus and vision if you want to succeed
  • The importance of creating and building a scalable product and service
  • How to scale your sales without having to raise a lot of money
  • The key to finding and building a great team
  • The low cost and powerful tactic that Agorapulse used to build product distribution and awareness
  • The importance of timing in business
  • Why you should use your uniqueness to get attention and be memorable
  • Why you sometimes need to be obsessed 
  • Why failing is part of the journey 
  • Three secrets of business success 


Jeff Bullas: Hi everyone and welcome to the Jeff Bullas Show. Now, today we have with me Emeric Ernoult from Agorapulse in Paris. Now, before we get to chat, I just want to introduce Emeric. He's a serial entrepreneur. We seem to be interviewing a few of those at the moment and he's had 20 years experience in social media and software as a service type businesses.

Jeff Bullas: He's a CEO and co-founder of Agorapulse, agorapulse.com, a Paris-based social media management software launched in 2011. Agorapulse is currently being used by more than 17,000 users across 180 countries.

Jeff Bullas: Welcome to the show Emeric, and I've been so looking forward to having a chat with you and finding out what motivates you and what your story is. We met actually in San Diego for the first time. What was it about, seven or eight years ago, I think now. I got to shake hands with Emeric, I think it was at the bar and big smile, and he's just a fabulous Parisian gentleman that I've got to really know well.

Jeff Bullas: He's got a big heart and it's been such a privilege to actually spend and hangout time with him, both in Paris and around the world in different spots. We've become friends and I feel I'm privileged to have him as a friend. Welcome to the show Emeric and thank you for taking the time.

Jeff Bullas: Tell me a little bit about your serial entrepreneurism.

Emeric Ernoult: Well, first, thank you for having me and I hope I don't disappoint after this amazing introduction. Yeah, it was seven years ago, I think we met. It was at the bar at the Marriott Marquis in San Diego and we were having drinks with Jay Baer at that table.

Jeff Bullas: That's right. Yeah. Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: I remember that very clearly. Yeah. It's funny you mentioned what's with this serial entrepreneurism. Of course, before I had some level of success, some kind of success, I was looking at people who call themselves serial entrepreneurs and it seemed like unattainable. I fact, like "This guy didn't do one company, he did two, three. Whoa. How can you be so amazingly good that you're..."

Emeric Ernoult: Serial entrepreneur for me, that was semi-god. You can't do that.

Jeff Bullas: Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: But actually I am that because I failed a lot. Being a serial entrepreneur doesn't mean you have to be serially successful. You can't be serially failing, that's fine too, you can still call yourselves serial entrepreneur. My first, I had two companies I ran. I didn't start them, I didn't own them, but I ran them and got them to startup. One of them in the hip replacement device, can you believe that?

Jeff Bullas: Right. Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: And one, I started in 2000, which actually had the same name and the same technology, but was three different businesses over time because the first one was basically a social network. It was called affinitiz, launched in July of 2000, and it was four years before Facebook. It had the vision of Facebook, like don't tell people ideas or anything because they are not.

Emeric Ernoult: Our execution was poor, the country was not the right one and it was too early, so it didn't work out. We pivoted to B2B play where we tried to sell that technology to businesses so they can have their own social network, but in the early days, that was for collaboration work, work collaboration purposes. We did a little bit of business. It was before Yammer and all these things.

Emeric Ernoult: I forgot the name of the platforms that emerged out of that afterward, but Yammer is the name that comes to mind, like internal social networks for companies for work and collaborating purposes. And then we pivoted that to create your own social network for marketing purposes, so that was the third pivot... Well, the second pivot, the third phase of that business.

Emeric Ernoult: So you're basically talking 2000 to 2001 and a half. Then 2001/2 until 2006/7 and then '6/'7 until '9/'10 but those are the three phases. Every of those pivots have failed. The first one failed miserably with a single penny of sales. The second one, I don't know, probably got up to 40K annual, annual revenue, ridiculous. I think we make that in a day or two now. That was our year of revenue at the time, and the third got up to 150K of annual revenue.

Emeric Ernoult: So all of them, you can definitely qualify them as complete failures.

Jeff Bullas: Oh, that's part of the journey, isn't it really? Being willing to try and execute, coming up with the idea. So where did the idea come from, Emeric in terms of social network in 2000?

Emeric Ernoult: Social network in 2000, if you want to have a good laugh. First of all, in 2000 starting an internet business, nobody knew anything about what it looked like, so there was no book on lean startups. There is no information how it's being done. Everybody was trying to figure it out and everybody thought their ideas were worth billions and they were saying,

"Hey look at my pro points. It's a $100 million idea here on that slide."

Obviously, none of that was true.

Emeric Ernoult: The initial idea was a mix of I wanted to do something and Ben, my co-founder and CTO wanted to do something else. And obviously, I was a business lawyer at the time. I couldn't build anything, he could, and I couldn't force my idea on him because he was not excited and passionate about my idea, he was excited and passionate about his idea.

Emeric Ernoult: The one thing we did, which is the worst thing on earth is we forced and mixed our two ideas into something. My idea was basically something for alumni, universities and schools, which by the way, Facebook started as, but there was also at the time classmates.com, and there were a bunch of websites that were trying to be a platform for people who've been alumni of schools and universities.

Emeric Ernoult: And Ben's idea was a way for people to give their opinion on music, and books, and movies, and stuff like that. So we plugged both ideas into a product. It's the worst way to create a company.

Jeff Bullas: Almost like a bastardization wasn't it?

Emeric Ernoult: It's worse than that.

Jeff Bullas: It was a hybrid of the two ideas with no focus, yeah.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. But it's not going to live long, so it all had that kind of challenge.

Jeff Bullas: No, it's a shame. Was My Space around then?

Emeric Ernoult: Nope.

Jeff Bullas: Okay. So that was the first one?

Emeric Ernoult: Not when we started, it became around after 2000 I think two or three, something like that. Probably two or three. But in 2000 and early 2001 it was not around.

Jeff Bullas: Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, that's the initial... You say it's the journey to fail, failing for that long, I don't recommend, frankly.

Jeff Bullas: No. It would have been tiring.

Emeric Ernoult: But again, it is tiring, it's been exhausting, it was exhausting. And also I would yell at you if you were failing for so long because I would tell you, "Okay, I had the right to fail in 2000 because there was no information out there, so I couldn't know I was not doing the right things." In 2020, it's easy to know you're doing the right things or not doing the right thing.

Emeric Ernoult: So listen to a podcast and the entrepreneurs that you interview, listen to four or five of them and then you figure out, okay, here are the basics. I need to talk to my potential customers, I need to really understand them and their pains. I need to come up with something novel that really will make a difference and not like the fifth version of the same thing.

Emeric Ernoult: At the time we had no idea, no one knew anything and we had to build everything from the ground up. There was no Amazon AWS, there was no recurring payment system, there was no credit card processing system, there was nothing. It was basically had to build everything. So failing was like the norm, it was easy. Success was super hard.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So you've had this like nearly what? Eight, nine years of failing, and pivoting, and you must have been exhausted.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. We got to 2011, from 2000 until 2011 as a failure, that's 11 years, that's long. And then the concept of Agorapulse came out of a conference. We were still trying to sell Affinitiz, which was a white label, build your own social network for marketing purposes, and I was speaking at conferences, marketing conferences, especially here in France, trying to convince those large brands to build your own social network.

Emeric Ernoult: "Hey you are a retail store selling scrap booking gear, you should do a scrapbooking community and gather all the scrap booking fans into an online place. So if you own that community then you own your customer." That was the kind of stuff I was trying to do, and I was at that conference speaking about use cases, and how brands have leveraged communities, and stuff like that, and at the end a woman came to me and she said, "That was a very interesting talk. Do you do Facebook contests, and games, and apps?"

Emeric Ernoult: And I said, "Yes, absolutely." We absolutely did not. I had no idea what the Facebook API was made of and I said, "Yes, of course we do. Yeah, yeah. Let's organize a meeting next week

And at the time nobody was doing that, very few people were doing that.

Jeff Bullas: Right.

Emeric Ernoult: ... I go to the office and I tell my co-founder, "Hey Ben, can you look at that Facebook API thing because maybe we have a client, we can make some money? And we desperately need to make some money." And they learned it, and they got to it, say, "Yeah, I think I got it figured it out. I think we could do something." Got the brief, then built the app, the app was a success.

Emeric Ernoult: Then a number of companies came to us, we built an app for them, that was a success, and then we started building apps on Facebook in a successful way, making some money, but then everybody started to do that as well. That was a service business, we hated that and we saw Wildfire, an American company coming out the end of 2009 early 2010 with a platform that was doing that for a fee, for a monthly fee and we said, "This is exactly what we want to do."

Emeric Ernoult: We don't want to do bespoke development for brands, we want to be a SaaS product. That's what we've always done, that's what we enjoy doing, that's what we're made for. We don't want to do an agency, that was not our dream.

Jeff Bullas: It's hard to scale, isn't it?

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. It's super hard to scale, and again, it was not our dream. I was a business lawyer, I was making a fortune selling services in early 2000, why would I make a 10th of that to sell online projects? It makes no sense to me. It made no sense to me. So we did that, we built that and we launched it in late 2011, Q4, 2011.

Emeric Ernoult: But the interesting thing, I will never forget, I told Ben, I said, "Well Ben, we've been struggling for 11 years. I'm fed up, I'm exhausted and I'm burned out. So we're going to do this Agorapulse because there's new breath of fresh air, there's a new project. I'm excited again." So I find new energy to get into something else.

Emeric Ernoult: But by the time we were paying ourselves minimum wage or close to that, and we've been paying ourselves minimum wage for a long time. And I told him, "I give myself a year to get to 49,000 a month, so we have to find..." Let's say the average price point for clients will be $49 a month, we have to find 1,000 clients in a year. It shouldn't be that complicated.

Emeric Ernoult: The demand is there, the solution is good. We'll find those clients. I had no idea how, but we'll find them. It's probably easy, you put that online and it works and they come to you, right? You put that online and they come. Isn't that how it works?

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Build up and they will come. That's exactly how it works.

Emeric Ernoult: Of course, it's exactly how it works. That's the recipe.

Jeff Bullas: You sit on the side, wait for them to roll in. That's right.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, and you watch them come in. And so we built it and I told him, "I give myself a year. If after a year we're still struggling and fighting to get minimum wage, I'm done. I'll find a normal job and I get my life back." And it took us three years to get to 49K a month. So I was always giving myself deadlines and, "If I'm still struggling by that date, I stop. That's too hard."

Emeric Ernoult: But then the problem, you get through that date and there's progress, and you can see the progress. It's too slow, it's too small, it's not what you need to have a decent life, but still it's fricking progress. You can't stop something that's going up into the right, even if up into the right is very slightly up into the right.

Jeff Bullas: So there was a heartbeat.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, absolutely. I kept going and 49K took three years, but then it took a year to get to a 100K, then it took another year to get 250, and since then some years have been up and some years have been down. The growth has not always been amazing, but we've always had growth and we've always been profitable since 2015.

Emeric Ernoult: And now I'd say after you've struggled that much, I'd say life is good. It's good to pay yourself a decent amount of money every month, it's good to drive a car that's paid by your company, it's good to have time off on vacation that you can enjoy without stressing out because you don't know how you're going to do payroll when you get back. All that is good. It feels very, very good.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I’ve watched the journey, and we've actually collaborated over the years as well, which has been fun. What were some of the biggest challenges in terms of Agorapulse getting to a critical mass where you actually could start paying yourself a decent wage and profitable? What were your biggest challenges?

Emeric Ernoult: The big challenge for us is that we were bootstrapped so we didn't raise money. In front of us we had two companies, one called Hootsuite, which raised $265 million total and one called Sprout Social that also raised 200+ million dollars.

Jeff Bullas: Wow.

Emeric Ernoult: It's currently an IPO on the NASDAQ. So the two main companies we compete with and competed with raised a shit load of money and they have a shit load of people working in marketing and they're spending a ton of money on Google ads and all that stuff. So it's hard because they're overwhelming the space with their presence. And they're good, they have money so they build a good product much faster than you can build a good product with your no money and your three developers.

Emeric Ernoult: Then we started with a Facebook contest and promotions as I said, which is a shitty business model, was the shitty and still is. And so we had to pivot from that, from Facebook contest and promotion into Facebook community management, i.e. comment management, message management, reporting statistics, publishing.

Emeric Ernoult: And then we had to pivot... Not pivot but evolve that into okay, Facebook's not enough. They want Twitter, they want LinkedIn, they want the rest. And so you have to build, build, build, build. And instead of all that taking two years, it takes four because they're good, they work fast, they move fast and break things, but it's only three, four of them, five of them, not 45 or 60 of them.

Emeric Ernoult: So that was a huge challenge, accepting the constraint of not having money and having a very, very, very small team, and having a ton of things you need to be able to at least get a decent product to convince people to give you money. So that was a huge challenge. But, and that's thanks to your people, if you have the right people, they will stick around and they will stick with you.

Emeric Ernoult: And eventually you'll build what needs to be built, and when you're super small and have amazing, immense constraints, at least you're not wasting any of that time you have in your hands, so anything you do is crucial, is vital. And anything, so it's a blessing and a curse not to have a lot of money and a lot of people because you know you cannot waste any of it. Whereas the big guys trust me, they waste a ton of it, a ton, millions of dollars are being thrown into the bin because they have so much of it.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I've had stories that hundreds of millions of dollars are being raised and they go into beautiful offices in the middle of downtown San Francisco, and you're right, it's a lot of waste and you've basically had to be very, very efficient. Apart from the money rising, sustaining yourself financially and bootstrapping, what are some of the other things?

Jeff Bullas: How about building a team, was that difficult? Finding the right people to help you whether it's programmers because you basically got two things you really got to do, don't you? We've talked about it before is you really got two arms races going on. Number one, you've got to keep building the tech, it never stops because someone else is building tech on the other side of the world.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah.

Jeff Bullas: And then you've got the distribution, how do you actually get your message out there? Some people do it sales people on the grounds, some people do it by marketing and other marketing efforts. So in terms of those two challenges, the tech and also getting distribution, what was the main breakthroughs of distribution and getting your voice out on a minimal budget?

Emeric Ernoult: Well, number one, all of us have to find what works best for us and there's a lot of work there. We are self service, we're not enterprise, so we're not sales-based. We cannot go out and sell our stuff because our average revenue per account is 130 euros, 40 euros right now, so it's $155 per month. That does not allow you to go out or call out people and do outbound marketing or have a bunch of salespeople who are super expensive and will take six months to get contracts in.

Emeric Ernoult: So that 150 bucks a pack, it doesn't work. So when you are self service, what you need to do is you need to create inbound strategies. You need to make people come to you. You can't go to them, you need to make them come to you. The first thing you need to avoid is look at what your richest, bigger competitors are doing and just don't do it, just don't touch it.

Emeric Ernoult: So if they're doing a ton of Google ads, just don't do Google ads, is probably not for you. If they're doing a ton of paid marketing of any kind, just don't do it as well. If they are doing a lot of sales, don't do that. If they have freemium, don't do that. I don't know, think about what doesn't make sense. What they do because they have the money and the and the resources, this is what you shouldn't do, and try to do the opposite or something completely different.

Emeric Ernoult: You have to be disruptive in the way you approach your distribution. So that's the first thing. That's what I think we did. You also have to be conscious that there will be channel that will take you from zero to one million a year, then it will stop working or it will flatten, it will cap out. So you have to then think about a second channel or maybe two that will take you from one to three or four, and then it will flat out, and then another one.

Emeric Ernoult: So you constantly have to reinvent how you're going to go to the next step. So how we got from zero to three, two was mostly based on content, but in 2012 content was working. There was not an overwhelming amount of content in our space, so we could grow awareness and convince people to try us, and use us, and pay us to get to $1.5, $2 million a year.

Emeric Ernoult: Today. No fucking way, it's impossible. If you were trying to do today what we did eight years back then, you wouldn't succeed, you would fail because nobody would hear you. There's too much noise, it's too crowded.

Jeff Bullas: It is.

Emeric Ernoult: The way we've done it. Maybe there would be another content strategy, I don't know, but in the social media sphere, I don't think so. So what's difficult is you have to be creative, you have to be disruptive, but it has to be adapted to what's going on now-

Jeff Bullas: To your business, yep.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. To your business and the state of your ecosystem.

Jeff Bullas: And the state of your ecosystem, yep. Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah.

Jeff Bullas: So what was that? What were the creative ideas that helped you break through?

Emeric Ernoult: I don't know how creative it is, but it was an idea I thought we're uniquely positioned to do that and I can pull that up. And the idea was not that complicated, but I'm a pretty social person so I'm easy going. When you meet with me, it's easy to feel good and have a conversation. You don't feel like you need to protect yourself for, "This guy is talking to me in a weird way. I don't feel safe." I'm the opposite of that.

Emeric Ernoult: And I went to a lot of those conferences, that's where we met seven years ago. So I met a lot of people and I think they found... And I was the French guy with a bit of a French accent and that's exciting, that's fun. People from America, they don't meet that many French people on a daily basis, so it's unique to them that I am one.

Emeric Ernoult: In the early days I thought that was, not a debt. It was not good, it was something negative. There is a word for that.

Jeff Bullas: So you thought it was a liability.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, exactly. That's what I'm looking for.

Jeff Bullas: Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: That's like a liability. I thought it was a liability that I was French, but actually it was not, it was actually an asset. And after I went to all these conferences, I made friends and you are one of them, Jay Baer, Kim Garst, a lot of people and we became friends.

Emeric Ernoult: I had a bunch of friends and I was the CEO of that company and no CEO of our competition were friends with them because they didn't go to meet with them. They didn't care. They were big enough, too big. They were making too much money there. They had too big of a team, so that can made no sense for Hootsuite CEO or Sprout Social CEO to go and meet with you and build a relationship with you or like 20, 30 other people.

Emeric Ernoult: It worked for me and I enjoyed it, and number one, you have to enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, don't use that channel.

Jeff Bullas: You're right. You are a very social person and I think that's one of the reasons that I enjoyed catching up with you. And you were French, so you stood out, you had that strange accent.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah.

Jeff Bullas: So you took your uniqueness that you thought was a liability and turned it into an asset because it really was an asset, you just didn't know it. And I agree, I've never met anyone else from other social media platforms. I haven't met anyone from Hootsuite or Sprout. But I've met you and we became friends, so we worked together to help you grow the business, and that's what's been fun over the years.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. And in the early days I would email you and then a bunch of other friends and say, "Hey, I wrote that blog post," and you would tweet it, share it, put a link to it. It's like small things like that, but in the early days, those small things were worth gold to me. Yeah. And then we created the Ambassador program and we started to make that, professionalize those relationships and do things in a more organized way, hired someone to do that.

Emeric Ernoult: So that's always been the one thing we've done better than anybody else. And obviously now that we're going past 10 million a year, we have to reinvent ourselves again, find new channels and create.

Jeff Bullas: Okay. Yeah. Business can be quite a tough gig and trying to balance family, your own personal life and a business. How do you do that? Do you have a morning routine? Actually you've told me before, actually, you don't do mornings very well, that's why we're doing it at 10:00 at night in Paris.

Jeff Bullas: What's your routine for the day that sustains you to keep that... And sometimes balance is the wrong word to use, sometimes you just got to double down and get stuff done these long days. So what do you do?

Emeric Ernoult: For all these years, I had no balance. It was all work.

Jeff Bullas: Yep.

Emeric Ernoult: It's not 24/7 because you cannot do 24/7, but it was definitely 12 hours a day. It was definitely a lot on the weekend. Not all the weekend, I'm not going to lie, but I did take some time off during the weekend, but I probably worked eight hours during the weekend, the whole weekend.

Emeric Ernoult: I went to bed at 3:00 or 4:00 AM.

Jeff Bullas: Wow. Okay.

Emeric Ernoult: I was always on my computer being obsessed by an email, a blog post, whatever it was. So no, and then nothing fancy really, it was just hard work. Now I'm listening to or reading the founder of Basecamp who keeps saying, "Life doesn't have to be crazy at work and you can work seven hours a day and be happy." Yes, I can do that now, Jeff, now I can do that.

Emeric Ernoult: But by the time, no, it was impossible. I couldn't because I was on my own trying to figure out sales, support, marketing, technology and everything else.

Emeric Ernoult: Distribution, content, blog posts, social media, all me. How can you figure out all these things with no money, bootstrapped, working seven hours a day, five days a week. Don't fool yourself, it's impossible. You have to work a lot. Maybe if you've already done it and you have a little bit of money on the side and you're not poor like I was, maybe you can be more relaxed but I was not relaxed because I had to survive.

Emeric Ernoult: And when you have to survive, you know what? Balance does not matter. What matters is finding a way out, finding which direction you need to take in that dark tunnel to see the lights at some point. So yeah, I'm not going to lie, not a lot of work-life balance for a long time. I do now, so there is light at the end of the tunnel if you make it work and you make enough money, and I'm taking six weeks vacation every year and kite surfing, as you know, and I'm having fun, and going to the Caribbean in two weeks with my family. Now I do, but at the time, none.

Emeric Ernoult: Do I have advice about this? The one piece of advice I have is if work life-balance is important to you, if your family life is really important to you, you probably shouldn't start a company because you're going to suffer too much. That's why I'm happy I did start my first company before I had kids.

Emeric Ernoult: It's probably a good thing because once you have several kids, I would feel like shit today if I had to work 12 hours a day and eight hours every weekend with my six year old who is constantly asking me for, "Daddy, can we play with this? Can we play with that?" I do want to spend time with him.

Emeric Ernoult: So when you're in the midst of those initial years of I have to find traction, I have to find market fit, I have to figure things out and I have no idea how I'm going to do that, people can tell you, you shouldn't work a lot, you should work on the right things. It's not about working a lot, it's about working rights or working smart.

Emeric Ernoult: It's great on paper, but the reality is you don't know what's smart and what's right, so you have to work a lot so you can figure out what's right, what you should be working on. You know what I mean? You have to waste a lot of time working with things that won't work to find out, "Oh, I need all of these things during these 12 hours, only those two hours were productive. Okay, let's try to replicate that tomorrow."

Emeric Ernoult: But in order to figure it out, you have to do a lot to get to the right things.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. I was listening to an interview with Gary Keller from The ONE Thing book fame and the CEO of I think the world's biggest real estate company. So The ONE Thing I thought was about a book, but I discovered that The ONE Thing... And he has this just way of living his life, both in business, especially in business and especially even in life and family.

Jeff Bullas: He said, "What's the one thing that will actually make my life easier or make some tasks unnecessary?" And I think you've described it as just two hours a day you would working on that actually made a difference. So yeah, the one thing that will make the rest of the day easier, in other words, getting that hard thing out of the way. Number two, you might discover along the way there's actually a bunch of things that are actually unnecessary.

Jeff Bullas: And I went, "Wow, that is just such a philosophy," that I've actually started trying to weave into my day going, "Okay, so there's one thing I really need to do today instead of putting it off to the end of the day, let's get it done now, and then the rest of the day is going to be easier." And I discovered, the other stuff is actually unnecessary.

Jeff Bullas: Then the other one he used, which is some stuff tough... He used this red light, green light. In other words, if you get a shut door or red light, don't try and knock it down. If you've got a green light, something's working, double down. And I thought, wow, those two incredible insights and you've just described, essentially that's what you've discovered is this two hours during the day that is important that you really do need to get done, so it's interesting to hear.

Jeff Bullas: The other thing I want to ask you is now you're at this level now, how large is the company now, Emeric? How many employees?

Emeric Ernoult: 80 something. 83 maybe.

Jeff Bullas: Okay. right

Emeric Ernoult: And $11 million of annual recurring revenue.

Jeff Bullas: Okay. Basically from 2015 on, it been a lot easier journey for you.

Emeric Ernoult: November of 2015, we broke even, and during the week we broke even, I booked a three week vacation on the beach in Brazil just to congratulate myself.

Jeff Bullas: Okay. Well, you got to reward yourself at some stage.

Emeric Ernoult: Oh yeah.

Jeff Bullas: What's all this about? What am I doing this for? During the last, was it nearly 10 years now? Isn't it really? Were the times you felt like giving up?

Emeric Ernoult: Oh yeah.

Jeff Bullas: Tell me a little about that.

Emeric Ernoult: I felt about giving up several times. Many times, many, many times. For years, and years, and years, it really felt like I was in the tunnel and it was really, really dark. And I knew there was lights somewhere, but I didn't know if I should go forward or backward, left or right. I had no idea, that's why I ran back, and I ran forward, and then left and right. That's a lot of waste of time

Jeff Bullas: Yes.

Emeric Ernoult: But at the same time you have to try all these directions to eventually say, "I tried all these many different directions. Took me months and months and months." But once when I was doing this one I saw a little bit of light, so like that's the way I'm going to go. And that's why... You're in a dark tunnel, you don't know where is the exit and where is the light. You have to run and run a lot and exhaust yourself running to try to see where that light could be.

Emeric Ernoult: And yeah, it's hard on morale. It really was, it really was. I had good friends and I had gigs on the side to make some money so I could at least get some money because I was getting very little during all these years. And I don't recommend doing that because it was a bit too hard really. But I recommend having mentors and coaches or people that can help you, can give you advice to save you time, and maybe raising a little bit more and pay you something.

Jeff Bullas: Right.

Emeric Ernoult: The end game is not to suffer or to be a hero.

Jeff Bullas: You mentioned the word mentors, are there any mentors and people that helped you along the way that you're ever going, "Shit, this is hard. Should I keep going? Do I pivot or just try to work it out?" Is there some people that you turn to that maybe-

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah. I have a good friend who is an entrepreneur, but he lives in Florida. He was already at the time and he's still today super rich. He made a fortune in real estate, but he was a very simple man. He was a Mason, so he was basically building houses when he was 16 and one day he bought a house, he renovated it and he rented it and he realized that the amount of the rent was half of his salary as a Mason.

Emeric Ernoult: And he said, "Fuck it, I'm going to buy another house and I'll make as much money as I'm working eight hours a day right now." And so he built houses and rented them. And so he was a great friend because it was super simple. I love people who are simple. I'm not crazy about people who are too intellectual and things get complicated and complex and I'm not sure I'm following. This guy was really, really...

Everything was basic and simple.

Emeric Ernoult: He kept telling me, "Oh, I have a swimming pool, but who cares? Once you have a swimming pool you don't swim anymore. I have a nice car in my garage, but once you have it, you don't drive it anymore." He kept telling me all that stuff doesn't matter. He educated me on the fact that money is not the important things to pursue and all you need is to be passionate about what you do and to love what you do. Everything else doesn't matter.

Emeric Ernoult: So he was a good mentor for my philosophy called approach to life and entrepreneurship. And he definitely was helpful trying to tell me, "I know how hard it is, but hang in there. Eventually, I know you have the energy, eventually something will up." It may be wishful thinking but it made me get back again, get back on track again.

Emeric Ernoult: But he was in real estate so he couldn't help me build an online business because he didn't know how to do and I haven't had mentors for that which I regret. I would have loved to have mentors for that. I have now, I have a coach now, but this coach is helping me with would have been lifesaving at the time, but I just didn't have the money or the network to get one.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, and that's sometimes hard. A lot of people, their inspiration doesn't come from a person, sometimes it just comes from books. I suppose I've never really had any mentors in the space because when I started out too, he was a blogger who was doing digital publishing, I just watched I suppose some other people around the world and what they were doing, and read a lot of books, and read a lot of blog posts really that inspired me.

Jeff Bullas: But I totally agree with you in terms of just trying to keep things as simple as possible and love what you do. When I started out in 2009, it didn't feel like work, I was essentially writing an essay a day, but I was just so curious about this unfolding social media world and I observed people's obsessive behavior when there's something really going on here.

Jeff Bullas: And that behavior was not just on Facebook, it was on Twitter, it was everywhere and everyone was chasing the shiny new toys and the business world around it. So this may be raised as a question then about where are we today in social media? I'd be interested in where you think it's maybe going and also maybe where it is at the moment.

Jeff Bullas: You can tell me a bit about your thoughts on the social media ecosystem as it stands today. As we know, back in 2013, 2014, the organic traffic from Facebook basically just started to disappear. And a lot of businesses that built around organic Facebook traffic just almost disappeared over the next six to 12 months. So where is social media today and also where do you think it's maybe going

Emeric Ernoult: Well, a couple of thoughts on that. First of all, I am no social media expert anymore. I'm in business, being a CEO expert and doing what it takes. Not expert, but a constant learner, but I could tell you about what it means to be running a business, being a CEO, being a leader, building alignment within a company, all that kind of stuff is the stuff I'm learning every day and I'm working on every day.

Emeric Ernoult: I'm not working on social media or my own product though I have a product team who does that much better than I do. So that's the first thing I wanted say.

Jeff Bullas: I totally get that, Emeric.

Emeric Ernoult: The second thing is that I don't use social media anymore. Personally for my personal needs, I use it, but it's very, very sporadic, various sporadic. And the reason is I realized at one point, and again, that's part of the journey of what I want to do during my day is what I want my life to be about, how I want to use my free time, which is I don't have much.

Emeric Ernoult: I realized that every time and I have a life that's easy to put on Facebook and Instagram because I travel all the time, I go kites in sexy, exotic places, so it's like it would be easy for me to put amazing posts on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, LinkedIn, whatever. But I realized every time I do that, because I'm a social person, I felt compelled to go and engage with the people who were engaging with my content.

Emeric Ernoult: Every time I was posting something I said, "Oh shit. 15 people are going to come and say, 'Wow, amazing. Where are you? Enjoy your vacation,' or 'have a safe trip.'" Normal, of course. And that's great, but I got to a point where I said, "I don't want to post a thing and then feel for the next two hours that I have to go constantly check, and be polite, and reply. I'm just quitting burdened for myself. Why am I doing this?"

Jeff Bullas: Exactly. I try to get it... I've actually turned off all notifications on my social platforms. I'm not posting anywhere near as much. Maybe I should because it's important for awareness and building a personal brand, but I suppose we're 11 years in and I'm a little tired of it. Basically we automated a lot of what we do now, let the team look after a lot of it.

Jeff Bullas: I get introduced sometimes as social media expert and I almost cringe because I'm not, my journey now is actually learning to be a better business person, a better entrepreneur.

That's one of the reasons we're doing the show and also to actually double down on relationships. And that's why we started the Jeff Bullas Show is because I just wanted to actually have those conversations with fabulous people and help other people.

Emeric Ernoult: But to answer your question eventually, I give that a little thought because I built a business that's built on social media, so I have to have an opinion on how social media is going and I definitely have to be anticipating what's the next thing or how is this going to evolve. The one thing I know for sure is that 20 years ago, businesses owned all the channels where people could use to communicate about business and life.

It was at the local market or the local cafe, it was the only way where people could actually talk about a business or a brand. So that was very limited in scope. And in the early 2000, email came in and challenged that, and the web somehow as well by making these available at scale, but at the time businesses were still owning the channels. Email or something became the control and the no word where it's from, who it is that's coming from, they can put a system behind it with lots of agents and stuff.

Emeric Ernoult: But when social media appeared, and when I say social media, people think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but I also think Yelp, TripAdvisor, G2 Crowd Forums, anything that allows people to talk among each other about businesses, or brands, or to talk to businesses and brands or at least expect them to be there and respond.

Emeric Ernoult: This may be called Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn today, not going to change next year, probably not the year after but could change in the next decade. But what's not going to change in the next decade, the decade after, whatever is places for people to express themselves about businesses or to talk to businesses outside channels they own.

Emeric Ernoult: And this is not going away, this is here to stay just because it's how things work. That's how the internet works, it's a free day. So people are going to build places where people can express themselves and businesses need to know because it can be about them and they want to be there, and engage, and course correct, or fix the problem, or all that kind of stuff.

Emeric Ernoult: And this is the problem I'm passionate about and I want to fix and solve. So I think that is what's not going away. That's not going anywhere. That's my opinion. Is Facebook going to go somewhere? Is Snapchat going to close shop and not be successful? Is TikTok going to be the next thing? At the end of the day, I don't care that much about the specifics of which platform to do what and so on and so forth.

Emeric Ernoult: What I know is the dynamic that's behind it is not going away.

People like to talk, like to socialize, like to communicate, like to post things and reply even though I'm a bit tired of replying, but I was not not so long ago, and if I had more free time in my hands, if I was not the CEO of an 80 people company, I would probably do more social media than I do today. And that is not going to change, that's the human nature to be social and do that.

Jeff Bullas: Exactly. For me, back in 2008 as I watched people participating on these platforms, they were naturally addictive. And then it wasn't just a one off observation, I said, "There's something really going on here"

It was intersection of human and technology that we just hadn't had at our fingertips before.

Jeff Bullas: Basically this intersection of humanity and technology, which was really easy to use and free. So that was the other thing that I really went, "Wow, this is free, this is going to change a lot of things." And that's where the observation I made back then for me was, okay, this is going to have legs. I don't know what it is, I just need to play here.

Jeff Bullas: Essentially that's what I did. I remember even being up at midnight on Twitter and I watched America Wake Up because I'm from Sydney, Australia, 11:00, 12:00 at night is when America starts waking up and getting on with the day. And I had the most fascinating conversations with people.

Jeff Bullas: I was at World Youth Forum 18 months ago, hosted by the president of Egypt and did a round table with him hosting that. And as the negative and the positives of social media were discussed at this round table, and yes, we've got problems with narcissism, but human's narcissism just basically gives it attention and gives it scale. So I totally agree, it's not going to go away, it's just it'll morph into different ways of doing that.

Jeff Bullas: Now we're in the middle of watching people do silly dance moves to prerecorded music on TikTok for 15 seconds and it's 10 to 20 year olds that are doing this, and it's crazy. But for me, it's just people expressing themselves and yeah, what are you wasting all this time just practicing his dance moves for a 15 second video?

Jeff Bullas: People don't mind a bit of attention and I think it validates us as human beings, especially social media. It is a validation that we exist and there's a mantra I use, I create, I publish, I exist. That validation of us as humans by creating and sharing with the world in whatever way you like, I think you're right, is not going away, but it's going to evolve.

Jeff Bullas: Now, what do you think about the role of, and you must be doing a little bit of research on this on, because you created a social media automation platform. And I remember when I started out on Twitter, I used very poor tools for doing it.

I was given a really hard time on Twitter about using automation back in 2009/10. Now we have AI and machine learning maturing the user interfaces for it are starting to evolve.

Jeff Bullas: What's its role and where do you see... Are you working on anything that's interesting in that space that you can divulge?

Emeric Ernoult: AI and machine learning?

Jeff Bullas: Yeah.

Emeric Ernoult: Well, basically for what we do now, what we do today, AI and machine learning will be soon interesting to propose responses to incoming posts and private messages. So people get to you and by learning what you respond to certain things and how you respond to them and, I don't know. You use Gmail, if you use Gmail, you probably saw the auto-completion, they propose the-

Jeff Bullas: That's right.

Emeric Ernoult: ... end of your sentence. That's pretty darn good. It works pretty well. It's amazing. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but it works maybe 75, 70%. That's enough, so you can use it. If it was 10%, you would say, "That's a bother. I don't want something that's wrong 90% of the time. Let's get rid of that. Go in my settings and disconnect it." But when it's right, 70, 75% of the time, it's good enough, so you want to keep it and start using it.

Emeric Ernoult: That's where machine learning and AI is today. Two years ago, it was not there-

Jeff Bullas: No, it wasn't.

Emeric Ernoult: It was 15, 20%. So it's smarter and smarter and that's going to help you get faster through your responses for your support things. So that's on the engagement side, proposing a response, so instead of spending a minute and 15 seconds on drafting a response, you'll spend 15 seconds because the proposed responsible will only require changing two words and you'll be done. So that's one.

Emeric Ernoult: We're not too far from offering that because it's already... And Google offers API to its machine learning engine, so you can... With a little bit of money, you can benefit from that technology. You don't have to build it because obviously it's super hard to be as you can guess. Building that is millions and millions that companies like mine don't have the resources, not even our competition by the way. only companies like Google would.

Emeric Ernoult: And then for content creation, well, if you have a lot of data about past success or past failure with the content you post on social media, those engines will be able to analyze and make you proposals. So again, that is also a potential reality pretty soon. So it's not game changing. It's not groundbreaking. We're not flying people to Mars yet-

Jeff Bullas: No.

Emeric Ernoult: ... but it's incrementally, we're going to improve the daily life of people who do that job.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah, and I think that's the other thing that you raise was actually it may simply email, it's actually helping with content creation and basically machine's helping you create content. And we're seeing that with the rise of video softwares and service type companies that actually you can create videos from static images at scale with Shuttlerock over the years, NVIDIA out of India now, [inaudible 00:48:39] and his team.

Jeff Bullas: These are some of the interesting things that help us scale our content and it means that the machines are actually suggesting and also even building content for us just by giving them basic resources. So the content creation side is going to be interesting to watch. And you'd mentioned other terms to which the more data you get, the smarter the machines can be because they can make sense of all this noise.

Jeff Bullas: And I read an interview recently which... an article and it got into what's really behind. There's a war to globally control 5G. But 5G is a technology to actually collect a lot of data at scale for the internet of things because once you've got the data, then you can apply the big machines and the quantum computers that are emerging to actually make sense of all that noise and find the simplicity that the noise hides.

Jeff Bullas: And you're right, this is not game changing at the moment, this is going to be like a slow, warm bath that gets hotter and hotter that we're going to actually have to navigate, and Gmail's, yeah, a little, as you mentioned, that was a really simple observation I think was great to share.

Jeff Bullas: The trends in social media basically, it's not going away because it gives everyone a voice and they can share the fun stuff and what's not to love about that?

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah.

Jeff Bullas: So just a couple of things. Other two or three things that you could recommend to entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs as well as entrepreneurs that are already on the journey and are successful, but want to be more successful. Are there two or three pieces of advice that people could take away to apply that you've learned in the last 20 years?

Emeric Ernoult: Of course. If I was to start a business again, the advice and the processes I would apply to myself and I would live by number one, become very, very intimate with your market, with your prospect. So you have to know the people you're going to sell to like you were sleeping with them.

Jeff Bullas: Right.

Emeric Ernoult: You have to know everything about them, where they feel pain, where these feel pleasure, that's where they smile, where they cry, why? What makes them happy at their work? What makes them promoted? Where you really have to know them really, really, really well. And that's obviously will take time, but before you start working on anything, be sure that you've talked to at least 10 people who are supposed to buy these things you want to build and you heard from them what they want to buy, not what you want to sell them.

Emeric Ernoult: Don't go to them and say, "Hey, I'm building this. Are you interested?" Don't do that. Because they say, "Yeah, sounds good. I like it." And then they will never buy.

Jeff Bullas: They don't upset you.

Emeric Ernoult: Yeah, absolutely. Or maybe they don't even know they're doing that, but that's the bias. When you're presented with something from someone, you tend to say, "Yeah, why not? Yeah." And make them talk and make them express directly or indirectly, "Gosh, this is so painful. If I could find a solution to that." Well, that's the first one.

Emeric Ernoult: The second one is you have to be absolutely passionate about fixing that problem. The problem you're solving or the people you're solving it to, you have to love them because this is going to be your life for the next 10 years and a lot of that is going to be painful and difficult. So if you don't love what you're doing, you're going to give up because it's too hard, so you really have to love the journey.

Emeric Ernoult: You have to love not the destination or not how the success looks like once you get it, you have to love what it takes to get there because you know this is where you want to be even if you're not making money and it's difficult.

Emeric Ernoult: And the third thing is, and again, I forgive myself because at the time there were no mentors, there was no past experience, nobody knew what they were doing. But in 2020, absolutely find someone to help you. Find someone who's done something that looks like what you want to do, who is a bit ahead of you, so they've there, done that with all this stuff that you're going to experience in the coming months, in the coming years.

Emeric Ernoult: And don't be afraid, go to them and say, "Hey, I'm Jeff. This is what I'm planning to do. You've been there, done that, you could save my life, save me an incredible amount of time, energy and wasting money. I don't want to take a lot of your time, I would like to talk to you 30 minutes once a month. Would you do that for me?" And you'd be amazed, entrepreneurs love to help entrepreneurs. At least I do.

Emeric Ernoult: I can't do that with everyone, but I do that with a bunch of entrepreneurs and because we've gone through hardships, so we know what it means that it feels to go through hardship and we know that, oh, if I had known that at the time, it would have saved me so much time. I would have been less miserable, so I'd like to share that with people.

Emeric Ernoult: That's why at some point I was writing blog posts about our story and speaking at conferences about that. So go and find that person, that guy or that girl who's done that and he's going to be there for you when you feel low and when you don't know what to do, and when you don't know, should I go this way or that way? They're going to give you the insight that will help you decide, so do that. Do those three things.

Emeric Ernoult: Everything else, and there is a bazillion number of things that you need to know-

Jeff Bullas: Of course.

Emeric Ernoult: ... but if you get those three things, at least things will be less difficult. You will streamline a lot of those difficult times and you will go through them with more ease.

Jeff Bullas: Yep. Thank you very much for sharing that, and that's why we're here today and it's why we're having a chat is to help others on their journey and to try and find out the essential things they should really be focusing on. The rest sometimes just feels like noise, doesn't it?

Jeff Bullas: Emeric, thank you very much for sharing your stories, and being an entrepreneur is certainly not for the fainthearted, but if you love what you do and you're curious, it can really fun.

Emeric Ernoult: That's okay too, that's okay. If everybody was an entrepreneur on this planet, life would be horrible. So we need everyone, the planet and this society, we need people who want to lead companies, and be entrepreneurs, and take risks. And we need people who want to be passionate about their job and help those businesses to thrive and grow.

Emeric Ernoult: So everybody has a role to play, everybody has a story to have and tell. There's no hero syndrome of being an entrepreneur. If that's who you feel you need to be, perfect, go and do it. If you feel afraid or that's not where you fit, that's totally fine too. You're probably amazing as well, but in a different way.

Jeff Bullas: Yeah. We're all humans on this planet trying to make it as sustainable as possible and to make it enjoyable for us, for those around us. And as a book that Steve Rayson talked about, which I've actually just finished reading is very relevant “Love Is the Killer App”.

Jeff Bullas: And I think one of the things that I've loved hanging out with you Emeric is that one of your superpowers is that you know how to love. You're a Frenchman, obviously you do. I have so enjoyed. Every time catching up with you is a joy and I look forward to the next time we catch up, whether it's in Paris, or whether it's in San Diego, or the U.S., or maybe even Sydney, Australia, but I've got a great country here,

Emeric Ernoult: I know. I know, you do.

Jeff Bullas: And it's time to come over this side of the planet.

Emeric Ernoult: I need to visit.

Jeff Bullas: So thank you very much.

Emeric Ernoult: Thank you.

Jeff Bullas: Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing all your stories.

Emeric Ernoult: Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it.

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