An Interview With Mitch Russo
Test early and iterate! Moving super fast is not usually the answer, even though it feels like everyone is trying to run toward a product, it is better to test and put something live into the space to see how people react to it. That is where a lot of the best direction and discovery comes from.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Lhoumeau. Matt is the founder and CEO of Concord, the contract lifecycle management platform. Concord is the third company that Matt has founded in his diverse career which, among many other things, saw him create one of Europe’s largest video game sites and spend a year working for the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started my first company when I was 17. The Fourth Coming, was a multi-player gaming community that I was able to sell to Orange, one of the largest telecom companies in the world. The entrepreneurial bug has been with me ever since.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
While I was working with the CEO of Iliad, a holding company in integrated telecommunications, one task I was given was to re-negotiate 500 contracts. At first, I was first excited by the challenge, but then I entered six grueling months of contract hell.
This entailed creating a massive spreadsheet because there was no platform to help organize the contract management process. It took one month just to find all the contracts. You might think that all your contracts are in a folder or filing cabinet, but that is just not the case 99% of the time. Some are kept in filing cabinets, some are in different departments, and others you have to individually reach out to the vendors for copies to get faxed or mailed to you. Then, I spent a month reading all the contracts one by one to understand what we agreed at the time, and obviously, we realized that we had really missed a lot of deadlines and lost a lot of money because of this. And then I spent four months sending Word documents back and forth to hundreds of people — our legal team, our lawyers, our vendors — to negotiate all these contracts. It was a nightmare.
It seemed like people were never working on the right version of the document. They forget they have something to approve in their inbox and it takes two, three or four weeks — or longer — sometimes. I was coming home every single night asking myself: “Why are we doing this? Why are we managing contracts manually despite being a billion-dollar revenue company? There has to be a better way, right?” And that’s why I built Concord.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
In the early days, back when my cofounder Florian Parain and I were still in France, we were not making any money. Two of my former bosses reached out to me to offer these great jobs with salaries. It was so tempting to work for these amazing people and companies and have the security of a guaranteed income. For a few days I labored over my options, but then I realized something that made it really clear to me. What I realized was, I don’t want to work for anyone anymore. Being an entrepreneur affords me a type of self-reliance and challenge that I thrive on.
When it came time for me to call both of my previous bosses to turn down their offers, I actually asked if they would like to be advisors of my new company and they both agreed.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are growing fast. We have seen 80% customer growth in the last six months alone. It is very rewarding to see the rapid adoption of our platform because there were times that we might have given up on the project.
The first platform that we built while we were still working back in France eventually failed. It was just a document repository and didn’t solve the major pain points, but we built a good platform. We knew it was a great start but no one would use it without other functions to increase the value to a client. This was no solution and the best solution is to remove the problem entirely.
So, after the failure of our first company, we had a better idea of how to tackle the problem. We needed the first three years of looking at the problem too narrowly to develop the perspective, resilience, and grit that we have today. It’s not about the idea that you have at first, it’s about working on something until you find the solution.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
When we started our first company in France, we were looking for names that we could also license as web domains. We landed on Contract.fm, which seemed like a workable solution — but then everyone thought we were a radio station. Sometimes when you are trying to get things done when you are a little too bleary-eyed and close to the project, you end up running into mistakes like this. We learned that it might be best to run front-facing content by a few more eyes before you pay for domain fees. At least it was a relatively inexpensive and fixable misstep.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Simplicity. We know how cumbersome contracts can be and we wanted the platform to strip away the clutter and make it very clear what was needed, and when. To effectively do that, we actively remove features and buttons rather than adding them. It is counterintuitive but our users have thanked us for making it feel less overwhelming. A lot of people comment that our interface is as easy and instinctive to use as email.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
They will burn out. Accept it. I’ve burned out many times. When you put so much time into something, it will, one day, go too far. The trick is to be able to spot the cycle and learn from past actions. Hopefully, you will learn how to slow down before the burnout after you’ve done it a few times. That is also why you build a strong team. So you can lean on others to get the job done. And, if you need time to recover you can take that time, and they are there to pick up from where you left off.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Emmanuelle Mignon (former Chief of Staff of French President Nicolas Sarkozy) with whom I worked for one year. She taught me everything when it comes to efficiency and thought processes. She was the one to tell me that in life you have two options: you can have a small impact on big topics, or a big impact on small topics. In politics, you have a small impact on big topics. I had this discussion with her and it changed how I thought about my career. It was about the change and impact you wanted to make and it helped me identify that I didn’t want to be in politics as much as I wanted to start a company and drill down into making a big impact on a very specific space.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
Currently, we have more than 300,000 users on our platform.
- Build an awesome product people actually want to use.
- Build features to encourage users to share naturally documents. This was key. You have to make it intuitive. People are familiar with the ease of sharing things via email so we wanted to build our system to have similar ease.
- Give it time. The network effect amplifies over time. Much of our growth has been one company administrator telling others that they use Concord and how simple it was to implement. The cross-pollination of founders and employees in areas such as Silicon Valley has really helped us with rapid adoption.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We charge by user for smaller companies and projects and we offer unlimited-user options for larger companies. We chose this pricing model for simplicity, just like the technology itself. We experimented with a pay-by-contract model, which would be helpful to some users but it didn’t create the ecosystem needed to encourage all your contracts to go onto Concord. With a pay-per-contract model, we were disincentivizing the solution we were trying to build, so we removed it. The price-per-user model also allowed companies to better budget this as a line item and gave them the control they were looking for in a contract lifecycle management platform.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on one market, one language, one currency. That is to say, be very clear with your focus. If you hone in a clear vision you avoid losing time understanding different markets and can really tackle a problem head-on.
- Fall in love with the problem, not the solution. Our vision is to change how contracts are managed. If all we wanted was a fix, we would just build a SaaS platform and stop, the vision is what keeps us going and thinking about how to evolve with our clients and their needs.
- Test early and iterate! Moving super fast is not usually the answer, even though it feels like everyone is trying to run toward a product, it is better to test and put something live into the space to see how people react to it. That is where a lot of the best direction and discovery comes from.
- There is no such thing as the killer feature that will change everything. The truth is no, it’s not about doing one thing really well, it’s about doing many things well and building a fantastic product/platform that solves a problem in the ecosystem.
- If you do B2B SaaS, do not underestimate the investment needed for admin features — including access rights, security, etc. People always think about the features of the product but don’t think about the users and the company that needs to manage and administer your solution. If your product doesn’t work for the people in purchasing and management roles, you are not set up for success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Homelessness. It hits close to home. I’ve experienced it personally and believe wholeheartedly that one should not have to sleep outside. It is a disgrace to our modern society that this isn’t just a reality, but a growing one at that. I have put time and resources to support causes that help others get access to the services needed to help those experiencing homelessness.
It also fueled the incentives we have at my company to give back. At Concord, we have a Volunteer Time Off (VTO) program that offers each employee a week additional time off each year to pursue volunteer interests. This can be done cumulatively or on a one-off basis in order to give back to the community. I want our employees to be able to pursue the causes they connect with personally, just as I have over the years.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
“5 Things You Should Do To Create A Successful App or SAAS” with Matt Lhoumeau was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.