Elie Auvray – Co-founder of Jahia Solutions Group

I start with my email. Then, I make a list that prioritizes my tasks for the day on a piece of paper. I try to be available as often as I can for my team members to make life easier for them. I solve problems but attempt to not follow my email activity stream every five minutes. I also make sure I’m focused during meetings to make them efficient.

Elie Auvray co-founded Jahia Solutions Group SA after starting Jahia’s French operations in 2002, where he currently serves as president of the board and CEO.

A seasoned software entrepreneur with 18 years of experience, Elie founded his first company in 1996 with Thomas Draier. The company, Voice, pioneered easy-to-use web application development, with Vivendi as its first customer. In 1999, Voice merged with the company of the former president EMEA of Cisco Systems, Inc., in order to create a global software provider, Reef Internetware IP. Working closely with the CEO, Elie was the general manager for Reef France — the first country to overachieve its sales objectives for seven consecutive quarters — and built the first U.S. sales team in San Francisco, California. Consequently, Elie led its Europe Presales organization, developing and supporting the company’s partner network. Reef successfully raised 85 million euros in 2001 from international venture capitalists including Goldman Sachs, 3i Group plc, and Viventures. Mediasurface acquired Reef Internetware IP in 2002.

Elie has a master’s degree in business and tax law from the Université Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas. He also has a master’s degree in contract law with a major in IT contracts from the Université Paris 5 René Descartes and is a graduate of the Institute of Business Law of the Université Paris.

Where did the idea for Jahia come from?

In this industry, when you talk to a developer and ask for something, you may believe (or even get the response) that it’s “not possible” — that’s where your thinking stops. In that case, you never move forward because the easiest things are the most complex to develop and require the highest level of innovation. But the right developer — particularly the most gifted one — will say, “It was a challenging but technically motivating problem, so I worked on it all night. Look, it’s working.”

Not having those skills to code is frustrating because I cannot do what I imagine. It’s like magic to me. But my problem as a software entrepreneur is the problem everyone in a global company has as soon as they try to interact with the fast-growing digital world as a non-tech employee.

In 2002, I immediately decided to start a new journey that became Jahia Solutions Group because “it’s not possible” wasn’t in my vocabulary. I also met the Swiss co-founder of Jahia Solutions Group during that time. He shared the same “ease of use” vision, adding the open-source approach on top of it. With far fewer resources, that initial Swiss-French team built extraordinary software, delivering great value to fantastic customers. We are deeply proud of that.

Today, we’re delivering one of the most advanced open-source user experience platforms. It combines web content management, document management, and portal capabilities against the well-established (but obsolete) market division with a unified interface geared toward business users. Winning an amazing list of recurring customers based on a well-balanced and sustainable open-source business model, we decided to raise global customers before raising money.

So yes, it is possible — and we did it.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

I start with my email. Then, I make a list that prioritizes my tasks for the day on a piece of paper. I try to be available as often as I can for my team members to make life easier for them. I solve problems but attempt to not follow my email activity stream every five minutes. I also make sure I’m focused during meetings to make them efficient.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I bring ideas to life by reading, watching, and being curious about all things that surface in the technology market. I am hungry for data and information. I am passionate about technologies. I always need more data — data about competition, trends, and tech innovation (including video games). Unless it’s truly impossible, I always take time during my day to listen to the tech market. And on the software side, I share a lot with my team, from the manager to the junior developer.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Enterprise digital transformation is fascinating — and it’s happening really fast.

What’s one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I complete a small, focused task list every day in order to move forward.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I have always been an entrepreneur. I can’t complain; this is the best job in the world.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I would make tough decisions faster, even if it would mean being less optimistic about the people or the product. A bad attitude can kill a project — even if the skills are there. Bad timing can also kill a project. You need data, but you also need to execute fast. Do not wait. Trust your gut feeling.

As an entrepreneur, what’s one thing you do repeatedly and would recommend others do as well?

Here are a few pieces of advice: Tell your customer what you’re going to do, and then do it. Do not oversell. This is a pillar of Jahia’s journey, our culture, and our reputation. It is the foundation of the trust we’ve built with our customers and the market, from analysts to journalists.

Next, you must stay open to all ideas. From there, delegate and trust according to your gut feeling. It will not be done exactly as you want, but it will be done with help — that’s better than doing it alone.

Lastly, keep some bandwidth for emergency problems and help others do it, too. Some people don’t see when they are already consuming their buffers. It is the perfect road to burnout.

As a CEO, it is my role to avoid burnout by taking care of my team. People have to maintain a balance between work and family. Extended days are banished at Jahia — no weekend work. Of course, we need to travel over the weekends, but we rest afterward. The organization has to adapt itself to the people. And if that’s not the case, it’s the CEO’s responsibility to do so. I’m very serious about that.

What’s one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Growing a product and customer base before raising capital is key. To address the enterprise software market for tier-one customers, solve a business problem, establish trust, and gain visibility based on a concept that resonates with the market — a concept you hopefully anticipated before the other players.

You need all of those things to generate massive growth. But — and I am sure you will agree — it is not possible to have all three things together by day one.

To establish trust, you need customers who will accept the risk of implementing new products with no visibility or market recognition. After a first happy customer is established, you will start to convince other clients and land bigger projects. And with those customers, you start talking to analysts because tier-one customers require analysts to secure their decisions. Without funding, this is the most difficult thing to accomplish.

If you push the visibility before the product, you will kill the trust because you will have a lot of project failure. Doing so is a huge waste of money because your expansion is based on unsustainable foundations. This is one reason we decided to raise a platform and customers before raising capital. We did not want to solve the problem until the market recognized our vision.

Focusing on that software vendor strategy was only possible with a sustainable business model and a very good management team. The consequence of that strategic decision was that we did not have the benefit of significant revenue growth to finance the development of our vision. But it was a good move because we successfully built the best possible foundations, which are now ready for acceleration. Today, our product has been proven and recognized based on the problems we have solved for loyal, global, and major brands, as well as analysts like Gartner.

What’s one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Failures are experiences you can learn from. When Reef (a company I was part of) stopped, it was difficult — not because I lost an opportunity to be inside a company that went public, but because I was unable to keep promises to my people when the business was acquired.

I wasn’t running the company, but I felt responsible. I immediately launched a business that became Jahia Solutions Group, starting with Thomas Draier, the tech genius who joined me in my first business, Voice. I met my Swiss counterpart at the same time.

We started to expand the team with some of my Reef friends and other fellows from our networks to build a loyal, talented, committed, and passionate group of people. They are recently hired people — the guardians of the Jahia culture temple — protecting our values in this fantastic growth period. It is always about people.

What’s the best $100 you recently spent, and why?

I started to write “my Apple Watch,” but that would require an extra zero. Instead, I’d have to say going to see the movie “Inside Out” with my wife and kids. (Ice cream, popcorn, soda, and chocolate explain the $100.)

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I use Jahia’s software to update our website or share our documents. I love those tools — and not just because my team created them. They are helping my company grow. And if I complain, my customers will, too. But, in this case, I have some leverage to fix it!

What’s one book you recommend our community read, and why?

I will not talk about “The Lord of the Rings,” which left me breathless at 8 years old, but I will mention three speeches about defining what is important in your life. The first is Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech in 2005. The other two are both TED Talks — one from Amy Cuddy, and the other from Simon Sinek.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Look at the previous three examples. TED Talks, generally speaking, are wonderful. They highlight open-minded people who humble others.


Elie Auvray on LinkedIn:
Elie Auvray on Twitter: @elieauvray