Jean Hamon

Founder of Hivebrite

Jean Hamon grew up in and has spent most of his life in France, though throughout his life he studied and worked a few years in other European countries as well as the US and Singapore. Jean’s studies focused on engineering, and he later worked for 8 years in IT at a time when cloud technologies were transforming the industry. In particular, Jean saw how the revenue model of SaaS vendors allowed them to capture more value and to keep innovating. That’s what pushed him to want to start his own B2B SaaS business.

Before jumping in the deep pool of entrepreneurship, Jean completed a 1-year MBA at INSEAD Business School, where he enjoyed learning with and from people with very diverse backgrounds. There he decided to build a white-label SaaS solution to enable institutions to offer their alumni a platform to connect and to network and share business opportunities in a trusted environment. Facebook and LinkedIn did not offer the type of interactions or sense of community he was looking for.

Hivebrite was launched commercially in 2015 and the platform quickly found use in many more industries and market segments. Today, Hivebrite serves hundreds of customers in over 40 countries.

Where did the idea for Hivebrite come from?

At the start of my career, I worked in IT for eight years at a time when cloud technologies were transforming the industry. During that time, I saw how SaaS vendors were innovating and making tons of money that they then would re-invest to innovate and expand even more, and that pushed me to want to start my own B2B SaaS business. I applied and was accepted at INSEAD Business School for a 1-year MBA, where I met tons of people with very diverse backgrounds. After graduating, I found that I was having a difficult time finding and connecting with alumni of the business school, and that platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn did not offer the type of interactions or sense of community I was looking for.

This led me to launch Hivebrite in 2015, which at the time enabled institutions to offer their alumni a platform to connect, network, and share business opportunities in a trusted environment. The platform quickly found use in many more industries and market segments and currently serves hundreds of customers in over 40 countries.

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

I’m based in Europe and our business is growing fast globally, so I tend to have long days at the moment as I work closely with our teams in the US and in APAC. But as more talents and leaders join the business, I feel I’m more and more able to focus on strategic topics (as opposed to tactical ones).

I live in the southern part of Paris and because of COVID I’m mostly working from home as is my wife, so we end up spending more time together which is nice. I’ve started running again too, about 30 minutes every other day, and whenever possible I try to make calls while walking in the park nearby (Parc Montsouris) in order to get outside more. I’d like to find more time for reading but I find it difficult.

A productive day to me is a day where I tackle much of what I had planned for that day, business wise, while also doing something good at a personal level (enjoying some quality time with my wife, taking a run or calling family). I like days with no surprises because in the world of entrepreneurship, most surprises are generally not good things!

How do you bring ideas to life?

In order to bring ideas to life, you need to get some key people excited. If none of your leaders get excited about a project, it’s probably the sign that your idea isn’t that great, or that timing isn’t right. Once you’ve built momentum internally, the rest will follow – assuming you’ve got a good team!

What’s one trend that excites you?

A couple of things that I find exciting in the midst of all negative trends and sad stories we hear every day:

1. Increasing awareness around such topics as diversity, gender equality, climate change or data protection, animal suffering and more.
2. €750 billion EU recovery fund – a great example of what European Countries can do when they focus together on what really matters.

One trend that scares me more than it excites me: exponential innovation. Quantum computing, for example. The possibility of such a technological edge controlled by a predatory mind or government or company sounds very scary to me. I hope it’s not too late already.

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

Sleep and time management. Always try to get six hours of sleep, generally seven. Being tired makes you tenser.

Also, realizing that you can’t fix everything all at once. You need to make sure you work on the right things while accepting that some things will get done later.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I have quite a few thoughts on this:
1. People – Hiring the right people is the #1 priority for your business. Also, when hiring, first impressions are usually correct.
2. Patience – You can’t fix everything at once. You need to prioritize the right things while accepting (and communicating) that some things will need to get done later.
3. Intuition – Lots of people think they know better than you, especially in times of doubt and struggle. Follow your intuition and seek advice from people who’ve been in your shoes and really understand the challenges you’re facing.
4. Being Realistic – You may plan for A or B; very often C will occur and you’ll face a tough decision. Be prepared to deal with uncertainty and doubt. That’s part of the journey (and life).
5. Time Commitment – When starting a business, prepare for at least a decade of effort. Things won’t be in place after 3-4 years and you may never go back to your previous job / lifestyle.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I do not snore, I breathe deep and loud.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Come up with solutions. Sometimes solutions aren’t perfect. But an imperfect solution is better than no solution at all. Be a positive force for your team, not a burden.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

For a SaaS B2B company I’d recommend the following:
1. Solidify your customer base as much as you can, as early as you can, especially for a SaaS business.
2. Raise your prices as much as you reasonably can in the early days, even if that means fewer customers; by doing so, you’ll get a better understanding of where the value is. Plus, in the early days you’d better focus your efforts on just a few customers and how to make them happy).
3. One may be more tactical than strategic, but I’d recommend you equip your sales people with an Order form and MSA as soon as possible (as opposed to a contract that customers feel they can redline).

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

A failure that we solved with a pivot.
When we started in 2012, we built a B2C platform called “KeepInTouch” where people with similar backgrounds would join and connect with their peers in a branded, private spaces with one for each top University or Business school. It was all about sharing opportunities, as opposed to boosting one’s ego with pictures on a feed / profile. The need was there, but the execution wasn’t right. For such initiative to work, trust is paramount, and in this B2C model, we were inviting users to join and we were owning their data, but they didn’t really know who we were.

In order to maximize trust, we decided to pivot to a B2B2C model, which meant we’d equip organizations with a powerful, branded SaaS solution, empowering them to build and manage their community, while owning the data of their users.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Tough question. None, sorry!

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

1. Something trendy these days: a standing desk! Why? I just feel that I’m more productive when I stand, especially after a meal.
2. Friends of ours just had a baby. Our gift to them is a monthly wine delivery for a 6-month period (as opposed to baby stuff). . Nice because it delivers recurring good vibes.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Evernote is great. Simple and effective.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

A book I recommend is The Hard Thing About Hard Things, by Ben Horowitz, because it’s business-related while providing great insights on how to run a large organization and overcome complex challenges.

I’m currently reading Mindf*ck by Christopher Wylie, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower. I find it really good so far.

What is your favorite quote?

Not sure I’d call it a quote, but rather something I tell myself and others often:
One condition to happiness is to define what the minimum is that you need in order to consider yourself happy. Without this, it’s hard to rest. Another condition is to stay away from the comparison game (ego-based social networks in particular).

Key Learnings:

  • Uncertainty combined with loneliness kills you. You can be lonely for a long time if you are sure it’s going to work for you in the end, and you can fight uncertainty for a longer time when you’re not alone, as there’s always someone to bring the other up. But you can’t be both lonely dealing with uncertainty for too long. It’ll burn you out.