Always put employees first in any situation, before anything else including investors, customers, etc. That’s why our customers are happy: because our employees are happy.
Jonathan Benhamou is a French entrepreneur, investor and CEO of the international start-up PeopleDoc. Jonathan co-founded PeopleDoc in Paris in 2007, which is now the leading provider of cloud-based HR service delivery solutions that has revolutionized the HR profession around the world.
In 2014, Jonathan moved to New York to oversee the global expansion of PeopleDoc. The same year, Gartner recognized PeopleDoc as a “Cool Vendor” in the human capital management space. Not only has Jonathan negotiated, raised and secured more than $55 million in funding led by Accel and Eurazeo, he also established offices in France, UK, USA, Canada and Germany, with more than 240 employees, to support PeopleDoc’s incredible customer base. PeopleDoc currently counts more than 800 clients worldwide, including Starbucks, Coach, American Express, Georgetown University, HSBC and Nestlé.
Jonathan is committed to using his personal success to invest in other young innovative companies and start-ups as well. Jonathan has been honored by many media, businesses and cultural organizations. He is a member of the delegation of Young Entrepreneurs of the G20. Jonathan also serves as Board Member and Business Angels of several start-ups (Clustree, BookandGolf, ISAI, Social Bar). He has been recognized as a Technology Young Leader- an honor awarded by 20 of Europe’s top technology leaders, including Apple, Google, Intel, Oracle, and Cisco.
Where did the idea for PeopleDoc come from?
PeopleDoc started as Novapost back in 2007 on the campus of the HEC Business School in Paris with the idea to replace postmail. We believed that every consumer should be able to receive, store and securely share daily life documents in a personal digital vault, rather than just with paper. In 2009 the HR community took notice of what we were doing, and how we figured out a way to balance flexibility and control with a consumer experience. As a result, we were asked to build a product that could do this specifically for companies. From then on, it was our goal to introduce fresh cloud technology that could improve efficiency, reduce operating costs and automate processes in the HR department.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A huge part of being productive, for me, comes from a strong work and personal life balance. When I’m not traveling, I wake up at 7 a.m., have breakfast with the kids and drive them to school. After I’ve completed my fatherly duties, I head to the office around quarter to nine and read some news before I jump into meetings at 9am.
I try to build relationships outside of the office during my lunch break rather than immerse myself in work from 9-5. Maintaining relationships with my employees and clients is essential to a productive office and positive work environment. For that reason, we encourage all employees to leave the office at 6 p.m. on the dot. Emails can wait till the morning. Cramming as much work as possible into a day’s time doesn’t result in productivity, its completing what you can and going to spend time with friends and family afterwards that makes for a productive day. I make sure to get home in time for dinner to spend a few hours with my children before the day is done. One last thing, I make sure to not check emails once I’m gone from the office, I’ve learned it’s healthy for your mind to reset in the evening and makes for a successful week.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When my co-founder and I have an idea for a project, we never approach it alone. In order to bring ideas to life, it takes an amazing team, and we definitely have a teamwork mentality at PeopleDoc. Anyone can have an idea, but not everyone has an amazing team that helps bring that idea to life, I think that is a large part of what separates us from our competition.
What’s one trend that excites you?
As technology becomes a more integral part in our day-to-day lives, both inside and outside of work, I’ve become interested in how companies are working to assimilate into the 21st century. These transformations don’t just impact ROI and performance, but they change the way that businesses engage with their employees. Improved technology that leads to better employee engagement can enhance the overall relationship between workers and businesses, in a way that truly hasn’t been done before.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
On Friday evenings I leave my computer at the office and have everything closed out by 6 p.m. My advice to others is that if you want to get things done in a certain amount of time, you can. You just have to stay focused and driven..At PeopleDoc you will never find any of our employees receive/send an email on the weekend. We are not saving lives, an email can wait a day or two.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to remember that if something is easy, then everyone would be doing it. This is especially true in business, and especially in the technology space. When you start a project, it may be difficult at first, but that’s normal. It’s over time and practice that things become easier and more natural, but it takes a lot of work to get there.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
France is largely overlooked when it comes to startups and technology. As a company that began in Paris, we know first-hand how hard it is to compete in the increasingly competitive technology space. Almost nobody agrees that a French company can become a global leader, but at PeopleDoc we’re already proving that it is possible.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Every Christmas I buy a customized gift for each employee. If I cannot buy a present for one of my employees it means that I do not know him or her and need to spend more time with that person. This goes back to building personal relationships. Not only do these relationships build work culture, they allow us to learn from one another on a personal and professional level, and improves employee retention. Sometimes it’s the small things that really make for a strong team.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Always put employees first in any situation, before anything else including investors, customers, etc. That’s why our customers are happy: because our employees are happy. What clients love most about our products are the ways they promote productivity and employee happiness. We live and breathe our product and make sure that our mission for our product matches our internal culture as well, which is the kind of alignment I think every company should go for.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Expanding PeopleDoc from France into the United States was one of my biggest fears as a CEO. When we opened our U.S. office, we really didn’t fully understand the cultural differences between Europe and America, and that was definitely a challenge that we had to overcome in order to expand successfully. We overcame the hurdle by hiring a very experienced U.S. team, and made sure to trust, listen and learn from them as we continued to integrate into American culture. We’re proud to say that we now have a big New York office, and we are continuing to grow within the U.S. constantly.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I am constantly adding to a list of ideas that I keep in my phone. Who knows, I may decide to follow through with one of them one day! That being said, I can’t share too much but something I would love to see come to fruition would be Uber for kids. Imagine an Uber school bus or birthday party chauffeur. I can imagine how much time this would save for us busy parents.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Last week I went to an opera with my kids. I truly didn’t know if they would enjoy it, but to my surprise they loved it. I’m glad I was able to expose them to something of cultural value, I’d love to take them again or explore other performances and see what else excites them.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
When I’m trying to be productive I’ve found that LinkedIn is one of the best web services out there. . If you use LinkedIn well you can understand almost any company, and form valuable business relationships that can benefit you in the future.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz – There are many great reads about entrepreneurship. Starting your own business is an eye opening experience. While it can be extremely rewarding at times, there are definitely more hardships than celebrations along the way. This book speaks to the difficulties all entrepreneurs face, instead of sugar coating what is a truly capricious journey.
What is your favorite quote?
I love the sayings, “Luck favors the bold” and “you can create your own luck.” Both are very entrepreneurial quotes, and as the CEO of a technology startup, I think it has taken a certain level of boldness to reach the success that we have today. No one in the tech world is lucky; chances are that they’ve worked hard to create a product that is innovative and disruptive, which can lead them to long-term success.
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