Don’t be afraid to make money. If your solution brings value to someone, don’t sell it cheap.
A mix of IT geek and businessman, Stéphane was inspired by his own digital agency’s monthly reporting pains to create DashThis, a successful automated reporting tool.
Stéphane has a computer science degree and a MBA in e-business. Some would say that he was literally born with a computer in his hand, his father brought a computer home in 1982 when he was only 5 years old. Then his brother bought home Internet from the University in 1993. That’s all Stéphane needed to start experimenting with what will be the center of his career for the next 25 years.
Stéphane sold two popular websites in 2000 during the dot-com boom, right when all the business world was crazy about Internet, and just before it started collapsing. He then built several other Internet companies, the latest being none other than DashThis, launched in 2011.
You can usually find him either cheering for his kids on the speed-skating sidelines, playing his drums in his basement bunker, or on the mountain biking trails.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I was the owner of a digital agency from 2007 to 2011. As the head of analytics, I was also the one responsible of client reporting. Each month, we created and sent several reports to clients about their online marketing performance. In those days, it was all manual work, copy pasting data in Excel and editing Word files. It was a recurring monthly pain!
Since there were no tools available to help me with my reports, I decided to solve my own problem. I sold my agency and started DashThis!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I used to be a jack of all trades, doing everything when I started DashThis, but now I’m focused on the strategic side of the business. For that, I need to read and think a lot. Office time is good for meetings and get through a to-do list, but most of the thinking time is done elsewhere, while biking, walking the dog, cooking, etc.
My daily routine is very important to always be productive. I have a great discipline to stay focus and avoid distractions like Facebook!
Fortunately, I have an awesome team I trust that allows me to concentrate on what I’m good at.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Actually, the first step of any idea is to test it as an hypothesis. So I try to build a first prototype, even on paper, of the solution and test it in the real world to get valuable feedback from actual prospects. I test, learn, adapt, rinse and repeat, until the product seems commercially viable, meaning someone is willing to pay for that. Then, we launch!
What’s one trend that excites you?
Artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is not like in science fiction, this is not magic either, it’s real and it can be used in real world applications today. AI/ML opens a ton of opportunities to entrepreneurs comparable to what Internet brought in 1996-2012.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
The way I focus on the goal I’m trying to achieve. Fighting distractions is a constant battle so I developed some kind of discipline to prevent me from spreading my energy everywhere or putting my time on low value tasks. Many entrepreneurs waste a lot of time on irrelevant tasks / activities.
For example; networking. That’s great, but so what? Is this helping you succeed or is it simply nurturing your ego of a wannabe entrepreneur?
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be afraid to make money. If your solution brings value to someone, don’t sell it cheap. I recall in the beginning how shy I was to ask for money, being afraid they would say no and that I would lose all the opportunity. Now I’m more confident in the value I can bring to a client and don’t hesitate to ask a good compensation for it.
I prefer one good happy client, who get the value that I bring and who pays me top dollars, than 10 clients who are constantly trying to negotiate.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
It’s possible to succeed doing remote work from anywhere on the planet. I’m fascinated by companies that achieve great success with a distributed team all over the planet. But for many people, this way of doing things is hard to understand, even to imagine. Most people think that business and work must be done in an office.
I like to say that an office is great for collaboration and ideas, but it’s a real mess when it’s time to think or to be focused and productive.
Also given the rarity of great talent in several regions these days it’s a bad business decision to overlook talent simply because it’s based in a different location.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Focus. Do one thing at the time and make it work. Drop everything else.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
SEO. First thing I did after building a proof of concept was to create content to be findable by search engines. That allowed a steady stream of traffic of qualified prospects to come in. I could use that traffic to test the product and the message. Actually, I was surprised to see how many people were searching for my solution!
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Taking too much time to develop a product. We ended up with a more complete product, but with no more money to start selling it.
Now the sales are a priority. Once we have a minimally viable product we try to sell it as much as we can. Don’t delay sales. It’s better to sell an incomplete product than to wait until it’s too late.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I got plenty so it’s not a problem! I think there are good opportunities in the custom success field. I wish there was a simple tool helping us optimize customer retention. Not a helpdesk, but more a customer health tool that warns us before a client churn.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Books. I increased the number of books I read in the last couple of months. Business related or not. This gives me a different way of thinking, it gives me a lot of ideas. I cut my Netflix time to read even more!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
One tool that I find very valuable is CloudApp, a screenshot tool. Screenshot tools have been around for a long time, but CloudApp really nailed the user experience. It’s easy and well integrated in the way I work. If they shut down I’ll be really disappointed.
Since a lot of my communication are written (emails, slack, IM, etc) I use it a lot to elaborate my thinking. One image is worth a thousand words right?
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Art of Start. It was definitely a game changer for me. I still use a lot of the learnings in this book to this day.
What is your favorite quote?
They did not know it was impossible so they did it – Mark Twain.
Too many people don’t try something because they think it cannot be done. Then someone does it because he didn’t wonder if it was possible or not. He just did it.
- Focus. Don’t let irrelevant things or pseudo opportunities distract your from the goal your are trying to achieve.
- Trust. Being around talented people you can trust is paramount in any success.
- Sell. A company without sales is a hobby. Sales are a company’s breathing air. Sell your solution as soon as possible and as intensely as possible.
- Try. Don’t assume you know the truth. Develop an hypothesis, test it and learn from it.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.