Events Apr 03, 2018

Bertrand Diard, CEO & Co-founder of Influans, previously co-founded and managed Talend, a leading open-source editor and the third French company to be listed on the Nasdaq.  A firm believer in the strong correlation between high-level sport and entrepreneurship, Bertrand invited Aurélien Pétreau, professional kite-surfer, to share his insight.

Bertrand Diard has always been an entrepreneur. His adventures began with the launch of a web company in 2000, which went bankrupt when the internet bubble exploded. In 2005, he founded Talend, today a global leader in Big Data integration, which made its brilliant debut as a public company on the Nasdaq in July 2016. Since then, Bertrand has created Influans, a company which aims to revolutionize customer marketing. “We realized that some industries were technologically under-equipped, and operational marketing was one of them, said Bertand Diard. We wanted to address this market because we believe that there are great leverage effects from both user and business perspectives. We are convinced that even though mass marketing is still taught in business schools, it no longer makes sense. All the information needed to be smarter and more efficient is readily available, including personal data and processing capacity. This is what motivated us to launch Influans, a new adventure in operational marketing with an ultra-customization of the offer: the right product and the right message to the right person. This is our objective. What motivates us as entrepreneurs is the ability to be transformative, to surpass ourselves and to rise to a challenge: this is our DNA. There is a strong parallel with kite- surfing, which is also about continuous questioning and learning curves.”

Aurélien Pétreau is both a top athlete and an entrepreneur: he practiced waterskiing from the age of 12, surfed at 14 years-old and started to learn kite-surfing at 18, a time when the sport was relatively new in France. “For the past 18 months, I have competed in worldwide championships in the Big Air category, which consists of performing figures at a height of 25 meters, explained Aurélien Pétreau.  I also created a party organization business with my brother at the age of 14, then we opened a restaurant at the age of 20 and from 26 years old we created real estate companies. Today, I live on my real estate revenues and compete on the worldwide kite-surf scene.” Aurélien regularly participates in the Red Bull King of the Air event, the world’s most prestigious big-air kiteboarding contest, held annually every January in Cape Town. It’s all about going as high as possible and performing controlled and technical moves.  “I believe that extreme sport and entrepreneurship are very similar: they are both forms of self-fulfillment where you set yourself goals and a level to reach. To start from scratch and to progress is why I am sponsored by Influens because our common goal is to bring these two worlds together.

Bertrand Diard:  Innovation is key to developing a business that aims to disrupt the market, but is this the same in sport? Does innovation help you to improve?

Aurélien Pétreau: Innovation is strategic. It is quite important for me as I am a new-comer competing with experienced riders, with predefined moves. So, either you copy them, or you decide to innovate to stand out from the competition. You need to adopt a global approach: what am I capable of, what do the competition judges expect from me, and based on the time spent, the risk taken and the expected score, then I choose the figure and novelty level.

Bertrand Diard: How do you manage risk and decide whether or not you should stop innovating?

Aurélien Pétreau: Kite-surfing is an extreme sport, with high risks involved. If you fail as an entrepreneur, you close your company. With kite-surfing, if you go beyond the red line and take too many risks, you can get hurt – or even worse. And long-term consequences can be severe, especially when you are 25 meters up in the air. While I try to innovate against the other riders, what about you Bertrand, what do you do to stand out from your competitors?

Bertrand Diard: When you want to disrupt a market, you attack existing players at all levels. Besides an innovative technology, you need to have creative and different people and an original company organization. You also need to work 10 times harder to be the best and to always keep ahead of the crowd, so that you can reach critical size. Timing is also key: you shouldn’t be too far ahead of the market or too late, otherwise the market pushes you out. Is timing important too for you, Aurélien?

Aurélien Pétreau: For my first Red Bull competition last year, I performed new moves that the judges were unfamiliar with, so they couldn’t measure the technical aspects and commitment required by these figures. I was the only one who did these moves and it marginalized me as the judges didn’t even have the scoring grid to assess me. The other riders performed well-established moves. So, I believe that smart innovation calls for perfect timing but also performing moves familiar to the jury, adding a slight differentiation that makes the move more technical and extreme.

Bertrand Diard: It is always important to position oneself based on market and timing. In the past, I found myself in situations where I was decorrelated from our ability to innovate and the ability of the market to transition. Success is measured only when there are uses and adoption. It is pointless to have the best technology if it is used by just a few people. Users are key. Today, we are trying to support the marketing world. In theory, everybody agrees that ultra-personalization is the future, but mass marketing continues to be taught in all business schools. One of our challenges is to support this transition towards personalized marketing. This involves taking risks. We tend to believe that the higher the risk, the stronger the reward. But isn’t reality more about sequencing the risks, stage by stage? To successfully support this transition, I always ask myself what steps should we take combined with what level of risk. Aurélien, how do you manage your risk level?

Aurélien Pétreau: Behind the risk in kite-surfing, there is this fear of falling and hurting yourself. Before practicing, I always look at my personal condition to see if it is a good time to push myself further. You also need to learn how to fall, because if your kite comes off when you are 15 meters high, you need to learn to protect yourself. You have to assess what you can gain by taking this specific level of risk. Some risks are worth taking, others are not as they are less rewarding in a competition environment. When you learn a new move, you start at 5 meters and gradually, you progress to more extreme conditions. In kite-surfing, the more unleashed the elements are - the wind, the waves - the more impressive your moves are and the more tempted you are to go back to your comfort zone. Can I go further or should I stay in my comfort zone?

Bertrand Diard: From my experience, a CEO spends his days tackling a series of issues rather than being involved in design or creation. Whereas you, Aurélien, learn from your falls, we progress through our mistakes. Unlike the US where it is a lot more common, we don’t have this culture in Europe. At Talend, we are in constant disagreement about this aspect. It is almost impossible to have a seamless process from end to end. What is important is not to look at the process as a whole but to analyze it step by step, to identify where we were good and not good. We should treat our errors iteratively, without considering them as mistakes, but as a way to build the story. You have to learn to think about iterations as part of the process. I find it very interesting that Aurélien manages error by learning to fall: we can apply this to a business environment. I believe that perseverance and resilience are key points when you run a business. Don’t you agree, Aurélien?

Aurélien Pétreau: We encounter highs and lows just like in real life. When things get difficult, I try to look ahead and stay focused on my objectives. I always try to improve on the day before.

Bertrand Diard: We have always been driven by passion. Unlike in a large group where the organization actually becomes stronger than the men and women within it, you can’t lie to yourself in a startup.  To tackle issues, you need to be driven by passion. It is very important to instill your values and your passion in your team and those around you. As an entrepreneur, you can’t succeed on your own, especially as this is a long-term process. What about you, Aurélien, can you succeed alone, or do you need to be supported by others?

Aurélien Pétreau: In the kite-surfing world, you can’t even take off by yourself because you need help to raise your kite in the air. Besides, you need to ride with your competitors and to learn from their practices to get ready for the big contests. Your sponsors and your family are by your side too to help you through the ups and downs. For the Big Air contest, you train for one year and perform for just 7 minutes!

Bertrand Diard: Same for us. This is a long process and you cannot succeed alone. At each step, you need to be able to rely on others. I believe that it is important to create true relationships with people. For example, when you meet a candidate, you shouldn’t over-sell your company but stick to the truth if you want to get them on board. Looking back, I don’t believe that I would have done things any differently. Our success is built on a succession of mistakes. We managed to get past each step and this is what built our success. If you don’t make enough mistakes, it’s because that you are not putting yourself at risk and are not challenging yourself enough.

 

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Q & A

 

Q / How do you implement this iteration process and the way you work within your teams?

Bertrand Diard: As a manager, you need to find the right balance between reward and questioning. I try to integrate error as a success process. People who don’t make mistakes are not in a learning curve. I don’t like the term “error” and prefer to talk about “steps”. The success process is associated with this idea of getting past the next steps. To be honest, I believed that my job was to deal with a number of issues, but in reality, it’s also about looking back at what we did well. It is important to look at the positive side of what you have done correctly and to look back at the road traveled. As an entrepreneur, you are always on the go and I consider myself very lucky to be part of this exciting and demanding environment.

Q / Can you take us through your initial experience on the web?

Bertrand Diard: Internet shook things up: we went from a world where large families developed big industrial companies to a euphoric environment where anything and everything was possible. This internet bubble instilled the idea that to be transformative, you had to accept that many would fail. This is what attracted me. I learnt that you didn’t have to come from a powerful family to succeed and that technology is a fantastic tool that could disrupt the world. I also realized that you needed to have a strong practical idea and a true vision.

Q / How do you learn the perfect moves?

Aurélien Pétreau: Repetition is key for mental and physical preparation. To perfect a technical move, you need to practice it 1,000 times, learning a little with each fall and each micro-error until it becomes automatic and perfect.

Bertrand Diard: Resilience is also key in business. Trying to iterate on your mistakes and successes can be considered as training. The most successful entrepreneurs are those who have the mental capacity to deal with issues one after another, while at the same time taking the decisions that lead them to the perfect action. If you stop before the next step you might never succeed, and it is this mental resilience which will lead you to success.  Taking Talend to the Nasdaq called for strong moral and physical resilience. Very few have succeeded in this. The only physical risk with a company is that if you go beyond your physical limits, you risk burnout.

Q / How can you make sure that you have found the right person, when recruiting?

Bertrand Diard: By sharing your dreams and vision and avoiding false pretenses. Don’t embellish the situation as reality will always catch up with you. This is a complex equation:  there are no rules, humans evolve with time and situations but sharing the same values and fundamentals is a good start.

 

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