In this podcast episode, I spoke to Emeric Ernoult, a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in social media and SaaS. He’s the CEO and co-founder of AgoraPulse, a Paris-based social media management software tool that launched in 2011. AgoraPulse is currently being used by more than 17,000 users across 180 countries.
Emeric started his career as a business lawyer 25 years ago but it all changed once he got the entrepreneurial itch..
What you’ll hear
- [1:12] About Emeric and his background
- [4:50] How he Came up with the idea for AgoraPulse
- [9:36] How Emeric overcomes challenges
- [11:28] What tips Emeric has for standing out in a busy marketplace
- [15:44] If Emeric feels he’s met his own expectations
- [18:05] Why Emeric decided to seek venture capital funding
- [23:21] Where Emeric sees social media going in 2021
- [29:15] The most interesting place Emeric has visited
About Emeric and his Background
Emeric started his career as a business lawyer 25 years ago. He did that for about five years, and then at the end of 1999 he got ‘the entrepreneurial itch.’ This was the time when everyone was going crazy over the possibilities with the internet; a lot of people were building companies and becoming rich.
Along with his friend Ben, Emeric decided to try to have some success with the internet too. Ben was working for a web agency and wanted to build something of his own, so the pair worked on a SaaS product before the term was being used.
The software was mostly unsuccessful, so they pivoted to selling it white labelled to businesses wanting to create their own communities. They then moved into an agency model where they were providing a product to help brands build and manage their communities.
Emeric says the journey has been long and painful, like that of most entrepreneurs, but he has eventually seen success. In 2008, the company’s annual revenue was €150,000, and today the monthly revenue is €1.3m.
How he Came up with the Idea for AgoraPulse
Emeric says, “I wish I could tell you that I woke up with the idea one morning, told everybody about it and they said I was a genius, but that’s not what happened!” Instead, he and Ben were still trying to sell their first software product, but they struggled to get clients.
Emeric was approached by someone at a conference he was speaking at to ask if they could upload competition content to Facebook on his behalf. Despite having no experience with the platform, he accepted the work and then the team worked out how to use the API.
The tool was built in three weeks and fortunately worked really well. The client was the FIA, who are behind Formula One, and they were so happy they recommended them. Although this led to business success, the team didn’t enjoy the agency side of the work. There was also a lot of competition in the marketplace, which drove prices down.
In 2011, the company Wildfire launched, which were offering Facebook competitions as a software rather than a service, which inspired Emeric and Ben to move to software as well. They took everything they were doing for clients around contests and embedded them into a platform that became AgoraPulse.
Emeric says that they seized an opportunity to work with a big client who would pay them well, but they realised they didn’t enjoy what they were doing. Once they saw someone else industrialise the process, they saw that they’d be happier like that, and stopped offering sweepstakes and competitions support.
The competitions model was also unsustainable, as they could only retain clients for a couple of months at a time. So, they pivoted to a full-blown social media management model, although it wasn’t a quick process – they had to raise money to develop the product.
How Emeric Overcomes Challenges
Emeric says he had many downs, because the early days are mostly firefighting and struggles.
“You have to be strong and resistant to stress and anxiety and not worry about how you’ll pay rent. You’ve got to be so willing to be successful that there’s no plan B.”
The drive for success, winning and getting to where you want to have to be really strong, and it’s not something Emeric says you can build from nowhere; it has to be a part of you.
What Tips Emeric has for Standing out in a Busy Marketplace
Emeric says you can start a business in a really busy place, or in a space where there are no competitors, but if there are no competitors that might mean there’s no market.
It’s not always a bad thing to be in a crowded marketplace, because you know that there are people who will buy from you. It will make things more difficult and create friction, and it will take time to build things. The only way to be an overnight success is to be in a nascent market that wasn’t around last year but will boom next year.
For that to happen, you have to be a visionary and be able to see opportunities that others don’t but you also have to be lucky. In great timing, there’s a very important part of luck, and Emeric says he doesn’t like to rely on luck to get him where he wants to be.
Instead, he relies on his own hard work and to be part of a competitive marketplace where there are customers and he can slowly but surely build the best team and the best product and serve the clients better. It might take 15 years, but if you can keep the motivation and drive high, you’ll have more success than by hoping to be the next Uber or Airbnb.
Emeric doesn’t think he could have worked on Google or Amazon, because what it took for those founders at the beginning was a lot. He needs security and the knowledge that there is money to be made from people who have a real need for what he has to offer.
Compared to others in the marketplace, AgoraPulse is relatively small, but Emeric says that he’s happy with that, especially when he thinks back to what he wanted to achieve 12 years ago when he started in software. He wants to keep growing and build something meaningful, but he doesn’t feel like a failure because of where he is now.
If Emeric Feels he’s Met his own Expectations
You never reach your expectations, Emeric says, because they change and grow as you do. In the early days, his team told him they didn’t celebrate small wins enough, so he told them they would when they hit €100k a month. When they got there, they didn’t, so he shifted the goal to €500k, and then shifted it again to €1m.
Whatever your goal is, it’s always the next one that you feel that you should mark. Emeric says he’s not great at celebrating because he’s never fully satisfied. That’s a curse, because you’re never entirely happy, but it’s also a blessing because it pushes you further all the time, which is what all entrepreneurs do.
Why Emeric Decided to Seek Venture Capital Funding
AgoraPulse raised around €16.5m (approx. US$18.5m) of VC. Emeric explains that the company used it to buy out angel investors in the business, including one who’d been involved for 20 years.
At the time, there was a lot of money around and interest in SaaS companies was high. The team were told to sell their company because it was the ‘right time’, but Emeric wasn’t keen, because he didn’t feel like he’d finished his learning journey. His two mentors both advised him not to sell, but not taking money from the table would be stupid.
So, they did a fundraising drive where the money brought in bought existing shares, rather than investing it into the business. Emeric explains that the business also had cash in the bank and was highly profitable, so they didn’t really need investment.
Out of the money they raised, they allocated 2.5m directly into the company and used it to increase their cash position by 1.5m. That’s only to be used for something that they think is a sure-fire success – it’s not spent on ads or anything like that.
Having bootstrapped the business, the team know how hard it is to get money in, and spending for growth is approached differently to how businesses who took a lot of investment do it. Their two biggest competitors in the industry, for instance, had investment money and one is now a listed company, with much bigger teams. And they’re still not profitable.
AgoraPulse are not in that mindset or way of doing business, because they hadn’t started off by raising money. By the time the opportunity presented itself, accepting investment didn’t make sense.
Emeric suggests: “Don’t chase the company that’s already listed; don’t use their playbook. Create your own.”
Where Emeric Sees Social Media Going in 2021
Emeric says that social media in general is not going anywhere. If one platform declines, another will take its place. The need for people to be connected, especially in the post-Covid world, is even greater than ever. Human beings need connection, and that’s what social media does.
Whether or not they’re doing it the right way is another conversation, and Emeric is cautious about where he personally spends his time, but as a tool for people to keep in touch, social won’t go away. “We need it more than ever, so in 2021, we’ll still rely on one platform or another”.
But change is happening all the time, as new types of usage come in. Platforms and tools within them come and go, and 2021 is no different. Now we have Tik Tok and two years ago we had Snapchat. Some of these new platforms will stay, but they rely on people engaging with them in a sustainable way. The big players aren’t going away, and if they do it’ll be a slow fade.
The Most Interesting Place Emeric has Visited
Emeric has visited a lot of places as a tourist, and can’t pick one over any other. However, he’s a keen kitesurfer, so he says that these days he tends to judge a place on how amazing the kitesurfing opportunities are.
He says the place he really loved was Mauritius, which has amazing kitesurfing opportunities. He says that his oldest son came with him to kitesurf, and the island had plenty to offer his wife and younger child.
About this Episode
In this podcast episode, I spoke to Emeric Ernoult, a serial entrepreneur with over 20 years’ experience in social media and SaaS. He’s the CEO and co-founder of AgoraPulse, a Paris-based social media management software tool which launched in 2011. AgoraPulse is currently being used by more than 17,000 users across 180 countries.