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Good communication is one of the most important aspects of any organization. But the communication process gets exponentially harder the more your company grows. From various apps and tools to hard-to-follow email chains, employees are constantly communicating in different ways. It’s a process that can be frustrating, and that’s why Laurent Perrin (LinkedIn) co-founded Front. Front is an application that simplifies the communication process and puts everything you need all in one place.
On this episode of IT Visionaries, Laurent talks about how he helped build Front with his co-founder, the growing pains they went through, the importance of integration and partnership and so much more.
Best advice: “Don’t overcomplicate things. One trend I notice is that people want to solve an intellectually satisfying problem and in doing so they overcomplicate it. Since they severely over-estimated the problem, they end up not being able to solve it.”
Meeting his co-founder — (3:30)
Laurent and his co-founder, Mathilde Collin, were both working in the start-up scene in Paris, but were not satisfied with the scope of work being done. They also bonded over what they saw as a common problem: communication in business.
“We were passionate about that problem of communication. We had both worked for small companies where you had this communication problem where after growing to about 10 coworkers everything started to break down. And then you had to bring in tools to collaborate that were supposed to make things simpler but they didn’t really. So we organically started working on this problem.”
Together, Lauren and Mathilde founded Front in 2013 in Paris with the goal of creating something that truly would solve the communication problems so many organizations faced. They built out their early software, which centralized the location for an entire team’s communication tools, and started presenting it to customers. Eventually, they grew to more than 100 users, most of whom were in the Bay Area in New York. The company had grown organically and found it’s way into the heart of Silicon Valley, where the communication problem could make or break a company. Realizing the opportunity to make an impact was greater in the Bay Area than staying strictly in France, Laurent and Mathilde decided to make the move.
“We are building a SaaS business and so what is really important is to have integrations and recognition from other software because your users will use different tools and they want these tools to work together. And so being in the Bay Area where most of the SaaS industry is was a way to build these partnerships and build the recognition we needed.”
The communication problem is serious — (8:30)
Communication is vital, but when you can’t communicate effectively, your job can become endlessly frustrating. Rather than doing your job, you’re spending a high percentage of your time just trying to interact with various teams, clients or coworkers in all different ways. Laurent says that some of the clients Front worked with early on said that the communication issue was so stark that it actually led employees to quit because they were so frustrated.
“We live in an era where we have so much privilege and everyone is a knowledge worker who gets to think about very complex and very challenging programs. Yet the communication tools that you use make you so miserable that eventually a large part of these workers actually quit their job to try doing something else. So for some of these companies, they were willing to bet on us because it had become a question of survival for them.”
Measuring success — (9:55)
Ultimately, Laurent says that Front is all about saving time, because time is money in business. So at Front, measuring success boils down to measuring how much time the app is saving its users. Laurent reports that every year the number of professional emails people are getting is increasing, which means that they have to spend more time managing and responding to those messages.
When users implement the Front app into their workflow, though, Laurent and his team have measured that Front saves about six hours a week because they are not spending time dealing with various communication tools.
“Year after year each worker receives more and more emails. Which means that you spend a growing part of your time just managing this communication flow and not thinking or working on what you should be working on. So the idea of Front is to make all of that more efficient.”
“Some of our customers that have implemented customized workflows, we are able to save them about six hours a week, which means that you essentially get one extra day a week.”
“The way you work in your inbox is like cleaning the dishes. You do it and the next day the dishes are dirty again and you need to do it again. But with Front, since you work in a unified environment where you can see what other people are doing in real time, it’s like you clean the dishes, but you also do it for everyone in your building at the same time. And that’s where there is this compounding effect that that delivers huge qualitative gains.”
Integrations and APIs — (18:00)
Front has integrations with a number of APIs so that people could save time switching between tools and apps. Front created viewing books which worked as a natural tool to see all your tools and switch between them easily from one place. So whether you’re using Slack or Twilio or Salesforce or any other application, Front integrates with all of those tools and puts each of those conversations into one central viewing book that is easy to manage and navigate through.
“You don’t just build an integration, you actually build a partnership. Integrations and partnerships are becoming synonyms in a way.”
The infrastructure behind Front — (22:00)
Front works differently than traditional email. One of the hardest problems is that emails are siloed. One of the early features Laurent and his team built was comments, which is completely internal but it allows everyone on a team to see an email, comment on it and work collaboratively to come up with a response. Doing that, though, meant that Front had to redesign how to store email and messages in general so that they could be shared among the many without needing to forward messages or create new threads.
One of the biggest insights that Front came across was when they learned that email was being used in completely different ways across companies and industries. So creating an infrastructure and integrations that would work for all sorts of unique user expectations and experiences was a challenge.
“Every time we onboard new customers we brace ourselves for the new things and ideas that come with them.”