#11 Founder & CEO @Lempire, Guillaume Moubeche
How to build a multi-million $ bootstrapped startup
[00:00:00] Alfie: Hello everybody, and welcome to another week of the Search for growth. On this week's episode, we are welcomed by Guillaume Moubeche, also known as G. G is the co-founder and CEO of Lempire, a suite of SaaS products that help his people and businesses grow. Lempire was founded in 2018 with just $1,000. They had their first customer within four months, and within two years, they were already at 1 million in revenue.
After just three and a half years of business, they were at 10 million of revenue. And at 30 years old, Guillaume turned down an offer of 30 million of investment. So, this story is a little bit crazy and we're going to go into today, Le Empire's mission is to help people and businesses grow. And boy, have they done a good job in that objective so far.
G’s level of transparency is unrivaled which makes this interview way easier to research. Today we're going to learn more about the man behind the brand and explore the ups and downs of this incredible entrepreneurial journey. So, G, how is that intro and is there anything you would change or add?
[00:00:58] Guillame: No, I think it's perfect. Like, as I was saying, we can tell that you've done a lot of research, so super happy to be here.
[00:01:05] Alfie: Yeah. Well, thank you for putting out so much content into the world. I mean, you've got a YouTube channel, your LinkedIn's on fire. There's articles which are just incredibly transparent.
So it's made my life a lot easier. And I think you know, all the listeners have a ton of content to go through. Normally when we do these podcasts and interview interesting people a lot of what makes you interested today has actually started a lot earlier in, in your life. Can you take me back to the beginning?
What were some of the key moments in your life that have led you to become the man today?
[00:01:33] Guillame: It's a good question. I grew up in Paris. My parents grew up in in the countryside. My mom grew up on a farm, like they didn't really have a lot of money nor did like a lot of studies.
So when they came to Paris, their number one goal for me and my brother was that we get like a good education. So I think for them it was really important that I would go to engineering school or study science. Cause it was basically like the pass for success and stability, financial stability and all these things deep down.
I always knew that I wanted to do business, but business school were really, really expensive. So I first started studying engineering, got my master's, and after that it was much easier to join a business school just for a year and get another master where I started to actually think about entrepreneurship, how to launch a company and all this thing.
So for me it was kind of the moment where I entered the business school, I knew that it was super expensive, and I had to make the most out of it. So after working, for say five to six years, all the the jobs you can get, like babysitter, like seller, teacher, yeah, I did pretty much like everything.
I was like, okay, I need to that to turn that investment into something useful. So I launched my company the first one I launched, which was massive failure.
[00:02:59] Alfie: Do you remember the first $5 that, or in your case, may be euros that you ever earned in your life?
How did you, how did you earn that first five Euros?
[00:03:10] Guillame: I was a kid, that's going to sound really bad, but when I was a kid, I would go in the countryside where it's my grandparents and I would go to a construction work type of houses and things like that. So I was maybe seven or eight and I would just lift bricks and bring them from the truck near the house.
And I, at the end of the week, I would get 10 cents. So I realized like a week of work, I would get paid 10 cents. Later on I would realize that my granddad was actually like screaming over and that my sense of business was not that good at the time.
Child labor is real.
[00:03:51] Alfie: Oh, going back to Frank's, that's, you know, a blast from the past. I think you mentioned in one of your articles that life tells you that you shouldn't do something and so you did.
And one of those that you mentioned was starting a business with your dad. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:04:12] Guillame: Yeah, so essentially there's a lot of controversy around starting a business with your family, et cetera, et cetera. But since I didn't really have a lot of money and my dad was good at doing like screen printing, that's part of his job, I was like, okay, maybe we can launch a t-shirt company. Cause I was like, everyone wears t-shirts, you know, so it's like, we're going to be millionaires. There's a huge market. And, and we started thinking about it, but very quickly I realized how hard it is when you don't have money, nor knowledge, nor, you know, the rights, I think ideas to kind of like get started and launching your business.
So I did pretty much all the mistakes you can do. I spent three months working on the business plan, on building a website, on kind of like having my dad work day and nights to kind of like prepare inventory because I was telling him with my strategy, the day we launch, we're going to sell thousands of t-shirts.
But the day we launched, we actually sold six T-shirts. So at the time I was like, how fuck, because my entire strategy was like, we make this massive launch. We have, let's say between 500 and a thousand order people realize the t-shirts are really high quality. And from there we can start building more like momentum and word of mouth.
But in the end, it was really, really hard. When this did not happen, I was like, shit, what should I do? You know? Like no one wants to buy it. The only people who ordered the T-shirt were actually a couple of friends, meaning not even all my friends ordered. You know, like only two actually ordered, so I was like, shit, you know, this is very like far from what I expected.
And step by step I was like, okay, this is not working well. And I started blaming my dad for some of the stuff. He started blaming me and very quickly we kind of split apart, and it was very tough cause obviously I have a lot of love for my dad. I respect him like tremendously. He sacrificed a lot.
And I realized later on that all the things that I would be mad at him for, I was actually mad at myself for not being capable, of stepping up. And it was maybe frustration talking, but you know, for maybe a year and a half we didn't really talk that much.
It was quite tough for me. It was not the best first experience, but very quickly, the reason why I kind of switched businesses is because another person in school asked me - Yeah, I see your grinding. I'm launching this B2B lead generation agency. I didn't know what was b2b.
I didn't know what lead gen was. I knew more or less what an agency was. And he asked me like, okay, like, do you want to join? And it taught me a lot. And step by step, I started learning about self-prospecting and later on the first project of Lempire.
[00:06:58] Alfie: If anyone was to look at all the things that you do today, you would think - this guy is a natural born entrepreneur. Do you feel that's true?
[00:07:07] Guillame: No. As I said, when I was a kid, I had no sense of money or anything. I think the first business was a total failure, where, to be honest, if I had just spent maybe a little more time like checking like how to launch a startup and doing all these things, I wouldn't have done all these mistakes.
And yeah, I feel like you know, people who have never failed, have never tried. So I really think that it went through failing and failures that I actually like started to learn things.
[00:07:37] Alfie: So the experience with your father you know, today, I think trying to find the co-founder is one of the hardest things.
And this is actually some of the questions I'll ask you a little bit later on, but with your family, it's a bit difficult because you can't really choose your co-founder if you're going to go with your family, you're not choosing them based off of, you know, complimentary competencies. Maybe you have shared values because you're in the same family, but what was the things you learned about a co-founder in that experience?
[00:08:08] Guillame: I think it was very intense on an emotional side of things. I think it's very difficult, as you said, like your family have potentially the same values, but at the same time, there is also this relationship, especially when you work with your parents, where they're your parents and you're the kids.
So by definition they are right and you are wrong, no matter. So it's very humbling, I would say. And at least I think what it taught me is how important communication is, no matter who your co-founder is in the end, I think talking about your feelings, talking about the thing that you find painful, just sharing with other and being open about it, I think helps a lot.
And that's what I took after maybe a year and a half of not really talking with my father because, you know, everyone was kind of holding everything for themselves
[00:09:02] Alfie: In some of the things that you do today. They're very bold and some people might say that you break the rules in many ways.
Have you always broken the rules?
[00:09:12] Guillame: I think, yeah. I think this was part of my DNA, to be honest. The reality is I've never really understood rules. I think the day you realize that rules and laws and all these type of things have been made by human beings like yourself is transformative.
Everyone can be wrong. You know what I mean? Of course, I love laws. I'm not like anarchist or whatever. I think rules are necessary, but I just feel that sometimes, and we've all experienced it, where rules are unfair or even laws are unfair. Let's just go back like 30 years ago or 40 years ago, women were not allowed like to vote.
What the fuck? You know, today it sounds just fucking insane just to think about it. But back in the days, everyone was fine with it. So for me, I think whenever you see how rules and how laws are evolving, you can have your own set of rules. Have your own set of values, do good in the world and just match your behavior based on this.
I think it's much more powerful than just being stupid and obeying everything that you've been told.
[00:10:22] Alfie: One of the most public rule breaking that I think I've seen you commit is when you went to raise funds in 2021. So 2021, you raised 30 million from investors with the knowledge in advance that you were going to turn down this investment effectively as a publicity stunt.
Talk to me, what was going through your head?
[00:10:48] Guillame: So all started actually during a podcast with Nathan Latka and at some point he was asking me, you know, you're highly profitable, fast growth SaaS company. What would be the reason for you to raise funds? And I was like, the only reason to be honest would be to finally get an article in TechCrunch and then the guy said, you know what?
You should just ask an investor to send you a term sheet and then you say, no, you send it to TechCrunch, and you'll get your article. So I started laughing. We both started laughing, and then a couple weeks later I was like, well, actually no one knows how to raise funds. No one has done it publicly, ever.
So we're going to announce publicly that we want to raise 20 million. We're going to go like through this old thing where I'm pitching in front, like of a VC. You can see our metrics. You can see everything, like fully transparent. You can see the process, the entire process, and from there, if I receive like a term sheet, I'm just going to say no to it.
So we received the term sheets. We actually said no to the first term sheet, but after that, like in parallel, I was receiving hundreds of messages from investors. I was not expecting, you know, thing to get like so big. And in the end I received another offer, which was like 30 million, where it was 50 million in cash out, which I didn't know what it was at the time.
And 50 million in cash in meaning like a cash for the company, traditional, like fundraising. And because we had decided that we were saying no, either way, we just said no publicly. And then we used it as a leverage to get PR. And because for people listening to a bootstrap company meaning like companies that don't raise money.
They never get really press articles ever. And the goal of this entire kind of like PR stunt was to show, you know what, you can be a hyper fast growing company that is not hiring thousands of people and still make shit tons of money, grow two digit months over month, gross rate, have an exponential curve, et cetera, et cetera.
And just show that there are different ways of doing things. Because in reality, a lot of like of my friends, you know, have kind of like tough background, et cetera, et cetera. Whenever they look at startups, they're like, okay, like, how am I supposed to raise funds? If that's the only path to success, knowing of the background that I've got.
I don't have the connection, I don't have the family, I don't have the right color of skin, like all these type of things. So the idea for me was just to show, okay, you know. You don't actually need to raise that money. We started the company with 1000 Euros, so you can do it as well. Software is amazing. I wanted to just inspire as many entrepreneurs as possible.
[00:13:28] Alfie: What were the positive impacts of doing this publicity stunt?
[00:13:32] Guillame: So positive impact for me, I think it was the change of mindset. I've received thousands of messages from entrepreneurs where, I've been going through the loopholes of all these investors in the last like nine months to a year while actually I should have just been super focused on my customers, helping them grow, helping like the product to develop, et cetera, et cetera, right?
As of now, you know, I'm going to be super focused on bootstrapped and down the line, you know, if my numbers are great, et cetera, et cetera, it would be much easier to raise if and only if I want to. Investors, I think most of them are genuine. They want to help companies, et cetera.
But the reality is in most cases, what they tell people is - you're not quite there yet, but reach out in a months because they want to see how the company's growing. But these entrepreneurs, what they're doing is like, okay, I need to work harder on my pitch. I need to work harder on these slides.
I need to work on the financial. But all of that, in my opinion, is a huge defocus from your customers and your business. And the reality of this kind of stunt was to just, okay, kind of like slap all the entrepreneurs who are doing this and say, you know what? If down the line your metrics are rock solid because you have a strong business, you can raise as much money as you want in two weeks, and it doesn't have to be fucking six to nine months, as a lot of people are waiting, the, the people who are waiting so, so long to, to raise money often just because they don't have the right financials and, and they focus on the wrong thing.
[00:15:07] Alfie: So did you start the business with the intention of always staying bootstrapped or did you start the business with a thousand euros, realize that you were actually becoming profitable fairly, fairly quickly? You know, customers in the first four months did a million in the first two years.
I mean, when I was at Spendesk we did naught to 1 million in 18 months and we were VC backed. This is just in the UK market specifically. So that’s grueling. But it did show me that, you know, with effectively two people, a handful of people doing outbounds and if you have a good product, it can, can be done.
We didn't really need a lot of money outside of just pure outbound at that point. So was that always intentional to, to bootstrap or did you just realize we don't need money.
[00:15:48] Guillame: No. I'm, I'm going to be fully transparent. In the first three months of the company, I wanted to raise money. Cause I, I really thought it was the only pass to success.
So even doing like this PR stunt, it was kind of like a message for baby G back in the day when he launched his company. Say like, you don't actually need it. Cause for me it was really weird. I met with maybe like tens of investors all were telling me the same thing. Your market is too crowded.
Were you again you will never make it like you can't launch an international business based out of Paris, et cetera, et cetera. They were all these things they were telling me. And in the end it was just like, you know what? Fuck it. I'm just going to prove them wrong. And as you said, very quickly we're profitable very quickly.
We could like get a salary and step by step, our ambition grew as, you know, like our revenue.
[00:16:36] Alfie: And you are in a space, you know which is ruthlessly competitive. There's a ton of sales automation software, some that are like directly competing with you, some that have, you know, similar or complimentary things.
And a lot of those companies are VC backed. How the hell did you become profitable so quickly?
[00:16:56] Guillame: To be honest, I think it was I think it's a matter of the market first. I see things is if you have a lot of competition, it mean that there is already product market fit.
The only thing that you need to do is be better than competition. So how exactly do you need to be better? Most people focus on being better when actually they should focus on just being different. So for me it's like I knew the market really well. I used to be with my agency or user of all this platform, and I realized that the number one thing people were struggling with is how exactly do I get replies whenever I'm sending sales prospecting campaign?
So the entire tool focused on this part - helping people get more replies. And not only the product was built in a way to help people get more replies, but also all the content we were writing was just all about that. And I think the understanding of the market focusing on being different and you know, in the end it's very quickly because we had limited resources, I had to kind of build this flywheel.
So in business I feel like you have two things. The classic funnel, which is awareness at the top. So you pour, let's say like thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollar in. And then at the end, you hope that some of them are going to convert and become customers. For me, that works well in the VC backed model, but for us as Friendship Bastard, with just $1,000 to start, we had to build a flywheel, which is like every energy we put at the start needs to come back at the end, you know?
So the flywheel was kind of, I was using our own products. So I would launch sales prospecting campaign. I would document publicly all the campaigns I would launch, especially the one that would work. So it would give like value to people like reading the blog, watching the content I put out there.
At the same time, I would also close deals by doing outbound because my campaign would be on real people. After that, I would share everything in the community. So in the community people would start like learning new things, even sometimes sharing their own templates. After that, I would put our users as kind of like the rock stars.
So in the community we would share. I would put them as Lemster of the week. Like the best of the best. And then after that we would get insight because they would be thinking - Hey, actually I want to try X and Y and Z it would be awesome to have this in the product.
So based on the feedback, we would build a better product, which I would use, share, et cetera, et cetera. And that would be like our, our flywheel. And in the end, you know, we were like just four or five people in the team when we reached 1 million in ARR, like including me. So it's like a very small team.
We reached out very quickly and 18 months later from one to 10. So it was very quick.
[00:19:36] Alfie: It's amazing because your community, I'm part of it in the Facebook group, but it's now, it's now changed. But it's phenomenal. There is actually a ton of really insightful, actionable tips and, and people are very responsive.
What I found was super interesting is ultimately this community, it didn't start as I'm going to build a community. It's like, these are our customers, and we are going to put them into a community so we can continue to nourish them with information and value. And what's interesting about that is a lot of companies would be a bit hesitant to create a customer community.
Obviously I think there's people now that obviously outside of your customers that that can get access. But having all your customers in there at one time, giving feedback on a product seems. Fucking scary.
[00:20:22] Guillame: Yeah, we, we had some ups and down with that, but it's the same, like, it's the same as building in public.
I feel like it forces you to be on top of your game. You know, it's you have to be the best you have to, you know, like act with your value. You have to be honest. You have to do right by your customers. I think too many businesses are like misleading or trying to take advantage of their customer, et cetera.
In my case, I felt like the first time we launched a new version in public of the platform, we get so many people shitting on us on the community, they were like, who the fuck decided to make these changes? This is fucking stupid. The worst team ever, et cetera, et cetera. So at that time, you really want to hide yourself, like you hide under your bed.
But in the end it's like, okay, let's go, let's go talk to these people who are complaining. You know, because in the end, I want to solve your problem. Like, what's wrong? And then, you know, they started to see how we reacted to this, and this is how you turn like your haters into like long life fun, you know, like because they've seen, and actually there is data backing this.
It's like it doesn't really matter if there is a bug or a problem in your app if you manage to actually solve the problem of the person in a reasonable timeframe. They're much more likely to stay with you forever because they know that no matter the problem they're facing, you're going to be there to help them solve it.
And I think that's really powerful because a lot of people, and me included, like when I first started, like when I saw a bug, I was like, oh shit. Like, it's the end of the world, you know? But then after that, it's not about the bug itself. It's like, how quickly can you fix it? How quickly can you make things Right?
Nobody's perfect, you know, it's just a matter of showing people that you can improve. And the second reason why people don't want to put all their customers in a community. I do feel it's because it's very difficult to measure like an ROI from it.
It's not something tangible. It's something that a data driven company is going to cry about because attribution's going to beso complex, et cetera, et cetera. And I feel like the fact that we're bootstrap and we do whatever the fuck we want is it's like, yeah, we're still going to do it.
Like, I like helping people. Like this is what motivates me, not the money.
[00:22:41] Alfie: My coach has a saying that I love and it's lean into the disturbance. This idea of the community and you know putting your product out there and just grilling you every time you have a release.
Like you say, I think most people will actually kind of shy away from that because they're fearful that if they say something negative, someone else will and they're going to churn and everything else. And same way people avoid conflict in their personal lives. Right. And my coach says, lean into the disturbance because it's the disturbance where there's areas for growth.
And in this scenario it's saying you've basically done exactly that. You've created a 10 x quicker feedback loop. I mean, half the problem actually with companies and their products is they'll build a product, and they'll put it out there and they don't actually get feedback.
There might be some usage data, but there, there isn't feedback. And so then they have to go and run product interviews and, and find people and then they're, they're biased. And so you are, you are always guessing, you know, what your customers really think. And you've just gone headfirst into the disturbance and clearly this is, this has helped your product.
The other thing I love about what you were saying is being different and focusing on the end result. Like clearly people use sales automation tools to get meetings and get replies, right? But you, you would look at a lot of the other tools in the market and they're really kind of focused on just sending more emails or doing more calls.
It's kind of focused on the productivity aspect as opposed to the hard bit at the end, which is get the result because that is actually really hard. Like you can give someone a tool, but they may be really crap at writing in emails and you can say, well, you're paying for the tools. So, you know, and I'm not great at emails, and it's going to be hard to train you and everything else, but you said No, look, we are going to do everything to get into the end result, which is the job to be done.
Like your tool is there to do a job. So I think that's absolutely in. I want to go back to the the publicity stunt. You initially rejected $30 million but I think if I understand correctly, about six months later you actually accepted $30 million. So doesn’t this contradict the whole story?
[00:24:46] Guillame: So this is really interesting and I'm happy to talk about it because we said no to like fundraising.
So whenever you fundraise, the money goes directly inside the company. The money is used to acquire more customers, hire more people, scale faster, et cetera, et cetera. The reality is, we don't need the money cause we're profitable. The way we grow the business is very healthy. I don't think hiring thousands of people in a year is reasonable.
I've seen companies doing it and some of them like manage to do it like properly, but 99% of the other are failing. They're failing the people they hire, they have to fire them. They treat people like just like resources, you know, as if you were buying a tool and churning from it, et cetera, et cetera.
So the thing is, when we received the second offer, we realized that they were offering us 15 million. So half of the 30 million in secondary and secondary is basically when they're basically giving you money directly as a founder to sell your shares. So instead of the money going into the company, the money goes directly into your bank accounts.
And whenever you're growing like a bootstrap company, the, the more it grows, the more you know the value of the company is really high, which means that technically the pressure on your shoulder also grows. Because, you know, in three and a half years, we went from zero to 10 million in annual recurring revenue.
So a company had like 10 million in annual recurring revenue will sell anywhere, especially if it's profitable, anywhere between 80 to 200 million. So when you have like this way on your shoulder, like I started with a thousand dollars not because, you know, like I was fucking rich and I said like, yeah, a thousand dollars is fine to start a company.
That was all my money, you know, it was literally everything I had in my bank account. So at the time, you know, like, you're like, oh shit, we're talking about being able to never have to work again. Retire your parents, your family, put everything in a safe place, et cetera, et cetera.
And, you know, I started to dig into that and, and I asked them, you know, like, we don't want to raise funds. We want to stay bootstrapped, but would you eventually like, consider doing only secondary? And in the end we took like a 30 million which allowed me as a founder to take some chip off the table.
Still being the majority shareholder, but at the same time, you know, be even more ambitious because now I can take more risk and I don't have this, heavy weight on my shoulder. On top of it, something that I really enjoyed is most of the VCs back then were never doing secondary.
They were no only secondary deal made in the last like five or six years. It was only, a mix of fundraising, meaning money, cash in inside the company and cash outs. But after I did this and after I did it publicly, we saw 50 to a hundred companies within the year do exactly the same thing as I did.
And I received another time 500 messages from founder explaining, like asking, okay, how exactly does the process look like? What exactly have you done? And for me, this is the best because it means that, you know, like whenever you kind of like change the power, you can actually change an entire industry and you can change the behavior of others.
And I really felt like it was helpful and I'm happy that. Hundreds of founders after me actually took some chip off the table and were managed to kind of like secure their business, be more ambitious without the stress of if the business goes bankrupt, I'm dead. You know it's like I would've lost this 100 or 200 million.
[00:28:24] Alfie: You mentioned the flywheel. In one of your articles you talk about inspiring, educating, converting and retaining customers as the flywheel and my word. You definitely inspire your target audience. All of these different things. The fact that you're bootstrapping and doing that successfully changing the game in the way that people think about fundraising having successful you know, exit or, you know, cash out.
I wouldn't say it's necessarily an exit, but a cash. And then changing the game for other people. You, you know, from, if I put my marketing hat on you are like the definition of a mission driven company and person. And it seems that you've got this underlying mission that is driving all of these actions and everything you are doing in, in isolation.
If you don't really know what the mission is, you're like, why the hell is he doing that? It doesn't make sense. And why is this relevant? You know? But then when you, you tie that together with the mission, everything makes sense. I have to give you congratulations. Cause I think you have a very coherent story.
You are clearly a master storyteller and building a narrative and actually executing upon that. And people, I mean, clearly in the industry, you know, look up to you and have learned a ton from the advice that, that you've given. How important do you think it is to be a mission-driven company?
[00:29:43] Guillame: I think that if you really want to strive without a mission where everyone is aligned, you won't be able like to do it. Because building a business, like from the outside, everything looks as the typical like success story, we grew so quickly with [00:30:00] such a small team being able to do all these things that are just like out of the ordinary.
But if you go back, you know, to what the day-to-day look like, the reality is like within a month I will go like through the highest mountain and also through the deepest hole in the world. You know it's an emotional rollercoaster. And if you don't have that mission, if you don't know why you are doing things, then it's not worth it because the money will never drive you.
Like it can drive you to a certain extent, but down the line when you understand like how sales work and how to make money. It's not worth it anymore. Like if, if you are like on your own a billionaire with no mission, no real values, and nobody likes you, nobody like love what you are doing, et cetera, et cetera, it's, you're on your own and it's, it's all useless.
[00:30:51] Alfie: I think Nietzche has a quote, and I'm paraphrasing, it's something along the lines of, You can withstand anyhow, when you have a why. And it's a bit like, you know, a mother can run through a burning house to save their children, but if she's just woken up on a Sunday morning with a cup of tea, she's not going to run into a burning house.
Right? I think that's it's important for those lower moments. It gives meaning to the pain. One of my favorite books. I'm not sure if you've read Victor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning. Have you read this before?
[00:31:22] Guillame: I have not. I'll add it to my to list.
[00:31:25] Alfie: I think you'd like that one. I think you'd like that one. It talks all about purpose and clearly you've got a lot of the that okay. In terms of lifestyle as an entrepreneur, this is clearly something that you focused on bootstrapping, having a lot of equity and control into the business.
Being able to, the way that thinking about the cash out and being able to take bigger risks, there's a big trend at the moment. Well, I'd say big trend. That's, that's probably an overstatement. I think there is more awareness of understanding bootstrap companies. I've seen, particularly since Covid, we've had, you know two big rounds of layoffs in the last, you know, two years and kind of just shows how disposable you are to a company, no matter how good you are and is with this kind of in mind, remote work.
And people really understanding the internet and how to make side hustles, solo entrepreneurship is also on the rise. What do you think there is you know, you've created a great lifestyle, but why do you think so many entrepreneurs fail to create these kind of lifestyles for themselves and get caught in the rat race of wanting to raise money, being stressed at work, doing things for the wrong reasons?
[00:32:33] Guillame: It's a good question. I do feel like I love, you know, seeing more and more solopreneurs launching their business, talking about their lifestyle, et cetera, and how they manage to kind of like change entirely their life and living a much more intentional life. However, I do feel like people underestimate how hard it is to really launch a business and growth.
We have, data from like US Bureau of Labor, which states that I think 50% of companies are actually like shutting down after like a few years. And for me, like this is very representative. It's like it's hard to launch a business and you can launch a business and kind of be like profitable or breakeven, but making a lot of money out of it.
It's really hard and lots of people are smart. They can make money with side. Also, I see a lot of more people whenever they start making a bit of money with their side soul than. They start teaching people how to make money with side also. And this is kind of like a Ponzi scheme. I'm not super comfortable about it from time to time because I feel like it's very deceptive.
And even though the content might be good, even though it might be like good quality and they're genuine down the line, it's still deceptive because a lot of people either can't make it work or sometimes, you know, they just feel like oh, I'm not good enough. And then in that case it's kind of like, yeah, it's, it's missing the point of the initial course, I would say.
But I do feel like things are changing. We're seeing more people launching things on the side. I also feel like depending on your company culture, it might be a good thing to start on the side also. If you feel like this is something that needs to be done, we encourage in our company for people to build their personal brand.
I personally teach people how to do it. I've built like an internal program where people can really build their personal brand. So they know that no matter what happens, they still have their audience, whether they want to launch a business or find a job. All the people in our company, like on average, I think we're reaching maybe like 20 million people every single month through our posts, organically.
I've done it, now I'm teaching my team, now they're growing their audience, et cetera. And the thing is, we don't really encourage like side hustle. And the reason why is simply because we want, and this is part of, you know, like the next steps and everything, but my, my true mission at the moment with the company is to make like a hundred people millionaires within the company.
So my goal is really to give enough shares for everyone so they are incentivized to stay and work on the mission so that in the next like three to five years, If we do another round of secondary or if we do an exit or if we, IPO that everyone can really become a millionaire. And at the same time I try to also like make sure that everyone has like a clear career path where they're making enough money, even like a little bit more than average so they can actually do all the investment they need, like buying a house, doing all this type of thing.
So for me it's like I want them to be like extremely focused. I want them to know that the company cares about them, but at the same time, you know, I'm like, yeah, I'm going to help build a brand and prepare for the future if future needs to be prepared.
[00:35:58] Alfie: When you started Lempire And was it always Lempire or Lemlist?
Because I always get confused because I'm more familiar originally with Lem List, but Lempire seems to be like the overarching, so which one was it first?
[00:36:11] Guillame: So it started with LemList, then we had like Lampod, another company that we grew like in 12 months to 600k ARR.
And then sold it. So with like the beginning of the Lem we're like, okay, now our company's called Lempire. And now we have like the product that we own. We have Lemlist, Lemverse, and we acquired the company recently. So we're going to have like two more products in our like, suite of products.
[00:36:35] Alfie: Okay. We're going to dive into that in a bit. , when, when, when you first started then and you started with a thousand, a thousand Euros at the time, How did you actually financially support yourself to be able to bootstrap a business that you didn't know was going to be profitable? It took four months to get your first customer.
It took a, a was it a year? So two years to get the first million. And that's extremely successful. You know, the my co-host [00:37:00] Chris Gibson, we did a podcast. He bootstrapped his company wavelength. He spent about five years on there, and it took about, I think three, three to four years to start getting like ramen profitability.
And now, and now it's fine. And there was a lot of kind of goals around learning, doing this as a different mba and he built a profitable business and now it's, it is doing really, really well. But that's a long time. And like you said, a lot of companies fail. And even the ones that don't fail, you can do them for five plus years and they kind of, even if they are profitable, you know, how profitable are they?
You're going to be able to change your life. So how did you actually support your life in this, you know, bootstrap journey?
[00:37:38] Guillame: So it all started actually, like in France we have this kind of like help from the government which is like the, it's called RSA, which is like, kind of like minimal revenue that they can give.
And for me it was like 500 euros per month. So not very high, but it's still like allowed me to pay like for food so I could eat. The only thing I needed was like a roof. And my girlfriend at the time was very generous to pay for the rent. So, so yeah I was lucky enough. We were living in 27 meter square apartment, so it was kind of like a very small place.
And I was doing a lot of like hack on the side get into an incubator and not have to pay or rent the office space.
Cause I'm like half Italian. So for me, eating pasta every single day is literally like the dream. So, you know, like with 500 bucks, that's a lot of pasta per month. And, and, and even though, you know, there are all this kind of like weird things where, you know, your friends are asking like - Hey can you come we're having this dinner on Friday.
Like, we'd love to, we'd love for you to join. And then you're like, oh no. I have another plan, which is not true. The other plan is you eating pasta because you don't have the money to go to the restaurants. And then you arrive a lot later and when they say like - Hey, let's buy like drinks.
You're like, oh no, I don't know. I feel dizzy, I'm just going to take a coke or whatever. So it's like all these things, you know, like. Lean into it because I would say it's part of the struggle. I would kind of start building that mental strength, build that the voice inside that's telling you eventually it going to pays off.
And, you know, after some time, I think after a year we're like lucky enough to start getting a salary. And then after that's went like very quickly. Cause it's like compounding effects, like where it starts small, but with the software, because it's like a monthly recurring revenue, everything increases and then it build ups.
[00:39:43] Alfie: In America. Since I've been here for the last, well, two and a half, three years, I've noticed that a lot of entrepreneurs start businesses. Well they've, they've either quit a company and they do consulting and they use that either to kind of learn about the businesses that they want to eventually build a product for, or they just do it as a way to earn money whilst they're building something.
In France where I live for three years, as you know, You have the most amazing system and you know, you know what I'm gonna say? And this is basically the government is the number one angel investor in France. Yeah and not in the, not in the most obvious way.
Can you explain to the audience what is chomage and why the government is the number one angel investor in
[00:40:30] Guillame: France? Yeah, so essentially like if you work in a company, and let's say you're making like 3000 euros per month as a salary. If you work there for at least two years, and then either you get fired or you kind of like leave- the government's going to give you a monthly allowance that is going to be equal to about like 70 or 80% of your salary, the one you had. And it's going to last for as long as you were working in that company, which is like quite crazy. So if you were like for two years, you can have like two years allowance where instead of making 3k, you're going to make, like, let's say I don't know, like 2.2, something like this.
So for me it's because I wasn't working before, I had like the, the cheapest version of it where it was just like 500 euros. But yeah, it's just really awesome and I don't understand why we don't have more entrepreneurs to be honest, and people feel like, oh no, it's too risky, et cetera.
Like in France, there is literally zero risk because for two years you can just be there like doing shit learning, testing, you're still getting a salary. It's like, what the fuck? What, why aren't you launching new businesses?
[00:41:43] Alfie: I couldn't believe it when I found out about this. And it's in, it really is incredible.
I mean, this is. So many of the entrepreneurs that I do know in France are, are, you know, leveraging chomage. And that takes pressure off and it allows you to take that risk. And it's funny because in, in the States, there is almost absolutely no protection. You know, if you don't have healthcare, you're screwed.
It's so easy to take one long step and, and you know, you can be on the streets. But yet there's this kind of entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial vibe. Maybe it works in the opposite direction, maybe it's too much support and we need some pain to build the entrepreneurs. But I think it's overall I think it's a brilliant thing and more countries should do it.
I couldn't, couldn't believe it. Okay, so. We've got about 15 minutes left, so I want to get into more of your business stuff. So we discussed your kind of mission to help companies and, and make them profitable. Your mission statement, I think recently changed to help a a million companies become profitable and you've simplified it just to help people and businesses grow, and it's a bit more encompassing.
One of the things you've mentioned is the criteria for success are changing. Along with that lines of helping companies become profitable, you've mentioned that raising funds is not the only criteria for success. For you as a, a founder, a CEO, a manager of people, someone in the public eye what are the criteria for success in your business?
[00:43:03] Guillame: I think there are different aspects to look at success. I think to me, from a personal standpoint is success is linked to your happiness. Success can be having like a loving family, loving friends, like all these things for me are success.
Like it's the most important thing in your life. But from a pure like company perspective, I think success is, needs to be tied to the revenue because the more revenue you're making, the more people you're helping. Because each company should be selling, whether it's a product or a service, they are selling a solution to a problem.
And the more money they're making means that the more they're selling the solution of a specific problem, which means that interestingly, they are actually bringing more value to more people at a company level. Though I think success is when you can find this kind of balance where everyone is being rewarded for their job.
Where you're not taking advantage of people who, for example, don't ask for a raise, but that you are doing it anyway because you understand the value they're making. I think like this year, for example, like in our company, everyone got a raise. Like a hundred percent of people got raised in the last 12 months.
And I think most of the raise I've been giving, were not raises that people asked for. And I think this is really important in the company. It's like, how do you make sure that everyone is aligned with the same vision? Because if you can't find that balance and that kind of like same frequency of vibration within the entire company, then you know that you're going to be successful because all the other things are just go, it's just like byproduct of everyone working towards the same goal.
[00:45:01] Alfie: So it's interesting, it’s not necessarily revenue first, but revenue is a prerequisite to make the other things happen. You know, the goal is to build a successful company and to make a place where people are happy to go to work or rewarded and have purpose, but you are not just hiding away from the fact that revenue is going to make that happen.
[00:45:22] Guillame: Yeah. Because let's be honest, you know, like if you want the company to be a sustainable company, and I think we've seen this in the last year with like the recession, people doing this massive layoffs where they just, I don't know, like layoff 500 people, half of their staff, et cetera, et cetera.
If you're not making enough revenue, how are you getting paid? You know it's just simple math, you know? If you're spending more than what your earnings down the line, you're heading towards bad things.
[00:45:50] Alfie: So I'm gonna change gears a little bit. We've spoken about a lot of the successes that you've had and there was a quote I read, pressure burst pipes or makes diamonds.
So I wanna ask you, what pressure have you been under in the last 12 months?
[00:46:06] Guillame: The last 12 months were really intense. So my two co-founders left for a personal reason. Just after we did like the cash outs. My head of sales, my head of growth decided to start a new adventure. We had to kind of like restructure the entire team.
And it's a bit crazy because we still managed to almost double like the revenue or double the revenue from last year. So from a revenue perspective, everything is going like super great, but from a team perspective and all the kind of like pressure that everyone was going through, et cetera, it was very intense, very difficult.
On a personal level, you know, when your two co-founders are leaving yeah, it's a challenge. You go from being strict co-founders to being the only one having to manage like yeah, three times more people.
[00:46:58] Alfie: You talked previously about killing the company.
[00:47:11] Guillame: So what I was saying is like yeah, it is just like a lot of pressure when you go from, you know, being three people up to like just yourself and kind of have to manage much more people, reorganize the team and think about the future.
Think of all the ambitious goal that you have. How exactly do you level up? How exactly do you go? So deep that you can, that the only way is up. You've touched like the depths of the ocean and now you have to go up.
[00:47:41] Alfie: It sounds like you are really entering into a new phase.
There's, you know, restructuring within the company, you, you've passed the 10 million in ARR mark, which is big in the VC world anyway. It's the unstoppable mark, right? It's impossible to get to 10 million, but once you [00:48:00] passed it, you're unstoppable, right? Yeah. Can't, can't, can't die.
I have doubts as to how true that is . But that next path, you know, the 10 to 100 million is a big step change. It's very different. You've talked at length about some of the challenges that you've experienced. For example, you've talked about nearly killing the company twice and both times were because of founder disagreements. You've talked about how you got a coach to help you go through that founder process. In the same way right now you've mentioned - I'm gonna quote you here “I limited people's growth to my own. As a ceo, my role has changed every six months to grow to 10 million in ARR.
I've worked and involved a lot in the day-Today my mantra was to lead with example. I wanted to become the best at everything so I could show the team how to do it, but I realized that I was holding everyone back.” How are you growing as a person, G?
[00:48:58] Guillame: I think it's just hardcore work, day in, day out being like super disciplines having like wisdom.
So it's like how exactly can you learn from others, whether it's like mentors, books, videos then it's like, as I say, like courage. So understanding that fear is a natural emotion, but that you can always overcome it. And the last thing I would say is like self-discipline. Showing up every single day, being consistent in the work you put out.
And yeah, I think lit's part of who I am, or at least like who I become or the person I want to become. And for me it's, it's super important to, you know, like walk the talk, but eventually, you realize like as the company is scaling that you can. Everything by yourself that you need help from others that you're going to have, to actually build a team, manage them, walk them in the right direction.
And for me at some point, you know, I realized like, okay, I took a lot of people were really junior, like no prior experience, et cetera. And I've helped them leveled up a lot. So I hired, coaches for them. I paid for trainings. I myself helped them, et cetera. At some point, you know, even if you're very, very involved in the day-to-day, you need to let go a little bit.
And, and because, you know, for me, the company is a bit like my baby too. I love to be like super hands-on. But step by step, I realize that this is not like the greatest past for growth. It has helped us reach so right now we're almost at like 20 million in annual recurring revenue.
So it's, you know, in the end there is always this voice inside of me that stays, well, you build a pretty successful business by doing this. You know, like, why change? But you have to think about the future. I still believe the CEO's role is to create chaos, which I think I do it really well.
[00:50:53] Alfie: A fantastic article that I read was one of the founders of Visa, I think.
And he talks about this I concept of Chaord, which is. Entrepreneurship is living on the edge of chaos and order.
[00:51:05] Guillame: I like it.
[00:51:07] Alfie: I think that's such a good description and to what you said, you know what, get what got you here won't get you there. That's great. And it's amazing to watch your journey and evolve over time. In the last five minutes or so, I'd love to know what's next for you. I mean, you know, you've, you've talked about some secret projects that you've worked on. Lemlist version four. So there's a brand new version of LemList. Is that, is that currently out now?
[00:51:32] Guillame: No, it will be out, I think January, 2023.
Like we killed a lot of the technical debts. We've changed entirely the interface. Some integrations are much more robust and as of night just going to be like, go back to this very like, iterative process when we can ship features like 10 times faster. So that's like pretty exciting for us cause it's been like a long work and a roads.
Yeah. We have also like integration with the company we recently acquired, so that's also quite exciting. There is a project for me that is really exciting is Road to Billions, which is like a kind of a media that we will launch on YouTube where we're going to document every single aspect of our journey with the employees, with everyone.
And like big updates would be for me to hire like a key leadership role, which has, I've never done that before, so it's gonna be like Chief Operating Officer, so someone who can basically be a buffer between the team and myself. So I want to spend much more time as the visionary, as, you know, like the one who works on the top of funnel, let's say if, if we have to see a funnel and for that person to be like a killer in integrating and executing and managing the team and coaching them.
[00:52:44] Alfie: A couple of rapid-fire questions to, to finish off the interview. What's your favorite business book?
[00:52:51] Guillame: Favorite business book? I have like I've got so many. It's difficult to choose, I guess like, because we talked a lot about like bootstrapping versus fundraising. [00:53:00] I would encourage to read Lost and Founder from Rand Fishkin because it goes through all the ups and downs that you can have whenever you're building a VC back business. And I think it, it also like reveal the, the dark story of some companies who are raising and getting press. But what's happening in the back is not always as bright and shiny as what you can see on the cover of the TechCrunch magazine.
[00:53:26] Alfie: What's your favorite non-business book?
[00:53:28] Guillame: I kinda like the Alchemist actually. Like I feel like it's probably very common for entrepreneurs to say that, but for me it's like I just enjoyed the whole story. The book is very short to read. I don't like when books are too heavy, but it’s a good one.
I love books where it talks about like, adventure and, and you can actually have a lot of life stories within this adventure that are very close to what you when you're an entrepreneur.
[00:53:58] Alfie: I read that last year. Okay. I think I may know the answer, but you, you might surprise me, but what is one piece of advice that is often givenin your industry that you don't
[00:54:14] Guillame: I would say that the market is too crowded for me. Markets are never too crowded, to be honest. It's whenever someone tells you that, they're telling you, I don't believe you're good enough to be better than the competition. But I, I don't think if you take the the biggest player, like Google for example, like you know, when they launched, they launched after like Yahoo, like all this type of search engine where before, and I'm sure some of them you've never heard of them when back in the day they were like the killer and they were gonna kill the industry.
So I think it's, there are always way to innovate. No one believed that we could replace Google. Some people right now is saying that chatGPT is going to or might replace it. I don't believe it, but you know, like we never know. And I think like it's always like nice and interesting. To see what people are capable of creating
[00:54:59] Alfie: People forget that there was 26 other search engines when Google was created . And that's true. You know, it wasn't the search engine that made them, it was the business model. Okay. So where, where can people find you?
[00:55:10] Guillame: So I think LinkedIn is a cool place. Instagram if you want to get some inspirational videos every single day.
YouTube if you want to follow like our journey to billions of dollars. And Twitter, I'm going to be a bit more active talking about business and same as LinkedIn.
[00:55:26] Alfie: Thank you so much today. I learned a lot. I think it's going to be an absolute corker for the audience and it's been a genuine pleasure and I can't wait to have another beer with you soon in San Francisco.
[00:55:36] Guillame: Yes, me too. Thanks Alfie. Have a great day.
[00:55:39] Alfie: Take care everyone.