Having taken his company from concept to start-up and now into hyper growth, Quentin Guilluy understands the value of identifying, hiring and retaining talented people. He says he looks for a willingness to take on and solve his challenges, so that he can focus on being a CEO. Quentin is here interviewed by Jack Drury, Principal at New Peak Partners. To date, they have hired 14 people together.
Tell us a little about where Andjaro came from.
We were three 25-year old French guys and I don’t think we really knew what we were about to do. We didn’t know what building a start-up was like. We’d watched “The Social Network” movie and thought it would be easy! It was, to some extent, about money, although I’m less and less motivated by that now. I’d also met a few entrepreneurs and I think I was fed up with people saying no to my ideas so I wanted to see if I could work without a boss and be an entrepreneur myself. It wasn’t a case of having a builder mindset, as I do now – of wanting to build a huge business (that came later) – rather, to do my own thing.
I knew from the outset that we would need venture capital. We had no option here. I started networking in this environment a year before setting up Andjaro and raised money on day one.
As your company grows, you need to re-earn the right to be the CEO. You need to make that switch where co-founder doesn’t equal manager anymore.”
How did the concept of Andjaro come about?
We launched as a digitized employment agency for temporary workers in the hospitality sector in November 2015. But our business model – and product – changed with the terror attack in Paris. Suddenly, tourists weren’t visiting; hotels weren’t looking for temporary staff. Paris was in shock. We realised that the only companies taking on extra workers were the large groups, like Sodexo. But when we approached them, they told us they weren’t interested in a new temp staff provider. In fact, they wanted to stop spending on temp agencies to fill their short-term gaps. Why couldn’t we pivot our product from an external marketplace to an internal one?
And that was the seed for our app. It gives companies an internal closed-group talent market. A management platform for redeployment of personnel between sites within the same organisation – in effect, a one-stop-shop for finding internally-available, then externally-available employees within a company’s ecosystem. So, from the start, Andjaro has been shaped by its customers.
What early problems did you encounter as a start-up?
I hate customer churn. I’m terrified by it and take it personally. But I didn’t have the experience or knowledge of how to build a software company. My thinking was that if my product couldn’t do what it promised, I needed to compensate with operations people. So, our operations department was very strong immediately – and still is today. We’ve built our product with highly operational people who we hired from the industry and were doing what Andjaro does automatically, but on excel spreadsheets.
Of course, we made mistakes at the start. We invested in people designing a product that didn’t yet exist. We spent money on interns who made phone calls to get new customers before we were ready. We invested in too many things but without the right focus. But we did get one thing right, which was to ask what our customers thought.
How did it feel to get the first significant (A Round) investment in 2018?
The A Round investment led by Balderton Capital told us that we were going in the right direction. It was confirmation of what we’d been doing for three years. It felt very good. But we knew that if we wanted to play in the big game we had to change and to change quickly. We weren’t there yet, but our investors had confidence in us to be able to fix things. It was a change of mindset for us as we went from almost a student project to an enterprise SaaS (software-as-a-service) proposition. Before that we’d raised a million or so Euros, which felt a lot in our twenties, but is really nothing in a B2B world with venture capital (VC) backing. It was a weird feeling for me – suddenly I felt I was a true CEO.
From the start, Andjaro has been shaped by its customers.”
How did your job change at that point?
It didn’t at that moment. But perhaps it should have! I realise now that you need to re-earn the right to be the CEO or CxO. Being a ‘company’ CEO is different to being a ‘product’ CEO. You need to make that switch where co-founder doesn’t equal manager anymore. Your relationship with the rest of the company is suddenly different. It’s a big change of mindset and you have to change, or your company will fall apart.
VC backing gives you the opportunity to move fast, so it’s critical to be surrounded by leaders in different functions. And you need to use your senior team to cascade your culture throughout the company. Your job is to sell your vision – to new hires, the market, customers and partners. As a CEO you display the passion 24/7. In this respect, we’ve been successful hiring and working with New Peak Partners because you trust my vision.
Can you expand a little on the cultural aspects?
Of course, bringing new people on board affects the culture of a company. One challenge I always face is whether we need people with a strong cultural fit or to act as cultural change agents. I always have doubts and I am still not sure of the right approach. What I would say is that we have a very low turnover, with a benevolent culture and healthy working environment. Most of the team who were here before the recent round of hiring understand that we’re bringing new people in to solve a problem and help us grow. They’re not a threat. And, if you don’t grow as a business, you will die.
I want people who are excited by what keeps me awake at night – and are able to fix it.”
What did you expect when you brought in New Peak Partners to help?
I was curious to measure the impact of new hires. I knew things were going to change but didn’t know what. NPP put forward powerful and influential people, all of whom I personally interviewed – at length! I look for people who are selfish, but in a good way. They must be able to satisfy their personal ambition, while helping me deliver my entrepreneurial vision. I want people who are excited by what keeps me awake at night – and are able to fix it.
We’ve hired people from some amazing global brands. We need this to become global ourselves. Some 20% of the company is now made up of new executives who’ve joined us in the last year or so with NPP’s help. It’s this talent that makes it possible for Andjaro to play in the big game.
You’re a company in hyper growth – how does that shape the hiring process?
As a hyper growth company, I know we can move forward because we’ve got the right people on board. I want to see if our new hires get scared or excited by our product. I want people who know more than I do and who’ll have a short learning curve. They’re not here to discover, but to use their experience. They’re A players, not B players and it’s their experience that reduces the time to make an impact – it’s a difference of five times or 500% faster time-to-value.
They must have solutions to my problems, or what’s the point of hiring them? I expect candidates to arrive for an interview knowing what our problems are – the scenarios we discuss in interview are the scenarios my company is living through. In all of this, it’s a big mistake not to give new hires challenges. You must be honest and give them challenges that they can respond to, not just tasks. We’re hiring to bridge the gap between Andjaro’s ambition and our ability to execute. This begins at the interview stage.
Tell us more about your interview style.
It’s a conversation, rather than interview, often lasting 1.5 or even 2 hours – and it’s important to be as transparent as possible. I don’t believe we need lots of different stages in the process. These are senior hires and they’ve got to work around my psychology. I spend time gauging what they think and what their values are. I probably do 70% of the talking, sharing my vision, my deep feelings, and my passion for Andjaro. I talk about my parents, my life. I want them to understand who I am and why I need people like them. I want to see how they respond. Can they share their own weaknesses with me? It’s not about their CV. It’s about their character. We are not trying to work out if they are good or not – I know they’re good – rather, are they good for Andjaro’s environment right now?
Finally, in these hiring decisions, who have you trusted and who will you continue to trust as Andjaro hires for hyper growth?
My management team, partly. You (Jack at New Peak Partners), partly. My girlfriend. But largely myself – or rather my gut. I take others’ opinions into account, but I make the final decision. I trust what I feel inside about a new hire and I am rarely wrong, although I struggle to say why. I guess it is just a feeling, but one based on sharing my own values with potential new hires and gauging whether I can trust them.
Andjaro is growing and hiring in all functions.
If this culture sounds like somewhere you’d thrive – now or in the future – please reach out to Jack or Quentin.
Quentin was talking to Jack Drury, Principal at New Peak Partners. We solve complex hiring challenges for high-growth and disruptive technology businesses. Finding exceptional talent requires a team with deep market knowledge and New Peak Partners provides unrivalled connectivity to the industry’s leading executives. Jack leads our searches in operations, pre-sales, customer success and product. These are often first-in-function hires for early-stage VC-backed companies.