Interview of Jérôme Lecat, CEO at Scality. The world leader in object and cloud storage.
Hi Jérôme, could you introduce Scality in a few words?
Scality is an object & cloud storage company. We are 190 people around the world, serving over 100 clients in the likes of Orange, Google or Dailymotion…
Since the creation in 2009, we’ve raised over 93 million dollars with French and American investors.
What about yourself?
I came to San Francisco in 1989, as an intern at Partech. So I had the chance to discover Silicon Valley’s creativity, ambition and quality of life during my engineering studies.
I then started my first company, Internet Way, in 1994. It was one of the very first Internet Service Providers in France, and I sold it 3 years later to UUNET, the world leader at that time. During this period, I was flying almost every month to the United States.
I became a Business Angel, invested in around 20 companies so far and also started a foundation.
In 2003, I started Bizanga, a provider of email and message management platforms for Telcos (Comcast US, One&One), and sold it in 2010.
In 2009, not long before the sale, I launched Scality.
Out of all these experiences, what’s you most impressive experience?
We went through very difficult times with all 3 companies, really close to bankruptcy. I remember one night in October 2005, with Bizanga, when we had no money left and organized a dinner with some prospects. I had to pay with a rud cheque… 15 days later we landed a $500,000 deal. That was close!
What were the main steps of Scality’s international development?
We decided to build a global company from day one.
I was in San Francisco already. We started with 16 people in France to develop the product and sell to Europe, and just me and my assistant in the US.
One year later we launched in Japan. I fell in love with this country I didn’t know, that always strive for excellence in details. I still go there every 2 month. Fun fact, we went there against our board’s advice. It’s very difficult to manage so many offices is so little time.
Today we have 3 offices in the US: San Francisco, Washington and New York City. In Europe we’re in London, Paris and also have teams in Germany and Sweden. In Asia we have 10 people in Tokyo. And we also have a team in Australia.
Why the USA?
We’re in the internet infrastructure software business and half of the decisions about data centers are taken in the US. The French market only represents just 3% of the global market. To put it simply, it’s a prerequisite.
You shouldn’t be afraid of going to the US because clients are open to new technologies, especially when you’re solving a big problem. That being said, you have to quickly demonstrate strong scalability and being backed by well-respected VCs always helps.
One thing for sure, is that you can easily deploy on the US East Coast from France. With Bizanga I flew across the atlantic every 2 weeks for almost a year. It’s obviously tiring, but not that much expensive than opening a local office. And it’s a good enough way to get to $1 million in revenue, without building a team in a market where nobody’s waiting for you: the best talents don’t work for unknown startups.
You have offices and staff scattered all around the world, what are your best-practices for managing such a team?
Every week we have a 30-minute long video conference, with all the teams within the SF – Europe time zones, our people in Asia watch the recording. It’s a sacred moment as it allows the whole company to live by the same tempo.
Meanwhile, I often visit the different offices. I’m in Paris every 6 weeks, on the East coast once a month and in every other office at least once a year.
It’s also very important that all the teams visit all the different offices.
How do you acquire international clients? Using which channel?
The best way to close big clients is to get big references. I know it’s a chicken and egg problem, but it’s the way it is. You have to build relationships with the kind of people who can inspire trust around your company.
Then you need to get close to 10 to 20 people within the company. We’re talking about pretty long sales cycles, from 6 to 18 months, leading to projects in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nothing beats face to face meetings though.
What were the main challenges you had to tackle?
The recruitment of local talents is incredibly difficult. Just imagine a Nigerian company coming to France and claiming to bring a technological revolution. They’re looking for a Sales & Marketing Director(s). The best will never go there… It’s almost impossible to get the best talents abroad, even with the best head hunters. Yes these guys get you more credibility, but it’s not enough. You have to build your teams organically, step by step.
It also doesn’t work to recruit a General Manager and to just give him a fat budget. You’re better off recruiting several sales people, who aren’t afraid of the field, and once you reach a satisfying level of revenue and notoriety, and only then, you can hire a regional General Manager.
On the contrary, what’s really easy?
I don’t really know about anything easy. But when you have a good product, I’d say selling it is probably the (comparatively speaking) easiest part. Each country is really culturally different and you have to make the effort to understand how it works. And once you’ve made this effort, people are open and ready to listen, anywhere in the world.
Before we leave you, do you have a fun fact you could share with us about your international development?
One day I had the chance to stay at the Marriott in Albuquerque (new Mexico). On the morning I always drink an espresso and guess what ? They simply don’t do these over there. I find it particularly striking because when you think it through, we’re in the middle of the United States, in a high-end hotel and there is no way to get an espresso. Whereas really any bar of any French village would serve one to you without asking. It says a lot about the cultural differences from one country to another!
Finally, what are the next steps for Scality’s international development?
The key is growth and particularly the revenue growth. On the first quarter of 2016 we recorded a 135% growth of our revenue comparing to the same period a year earlier. Behind all of this our main challenge naturally is recruiting.
Scality, the world leader in object and cloud storage, bridges the gap between application vendors and industry standard hardware providers to meet your cost-effective storage scale, durability, cloud and performance requirements. Their Software Defined Storage RING allows you to store and access billions of objects or even PB- sized objects across standard x86 hardware to meet the most demanding digital business, cloud and application requirements.
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