Marcus Svensson: [00:00] Hey, G. Welcome to your Meaningful Conversation with Albacross. We have known each other for a few years. Last time we had video series was a webinar 2018 or something.

G: [00:18] It was a long time ago.

Marcus Svensson: [00:19] You remember that. Welcome back, and I want to hear your story, what you’ve done and all these kind of things because I’ve seen you’ve created different companies. You have scaled to 9 million – almost 9 million annual reccuring revenue. You have a bunch –

G: [00:36] We crossed 10.

Marcus Svensson: [00:37] Yeah? Yes, welcome here.

G: [00:41] Thanks so much for having me Marcus. Super excited. We’ve been knowing each other for quite some time, so it’s always a pleasure to be chatting, and I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Marcus Svensson: [00:51] Yeah, same here. I think let’s get started, first off, tell me the story. You started off as a chemical engineer. Did that thing. Then you started lemlist. Tell me, briefly start from the beginning, especially how you grow the company from last time we spoke 2018 to the level you are at right now.

G: [01:14] Essentially, I’m a chemical engineer as you mentioned, which has nothing to do with the SaaS that we are building. Back in 2015 I traveled the world for a year after my chemical engineering degree, and this is when I realized that I wanted to have a lot of freedom, and to me, having freedom was similar things to starting a business, so I said okay, to start a business, I need to be good at business, so I went back to business school and got a master in marketing. After that I started a few business, so mostly failed business, one with my dad which was t-shirt business.

Marcus Svensson: [01:55] What was your – jump in there. What was your parents’ reaction? You went from chemical engineering kind of thing – because that’s very STEM heavy major. Then travel everywhere. Then you go to marketing, do startups. Not every startup is successful. What was their reaction?

G: [02:12] To be honest, I feel like I failed fast, which I think was the most important part meaning that we worked with my dad for about four to five months on the project, and then I felt it was not good because I had another opportunity with someone from my master to start a lead generation agency, so I was like okay, why not? This is only by starting this lead generation agency that I realized I could actually make real money online. Then I was like okay, being and selling service is really nice, and I see the potential of scaling it, but I was super – I think maybe this is my geeky type of mindset, and I think maybe I want to start – build software etcetera, so I met with my two cofounders who were a bit older than me, so at that time I was maybe 27 or something, 26 maybe. Vianney and Francois were around 40 years old. They’d been coding since they were five or six, so after that I was like let’s do something together. You guys are the technical geniuses, and I’m supposed to be the business guy even though I’m an engineer as well, so we just started in 2018. The first line of codes was in January 2018 for lemlist, and now we grew – we just actually passed 10 million in annual recurring revenue.

Marcus Svensson: [03:36] Congrats. That’s a lot – what was it, almost four years, right?

G: [03:41] Yes, three and a half years I would say, almost four years.

Marcus Svensson: [03:45] That’s really good.

G: [03:46] Yeah, we started the company with $1,000 and never raised a single dollar, so we’re quite proud of that.

Marcus Svensson: [03:53] We’re coming to that later because I want to hear the story when you turned down the investments and these kind of things.

G: [03:59] Yeah, sure.

Marcus Svensson: [04:01] When did you guys see – when did you realize the company was actually taking off? When did you see the really growth, and what made you see – what made you see that?

G: [04:13] I think to be honest, it’s very difficult to understand how big things are getting because at some point – for you, whenever you’re building on the day-to-day of a company, nothing goes fast enough. It’s like you’re putting so much effort into things and then you don’t see the results on the revenue, and you’re like what the fuck. I think our first months maybe we got $1,000 in MRR. Then you get 20% gross. Yeah, that’s huge, but actually you go to 1,200.

Marcus Svensson: [04:5] Yeah, the number’s not much.

G: [04:53] Yeah, and then we kept that really good growth, which was very encouraging, but it was never doubling months over months. We always kept a two-digit months over months growth rate, which is really great when – whenever you start hitting the 100,000-dollar MRR and you go to 120, then you’re like okay, fuck, this is getting very quick.

Marcus Svensson: [05:16] You get real money. That’s good.

G: [05:18] Yeah, that’s definitely good. I think the day I realized that we actually build something that is really awesome is when we reached one million in ARR. We were like holy shit, it’s happening. We’re in the million now, and things are getting bigger. I feel like over time what’s really pushed me was the community. As we grow, the community grew. People were talking even more about it, and we started feeling the traction.

Marcus Svensson: [05:47] On the question there, lemlist obviously has grown very well, so why have you guys started the lempod, lemkit all this type of – that doesn’t make sense to me.

G: [06:00] Yeah, to be honest, that doesn’t make sense at all. We’ve always been doing things that we shouldn’t, but I guess it’s just part of our DNA. People tell you to focus on one single project. We did many. People tell you to hire people once you cross the one million in ARR that have really business experience that have done it in the past, but we actually hired mainly people who were willing to learn, and we trained them. It’s always about all these things that people are telling us to do or what we should do, and I feel like we like doing the opposite.

Marcus Svensson: [06:35] On that question [06:36] interesting because I know we were talking you hire quite – not inexperienced, but they don’t need to work in a B2B SaaS. I know it’s hard to recruit in B2B SaaS because there’s not that many companies. Maybe more in Paris, but in Stockholm it’s quite limited. What’s your take on recruitment in general?

G: [06:56] It’s very difficult to be honest. I think this is – first things first, I don’t feel like I’m an HR expert, so for those listening, just take my word for what it is, but my feeling is that overall, HR is just something that takes time and that is all about defining clear goals because at first, I was mainly hiring people based on fit and saying okay, are you willing to learn. What are you willing to sacrifice if you want to level up? What’s your passion? What are the things that you really enjoy? Are you ready to work in a challenging environment? If people were saying yes, I would be like okay, awesome. Then I would spend a lot of time with them to train them, help them level up. It worked out really well for us. We’ve been lucky.

Marcus Svensson: [07:47] How many people are you guys right now, 40? Something like that?

G: [07:52] Yes. A bit less because we had to let go a few people, so I think we are like 35.

Marcus Svensson: [07:57] That’s my second question. When do you see oh, these are people I think I’ll keep, and this is probably not working? How does it work that way for you?

G: [08:08] I think for us this is the toughest time. We just went through that, and the toughest time is to think okay, the company is really growing crazy. You are actually killing your milestones. You’re super profitable. It’s just the best life ever. You love everyone in your company, but some people you don’t feel like they are a fit anymore. This is tough because what you can say as a CEO usually when you cross the million and even before, you shouldn’t be as operational that I am. I always have my hands in the dirt, and I always –

Marcus Svensson: [08:42] I’m well aware.

G: [08:45] To be honest, the easiest thing to do is just to say okay, it’s fine. We have the money. We can hire more people and that’s it. For me, what matters the most is the foundation are the most solid ever, so we spend time with all the heads of trying to figure out okay, who is a fit, who is not a fit. For those who are not a fit, how can we help them find a job in other company so they make the transition. Just do these things step by step and see how and what we can do, so it was really tough, but first it was just a matter of based on the objectives that we set for people, what are their impacts and are they making the team better also, and based on that, we decided okay, here are the person we want to keep, and here are the person that we help transition to something that they are more a fit.

Marcus Svensson: [09:36] Recruitment is always hard. Another question I think, maybe it’s a little bit different, but essentially it’s about like I know you guys spend a lot on community building as a strategy to grow, so I wanna hear a little bit what was the strategy from a marketing perspective or a company perspective to grow where you are right now - because some people focus on content creating, a lot of branding. Some focus heavily on video content, which can count as branding. Some like you guys probably community building.

G: [10:08] Yeah, to be honest, I think it started not because I was like okay, let’s build a community, it’s going to be awesome. It’s just because it was just Vianney and Francois and me doing support. And I kept receiving all these messages that were just the same, and in the end, I was the only one ending support after a few months because Vianney and Francois were only focused on the tech. Then I was just like fuck, I’m just going to create a Facebook group where I will answer most questions. Then I started realizing that people didn’t really know – needed more than just answer to their question, but they needed tips, they needed advice. I started writing content, and then posting it in the community. I was the only one posting at first, and then people started to find value, and step by step, people started answering each other’s questions, and then after that, it started to grow, and very quickly, we became the biggest group ever around sales automation. It just was to be honest not something that I started thinking okay, it’s going to be our competitive advantage. Let’s go for it. It’s just because I was lazy and streamlined all the questions on the support.

Marcus Svensson: [11:13] It was actually from a support perspective that turned out to be a community. We also had a community back in the day. Then we also had that kind of movement that way, and then we growed it but we also took quite a lot of people for target marketing and these kind of things, but here’s another one. I know you focus a lot on personal branding yourself, and I think that ties very tight into lemlist itself, and I know you have a great YouTube channel. By the way, guys, follow him on YouTube. It’s a great channel. He’s talking about stories of lemlist and all the things around entrepreneurship, but how do you utilize your own branding together with lemlist because I know you also do master classes and these kind of things. How does that works together?

G: [12:11] To be honest, I think if you look at the way we see things is I just look at my personal story. How exactly did I come up to work in SaaS? For me, it’s when I read an article from a guy who was basically detailing step-by-step of the things he did, how he acquired his customers. He documented everything. I was like damn, this is amazing. It gave me so much energy to get started that I thought okay, I need to do the same, document our journey, do this step-by-step just because I want people to have the same vision that I had back in the day. The first step is really how do you inspire people and how do you make them take action. Then when I started to write content I realized okay, the more I write content, the most all these complex stuff that I have in my mind it’s forced me to write them down and make them super clear and super sharp.

The more I was writing, the more I realized that okay, here are all the things that I’ve done. Here are all the things that I’ve done wrong and my mistakes and the things that I should never do. The fact that I was writing it, it felt like oh, shit, I was fucking stupid doing that, and I learned from it, and step-by-step you create this connection with people and connection and relationships are the first step of anyone buying something. If you trust someone, then it’s much easier for you to buy their product. It’s the same. Right now, I just purchased iPhone 13 pro. I had the iPhone 12 pro before. I don’t even know if there is a huge difference, but to be honest, I love Apple. All my products are Apple. I love that. Why? I trust them. I trust them to do good things, always –

Marcus Svensson: [14:02] This is good because that comes an interesting question that I think a lot of SaaS companies struggle with in general because it’s an attribution model and you have the gate guarders, Facebook, LinkedIn, all these things. It’s hard to attribute because a lot of things come from recommendation of word of mouth, and that’s very hard to attribute. It’s possible, but you don’t have a one to one attribution model for it, so to the question, how do you guys handle your – or your attribution model for when you’re getting new customers. Do you even looking at it?

G: [14:37] That’s a really good question. I love that question because I love to quote Gary Vee on that, and the question he asked is what’s the ROI of your mom? Your mom, she spent time educating you, teaching you good manners, etcetera. She made you become the man you are today, and how do you measure that ROI? What do you track? To me, it’s exactly the same thing in business. I don’t think people lack data. I think people lack guts. The truth is a lot of people because they don’t have enough guts, they rely everything they do on data without having any sense of critics. They don’t have really good judgment. Sometime I see people showing me just a piece of data that gives a specific results, and then they see correlations in things, but correlation doesn’t mean that it will always work. You can find correlations between pretty much anything in life. Number of raindrops is I don’t know how many times Bitcoin increase in the last year, whatever.

Marcus Svensson: [15:40] I follow. I think this to be honest quite big problem in marketing in general because you need to prove your value in a sense, and I know you as a CEO and founder you truly believe in marketing, obviously, but for those who don’t I would say have that clear vision of marketing, then it could be very only data driven, points you’re talking about, and then I think probably it’s hard. From your market department reporting to you, what are they reporting on?

G: [16:16] Basically, what I look at is MRR.

Marcus Svensson: [16:19] What do you care about?

G: [16:20] Yeah, what I care about is MRR so monthly recurring revenue, and then after that I just look at the funnel, so how many people signed up, how many people activated, and how many people become paid customers. That’s the only metrics I look at. I don’t care about the rest. When I write content, I just focus on it to be the best one possible. When I do videos, I try to make them the best as possible, but I don’t look at views. I don’t look at all these things. I really don’t care.

Marcus Svensson: [16:48] I think that’s a really – in my opinion a good view because I hear questions from content marketers out there like hey I create this blogpost or whatever. How should I be measured on that one? My answer usually is very, very hard because I think some of those have lagging effects, and –

G: [17:05] Yeah, of course.

Marcus Svensson: [17:07] You don’t create a content piece in my opinion for certain metric, right? You’re doing it for your whole purpose.

G: [17:14] For content, you can check, for example, the SEO, on which keyword are you ranking.

Marcus Svensson: [17:19] That’s one part, of course.

G: [17:20] Again, in the end, it’s – I see people saying yeah, look, we’re ranking number one on this. Yeah, fair enough, but what do you conclude? Is it getting any sign ups? Maybe, maybe no. Now with the cookie tracking, we have less and less accurate data. To me, I’m like you know what? In the end, just focus on making the best article that will be shared as many – in many places as possible, and just focus on that. Focus on the quality. Focus on the amount of feedback you receive, trying to make it always better, bring the most value, and then you will see that people start talking about you and recommend you, and it will have an impact on the MRR overall.

Marcus Svensson: [18:00] Yeah, that [18:01]. I have also one more interesting topic that we need to talk about if that’s okay.

G: [18:07] Yeah.

Marcus Svensson: [18:08] We care about LinkedIn as well. We spend some time writing things there. I think it’s great place to communicate and educate, and I know a lot of people from your company is very active and get huge reads. You’re getting huge reads yourself. Is the full story from the top down or hey, everyone should do it, or what’s the story behind it?

G: [18:34] It’s something we encourage at the company. We basically explain people that the more you write things – and writing in a sense is a skill that everyone should master because to me writing is basically putting your complex thoughts into something simple. The more you write –

Marcus Svensson: [18:53] Clear thoughts. If you don’t write well, you don’t have clear thoughts.

G: [18:59] That’s true. I think this is very true. I feel like this is a great thing for marketers because whenever you write a post, you have a direct reflection of the quality of your writing, meaning that if your post is really great, if you’re telling good story with feelings, etcetera, etcetera, you’re getting huge engagement, which is a good reflection of the things that you’re doing. To me what’s important is when I see people doing this on a regular basis and really increasing – sorry – this is something that we try to also measure in our team, so some people, for example, have in their KPIs that they define themself but just to say okay, I want to post four time a week. Their goal for the quarter is to post four time a week. It’s not getting views. It’s just about this, and then it becomes –

Marcus Svensson: [19:54] Activity.

G: [19:55] Yeah, and then it becomes a challenge between the team and everyone pushing themself to do really smart and ambitious things and step-by-step it’s really impacting everyone, and then we have people telling us lemlist, we’re seeing you everywhere. I saw a post from Nadja, Vuk, Ena, etcetera, etcetera, so it’s great.

Marcus Svensson: [20:17] I follow you because the thing I saw is – usually you use – you probably you use Instagram as well. You’re scrolling through things and so on. I do think LinkedIn have been more enjoyful the last I would say one and a half years, something like that. You actually enjoy scrolling more because before it was only company updates with boring things.

G: [20:39] Yeah, that’s true.

Marcus Svensson: [20:41] Now it’s actually more storytellings. What I like at least is it’s not about selling the company all the time. It’s actually about maybe what you’re working on, your role, what you’re passionate about, essentially. What you’re passionate about creates the best stories at least that’s from my view.

G: [20:59] Yeah, I 100% agree with you, and I feel like once you have a platform that helps people learn, that helps people connect with each other, then LinkedIn can be a really great content-drive platform. The only thing that I don’t really appreciate on LinkedIn and that I prefer on Twitter, on LinkedIn, people connect with you, and when they connect, you start seeing a bit more of their content. The truth is, a lot of – I tend to accept everyone who write personalized messages when they want to connect, but the truth is, I would love to follow only the person I like the content because sometimes you find really poor content because you’re just connected with some people that are sharing their company page update for example.

Marcus Svensson: [21:41] You have 20,000 connection on LinkedIn, you don’t get tons of great content, probably.

G: [21:48] Exactly. That’s why I like this thing on Twitter where you can actually follow only the specific person and that’s it.

Marcus Svensson: [21:56] Yeah, that makes sense. I haven’t thought about it too much, but probably don’t’ have as much followers that you have either. Okay, we have a few things left. One thing that I think we need to talk about is the fundraising thing. Me and you have talked about it a lot. Your company’s growing. You’ve got a valuation of like 100+ million dollars, right? You’ve got cash like 30 million or whatever it was. You turn down, no, like what’s up, and what’s the plan forward?

G: [22:30] That’s a really good question.

Marcus Svensson: [22:32] For sure.

G: [22:36] Yeah, so the thing is back in the days, for us, we had started the YouTube channel. I had a lot of entrepreneurs reaching out to me, asking me advice about fundraising, etcetera, so I said okay, why not do a series about it. I interviewed tons of really, really famous funders, some VCs. Then afterwards I was like okay, let’s do something crazy and say out loud that we’re going to raise but just to document it, and if we receive an offer, we will say no. The thing is things got really, really real, VCs got super excited, and in the end we wanted to say no just to show to people that even if you don’t fundraise you can build a really high-growing startup, even a scaleup, and that you can really do things differently, and doing things differently is key to I think stand out, build relationships, find your market, find your niche, and I just want to send a message also to all people who think that fundraising is linked to success that there are other routes and that you don’t need millions to actually be happy, launch a healthy company, and do something a bit crazy from time to time. That was the story, and it went really viral. There were some crazy things.

Marcus Svensson: [23:55] I know. It went really viral. I was thinking at first – first I was probably like this is – it’s a setup thing, right, but then I understand it probably get quite real because it becomes real offers and so on. They’re sitting there like fuck, what to do now?

G: [24:12] To be honest, during this process, I actually learned so many things that the entire thing was just amazing and the connection that I had after that were really great, and what’s next to be honest is right now we have crossed 10 million, so I feel like when you reach one million, it’s the only way that you can see to the 10 million, but once you reach 10 million, this is the only way to know that you can reach 100, so for me it’s like –

Marcus Svensson: [24:43] What’s the next milestone now?

G: [24:45] Next milestone would be to reach 100 million, but I would probably announce the different things because doing 10x from now to a hundred is going to take a bit of time.

Marcus Svensson: [24:55] Take a year.

G: [24:57]Yeah, a few years. The thing is it’s super exciting because we’re hiring a lot. We’re structuring the team. We have a lot of different projects. We have lempire and on lempire we have our [25:11] project that we want to launch, so it’s going to be really, really exciting.

Marcus Svensson: [25:15] That’s all good. Those are the questions. I just have one thing left. Three things you can tell other marketers or entrepreneurs, whatever it is, you decide.

G: [25:28] Three things. First thing I think it’s build your audience as soon as possible, whether it’s starting a newsletter, doing a podcast, writing on LinkedIn, documenting your journey. Whatever it is, just do it and build your audience first because this is something that you will keep for your entire life and that you can always build a business on top of. To me that’s most important things. Second thing that I would say I think it’s just – I like the Nike thing, which is just do it. Don’t be really afraid of getting started and all these type of things. Human being needs momentum, and to create momentum, there is always this phase where it’s a first step where you lose the balance, which feels very uncomfortable, but once you’ve done the first step, everything becomes much easier, so just do this first step. Just do it. Get started.

Probably the third thing which I think also is really important and is part of our DNA, and it’s do things that you shouldn’t. That’s for me the most important. All the advice people give you, even mine, are based on my own interpretations and life story. You have a very different one, and you should do the things that people tell you not to because this is how you will stand out. This is how you will be different, and this is how your message will resonate with your audience

Marcus Svensson: [27:02] Great words from you, G. Super happy to have you here. I’m pretty sure we’ll do another one later, maybe in Paris.

G: [27:11] Yeah, that would be awesome, man.

Marcus Svensson: [27:13] Super thank you for being here.