Interview with Miuros Co-Founder & CEO Benoit Gagnon.
Customer service is as important now as it’s ever been. Few companies seem to understand that better than France-based startup Miuros, which mines customer service data and turns it into insights that can be useful for companies that want to improve their customer service. Miuros has already started to build an impressive list of clients from all over the world and has plans to expand further.
Miuros co-founder and CEO Benoit Gagnon found some time this week to sit down with startup coach Roland Siebelink on the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. The two talked about the history of Miuros, the company’s hopes for the future, and everything in between.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I'm an ally for fast-growing startups and a coach for startup founders. And today, I have with me - after a few repeated attempts, finally - Benoit Gagnon, who's the CEO and founder of Miuros. Hello, Benoit. Where are you joining us from today?
Benoit Gagnon: I'm based in France, Lyon.
Roland Siebelink: In Lyon. Okay. Beautiful city. If you have never been - if you've only been to Paris - you are missing out because Lyon is at least as great as Paris. I'm sure all the Lyonnais would love to hear that. Excellent. Benoit, tell us all there is to know about Miuros, especially what do you do and what difference do you make for people in the world?
Benoit Gagnon: Sure. Miuros is a SaaS solution for customer service teams. We actually help them improve their performance so that they develop better customer experiences for their customers. We really believe at Miuros that customer service is a great asset, that they sit on the goldmine of information. Miuros digs into this goldmine to mine the data and reveal insights or automate things for everyone in the customer service team. From the agents that are replying to emails, answering the phone and link chat conversations, we help them by automatically categorizing the inbound requests using AI, and then we suggest the best appropriate response to use in reply to the customer. We help the management team with analytics, with new insights that will reveal thanks to our AI, and empower them to make autonomously data-informed decisions. Not data-driven decisions but data-informed. That's very important to me. And we also help support operations teams, especially quality assurance teams and those people who listen to the recordings of phone conversations. You've been in touch with some customer service and you certainly heard the recorded message "For quality reasons, this conversation may be recorded." That's because behind the scenes, you have someone who is listening to the call in order to identify what the agent could improve to develop better customer experiences. Why are we helping everyone in a customer service organization? Because we believe that in a world that is more and more digitized, especially in the B2C sphere, customer service reps may be the only human contact point that consumers may have with a brand. And even before they purchase goods and services from that company, as well as after the purchase. We believe it's very important to develop great experiences to customers because nowadays, everybody knows that acquiring new customers is much more difficult than selling to existing customers. And in a world where you can switch from one vendor to another with just a few clicks, you must deliver great experiences. You can not afford to have poor customer service.
Roland Siebelink: That provides the economic rationale for your customers, to increase loyalty and keep people happy for as long as possible.
Benoit Gagnon: Absolutely. And the point is not only to help the consumers. The point is also to be fair and to help the support reps because they are the heart of the relationship and happy people make happy.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly. That's something we hear a lot, that the startup founders that focus on having employees that are happy also see customers being happy, especially when there is a human relationship involved. Excellent. How long have you been in business and what started you on this journey with Miuros, Benoit?
Benoit Gagnon: I did not introduce myself, but I come from the customer service world. For years, I was managing customer service organizations. I did that in B2B and B2C for small companies and large organizations. Over the years, I've developed quite some frustration. Originally, I'm a computer engineer. I studied econometrics, mathematics, and statistics that applied to economic mobilization. I'm a data guy. And I was very frustrated because the information that was needed to support my decisions was there. But I did not have the time, the skills, nor the resources to get the right information at the right time to make the right decisions. That's how the idea of Miuros was born. Back in 2016, I partnered with two experts in artificial intelligence, Daniele and Ricardo, to dig this gold mine of information and figure out how we could best support everyone in the customer service organization thanks to their data.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Just to do a double click on that a little bit. A lot of people listening to this podcast ask how do you find a co-founder and how do you know if it's the right person to go into business with? What's your story there?
Benoit Gagnon: I used to work for a software company, hardware company called Ableton, very famous in the music industry. I had this entrepreneurship desire growing in me for years. I was approaching 40 years old, so I was at the key point in my life. And it was like, "Okay, I have to make it now. Otherwise I'll never make it." I think the biggest mistake I made in my entire life was to wait for having a smart idea to start a company because the most important thing is to partner with the right people. Ricardo is actually an old friend of mine, with whom I never had any professional relationship. We were just friends and we were reinventing the world whenever we had the chance to meet with one another. He moved to Paris far away for his studies. He's a doctor in mathematics with some expertise using artificial intelligence. We lost connection for two years. And then when I had the idea of Miuros, I actually quit my job at Ableton. And I had this partnership with Ableton where they allowed me to play around with their customer service data. I took some online courses in machine learning. But then I realized that it would take me years to be fluent in machine learning. That's how I reconnected with Ricardo to dig into this set of data to figure out what we could do. But then we were hitting some limitations, especially on the NLP, natural language processing. Ricardo is an expert in machine learning, but in NLP, we were in need of extra expertise. I started asking questions on Quora. And this guy once replied and then we had a call. He was in New Zealand at the time, and that was Daniele. We worked - the three of us - for a few months on this dataset.
Roland Siebelink: Just to interrupt just for a second, Daniele brought in this specific NLP expertise that you and Ricardo we're missing, is that right?.
Benoit Gagnon: Absolutely. Plus some programming expertise as well. And after a few months, we realized that we were already a well functioning team. And at the same time, I had to resume a professional activity to make some income. The company I was working for at that time expressed needs that we could quickly answer with this technology. That's how Miuros started five years ago.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, excellent. I think a pattern we see, especially with European startups, where the early steps are applying your technology to a large client and thereby learning to turn it into a product. Is that the right interpretation of what happened?
Benoit Gagnon: Absolutely. For the first two years, we completely bootstrapped, focusing on our very first couple of customers. We were really focusing on the product, the product, the product. None of us had any expertise in sales and marketing. We focused on where we were the best, that is the product. And then I took the responsibility of trying to connect with more prospects and turn them into customers. And that's how we really started the sales activity after two years.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very interesting. A few questions about that, if you allow me, Benoit. You said none of us had any experience in sales and marketing, and that's something we see with a lot of startups of course. How do you actually start building up that expertise and how do you stay authentic to who you are while still being successful in your go-to market?
Benoit Gagnon: We joined a few startup networks. There is a famous one in France called The Family, who had some masterclasses on various topics, so I joined to do some masterclasses. Then I developed my network. Actually, when we created Miuros, because that has a big, big meaning to us. Daniele is Italian. He lives in Spain. Ricardo is Spanish, but he lives in France. And at the time we created murals, I was the French one but I was living in Germany. That's very important to us because it's in our DNA. We are international from Day One. And we developed very quickly and rapidly in international networks. Then we were lucky to be accepted into a Paris acceleration program, which really also helped us learn about basic techniques. Because the purpose of these acceleration programs is also to connect you to lots of mentors. And we choose mentors with expertise in this specific area where we are lacking experience. We learned on the ground but received a lot of mentorship from various people.
Roland Siebelink: What was the biggest learning for you on the sales and marketing side?
Benoit Gagnon: It is tough, but not that tough as I initially thought. Being a techie, I was always like, "Sales guys, they will sell you the moon and blah, blah, blah." But actually, no, you can be a good and efficient sales guy selling something that you really believe in. Maybe this learning is that it's a challenge but you can overcome it. But it's a continuous challenge. You constantly have to reinvent not yourself but your prospection techniques. Especially in this COVID context where all of a sudden everybody's focusing a lot on cold mailing. You have to be creative. You have to find ways to grab the attention of the persons you are contacting because they are receiving dozens and dozens of cold emails every day. And you have to stand out. If you're asking me for the secret sauce, I don't have any. We are constantly trying different things to figure out what works best.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. And that can take quite a while until you find something that works. And even then sometimes it doesn't continue working because the world keeps changing. As you say, people smart up about certain techniques and you have to get to the next level. Very good. Also on the go-to market, another aspect is knowing which companies, which potential clients to target. How did Miuros go about that? Did you have a very clear core customer group in mind from the outset? Or did you have to due to trial and error find out which customers were most interested in your technology?
Benoit Gagnon: I knew from the beginning that we will not go after enterprise customers, super-large organizations with thousands and thousands of employees. Why? Because this is a business model that relies a lot on networking. Sales cycles are very long. And we were very small and we wanted to improve the product rapidly and based on the needs expressed by multiple customers. We chose to leave aside the enterprise level companies, even though we will target them one day. Then should we focus on SMBs or mid-market and on a specific geography or a specific vertical? We did not know. We tried to identify all the companies that were working with ticketing systems, which are the solutions that customer service teams are using. And it turns out that actually our ideal customer profile is a company that is digitally born. A company that from Day One is working with solutions hosted in the cloud. All the other companies may still have a fit, but that's less and less the case. All other companies may still have in-house solutions or on-premise solutions, and we don't want to go in that direction. I used to work for a giant software maker from the US and I was managing one of its customer support divisions and 60%, 70% of the customer support requests were about installations and upgrades. I don't want that anymore. Digital bond companies are really our sweet spot. Because we use AI and because artificial intelligence is more artificial than intelligence - at least today but I have big hopes that it's going to be even more intelligence - it requires high volumes of data to get meaningful results, especially when you're playing machine learning techniques where a machine will replicate what the human did in the past. To learn from what a human did, you need a hybrid. It eliminates all those companies that have small support organizations. B2C is our sweet-spot B2B. We have B2B customers, but our solutions are much more valuable to B2C because of the volumes and the speed of interactions with customers.
Roland Siebelink: It sounds like you were very precise on your customer segmentation on the basis of exactly what are they like and how were they born and how big are they. At least 20 FTE in support, but not at an enterprise scale. But then on the geographic side, it sounds like you've consciously made a decision to just go for globalized companies or to serve them everywhere they go.
Benoit Gagnon: Yes, I did not answer your question, sorry. We were primarily targeting European-based companies, mostly because of the time zone. I come from customer support, customer service, and it is very important to me to offer great service to our customers. Because of the time zone differences, naturally, we could not serve APEC customers, Australian customers because of the time difference. Until 2020, we were not approaching US-based companies because we felt like we could not sell them correctly. But they were approaching us, so we will not close the door. This is when we started serving US-based companies. And we have a few references there. And we are now targeting more and more US companies, even though we are based in Europe. But we have plans to move to the US. And for that we will have to raise funds because lending in the US is quite expensive. We will need some financial support for that, and I believe it's going to be easier to get financial support if we are knocking on the doors of investors and telling them that we already have dozens of customers in the US.
Roland Siebelink: You briefly mentioned the pandemic, which has been affecting our lives a lot the last two years. How has it affected Miuros?
Benoit Gagnon: Because when we started the company, Ricardo, Daniele, and I were in three different countries, we have this hybrid working style where we actually have offices in Paris and Lyon, France, and we also have some people that are working remotely. We have this hybrid mode. It did not make a big difference for us in terms of working because we already had people working 100% of their time remotely. And we were also super flexible before the pandemic on work from home. We used to let our people work from home whenever it was convenient for them. With the pandemic, that didn't change that much. What changed is the prospection because we used to attend events organized by our partners, by all these technologies. Naturally, they had to stop that, so we had to focus mostly on cold prospection. Cold calls, cold emails because we had no experience in sales and marketing and we did not start any inbound marketing initiative until the middle of the pandemic. That's when we actually started really focusing on inbound marketing. It was a big mistake to not start it earlier because that's a great channel. That's what changed for us.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Okay. I want to move to your team, Benoit. It sounds like you've had a lot of traction already with Miuros. You mentioned many customers. I'm not sure what numbers you can share. I'd be interested to hear some traction numbers, of course. But also how big your team has been growing and where are you hiring most?
Benoit Gagnon: In terms of customers, we have about 50 customers today, all sizes. Initially, we were rather on the lower end of the market, that is 20 FTEs..But over the past three years, we've switched the focus to much larger organizations, hundreds or fifties in their customer service organization. We are acquiring less customers but bigger ones.
Roland Siebelink: A higher average deal size. Okay. Very good.
Benoit Gagnon: In terms of team, we are hiring in every team. We need to reinforce our marketing team with a content manager. We need someone with strong writing skills. On the product team, we are looking for product managers, product designers. On the engineering side, we need to hire people to focus on the QA, on the testing of the product because we need to free up time for all the ones that are currently testing the product. We are developing our own custom service team, so we are also hiring in that area. We always are looking for candidates on the sales side, SDRs, account executives. And candidates must speak English fluently. English does not need to be their primary language. But as we speak English at Miuros, candidates must be fluent in English.
Roland Siebelink: How big is your team now, Benoit?
Benoit Gagnon: Today we have 26 people with plans to grow significantly in 2022.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. And how do they split up more or less between the product-engineering side versus the go-to-market side?
Benoit Gagnon: Product-engineering today totals 14 people if I recall correctly. Then sales and marketing about eight people. And the rest is CSMs, customer service, and the rest.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. That's already a very good split at this stage. We see a lot of companies that when they have around 25 employees and then you'll hear that 22 of them are engineers and I'm like, "Yeah, you may want to start on your go-to market team." But it sounds like you've already made big strides there. And how have you decided to split up responsibilities between you, Daniele, and Ricardo?
Benoit Gagnon: I'm a techie. But they are even techier. We choose to let them focus on the product, on the product, on the product. And I took the responsibility of everything else. That's how we are working from Day One.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Okay. Very good. Very good. If you were to look into the future, Benoit, and you imagine Miuros five years down the road, what would it look like? What would it feel like? How big would it be?
Benoit Gagnon: Five years down the road, I think we will be based in the US, in Europe, and may have subsidiaries in most big European countries. And Miuros will be the platform that customer service organizations will turn to, to save time with their data that exists with automation of tests in the customer service organizations, independently of the underlying technologies that they're using. Perfect.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. That's a very clear vision. When people listen to this podcast and they are excited about Miuros, what could they help you with most, Benoit?
Benoit Gagnon: What could they help us with most? Networking. And if they know anyone working in a customer service organization where they feel they are not leveraging enough of their data, they will come to us.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, excellent. I have a cable company that my parents use that might be very, very useful if they use your technology for sure. I'm sure everyone has the same with their parents' cable company around the world. Benoit, this has been a great interview. Thank you so much for making the time. I love the vision for Miuros and how far you've come already in this short time. I think you're truly one of the companies that is going to make big strides in the coming years.
Benoit Gagnon: Thank you very much, Roland, for hosting me today.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. And thank you listeners for listening to yet another podcast episode of the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast with Benoit Gagnon, the CEO and founder of Miuros, joining us out of Lyon, France. Thank you very much. And we'll have a new episode for you next week.Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.