“Develop Faster and Less Painfully”
Interview with Olympe Co-Founder & CEO Laurent Chatelanat.
On the shores of Lake Geneva, there is a small Swiss startup called Olympe that describes itself as the best composition platform in the world. Its name comes from the home of the Greek gods, and fittingly, Olympe has big dreams and big aspirations for addressing packaged business capabilities for enterprise customers.
Olympe co-founder and CEO Laurent Chatelanat recently sat down to speak with startup coach Roland Siebelink on the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. They talked about Olympe’s unique location, name, and everything else that makes this a tech startup worth watching.
- Why Olympe’s go-to-market targets innovation people rather than innovation teams.
- The strategy Olympe is using to sell to enterprise clients.
- Why Olympe puts such great value in getting its product into the hands of customers.
- The best ways that Olympe has discovered to help reduce the length of sales cycles.
- The best strategies young startups can use to find partners.
- The value Olympe gains from having a community of users.
You may follow Olympe on any of their social media sites:
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I’m an ally and coach to many fast-growing startups in the world, one of which is with us in the studio today. And it is Olympe and we have the founder and CEO with us here, Laurent Chatelanat.
Hello, Laurent. How are you doing today?
Laurent Chatelanat: Hello. Thank you very much for welcoming me here. I’m doing fine at the end of day in Europe.
Roland Siebelink: End of the day in Europe, yes. You’re dialing in from Lausanne, Switzerland. Is that right?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yes. Correct. We’re a purely Swiss-based company.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. For many of the people who are listening to this podcast, they may not be familiar with Lausanne. Please tell us a little bit more about it? I have been lucky enough to live there for a year, but not everyone has had that luck in their lives. Please tell us a little bit more about Lausanne. What makes it special?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yeah, it’s a very, very nice place. It’s next to a lake that is pretty large. And it’s very close to the mountains. You have the lake in the summer. You’ve got a lot of mountains for the slopes in the winter. There is a very good university as well, which is called EPFL. It’s one of the best ranking universities in the world for software. It’s a very good place for us, and actually it’s in the university that Olympe was started and is still located today.
Roland Siebelink: One thing you’ll have to explain before we go into what Olympe does is the name probably also has to do with Lausanne, right? Can you explain that to the worldwide audience?
Laurent Chatelanat: It’s a very old story. Already three decades ago, I started a small business in the basement of my parents’ home assembling computers. And that was before the Internet. I was doing that with a book. And in the book, every server had a Greek god’s name. And when the Internet arrived, I had to choose a domain name and where the Gods live is Olympe in French. That’s how I ended up buying Olympe dot CH, which is for Swiss domains.
And I kept the name through the years. And when I started this new stuff, I took this name as a placeholder and five years after it’s still here. Maybe it wasn’t that bad.
Roland Siebelink: Talk about amazing foresight, Laurent, 30 years upfront, as you said, that’s really,great to know. That’s excellent.
Let’s talk about the company then. Olympe, the best composition platform in the market - it says on what I found here - what does that actually mean? Who do you target? Who do you help? And what difference do you make for them in the world?
Laurent Chatelanat: Composition platform is really related to the fact that we compose what we call package business capabilities. Package business capabilities is the digital twin or the virtual representation of any service or any data that you can have in the enterprise world. We can come back after how we create those digital twins. But having those digital twins, then you need to compose them together to create applications.
And those digital twins, we call them bricks. You can have bricks of multiple different services, your SAP services, your SAP data, Salesforce data, Salesforce services, and so on. From the outside, SaaS players as well that are providing a lot of services now with this API economy. You can very easily create bricks or digital twins of these API services in the platform.
And then you compose all these bricks together. As soon as it’s a brick, every brick is, as the name suggests, interoperable. They have a common language and they can work together to create applications, to create experiences. Front-end applications for humans and backend applications, services, so that we have automated tasks that run in the background.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. For those of us that are not in this enterprise IT world every day, does it mean we should think of this as a middle ware that talks to all kinds of systems to make them work with each other?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yes, that’s a very good way to see it. Technically it’s an event-driven architecture, so it’s a middle layer based on events that will route information from one system to another, maybe processing some data and aggregating some data in between. The top layer of this middleware is really applications. It doesn’t end up just routing and processing information. It really goes up to the experience for the human.
Roland Siebelink: It sounds like you are targeting primarily IT departments in larger enterprises. Would that be correct?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yes. Most of our customers are multinationals. We partner with visionary CIOs and architects that are shaping with us the future of software development. These companies, they use developers. It’s the developers that are mostly using our platform. And this platform is also a collaborative platform that allows multiple different profiles in the companies to collaborate together, to create applications, so that’s typically data specialists, designers, business analysts, and end users that can test on the fly the applications that are being developed.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. There have been, of course, a number of applications already developed in this space over the years. What makes Olympe different from some of the players who shall not be named?
Laurent Chatelanat: The biggest competitor we do face is the classical development teams. I’d say it’s not the other products, per se. The biggest advantage we bring to these teams is really the capability of deploying very quickly new solutions, including complex solutions. It’s really targeting the developers at first, and not citizen developers. Citizen developers can be part of the deployment of the project, but it’s not the primary focus of the Olympe platform.
Roland Siebelink: Really the core architects and the people who do this development 100% of the time. It’s also targeted more toward internal applications in enterprises or is it more targeted toward external applications?
Laurent Chatelanat: It’s really both. You can really see Olympe as a programming language and runtime engine. Both of them combined. There are no specific applications that are being developed by Olympe. There is no specific limitation. We have seen surprising things like a flight simulator. It’s really pretty wide. What we do see is that the power of the platform is really good when you have pretty large developer teams. It’s very good when you do have some integration between legacy systems and new technologies. Typically, IOT and SAP data. Reuniting those two worlds or those two generations, it seems to be dramatically reducing the time to market for new innovations in that space. Consequently, we see quite a lot of applications in the procurement, supply chain, and blockchain areas.
Roland Siebelink: When you think about your go-to-market, how do you actually target those people? How do you get in touch with them? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned about starting the sales process?
Laurent Chatelanat: First is targeting the large companies. Ideally, above 1 billion turnover. We do target innovative people, but not the innovation teams. We have seen that innovation teams sometimes lack the budget or they lack the power to bring the solutions in production. And that’s really something that we want to not be stuck in is just to do innovation for the sake of innovation. We really want Olympe to be a product that has an impact on the top line or the bottom line of the company. You need to really be able to deploy.
You need to find people that have an innovation mindset. They want to change things. Doers that really want to try different things, to really make things different and bring innovation, bold innovation in the company. Because Olympe is really changing deeply how things are deployed and you can get huge gains, but you have to change a lot of things.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. This really reminds me of this famous book by Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, about the difference between innovators, early adopters, and the majority of pragmatic folks. Sometimes you have conservatives later down the line. Are you targeting mostly the earliest stage technical hackers that like to code for the sake of coding and innovate that way or more the visionaries that say, “Here’s my vision, this is what I want to change in the world, and I’m just needing a technology to go about it.”
Laurent Chatelanat: It’s really early adopters.
Roland Siebelink: Early adopters, visionaries. Perfect. And are they part of these IT departments or do we find them elsewhere in the enterprise?
Laurent Chatelanat: Mostly in the IT department or in the large enterprise, you often have these structures that are between the business and the IT, business analyst profiles. And these are a sweet-spot as well for our platform to enter in the companies. The toughest part is to get into the company. Once you are into the company, then people see the effect and then that spreads.
Roland Siebelink: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve had a few other enterprise-focused startups on this podcast, and of course, the complaints are always there that the selling to the enterprise is very tough. Getting inside is very tough. Sales cycles are very long. What have you learned about trying to be successful in this difficult environment?
Laurent Chatelanat: I think it’s multiple things. First, to get a very simple and clear message about positioning. And then it’s a never ending story. You always need to make it shorter and simpler. As an engineer, it’s always difficult to drop things. That’s one thing.
The other thing is to put the product in the hands of the customers. And that’s really a key point for me because that gives the ability to show the product and to understand what it means for them to see that it’s not a black box magic thing, but how it works, how they can operate, that it’s pretty easy. And we still have a lot of progress to be made, but it’s pretty easy to take it, to understand it, and to use it. That’s the best way to reduce sales cycles.
Roland Siebelink: How do you get into the enterprise then? Do you use account-based marketing? Do you use a lot of SEO? What are some of the marketing tactics that you’ve been testing out?
Laurent Chatelanat: We’ve been doing direct B2B sales. Most of our growth today is based on that. The second thing that is starting is this community or free edition of the product, so people are trying it. And then at some point in time, they want to move to production or to a larger scale, and they contact us for licenses.
Roland Siebelink: The Trojan Horse strategy, right?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yes, exactly. The third one that is becoming really important is the integrators. We’ve got some of the largest integrators in the world that are certified and using Olympe today. And that’s a key point for our growth by the end of this year.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Can you talk a little bit about that because there were some startups on this podcast in the past who had a partner-driven strategy also for their go to market. Many people in the audience said, “But how do you even get started as a small startup starting to talk to those big guys?” What was your strategy, tactic to get there?
Laurent Chatelanat: It’s to go from the customers. Your customers, they want to scale up the usage of the product. Typically, the first project, we leverage our customer success team to help the customer complete the first project. And then they want to scale it up. And we don’t have the resources and we don’t want to have the resources to do that. It’s the customers that ask their integrators to get certified on Olympe so that they can do this scaling. Obviously, when you have a hundred billion company that is asking the global integrator to train people on the technologies, it’s easier than if I’m asking.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly, that’s the barrier many people run into. Thank you. That’s a brilliant trick to just go through these large customers that you target. That’s very good.
Laurent, let’s talk a little bit about your team. Let’s talk about the founders and then also how big has the team grown now and where are you hiring the most?
Laurent Chatelanat: I cannot go through this question without mentioning my co-founder Antoine. I founded the company five years ago with him. He recently died of cancer. That’s life, and that impacts startups as well. That’s part of the life of the company. He put a lot of energy in the company and then today we go on without him as good as before.
Roland Siebelink: That’s part of reassuring his legacy, right?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yes exactly. Now we have one more reason to make it successful. We started, the two of us, and today I’m the only one founder. We’ve got a very strong leadership team that I’m very proud of.
Roland Siebelink: Can you talk a little bit, Laurent, about the growth you’ve seen so far? Whatever you’re comfortable sharing in terms of metrics.
Laurent Chatelanat: We have been enjoying pretty strong growth, especially last year where we’ve been doubling every quarter. That puts us now in a good position to open a new round, a Series A raise.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. Has the pandemic had any effects on the growth of Olympe?
Laurent Chatelanat: It’s difficult to say, because on one hand, it pushes hard for digitalization and all the things that come with it. That’s very beneficial for us. On the other hand, starting a new business or new activities lacking the possibility of really meeting people face to face made it a little bit tougher. All in all, I think it’s beneficial, but it’s not only beneficial.
Roland Siebelink: You mentioned that you’re starting to work toward a Series A, what’s your strategy in looking for investors? Are you also looking primarily to work with local investors, nearshoring investors, or are you looking to break out into the world a little bit more with the people that fund you?
Laurent Chatelanat: That’s a good question. We’ll see what the market brings us. One thing is that we are not yet in the US. Despite some small activities, we are not really in the US. We need to jump over the pond one day or another. I’m not sure if it’s easier to jump over the pond with a European VC that knows how to do that or can help us do that, or if it’s easier to get the VC from the US that would open their market a little better.
Roland Siebelink: Yes, exactly. So far, your investors have been mostly Swiss?
Laurent Chatelanat: Yes, Swiss and French.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. I would say in most cases I would see companies then break out to more pan-European investors for the next round, and then maybe go to the worldwide investor community for their Series B when you’ve shown that you can also grow in the US.
Laurent Chatelanat: Exactly. For the moment, we target our strength in more local investors. There are not that many Swiss investors, unfortunately, but European investors. And we are in touch with a couple of US-based investors. Maybe for this round, maybe for the next one.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly. And if any investors are listening and would be interested in an introduction to Laurent, I’m happy to provide. Please just ping me and I’ll forward it to Laurent.
How big do you think Olympe can become, Laurent?
Laurent Chatelanat: That’s the big question. I think we have really seen that the impact on the efficiency of digitizing the solutions is really strong. The technology is still in its infant age, but the power is really, really strong. The thing I’m seeing is that the more broadly used the platform in the companies, the more the efficiency gain is important. I do expect strong growth within accounts. And I do as well, expect a pretty strong adoption. If we look at the 2021 numbers, it looks very attractive. It looks like it’s selling faster and faster with these big companies.
I really do see - and that’s my founder cap I’m using - I really do see Olympe as an operating system that allows companies to really leverage all the digital investments that have been done in the past. If you go and embrace this vision, the ambition of Olympe is huge, and that’s really what we want to achieve.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. Ten years down the road, what’s your vision for Olympe?
Laurent Chatelanat: Good question. The market will tell as well. I’m a strong believer in open source. I want to have more and more open source parts in the product and the services. I really want to have the value of the product in the community more than in the product by itself. For that, we really need to expand the community usage, the community users, people that are creating those bricks. If you do the parallel with other products or other platforms, our content is the bricks. We have brick producers and brick consumers. You need to build up all these things in parallel. Ten years down the road, I hope that we’ll have millions of brick builders and dozens of thousands of brick consumers.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. You have a bit of a platform that you’re building there with network effects. That’s a very good strategy to think of it that way.
This has been an amazing interview, Laurent. Thank you so much. The people that have made it so far through this recording, how can they help Olympe get even bigger, better, faster, and so forth? What do you need help with and where should they go to get in touch with you?
Laurent Chatelanat: The best thing that can come from the community is using the product and giving us feedback. We have recently released a free version of the product that is still very limited because you cannot code, you cannot make your own bricks, and you don’t have access to the marketplace. There are just dozens of bricks. But still, you understand the dynamics of the product and how the product is taught and built. And it’s always very valuable to get feedback and ideas from the community. That’s the first thing. And the second thing is obviously you like the product and you see how it would fit in your company, we are more than happy to help your company be more efficient in producing digital tools.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Perfect. What’s the website they should go to?
Laurent Chatelanat: It’s olympe.io. O L Y M P E - because I’m not sure I’m pronouncing it correctly in English - dot IO.
Roland Siebelink: Olympe dot IO with a Y in the middle. Very good. Anything else you want to add, Laurent, before we close this interview?
Laurent Chatelanat: Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to talk about the product on the other side of the pond. I wish you a very nice day and look forward to seeing everyone in the community of Olympe.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, perfect. Thank you so much for your time and generous answers, Laurent Chatelanat, the CEO and founder of Olympe. Thank you so much for your time.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.