François Déchery is a seasoned and serial entreprenur. He co-founded two tech companies, the first in 1988, which had a two-year run. In 2010, he played a pivotal role in establishing CloudBees Inc., a US-based global leader in the DevOps market that rapidly gained prominence. Between these entrepreneurial ventures, François led the creation of several groundbreaking activities at various tech companies, both small and large, accumulating 20 years of experience as a Consultant, Project Director/Program Manager, and executive in Professional Services/Customer Success Business Units. He managed teams and projects across France, Europe, and the global arena.
Throughout his career, François has made significant contributions to notable companies like KPMG Peat Marwick, Sun Microsystems, Metaware, Infor, JBoss, Red Hat, and CloudBees. His professional journey involved residing and working in Europe for 29 years, with bases in Paris and Lyon. He later spent 9 years in the United States, split between Raleigh and New York.
Share one of your favorite quotes.
"The important problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" - Albert Einstein
While it sounds a bit complicated and nerdy, it's a sentence I have thought about hundreds of times over the last 30 years. It describes what I believe is the destiny of humanity. Once we have started to think as human beings hundreds of thousand years ago, we actually started this never ending cycle of new ideas that, once implemented, bring both new benefits and new issues. Over time, these issues become too important and must be overcome. So you must come up with new ideas to build something better which, however, have their own issues that, someday... It never stops. It applies to everything in life that is “human”, from personal to professional, to business strategy, to science or society.
What motivated you to co-found your first tech startup in 1988, and what key lessons did you learn from that experience?
Long story short, the movitation was completely irrational. I had to do it. I was 27 and I had been dreaming about the world of tech entrepreneurship for a few years already. I was just waiting for someone to call me. I was aware of what was going on in Silicon Valley since the late 1970s with the first personal computers, the first hackers, etc. As a young professional, I was fascinated by these technology and cultural movements, with a mix of admiration and naivete, mostly coming from the fact that I was so far away from this world. If you dig deep into motivations of people who start companies, you find out that the business plans and any other rationalization strategies are nothing but after the fact justifications of their irresistible desire to be part of an adventure that is bigger than themselves. Some people do it once and they're done, some others can't stop and start all over again multiple times.
Could you share some insights into the journey of CloudBees Inc., from its inception in 2010 to becoming a global leader in the DevOps market? What were the biggest challenges you faced along the way?
The biggest challenge is always to know when it is time to stop key product lines and reinvent the company or at least a part of the company. We had to do it at CloudBees at the end of 2013 and I am really happy we did it. If we hadn’t, I would not be here to talk about it. Of course, you have to be stubborn and tenacious and not give up each time you face a hurdle. But you also have to know when it's time to stop and do something else. There is no magical formula for this. You only have to accept the rule and always ask yourself and your partners the question, because nobody else will tell you when it's time. Another well-known challenge is the operational challenge coming from high growth. When should you bring more structure and processes to improve predicatibility, at the expense of high growth? Another challenge is related to your leadership team. Are your current leaders, the ones who took you from 0 to $20m, going to take you to $50m, $100m or beyond? How to manage the transition if you have to bring in new leaders?
With your background in business strategy, how do you approach identifying market opportunities and shaping the direction of your ventures?
First of all, I am only looking at B2B because I have no experience in B2C. I think your approach partly depends on your background. While I studied information systems and did a bit of coding, I am not a hardcore systems engineer or a full stack developer. I had initially approached the world of tech with a historical and long-term societal perspective. What is really changing with this tech? Is it really changing anything tangible in the way people work or live? Will there really be a before and an after with this new technology? For instance, the creation of CloudBees was primarily motivated by the nascent world of cloud computing in the late 2000s. My aha moment was a book by Nicholas Carr: "The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google". It was not a technical book on cloud computing. It was a historical comparison of the electricity revolution and the cloud revolution. This is what convinced me that cloud computing was unstoppable and would be an extremely profound transformation, as opposed to many so-called tech "revolutions" that fizzle out every other year. So I always try to look at new business opportunities with this long term perspective and context.
Based on your experience, what are some common mistakes or pitfalls you've witnessed other entrepreneurs fall into that you would caution against?
The first mistake is to act as if your initial business plan is correct. The second one is to spend too little time and energy challenging your business assumptions with real-life customers during the first weeks and months. Said differently, a good part of your initial plan is probably wrong and that's ok. It does not mean that building a business plan was a waste of time. It's a very healthy exercise. You just have to accept that it's full of wrong assumptions and you need to uncover them as soon as possible. That's why I think the "get out of the building" recommendation made by Steve Blank is essential. The next thing is to remember this definition from Steve Blank: "A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.". You need to accept the idea that it might take you more time than expected to find this repeatable and scalable business model. Until that time, you are just doing research and testing your assumptions. The other classical mistake is to sell a big contract to a big customer. When you’re a small business, it’s very hard to resist because these contracts represent so much cash. Unfortunately, large customers will ask for more and you won’t be able to refuse anymore. It can be a very dangerous situation because you're not building your product for a market anymore, only for this large customer.
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