Jonathan Cherki, Founder and CEO of Contentsquare
Business school is supposed to help you prepare for your future. For Jonathan Cherki, one class project changed his life forever.
Jon is the founder and CEO of Contentsquare, a global leader in digital experience intelligence and analytics (and a portfolio company of Sixth Street Growth). Contentsquare helps brands understand how customers interact with their webpages and applications, what features they like and don’t like, and ultimately helps brands improve their channels and products to optimize the customer experience.
Jon grew up in Marseilles and graduated from ESSEC Business School, where a class project turned into a lifelong passion to better understand the performance of digital advertising.
In this episode, we talk about what digital experience is and how it goes beyond traditional analytics. We discuss how Contentsquare has grown organically and through a string of acquisitions, and how Jon’s maintained the company’s culture and kept the focus on his customers’ needs while building and expanding across borders.
A special thank you to Ben Johnston, Managing Director on our Sixth Street Growth team and a member of Contentsquare’s board, for joining in the conversation.
Listen to full episode:
More from this episode:
- Contentsquare Closes $600M Growth Investment Round Led by Sixth Street
- President Emmanuel Macron of France comments on Contentsquare’s capital raise and growth
- Founder and CEO Jonathan Cherki Among 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs at 2021 Builders + Innovators Summit
David Stiepleman: Hello. Welcome to ‘It's Not Magic’, a podcast from Sixth Street about business building that strips away the pretense and gets right to the useful stuff. I'm your host, David Stiepleman. We use this show to talk to founders and industry leaders to get them to explain in plain English what they set out to do and specifically how they do it.
Jonathan Cherki: I agree with you. I think there are a lot of stereotypes and I believe that in Europe and in France, in particular, you will see more and more big tech companies in the near future.
David Stiepleman: That's Jonathan Cherki, CEO of Contentsquare. Contentsquare is one of the fastest growing startups in the French tech scene, and a leader in the customer digital experience space. In July, Sixth Street led Contentsquare’s 600 million capital raise, and today, my colleague Ben Johnson from our Sixth Street Growth team, joins me on the show. Ben sits on the board of Contentsquare and helped lead that investment. Hey Ben.
Benjamin Johnston: Hey, David. How are you? Thanks for having me on.
David Stiepleman: It's great to have you here. What is Contentsquare? What problem are they solving?
Benjamin Johnston: I'm super glad you asked David. So, customer experience and specifically digital customer experience has been a big theme of ours on the growth team at Sixth Street, and we've partnered with some great companies in this vertical, including Contentsquare. The reason for that focus is that every company is seeking deeper, more real-time understanding of their customers and how they interact with their digital channels and products all the way through the point of sale. Most people have heard of traditional analytics like Google Analytics, but what Contentsquare is much, much deeper than that. They move beyond counting page use and help brands understand with specificity how customers interact with their webpages and applications, what features they like and don't like, and ultimately help those brands improve their products to optimize that customer experience.
David Stiepleman: Nice. That's pretty cool. And so, if I'm shopping online, a company like Contentsquare, they're making sure I'm getting what I'm looking for.
Benjamin Johnston: That's exactly right. And the big thing is we as consumers consume media and content and use products and interact with webpages across so many different platforms, screens, applications. If you're a brand, it's incredibly important to get it right and it can be very hard to keep track of all those interactions on a consistent basis across all those screens and platforms. So it's the whole experience from mobile to desktop and then from advertising all the way through checkout.
David Stiepleman: Okay, that makes sense. And Contentsquare has been incredibly fast-growing company. He's a really interesting guy, Jon Cherki. I really enjoyed our conversation. He's from Marseille in France. He went to school in Paris, now he lives in New York. He founded Contentsquare in 2012 after his recent fundraising round, he and Contentsquare got a shout out from President Macron of France. It shows you the support that French Tech has domestically.
Benjamin Johnston: Yeah, we really love Jon. He's a great CEO, love that Macron shout out. He was going to get into the Family Lagoon business, something we can all aspire to, but instead he followed his passion, which was to figure out this puzzle of digital experience. And he's been really thoughtful about Contentsquare's growth, and we're super excited to be partnering with him.
David Stiepleman: These conversations are meant to provide people with practical advice as they become leaders in their fields. And Jon had great lessons for us about building a company culture, balancing organic/inorganic growth, and in a sector that's constantly evolving, like digital experience, making sure he's keeping up with his customer's current perspectives and really seeing where the puck is going. We learned that growing across border startup into a 5 billion plus valuation is hard work, but it's not magic. So, let's jump in.
Jonathan Cherki, thank you so much for joining us. I'm here with my colleague Ben Johnson, also who is on the board of Contentsquare. And Jonathan, it's great to have you here. I wanted to start with your moment of inspiration. You're at the ESSEC, one of the Grands Ecole Cole in France, and you're with your classmates who are all going to become captains of industry and do all these, incredible things and you get excited about an idea about customer experience. Why was that interesting to you? Talk to us about that.
Jonathan Cherki: You know what, David, when I was at business school, I began in a student project and I should not create Contentsquare because my grandfather created 70 years ago an import export dry vegetables company like beans. My father is working with my grandfather, my brother is working with my father, so I should run the family business. And I grew up in Marseille. I was passionate about math and statistics. And when I was at business school, I began in this student project that transformed into a life project. Contentsquare has been the only one company I've been working with. I've never worked anywhere except Contentsquare.
David Stiepleman: When you explained you were working on this to your family, your family expected you to come back to the family business?
Jonathan Cherki: Yeah, my brother is currently leading it with my father. So, I'm very close to them, but the answer is yes.
David Stiepleman: So, what was the family ethos or the lessons about running a business that you either were running away from or embracing?
Jonathan Cherki: You know, 10 years ago it was not as fancy as it is to be an entrepreneur *laugh*, at least in my environment. But I love to learn. I love to discover, and I think it was a perfect time for me to create something. And that's how it began. And when you look at the genesis of the project, when I began at the time, there was a lot of advertising banners display, and I asked myself initially, should I try to measure the efficiency of advertising? Not a lot of people are clicking on it, but maybe they were effective. And I quickly understood that even if the banners could be fantastic, if the website is poor, people will leave. And that all came this initial idea to understand what happened between the banner and the checkout. But between Contentsquare or the family business, there was something always very important to try to go beyond myself and to be the best. And my family always pushed me very strong to believe in my own dream.
Benjamin Johnston: In France, Jonathan, the tech scene in 2012, what did it look like and, you said it wasn't so fancy to be an entrepreneur then. What did that tech scene look like in France at that time and how would you compare it to today?
Jonathan Cherki: There was a scene, but no tech scene, definitely. And the scene was more about finance or trading. By the way, most of my friends were working in enterprise finance, corporate finance, trying to be a trader. And I remember that at the time, I was part of the incubator of the school, and we were not so many, and it was not like the Silicon Valley. There was not that at all in France. So, I think it came late with a great catchup and a good ecosystem to accelerate the French tech.
Benjamin Johnston: And now that you've been in New York for five years, how might you compare it to New York, which I has a really burgeoning tech scene. I think it's now the second hottest market for venture funding in the US.
Jonathan Cherki: You mean the next Silicon Valley?
Benjamin Johnston: Yeah, Silicon Island, I guess.
Jonathan Cherki: Yeah, Silicon Island. Between 2012 to 2016, we began our initial project growing from one to one hundred people. And at the time when we were considering that we have a mature product enough, and the market was ready for us, I decided to move from Paris to New York, in early ‘17 to launch our US activities because the US was the biggest market in term of e-commerce. And I remember when I arrived in New York, it was a totally new environment. And by the way, I was hesitating between New York and San Francisco. But due to the six hour lag between New York to Paris, it was easier. Point one and point two will look at where were our potential customers, and most of them were more in the east Coast than the west coast, particularly in retail.
Jonathan Cherki: And I had the opportunity when I was young to go to New York and we say, ‘you know what? This is the time to go. Let's move to the US and let's begin from scratch.’ Because it was a totally new world for a European person, a Paris-French person, with such a charming, beautiful French accent arriving in the US. But I had the impression that the American dream was really possible. Like, when you have the good technology, people were very open to meet you, to discover your technology, the employment market was very fluid, meaning it takes a couple of weeks to hire people. And we quickly started the company – took us something like 6 to 9 months to find our first customer, but the size of the business was two to three times bigger than the size of the contract we were signing in Europe. And it was really the momentum where we were thinking ‘US is the next important thing for the company.’ I would like to spend a lot of time here for me and my family and to make Contentsquare one of the greatest software companies of the world.
David Stiepleman: That's super interesting.
Jonathan Cherki: And I love New York, my job, Ben and David.
David Stiepleman: Can I ask a follow up question about that? Again, back to business school, you're writing this paper, you're like, ‘wow, there's a real idea here.’ I've heard you talk about this on podcasts or in conversations, you're not an engineer, you don't have technical expertise, or you didn't, why did you think you could do this?
Jonathan Cherki: So, I was passionate about math and statistics, but you are right. I never developed myself any line of code at Contentsquare. When I began initially, I began to hire 25 interns, and I was lucky enough to hire at the time one of our first employees who was the CTO of the company who helped us to scale this idea of understanding the behavior of people online to turn it into a software. And it came to a very important point regarding scaling. As a founder and CEO of the company, you need to quickly understand that the best thing you can do is to surround yourself with people that are much stronger, much better than you in every area and to give away that they can grow themselves with a lot of support and trust. So that’s what came with Contentsquare at the very beginning. I would love to be the geek of the team.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh*, that's a big theme for you, the chance to grow. You talk about the chance to grow intellectually, as a manager. I hear you talk about “apprentissage”, apprenticeships like that, that's how you view your learning curve and your development. Why is that important to you?
Jonathan Cherki: You know, part of the culture of Contentsquare, there are two things. One is where there is a will, there is a way. That is a motto that is just in front of my screen and everywhere at Contentsquare. And the second one is to go beyond yourself, where we push people to learn, to discover, to fail and to grow again. Since I look at myself, this is my first company, and I hope it'll be the last. I hope I will be there in the next 20 to 30 years to drive the development of Contentsquare because I love to learn and discover. And, I think the difficult challenge is to be able to grow the different steps, to learn quick, but to have this area where if everyone can feel comfortable to grow step by step.
David Stiepleman: But how do you do that? How do you reinforce that in a company, especially one that's grown as quickly as you guys have?
Jonathan Cherki: By developing this test and learn mindset at every stage of the company. By considering that good ideas are everywhere coming through every forum where you don't want to have a high level of hierarchy, so you push people to express themselves by developing yourself this level of proximity when you speak to everyone, considering that everyone is as important than then the other, and to give the chance to make a mistake, but to learn, I hope, pretty fast. So that's part of my mindset of the company, I will say, David.
David Stiepleman: Are there particular examples where you made a choice, ‘hey, we made a mistake here’, or ‘this person made a mistake here’, or ‘this function didn't do a good job’, and you used it as a learning tool and that worked?
Jonathan Cherki: I’ll give you an example. Initially at Contentsquare, at the very beginning, we had like seven products. And what was hard at the time was to be able to cut six of them, and even to cut 80% of the current products to focus on one of them to be the best on it. So we push people to develop a lot of things and when we discussed with the market, when we analyzed the adoption of the technology, we saw that there is this area around understanding the user experience, that is where we can make one of the greatest software companies of the world – ‘So let's focus.’ And it comes from the fact to recognize that maybe what we did in the past was not good, but to focus on this area where we think we can be perfect or best in class.
Benjamin Johnston: Hey, Jonathan, you talked about surrounding yourself with good people, apprenticeship. You've also, I think, meshed cultures through several acquisitions. You've got several offices, each with hundreds of people in them. How have you kept a continuous culture and how have you meshed those cultures as you've brought together these various companies and opened new offices?
Jonathan Cherki: It's a challenge. We bought six companies the last three years. We grew the team from one hundred people to over 1,800 people today. So, to be sure that the culture is everywhere is not an easy challenge. and initially it come from the people you are near because they are the one who are spreading the culture everywhere. They are the ambassadors of your culture and I consider that there is nothing more important in the company when you have the willingness and the ambition to create something, you need to have a strong culture and always develop that and we try to develop an approach where you have, for example, culture crew, because you can have some difference in the culture everywhere. And it's the same in the US. The people are different – not from Europe to US – but from different states.
Jonathan Cherki: It's not just west coast, east coast, or central. Everyone has a different approach. So, we try to really have the culture in the different offices, but also through the companies we bought and this global but local approach is super important. And it's the same for M&A. When we bought companies, one important criteria is not just how much upsell we will do, how much good synergy we can develop, but, we can develop a common culture that could also affect the culture of Contentsquare, where we can learn a lot from the company we have acquired in the past to try to build a plan together. And, usually when we go on M&A, we try to be into details around what will be the messaging, what will be the positioning, what will be the common culture, what we should go really into details to understand this kind of small thing in appearance, but makes the difference at the end.
David Stiepleman: Are you trying to get on the same page with the target management team before you do it? So, what do you do?
Jonathan Cherki: Yeah, always, even before signing the deal. But we spend several days together, in person, to really know each other. We tried to have a very objective approach around management. For a lot of people, it’s a company who’s acquiring another company that will manage every everything. Actually, it was not the case at Contentsquare. We gave a lot of leadership hub of companies we bought because we saw that people were very strong, talented, could have a very good positive impact in our company culture overall. This approach of building things together without an initial idea I think it's a very important point when you want to have a successful M&A.
David Stiepleman: Yeah. You know, we were joking before we started recording about language and my poor French, but I have a serious question about language, which is I think when you're speaking a different language, at least I find myself thinking about ‘am I a different personality in this language?’ ‘I'm not really myself, not in my native language.’ How do you transmit culture in English? And if I understand correctly, your French office, which has, 25 nationalities, you guys speak English there too. How do you do that?
Jonathan Cherki: We consider that culture is not just going through language. For example, we love sports. It’s a good way to assess or go beyond ourselves approach. So I can tell that there are a lot of areas where the language is not important. When we will play soccer or basketball together, we will develop something, when we will try to create something, build something that could be manual, physical, with the mindset, with the idea, with the fun, with humor. We try to really feel that if there is something special with the people, and I think it goes far beyond from our respectful, charming accent, major David.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh*. Fair enough. But do you find yourself wondering, ‘Hey, was I understood correctly, or did I convey that the correct way?’
Jonathan Cherki: But *laugh*, that's funny. Usually, I love to say that when I meet a customer or an investor, they're understanding 60 to 70% of what I am saying, *laugh*, at least it's charming the first hour. And that's why we need to have a fantastic product. So, when you saw the product with your eyes, you get it, and you say, ‘I need this product’, *laugh*. So the product speaks better than myself.
David Stiepleman: It still speaks for itself, *laugh*.
David Stiepleman: Can we talk about sports for a second? That's very interesting and you hear that a lot as a metaphor, as a vehicle to build great teams. I've also heard you speak on “la qualité de la gagner.” You're competitive, but you speak about the quality of the win, that's a big value for you. What does that mean?
Jonathan Cherki: It means a lot because we are not just here to win the game. There is a way we will win the game. At the very beginning, when you are an entrepreneur, you are very obsessed about growing, growing, growing. At a certain time, you are understanding that it's not just about the growth, it's about, or we develop the growth, what will be the impact of the company. That's why today, my obsession at Contentsquare is not just to make a big business, but to try to make one of the greatest companies of the world in terms of positive impact. And that's why we try to drive a strong vision in the next 20 years. We try to identify how we can change the world and what will be the way we will achieve it. And that is the same on sport. One of my personal dreams – I have a lot of dream by the way – we can about a lot of things.
David Stiepleman: Oh, that sounds good. I'd like to talk about that.
Jonathan Cherki: But one of them could be to buy the soccer club where I come from. I grew up in Marseille – the Olympique de Marseille. But because when I was young, I saw this strong spirit, this strong ambition, this unique enthusiasm. There are some very good qualities you can find in sports that you can apply, I think, on business. And the question of impact is more and more important, I think, not just for me or for Contentsquare, but for all the team, the players you will have around you.
David Stiepleman: And let’s say I was applying for a job at Contentsquare, and I'm a terrible soccer player. Would I still be welcome on the team? How does that work? How do you judge my ability to play as a team?
Jonathan Cherki: I think more than your skills, we will really focus on your willingness to participate what you can bring to the table. And never forget, David, where there is a will, there is a way. You can keep on improving your soccer skills.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh*, I think I'm on the down slope now.
Jonathan Cherki: I think what what's really important is about the team spirit you can contribute and to push the people to celebrate, to enjoy, to be as one team. I am a big believer of this one team approach.
David Stiepleman: So, I have a question about that. So are we and, that's so important to us. And we have to set up structures to make sure that people are incented to play as a team, but also to find people who find that much more fulfilling. I'm interested, post-covid, in the tech world, you get a lot of announcements, especially from companies that I guess used to be headquartered here in San Francisco, ‘Hey, you don't have to come to the office. We don't care where you are. Just get your work done.’ At least from our perspective, building team culture, doing apprenticeship work when you're not together is very hard, if not impossible. How are you guys navigating that?
Jonathan Cherki: It's hard. Particularly from a company where the in-person approach was so important because we share a lot around being all together in person. So as all of the companies, it was a difficult moment where it was time to readapt to the change of environment, or we empower people to develop more and more fireside chats, more and more outlets where we can answer a lot of people. But it comes with new challenges when you are here, a lot of people during this time, or you are able to round them up, to empower them, or you can transfer this culture fits remotely. And we put a lot of energy, every day to try to give this opportunity. Did we solve it? I consider, no, but I think it's a challenge for a lot of companies today.
Benjamin Johnston: Jonathan, you grew a lot even before Covid, so you talk about some of the things you've had to do during Covid, but, taking that aside, what are some of the things you've had to adjust in your management style as you've gone from the idea to 50 people, to 100 people, to 1500 people, you can't know everyone's name, you can't have memorized everyone's name. How have you adjusted your management style, both to help maintain culture and to just keep building a successful business?
Jonathan Cherki: A couple of items. Number one is stay authentic. It's very important for me to keep on having this very close proximity with everyone. We have 18 offices today. I'm traveling a lot, but every trip, I try to spend the time to meet, in person, everyone to say ‘hello,’ to discuss, because this is super important to them, but it's very important to me to keep this approach because anytime they will think about how we can improve stuff or do the stuff differently, they will feel more comfortable to share. The second thing is to develop much more transparency. And, in our job, we try to measure everything online to understand why someone is taking the decision, et cetera, and it's something we try to apply much more to all of us by giving this forum with much more transparency, explaining what is working, not working, what we can improve if everyone has other good ideas to improve it. So, this notion of being accessible, being transparent, but keeping the same level of energy anytime you meet someone, there will become the next ambassador for the next people to come. That is our formula.
Benjamin Johnston: Build a team of culture carriers. That makes sense. I think those are all super important. Transparency is key to maintaining the one team culture so everyone feels like they're a part of it.
David Stiepleman: Important with your capital providers too, I assume. So is Ben a good director? What can he do to make sure that Sixth Street and your other investors are good, compatible investors for you?
Jonathan Cherki: So first, I have the impression that we have a lot in common with Sixth Street regarding the culture, regarding the approach, and we develop stronger and stronger relationships with Ben. For example, I have the impression that you are always available. You are quick. You give your point of view. You try to be a solution maker and that is super important because I have the sensation that we have the same ambition for the company. We are here for the long term, and I have a lot to learn from you. And that is so important to me. And regarding the relation and the culture we are developing with our team, we try to do the same with our investors because I consider that we are in the same boat, we have the same objective.
Jonathan Cherki: Let's try to develop this kind of relationship, to call each other, to check if everything is going well. Even saying you, ‘you didn't improve yourself at golf during this weekend.’ That I think is very important because after he creates this easy forum to talk and to understand what is working, not working, what can we do better together? And that is something I feel with you, Ben, and overall with the interaction I have with Sixth Street, on top of the fact that you have this global approach, you have this SaaS expertise, and this long-term approach that was super important to me.
Benjamin Johnston: We like investing in soccer teams too – football teams – so we've got that coming too.
David Stiepleman: Sounds like we have someone trying out for coach or for manager or for owner.
Jonathan Cherki: *Laugh* First, I need to develop, execute, and go beyond myself on Contentsquare. But yes, I can tell that you are supporting a lot of great soccer teams. Be ready to win the Champions League soon, one day or another when we'll be together in this new adventure.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh* To me, it's very funny and interesting, the data you've collected about people, different nationalities and how they interact on websites. So, the Americans are gunslingers, they show up, they look at something, we buy; Germans read all of the warranties or whatever, things that maybe fall into national stereotypes that everybody loves to talk about. What's the craziest faux anthropology thing you've discovered?
Jonathan Cherki: Well, there is a funny one but seems to be a real one about French. The first thing they're doing when they're going online, they're filtering by price.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh*.
Jonathan Cherki: So should we say they are selfish? I hope not. But that is what we can observe with data. I hope we're not saying they're cheap also, by the way. But there is a lot to learn about the nationalities, the way people are browsing that could be very different from one country to another. An example we gave recently was about Germany: one out of five German people read general condition of sales. And I think no decent US guy will do it ever. But I think there are a lot of universalities regarding the data we are analyzing and if we try to project ourselves about what the future of experience look like, it's not just about adapting the experience per country or per state or per territory, but will be really to understand each person as an individual, to give the ability to have a great experience for all accessible, but also for everyone based on their own intention, leveraging one key pillar of the future of the digital society that is privacy.
David Stiepleman: Yeah. Let's talk about that. You've talked about how you want to liberate customer behavior from people's personal information – on its face a very important thing. But talk about that some more.
Jonathan Cherki: I think that it's not just about who are you as a person or where you are coming from. And a lot of this information could be just as personal information. I think the topic is more about what are your intentions – what do you feel? Are you stressed? Are you in a discovery phase? Would you like to buy instantly? The prices may be more important to you. So I don't care who you are, I don't care where you are coming from. I care about what you are doing at the time you are doing. And that's why if you translate that into Contentsquare products, we are a big believer of a cookie-less world, because for people, it's important for them that they have developed this notion of digital trust with the brand, with the technology. And, to do so, we offer this ability to analyze the user interaction by not focusing on all the other parameters that could have potentially a negative impact. And I think the definition of what privacy could look like in the next 10 to 20 years, and what is the impact on tech is a very important topic where Contentsquare has a leadership role to play.
David Stiepleman: Can we talk about the French environment. We've touched on it a couple of times, and then we were talking national stereotypes. The outsider looking into the French commercial environment would say, ‘hey, you know, there's a lot of red tape, there's a mistrust of commercial success.’ That doesn't seem to be your experience and I've heard you also talk about the incredibly high level of R&D talent in France. Maybe demystify that market for us and then I'm going to ask you to compare it to coming here.
Jonathan Cherki: That’s a good question and I agree with you. I think there are a lot of stereotypes, and I believe that in Europe and in France, in particular, you will see more and more big tech companies in the near future for several reasons. One, there is a fantastic ratio about quality, price, loyalty, about our engineers. The quality is very good, the price and the cost could be two to three times lower than what we can see in the US, and people are very loyal. Two, I said that 10 years ago there was not really a French tech, but now it is because there is a full ecosystem to support it. I give you an example. There is a credit tax of 30% for innovation. It means when you hire an engineer in France, you will pay 30% less their salary due to this 30% credit tax.
Jonathan Cherki: Huge impact. And there is really a willingness to develop this ecosystem. For example, in France, they recently developed what we named ‘Next 40.’ That will be the next 40, big companies, big support from the government in terms of visibility, help, access. And same about the outside investment. The last few years, we saw more and more international companies, US VC investing in the French environment, because they understand that they are a great equation to develop. Yes, it's not as unified as the US markets, but I think that when you have companies that were able to penetrate strongly in Europe and will have a good technology to go globally, there will be some very good pillar to make a future blockbuster.
David Stiepleman: Why do you suppose people are more loyal?
Jonathan Cherki: I will say most the time they spend in the company. For example, this notion of stock option, et cetera, was something pretty recent, or developed in Europe than in the US. And also the approach of the fluidity of the market that is different. I will say for a long time we were thinking that it takes a lot of time to hire or to stop a relationship in Europe. I think today it's more and more efficient, maybe not as free as it is in the US, but on the other end, you can see more and more what I name loyalty, long term, , people, investment in company. That is super important, I think.
David Stiepleman: So, then you came to the US in 2017. Interesting to me that you didn't send a team, you came yourself. And what was different? How did you have to adapt your approach?
Jonathan Cherki: I had to adapt everything. At the time, when I moved my wife was pregnant with our second kid, so I had to adapt my family, my language, my understanding about who to hire, how to do deals, how to adapt on some point even, the product, potentially. For example, hiring has been a very important challenge, particularly because we hired a lot of people quickly and we changed a lot of people quickly. So, it was a strong adaptation to me on our hiring process. Same on business deals. People were more accessible. They were ready to test quicker than what we had so far in Europe so the sales cycle was pretty different than what we saw in Europe and the size of the investment is not just about winning in New York.
Jonathan Cherki: It's about trying to win in every state in the US and to develop the infrastructure to do so. And I feel that it was a bigger culture gap than anticipated. It was so important to me to be here in person because I wanted to win one of the biggest markets of the world at the time in terms of e-commerce so I really wanted to feel the market, myself, to understand what needs to be done. And I don't consider I cracked it. But I can tell you something, I will be there in the next 20 years, hopefully in Contentsquare, but also in the US my kids are more American than French on some points today.
David Stiepleman: How do you mean? How do they evidence their Americanness to you? Or you're like, ‘oh my God, what are we doing here?’
Jonathan Cherki: But first, they make fun of my accent every day. *Laugh*. Second, they're going to American school, so they only learn French at home. Because as I imagine myself spending a lot of time, or most of my life in the US, it was super important to me to give this American culture. The issue is that so far, they are better at soccer than at basketball, but I try to work on it myself.
Benjamin Johnston: *Laugh*. Do they root for sports teams in the US. Do they root for American sports teams?
Jonathan Cherki: Not at this level yet, but they're training a basketball at school. That's why I need to do extra sessions in the weekend to support. So I need to improve myself, keep learning on it. It's a very important element of the American culture. But even myself, I love to spend this moment and to learn and to discover. I’ll give you an example, even after a difficult weekend, or let's say a weekend when we didn't do so much, they arrive in the Monday morning, to explain their weekend, and they need to voice it during 10, 15 minutes, as it was a fantastic weekend. So, it's a totally different culture by comparison of what we have in Europe. At least they know how to sell.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh*. ‘It was great. We had a great weekend, *laugh*. ‘We did nothing. It rained, but it was great.’ Is it important to you to convey to your kids a Marseille culture in addition to a general French culture? What’s the difference? What's importance to you about being from Marseille?
Jonathan Cherki: Yesterday, there was a match between PSG and Marseille. And in PSG you have most of the best players of the world. You have the Kylian Mbappé. At school, they are more speaking about these players than Marseille. But what we try to keep the family touch, going every summer in south of France, my wife is also from Nice so it's easier to us to go in south of France so we can spend time with the family and to keep this element of the culture.
David Stiepleman: As someone who has been part of a business that's grown quickly and I think a lot of people who listen to this, have had similar experiences, prioritizing your time and how you've changed that balance to stay on top of a larger enterprise. How do you do that? What are your methods or what's your framework to make sure you're spending time on the right things?
Jonathan Cherki: So, it changed. It changed a lot depending about the priority of the company and there is some stuff that I love. I love the customers, so I love to spend a lot of time with them because I consider that the innovation could come from us, but it comes a lot from listening to our market, listening to our people. So I try to dedicate a lot of my time to be in the field, supporting the sales people, spending time with customer. I'm very customer obsessed. That is a big part of my time. The second one is about innovation. Even if I didn't develop anything myself, I am a big fan about what will be the good vision for the company. What about our product? I am the one who is doing all the demo. I think I know the product better than anyone, or I hope it is in the, in the company, to really understand when you are a customer, what's your adoption, what is happening exactly.
Jonathan Cherki: And I felt that I really needed to be in this field myself, to drive a better understanding of our product innovation. And I think after about the strategy of the company, when I try to put my shoes or myself, into customers’ perspective, what will be the next adjusted market? What will be the future capabilities I can give more value to customers? And the third part is about the proximity overall. Proximity regarding internal topics, proximity with our investors, not just to finance the next step of the company, but also to understand what will be the key element, what their view of macro. And I will say, when you look at my top priority now, is not just about the growing or impact on the stuff, but we discuss, but it's really about putting operational excellence everywhere. And there, there was a time where the focus was product, there was a time where the focus was about international expansion, but my top focus now is to give this level of efficiency everywhere to prepare the next big chapter of growth for Contentsquare.
Benjamin Johnston: Jonathan, when you founded the business 10 years ago, you talked about being customer obsessed and thinking about what customers are going to want. What's maybe the biggest surprise from when you were getting the business up and running eight to 10 years ago to today, in terms of the customer experience market, the session, replay, market, all the markets that you're in. What's the biggest surprise of the thing that you got right or wrong when you now look back?
Jonathan Cherki: My biggest surprise was the market was not mature. The market was not ready. And, you know, sometimes you can say, ‘ah, you are fantastic entrepreneur, you are fantastic technology.’ But at the end, if you don't have a fantastic timing, you will not be a blockbuster. And it's something that you can, on some point provoke, but sometimes it's just something that is happening at this time. So when we arrive, speaking about improving the experience, the market was saying, ‘okay, that's nice.’ But what is more important for me was acquisition. Make more people come to the website. I need more traffic. And the priority around the search with Google, CRM with Salesforce 10 years ago, that was the top priority. But now when you look, all the markets evolve, the cost of acquisition is high, the traffic is on mobile, and the conversion rate online remains super low on 100 people coming into a physical store, 30 are buying on 100 people coming into a digital shop, only three are buying.
Jonathan Cherki: So the topic of improving the online experience is more and more strategic. So I have to adapt myself to the maturity of the market to really understand all we can tackle the good persona. And we saw at the time that there was no one about content, conversion, analytics in merchandising. It takes a couple of years to have that. No, the market is mature. So when you can arrive at a good level of maturity with the good product and the good go to market, we think that is the time to accelerate. So that was my biggest surprise because I was thinking that ‘I have the best product of the world. Everyone was ready to buy’, and I needed to adapt myself.
Benjamin Johnston: We wanted to talk about brick and mortar versus the online experience. Where do you think, if the market's more ready today as they focus on conversion, do those two worlds sort of start to converge? Do you think there's just some fundamental differences that that'll never happen? How do you think about the difference between those two experiences?
Jonathan Cherki: That's a very good question, particularly because for a long time we used to separate brick and mortar and digital, and now we can see that particularly in a post Covid world, that everything is linked. The good news is not good news. I will say that maybe one of the positive impacts of Covid has been the digital acceleration of the world, because there are a lot of brick and mortar who were late in their digital transformation, and they have to readapt and they accelerate their pass to digital to make the topic of improving online experience as a top priority of the company. But now we can see that, it's not one or another. It’s not like people will go only online and never offline it’s ‘oh, we can make both work together.’ Some of them created strategy where offline or in-store, it could be a good way to test the product and you buy online or to have a specific experience and to convert some of them, leverage the online to have a better in-store experience. I think what is very important is not to think about channel, but to think about the customer. The customer has a lot of points of contact when you are a business, or you have this agility to give the customer the experience they want, where they want, and when they want it.
David Stiepleman: You know what you were making me think of when we were talking about the French market. We were talking about timing. Tell everybody what the Minitel was.
Jonathan Cherki: You know what, I had a Minitel myself for a while, even today in my office, to remember.
David Stiepleman: Just as a museum piece?
Jonathan Cherki: Yeah, like a museum or like what you have in Microsoft Word, when I show my kids or to save a document. You have this beautiful picture and they can say to you, ‘what is it?’
David Stiepleman: But what, the Minitel?
Jonathan Cherki: So, to come back to the Minitel. So it could be like the old way to have a fun directory.
David Stiepleman: Everybody had one, or not everybody, but a lot of people had them, and it was a big monitor in your house. And it was kind of like a proto internet, right, just in France?
Jonathan Cherki: It was an early version of internet, an early version of chat. Or early version of different kind of communications, let's say.
David Stiepleman: When I remember going to France in the eighties and thinking, ‘wow, this is incredible,’ and I wonder did that make people more receptive to what you're doing in France? Or no perceptible impact on the French market?
Jonathan Cherki: I don't know. I don't think so. I think that overall, the digital maturity sometimes came with the ability to buy on online. So you can look about the eCommerce penetration that is often linked with the digital maturity, could be very different from one country to another. When you look at Africa, they began a lot on mobile because they didn't have computers. So the way they develop and the way to buy online could be very different. For example, we saw that, buying through WhatsApp or through a chat was very well developed in India recently, or in China, for example. So the speed of innovation, I'm not sure it's linked to Minitel, but I think it's also linked to a new generation of entrepreneurs in France with no complex at all. We understand that you are in a global world, so if you want to make something different, you need to have a global perspective.
David Stiepleman: What do you mean with no complex at all? What do you mean? You mean like a, an emotional complex?
Jonathan Cherki: Meaning that it's not just about France. It's not just about solving, let's say local topics that could be France, but solving global challenges.
David Stiepleman: Having that ambition. Okay so, my Minitel theory is just wrong. I should stop pursuing the Minitel theory. That's fine.
Jonathan Cherki: Maybe it is. I don't know enough the Minitels than what I keep in my office, actually. *Laugh*
David Stiepleman: Ben, what are the topics because I wanted to go to what Jon mentioned, ‘gee, I've got a lot of big dreams.’ I want to go back to that.
Benjamin Johnston: I think that's a great place to go. I like hearing Jonathan talk about his dreams.
David Stiepleman: All right. So one was Olympique Marseille. What are your other dreams? Make that list. I'd love to hear this.
Jonathan Cherki: So, I will make you a good transition with business. One of my lovely dreams is to keep learning and to be able to learn each step of the future of the company. I'll give you an example. I'm not fighting for the cash or for the power. I'm fighting to make Contentsquare, one of the top software companies of the world. We were speaking about quality of win with a good impact and with a good way to achieve this objective. Super important to me. But you know, this is a unique company I've been working with so myself, I need to learn, I need to go beyond myself, I need to improve every 6 to 12 months. I try to see that if our people are they the good people to do the job of today, then the job of tomorrow. But that works also for me. I need to be the good captain at every chapter. And for that, I need to push myself a lot. And I think what's important to do so is to always learn. Learn, learn with a good humility of recognizes that, ‘okay, I don't know, but give me a couple of months and I will become the master of it.’
David Stiepleman: Are you very deliberately, every 6 to 12 months taking a measure of where you are in your learning and what you're spending time on? How are you measuring that?
Jonathan Cherki: I'm trying to do it with the people around me.
David Stiepleman: Yeah.
Jonathan Cherki: And I try to do it myself where I was lucky that every 6 to 12 months there were different challenges at Contentsquare. And funny enough, a lot of time you could think, ‘okay, good, we have structure, I will have much more time to do some other stuff but the more you grow the company, you have so many new, fantastic challenges that you need to solve. And on my end, they are totally new. All of them. And that's why I am lucky to have a lot of great people like you around me to help me to achieve this dream.
David Stiepleman: You say you become the expert in something. How do you do that? Are you reading books? Are you talking to people? Are you doing all of the above?
Jonathan Cherki: I think it depends. Sometimes it's I put my hands on it myself. Sometimes it's to work very closely with people to solve it. And sometimes it’s just to trust the people around you to create the infrastructure so they can help to solve this issue. But I think learning is even more what I try to do is in every meeting, I try to say, ‘okay, what did I learn?’ For example, today I learned that we will practice a little more soccer and basketball together soon.*Laugh*, I learned that I have a lot of good things to discover also with you about how to boost a soccer team regarding financing it because you are helping a lot of great soccer teams today. And I hope you will learn from me too during this great session. Personally, I am enjoying a lot. That was my second dream.
David Stiepleman: *Laugh*. Those are big dreams. I, for one, have definitely learned a lot, not only about you and your company, but how to approach and being someone who wants to grow and thinking about the long-term as a growth opportunity because rather than thinking about a particular seat or amount of money or anything like that, that's the best way to make sure that you're enjoying every day. So, it's been a super conversation from my perspective. Ben, what else before we wrap up?
Benjamin Johnston: In that same vein, taking the long-term approach, you've mentioned you're not in for the cash, but to have a positive impact, you've mentioned that a few times. What does that mean?
Jonathan Cherki: So, at Contentsquare, when you look at all the positive impact we could have, we pick up four topics. One of them is accessibility. There are 1 billion people on Earth that have difficulties to accessing online content. For example, some of them could be blind people, people with dyslexia. 70% of the content online is not accessible.
David Stiepleman: Oh, that's amazing.
Jonathan Cherki: And on the other end, we saw a lot of energy to try to improve the world physically, but due to the fact that people are spending much more time online, it makes the web more accessible to everyone is so important, from school, university to businesses. I gave you an example. We created the Contentsquare Foundation, and we recently developed a plug-in to help people who have dyslexia (around 700 million people on Earth) to use Microsoft Word in partnership with Microsoft so they have instant access to Microsoft without any issues, adapted to their dyslexia. So that is one. The second one is privacy. Working in this cookie-less world, trying to develop a new notion around digital trust. We discussed a little about it during this conversation. The third one is about what we named sustainability, where we think is not just about carbon impact, but is also about if you look where we can make a difference on it, make the websites with a better experience so people spend less time to find what they are looking for, less impact data, but overall, trying to do the thing with a better impact for our planet.
Jonathan Cherki: And I think we can improve ourselves, particularly on this item. And the last item is about diversity and inclusion. There is so much to learn from everyone from everywhere and even ourselves in our way to approach this notion of uniqueness. It's one of the top values of Contentsquare. And we try to push a lot for that.
David Stiepleman: Take that last topic. How are you doing that? What are the concrete things that you're doing inside the company or in your ecosystems to make sure you're getting the best talent into the house?
Jonathan Cherki: It comes from where we are recruiting the people, or we are recruiting the people. It comes from understanding, when you look at our data, what are the different split about the diversity we could have at every level of the company. It come from giving the chance to everyone to have an impact in the company. And, you know, it's a kind of topic that could be even much harder to implement than our initial thought.
David Stiepleman: Yeah.
Jonathan Cherki: To make a real change in the organization. But I can tell you something, I am, and we are at Contentsquare, a big believer of the power of everyone, wherever they come from, whatever they are. I believe that if they're part of the Contentsquare culture, it'll have a strong impact. You know, I think it's really a topic, not just for department, it's a wide movement into companies. If we would like to make a real change, and I used to say when we speak to our customers, more than a digital transformation, it's also about people transformation on the way we develop this topic, but also on the way they're working.
David Stiepleman: I got to tell you, not just on the diversity, equity, and inclusion topic, but everything you just mentioned about digital accessibility, all of your topics. What a great example of the quality of the win. It's just awesome. So thank you. Thank you for going through that. I think the only other thing to say is de notre part à Sixth Street es grand merci. Thank you so much on behalf of everybody at Sixth Street. It was a great conversation. It was super fun.
Jonathan Cherki: Thank you very much. And you know we are also here to help. So if we can help you, in any way, my dear friends, when there is a will, there is a way.
David Stiepleman: Well, likewise.
Benjamin Johnston: Thanks Jonathan.
David Stiepleman: Thank you, Jonathan Cherki. What a great time.
Jonathan Cherki: Thanks so much, Ben and David.
David Stiepleman: That was Jonathan Cherki. We spoke on Monday, October 17th, 2022, and I was joined by my colleague Ben Johnston from the Sixth Street Growth Team. Thanks so much to Jon for coming on. Here's what I think we learned. You want your team to try new things and get excited about new ideas and to take those pursuits seriously, but you also have to cut and move on from stuff that's not working. That's a balance between idea generation and the execution focus functions and when you do that well, it's a sign of an incredibly strong culture. We really appreciate Jon walking us through his approach to that.
Benjamin Johnston: It's a great point, David. And on a related topic, I appreciated the discussion about growing his culture through acquisition. Contentsquare has successfully made a number of acquisitions, and Jon talked about how your culture can be strengthened through those processes. You can balance a commitment to your company's core culture with an understanding that everyone doesn't need to leave behind what made their team successful elsewhere. You can take good threads from other company cultures and integrate those with your own, and I really appreciated that point.
David Stiepleman: Yeah, me too. And I think that's only possible with Jon's posture towards life, which is that everything is an opportunity to be interested and to learn something. I thought he was a great, great person to talk to. You've been listening to ‘It's Not Magic’, a Sixth Street podcast. You can read more about our guests on SixthStreet.com and subscribe wherever you get your podcast. If you enjoy today's podcast, please share it and follow @SixthStreetNews on Twitter for more on the show and our firm. Thanks to Sixth Street's production team, Patrick Clifford and Ritvi Shah, putting this together with Sound Engineering by Stephen Colon, our theme song is ‘It's Not Magic’, an Original Creation by Patrick Dyer Wolf. Once again, I'm David Stiepleman. Thanks for listening. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Sixth Street and Sixth Street is not providing any financial, economic, legal, accounting, or tax advice or recommendations in this podcast. Please see additional disclosures on our website for more details.