Nicolas Dessaigne, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, chats about Algolia, his platform for building search into your business. Algolia was founded founded in 2012. It produces building blocks for creating great search and has raised $74 million in investment. He discusses the importance of APIs and the dawn of conversational interfaces. Nicolas is obsessed with promoting a positive company culture and he believes in always striving for authenticity.
Transcript Episode 2
Nick Curtis-Davis: You’re listening to 14 Minutes of SaaS. A “That was now” production.
Various: I do tend to get up pretty early. Isn’t that crazy? If we fail at this one, I think I need to get a job. I’m an artist. I’m a painter. Started this company in my garage. It’s actually pretty amazing. The world needs to know that this exists. And this was a moment when actually this lightbulb went on. Sometimes when you have a problem, it’s an occasion to shine. Everything in life gets better when you take better care of yourself. It’s horribly geekish, but it is what it is.
Nick Curtis-Davis: This week on the podcast, Nicolas Dessaigne
Nicolas Dessaigne: By hiding anything you are not going to win their trust. Actually it’s how you react when there is a problem that is going to create a relationship. Everyone has bugs. Everyone has problems. It’s how you deal with them. That’s what’s going to make an impression.
Nick Curtis-Davis: Nicolas is the CEO and co-founder of Algolia, a Hosted Search as a service platform. Algolia was launched in 2012 to help developers connect their users with what matters most. Today, Over 3000 customers are now using our Algolia to deliver instant relevant search results for their users anywhere in the world.
Stephen Cummins: Nicolas Dessaigne believes in authenticity, transparency and focus. At Lisbon’s web, he expressed that how much we care about what we do and how constructively we respond to adversity defines how good we really are. Nicola is obsessed with the infusing the culture of this team with these admirable qualities. This obsession seems to be working very well. Just over five years, Agolia has raised over 74 million US dollars in investment for a search as a service mission.
Stephen Cummins: Nicolas, absolutely delighted to have you here with us today.
Nicolas Dessaigne: The pleasure’s mine.
Stephen Cummins: Tell me a little bit about your history and who you are.
Nicolas Dessaigne: Nicolas Dessaigne, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Algolia. And before that I was a tech guy. Did an engineering degree, a PHD, before going into the workforce. And just before Algolia, I was the VP R&D of a Company called Exalead, that was also a search engine.
Stephen Cummins: Can you tell us any tech trends that’s been exciting you or that excited you, particularly here at the Web summit?
Nicolas Dessaigne: Yeah, sure. I mean, actually, it’s a bit linked to maybe the future of Algolia. But let’s pick up on that later, maybe. What I’m really focusing on today is what we call conversational interfaces, like how, well, my belief is that … you’re actually going to change completely the way we interact with software. It’s going to take a few years. We see a lot of experiments from Google, Amazon, Apple but I believe that in three, four, five years, it’s going to become mainstream. And that’s super interesting to look at.
Stephen Cummins: You’ve a very striking motto, very simple but very clear, which says Algolia is all about search made right. Could you tell us a little bit more of what that means?
Nicolas Dessaigne: We believe that it’s more like a content … a user experience … user engagement concern. Really focusing on content engineers, product managers, as the audience that we are speaking to. We want to help them better engage their own users. And that’s why, like, we want to get out of the pure, let’s say, back-end technology approach. And I really want to look at what’s important for these people to engage their own users.
Stephen Cummins: You empower a more intuitive, personalized, relevant and faster search. Right?
Nicolas Dessaigne: All good keywords.
Stephen Cummins: You empower companies to do that, but essentially you’re a hosted search engine API. Is there a way to explain that in laymans terms to somebody who might be a bit less technical?
Nicolas Dessaigne: Sure. So the idea here is that we are building block for developers of website, developers of apps. So when they are creating their own product, we want them to be able to rely on best of breed technologies … like really an API in that sense, as we are building block, they can insert in their own lack of tools. So that’s going to be able to build a better experience, a better application, better website, faster making their life easy. So we’re thinking about user experience. Actually the developer experience is also very important for us. When you heard about the other companies like following that same approach like Twilio, Tribe, SendGrid is going to IPO very soon. All these companies are APIs too. And by using this set of building blocks, really developers can do as such a better job faster today than they could have done like 10 years ago.
Stephen Cummins: You mentioned that a goal of your make search more authentic. Are you saying that maybe Google facilitates less authentic search?
Nicolas Dessaigne: Yeah .. it’s a bit touchy. I love Google because they help us in a ways. They help educate everyone to expect a great search experience. Like people go on Google search, they have like instant answers. That’s simply creating crazy, crazy expectations, raising the bar for everyone. And businesses, for them, it’s very difficult to meet these expectations … in ways that’s our market. We’re helping these businesses to do as good, if not a better, job as Google is doing for the Web. And the other aspect is probably coming from our culture …. company culture we care a lot about the work culture and how it’s helping us with scale and authenticity – it’s kind of like a cornerstone of who we are. We really want to just to say what we do and do what we say. But the idea is really to yeah, to transmit that culture into our product in the way we interact with our customers.
Stephen Cummins: When you’re on that wheel of intense focus on your business, you know, how do you … how do you balance, how do you stay healthy? How do you stay mentally and physically ok? Do you do anything to try and keep yourself grounded?
Nicolas Dessaigne: It’s very difficult. I got a family with three kids and that makes my life actually pretty simple. It’s either family or company. There is nothing else. Let’s let’s let’s see the positive side. It gives me balance. I have to … if I want to see my kids. Simple. And the quality time you are going to have with your family, so much more important than the quantity. If you are always thinking about your work, they are going to know and to resent you.
Stephen Cummins: What are you most proud of so far in your life?
Nicolas Dessaigne: Inside the company, I would say the culture. We are like about one of the 60 people today and are growing fast. And I’m super proud of how we have been able to create the culture from the early days to today … and how we are still putting that at the top of our mind. Simple example, today I’m always super impressed to see our salespeople working alongside of the developers and how they get together on calls, how they respect each other, how they work together as the same team … as one team. And that’s something I’ve never seen elsewhere before. And in a way that kind of makes me proud about the culture we’ve been able to build in the company.
Stephen Cummins: One other thing, going back to Algolia, it describes search as more solid. Could you could you explain to me what Algolia means by that?
Nicolas Dessaigne: Yeah, I think it’s important for us. I mean, search in so many situations, it’s really critical. Take an e-commerce website on Black Friday. I mean, it can become very critical for our customers. And so for us, there is no … I mean, we’re not going to compromise the availability of this service. We are a bit crazy, to be honest. We even have an offer that goes to 5 x 9 SLA so 9 9. 9 9 9 percent of the time [uptime.
Stephen Cummins: Wow.
Nicolas Dessaigne: That means we commit to less than 30 seconds per downtime. So that’s the 5 x 9. And if you are down, we refund 1000 times the downtime. So if you are down five hours, we refund six months. Well that’s the premium option.
But nonetheless, for us, it’s super important and to able to do that, we are going to actually get your data into three servers, but also three data centers. Well, so even if a full data center goes down, you won’t even notice. It’s a bit crazy, to be honest, but that’s part of our identity … about who we are… we’re really, really careful about the solidity of the service. It goes back to that authenticity in a way, because …especially in the world of developers … you need to get to win their trust. And it’s not by hiding anything you are going to win their trust. Yeah, actually, it’s how you react when there is a problem that’s going to create a relationship. So everyone has bugs. Everyone has problems. It’s how you deal with them. That’s where you’re going to make an impression. And it’s it’s a bit silly. It’s a bit counterintuitive. But sometimes when you have a problem, a bug, it’s an occasion to shine. It’s an occasion to show how much you care. And more often than not, customers are not going to leave. And they’re actually going to become even happier after because they had interactions and they know they can trust you. So don’t create bugs on purpose, of course … just create that relationship. But when bad things happen, and that happens to everyone, really be transparent, care about their experience, their pain. You can turn that problem into a real opportunity to shine.
Stephen Cummins: And I think that sort of corporate glasnost is a bit like life in the sense that I think when you’re authentic and you’re honest, things work out better for you in the end anyway. And it’s all about trust.
Nicolas Dessaigne: Correct.
Stephen Cummins: Downtime is a small problem … a little bit of downtime is not such a big problem. I don’t mean to …
Nicolas Dessaigne: No no no … I completely agree. Completely
Stephen Cummins: Hiding it becomes a massive problem.
Nicolas Dessaigne: Trust! Trust is one of the core values of the culture. It applies internally but also externally towards our customers
Stephen Cummins: If you could get into a time machine and go three years, five years hence. What would you like to see?
Nicolas Dessaigne: So short term our future is in the course of our business search … API. We’re like adding new features. We’re expanding the service, of course. But if I look at four or five years … let’s get back to that discussion about the conversational interfaces … I believe that’s really going to work in four or five years. And again, what’s going to happen is that Google … and entities like Amazon, Apple … they are going to again educate the market, trying to create new expectations for consumers. And of course, businesses are going to experience a nightmare to meet these new expectations. That’s our future market. We believe that we can build all the building blocks again … that’s going … that’s going to enable these businesses to enter that game … to be able to deliver on that promise that the expectations that the consumers are going to have. And yet conversational interfaces, it’s really difficult to know today exactly the form it’s going to take. But we can already see today how people interact with Alexa, for example. Like if you look at kids interacting with Alexa, it’s incredible the questions they may ask. Tomorrow search is going to be invisible. People don’t want to realize that they are using technology anymore.
Stephen Cummins: Yes. Is it Mark Weiser that said computing … in 1999 … that computing basically evolves towards the environment … to becoming unintrusive … and everything is about the context.
Nicolas Dessaigne: Yeah …everything is about the context
Stephen Cummins: Yeah, I mean, we can see it in our devices. Everything’s getting smaller. These are … I call them boxes of tricks … they exist only for their computing power. They won’t exist in the future. … What’s the one quality Nicolas … one last question for you … that you think … your personal quality that you think is most responsible for the evident success you’ve had today.
Nicolas Dessaigne: Maybe care. Caring about the business, of course, but especially about the kind of company I’m building. That’s very important. We don’t want to be the company just to, you know, get money or exit. Actually we don’t intend to exit. I mean, it would be a shame to think this way. We are really in it for the long term. And to be able to do that, you need to care about the kind of company. And so the people you hire, the culture you create. And alright … my goal, my work is to enable others to do a good job. A great job. My work is not to shine or to whatever … my job is to make others to do a better job.
Stephen Cummins: Nicolas Dessaigne, I’ve interviewed some amazing founders but you’re outstanding when it comes to your focus on culture and on the type of company you’re building on and on your team. Congratulations to your success and may you have many, many more years.
Nicolas Dessaigne: Thank you. Thank you Stephen
Stephen Cummins and Nick Curtis-Davis: You’ve been listening to 14 Minutes of SaaS, a ‘That was now’ production … brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins … and me Nick Curtis-Davis. Special thanks to Ketsu for the music provided under a Creative Commons license.
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Thank you for the artwork to Michael Quill, AppSelekt CTO & CoFounder.
Thank you to Anders Getz, Marketing Specialist, for the transcript