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Podcast Episode #9

An Entrepreneur's Journey - from a Parisian coworking café to the largest freelancing platform for office managers in France

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Laurent Hausmann


Show Notes

In our first episode in English I had the pleasure to talk to Laurent Hausmann, an entrepreneur based in Nantes, France. Laurent has a fascinating life story, from working as the Sales Director for Nordic countries for a decor & wallpaper company to starting a coworking café in Paris, selling it right before the pandemic hit in 2020, and finally starting a freelancing platform for office managers in France, which is now the largest of its kind.
We talk about what it means for him to be an entrepreneur, what his daily routine looks like, and how the freelancing market in France is evolving.

Books recommended by Laurent:

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Rethink Lead Generation: Advanced Strategies to Generate More Leads for Your Business


Manuel: Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Uplink podcast. As an avid listener, you probably noticed it immediately: Something is different today. This is the first episode in which we speak English, not German. And the reason for that is, as you might have guessed, that we have an international guest, I might say. This guest is Laurent Hausmann from France. He's the founder of a platform called Timaa. Bonsoir, Laurent.

Laurent: Hello, Manuel. Great to be here.

Manuel: Did I say that properly? Bonsoir. I never said it right.

Laurent: Well, you could have said bonjour, but it's fine as well.

Manuel: Whatever, I tried, I did my best. It's great to have you on. Now, we go way back. We first met back in 2006, I believe, or 2007.

Laurent: Yes.

Manuel: And we met doing a Swedish language course in Stockholm, where we both lived at the time. And back then you were a Nordic Sales Manager for a wallpaper company. Is that fair to say?

Laurent: Indeed, that's correct.

Manuel: And now you're the founder of a freelance platform?

Laurent: Yeah.

Manuel: What happened in those last 15 years? Can you summarize that?

Laurent: Yeah, sure, I can do that. Well, when we met in Sweden, I was working for quite a conservative industry, I must say – wallpaper industry, it’s not really considered a startup within the startup scene. I started that shop in England actually, straight up to university degree, and they moved to Sweden being [inaud.] then as a sales manager to Nordic countries, and then kept on working actually within the industry for close to ten years actually, being sales director at some points and then at the end I became a managing director for one of the subsidiaries (?) in France.
So all my experience was within sales, sales manager, and within driving a company basically in a business… and I think like many of us, after a while, I just decided that it was time to go for an entrepreneurial adventure. That was something that I had in mind for many, many years. As a matter of fact, actually, since I left university I had this dream to become an entrepreneur one day. But I didn't have the skills back then and not much to sell, I guess. Definitely not an idea of a company, and I think I was lacking courage as well, so I was definitely lacking key ingredients, let's put it that way, to launch a company. But then with experience, eventually I came to the conclusion that it was the right timing, basically.

Manuel: And was there like a perfect point where you decided: okay, now it's the time? I mean, it feels like something where they say it's never the right time for it. At some point you just have to take the leap. But how was it for you? Was that like one point where you really noticed: okay, now I really have to do it, otherwise I'll never do it? Maybe?

Laurent: Well, it's not like I'm not the kind of person that thinks: if you don't do it now, it's never going to happen later, you know? But it definitely felt right at the time. I think it was already two years that I had that in mind, but I just got a new job as a managing director and obviously it's quite a demanding job, you know. You've got a team to look after and take some commitments with the companies. So although I had that in mind for the past two years when I eventually started, the timing was not right. But then eventually, being a managing director made me feel comfortable that I was able to maybe drive a company on my own.
And since I was an employee for 12 years, I had saved money as well for 12 years. I always thought that part of that money would be used once for my own company too. So it felt like not only, you know, some skills, additional skills, some money aside, and from a personal perspective as well, I was free. I didn't have any commitment in terms of family. So I guess, if you have a bit of money and you feel comfortable that you have enough skills to launch something and you don't have any commitment, you don't really have to be very brave to set up a company, I guess. So it was quite a comfortable timing for me, let's put it that way.

Manuel: Yeah. So right now you're the founder of a platform called Timaa, which we're going to talk about. But let's start in the beginning. When you started as an entrepreneur, you launched a coworking space and a café called Närmare. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Laurent: Well, the funny thing is when I actually decided to set up a business, I still had no idea what I was going to do. So it didn't change much from the first day after school. But I was sure that I was going to do something and I definitely knew that I would not set up a business while being employed. It's just a very demanding job, and I think it's too comfortable when you have a well-paid salary, a well-paid job, to actually work on the side as well. So I just decided one day that it was the right time and I announced to my employers, to my company, that I wanted to leave, basically, and I wanted to set up my own business. But I had no idea back then, really no clue what I was going to do. But I thought it would be the best way for me to find out, basically.
So after I left the company, I started to work in coworking spaces, trying to find a way, you know, and trying to figure out what I would do – whether I would stay within this same industry, whether I would change totally and I just realized after a couple of weeks working there, that I'm the type of person that needs silence to work. Maybe I'm the old fashioned one. I really have trouble to focus and concentrate with too many people around chatting and talking on the phone. And that was something that I found very difficult to find in Paris. Most of those coworking cafés which you pay by the hours, are quite lively, I would say, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a coworking [space] with a main space being silent, basically. And that's how I started, basically – my market study realised there was no such coworking space café in Paris, and that's when I decided to launch such a coworking café, basically.

Manuel: But the the concept of a coworking café was already there, like, there were places around?

Laurent: [inaud.] anything. I just saw something that was missing, and that was talking to myself, basically. And I thought that maybe I wouldn't be the only one that needed some space, because most of those coworking cafés are quite small as well, and you just all sit next to each other – it is a bit like a Starbucks café, you know, and there's definitely not silence. So I thought that I would not be the only one that needed that kind of space, and that's how I set up the whole concept. But the coworking café as a concept exists already in France – for many years.

Manuel: Because for me it was the first time when I heard it from you. I've never heard of it – I mean, of course, I have heard of cafés that are used as coworking places, more or less, where people just go and work from there regularly. But the concept that you really go there and you pay by the hour and you have all the amenities of a café, but you still are there to work… is that still common in France? Have you seen that anywhere else in the world?

Laurent: Well, actually, I have to say I haven't seen it much elsewhere. It feels like something that works really well in France and is still expanding right now. But I haven't seen it, for example, in England so much or in Sweden or in the southern countries of Europe. I don't know. What about Germany? I think it's more classical coworking, basically. It's very Parisian as well, I must say, because we have this culture of going to a café to talk about work as well. We do have meetings in cafés, and coworking is nothing new though. So I think it was just a combination of these cultural aspects – small spaces in France and especially in Paris, everything costs a lot in Paris, you know, and maybe that's why it works so well in France and in Paris especially.

Manuel: Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. How did you enforce the silence in your café? I mean, you don't put music on, of course, but you still have a loud coffee machine, probably, and you have people coming in… Were there only coworkers or was it a normal café business as well?

Laurent: No, it was only coworkers. We actually had some rooms where you were allowed to speak, and we had meeting rooms as well. Whenever someone would come in for the first time, we would just explain the concept – saying that the main area was a silent one, and whenever they needed to talk to someone, there were two other areas they could go to, and there was also a meeting room they could go to as well if they wanted to have full privacy. So this [inaud.] just by explaining it, and I think when you enter, the coworking was pretty clear as well since it was dead silent. So I think the environment made it pretty clear what the concept was about.

Manuel: Yeah. Everybody's looking at you and nobody's speaking.

Laurent: Pretty much, yeah.

Manuel: So you founded that in 2017, is that correct?

Laurent: That's correct.

Manuel: And how did it go after that? How long did you run that?

Laurent: I had the coworking for close to three years. It didn't work as well as I was expecting. Basically the positive side was that I did meet what the customer was looking for, so we had some great review. We were ranking the top five coworking spaces in Paris, so we had some really good review. But the whole business model was based on having repeating customers coming in on a regular basis. And we just realized that the customers that do come once or twice a week, that make this business go round, they don't go to silent places.
They maybe go to a certain place once or twice a month, when they actually have to work on something specific, when they don't want to be disturbed. But for the rest of the time they need to talk to someone, you know, chat on the phone, and they don't want to change spaces all the time. And this space was not adapted to the coworkers sort (?). So although we had many more single users or single customers that were expected at the time, and they were extremely loyal, but some of the customers – we would see them once every three months, you know, and obviously you need them to come much more often.
So it took a while before we broke even and we just realized that if we wanted to have this concept to work, we would need a much bigger place. It was not the concept that was the problem. It was the tiny, small size of the area we had, which made it difficult to have both a large silent area and somewhere where you could actually talk and call as well and have video calls. So it was basically a decision that I had to take, whether I should actually go for a bigger one or whether I should stop and focus on something else. And I took the second decision, especially because at the time I had already launched my second company, and I saw a much bigger potential with Timaa and something that was better suited for my own competence. We just realized that it was time to stop. It was a great experience and helped me actually launch Timaa. I wouldn't have launched Timaa without having the coworking café, but it was also the right time to stop it.

Manuel: And did you sell it to somebody else? Is it still a coworking café or is it something completely different?

Laurent: No, it's not. Fortunately, we managed to sell the business, but it's [inaud.] to something else than a coworking café right now – but we managed to sell it. So, from a financial perspective, although it was not the best investment that I've done, to be totally fair, the financial loss was not as as huge as it could have been, so it was okay. And it was a great learning learning experience, so, you know, I bought myself an entrepreneurial experience.

Manuel: When did you sell it? Did Corona play any role in that or was it before?

Laurent: No, I was extremely lucky. When I took the decision to stop the business, it was just before Corona and it was a quick sell. The place was very attractive, in a very attractive arrondissement in Paris, so it was easy to find a buyer. I basically sold the place in January, two months before Corona came, so that was pure luck. Like you said, you didn't see that coming, you know?

Manuel: Yeah, that was a major bullet that you dodged there, I think, because I don't know how viable it would have been to sell a café during Corona.

Laurent: I think it wouldn't have been viable at all, to be fair, it would have been quite costly to keep it. So I was not only fortunate that I sold it, and I was also very fortunate that I had this second business that I launched almost six, seven months before the end of the coworking café.

Manuel: Yeah. So tell me about Timaa. What is it? What problem is it solving? And how did having the coworking café lead you into that?

Laurent: Well, basically, Timaa started three and a half years ago. At first it was here to help the coworkers, basically. As I said, we had some very loyal coworkers that I got very close to. Some of them are still good friends. We were sharing our experience as small business owners – most of the coworkers, usually they're either solo entrepreneurs or small business owners, and as a small size business, you tend to do all the admin (?) yourself as an entrepreneur, and we just realized that there is no services that help the small size companies.
Either you go for a freelancer, but it's still quite costly because usually a freelancer wants to work at least one morning, that's the minimum, usually one day per week, for a couple of months – or you have to basically hire someone internally and that's quite costly as well. But when you're a small size company, sometimes you just don't have the means for either options. So we were starting to look at what kind of admin parts can be outsourced, and we just realised that everything that comes before the actual accounting, whether it's invoicing, quotation, [inaud.] money, and everything which is not related to actual accounting is something that is you can simply outsource, and that represents from anything between 4 hours to 20 hours per month.
So we came up with this service, this executive assistance service for those small companies, focusing especially on those tasks – that's how Timaa was launched three and a half years ago. So all my first customers were coworkers, basically, so we had great feedback from them obviously – because not only we saw them in a coworking café, but they were our customers as well with the other services. And that's how it all started. Obviously some of our customers became bigger, so we helped them with more admins and then we got on board some additional customers that were not from the coworking café. So that's how we started: as an executive or virtual, let's put it that way, a virtual executive assistant service.

Manuel: And did you find the assistant office managers through the café as well, or did you simply go out and look for them when you had a client who needed one?

Laurent: No, I actually went out. I hired an executive assistant and office manager and how it works is simple. We allocate their time for different customers, and at first as well, I was an assistant and an office manager myself, dealing with the customers, learning as well, making a few mistakes, I have to admit as well. But soon enough, I was joined by a real expert that did the job much better than me, helping our customers to get rid of at least some part of the admin work and lower the burden.

Manuel: So in the beginning you actually took on the tasks that now the freelancers are doing? Okay, very cool.

Laurent: Yes, I did, for one year and a half – both on my own at some point and with someone else. So yes, for a year and a half my daily work was actually to help my customers with the admin and I learned everything about it. I used to be fortunate enough, when I was an employee, to have a commercial assistant, then an executive assistant and then an office manager. So I knew what kind of task I was giving them, but now I was doing it myself.

Manuel: And you did it to basically kick start the business, to be able to have clients without… because it's a marketplace, right? And it always has the same problems that every marketplace has, that you have to kind of build up both sides of the marketplace, and it's only interesting for one side if the other side is already there. So you did it to be able to get the clients without having the freelancers yet, so correct?

Laurent: Well, not exactly, actually. At first we were not a platform, we were just a service provider, so basically it was no freelancers. The whole idea was to give the work to someone who is within Timaa. We control the process internally. We control the quality with people that are employed by Timaa. That was [inaud.] for the solo entrepreneur and small business to trust the service and say: we don't give away your work, which can be quite confidential to someone else, a freelancer. We do it ourselves with our own process. And we had quite an innovative way of dealing with that as well, where you would buy some time: 4 hours, 6 hours, 10, 20 hours; and you could follow in real time how much time we were using from this budget every month and see where it was allocated. So it was not just about dealing with the admin, but there was also a new approach with this total transparency, so that the customer themself could check what was being done and see what was the added value actually of using our service. So at first it was it was never meant to be a platform, not that part of the business anyway. We eventually moved to a platform system, simply to be able to serve more customers – because you see, when you hire people, you limit it to the capacity you have inside the company, which at some point is limited, obviously. And because you cannot have all the skills in the admin world either, you know. So a year and a half ago we decided that on top of this executive assistant, virtual executive assistants or services, we would also launch a platform for freelancers so that we could basically target and bring solutions to more customers in need.

Manuel: And is it the same clients using those? Do you do the executive service for some of them and they then post other gigs or projects for the freelancers? Or is it completely separate?

Laurent: Yeah, it has actually broadened the horizon and the customer types. When we were really focusing on small companies, usually less than five employees, many solo entrepreneurs with a freelancer, we were able to touch any type of companies from the very small worker, solo entrepreneur all the way to the large size businesses, and obviously start-up-businesses, medium sized businesses. So basically the concept – and the concept is still running – it’s called [inaud.] still serving only the small size companies as a virtual service, and now we offer this freelancer platform, which can be virtual. Some freelancers choose to work only remotely, but some of them as well work at the clients, which also happens quite a lot, especially for office management job profiles.

Manuel: Yeah, the way you explain it kind of makes sense. The companies have different needs and they have different tasks that sometimes they want to completely outsource, and sometimes it's probably very repetitive or very clearly structured, that a freelancer or even different freelancers can easily take it on. And then sometimes, if it's confidential, material or if it's very involved, they need somebody that they can talk to and explain it to and they need very intense service probably. I think many people know Malt as the biggest freelancing network in France. Would I be able to find similar freelancers there as well, or do you have a niche where most of the freelancers are not available on Malt, for example?

Laurent: Well, first of all, Malt is a great company. You know, we should start to say that, absolutely. It has paved the way for many of the platforms that came afterwards, including Timaa. I think they promote freelancing massively in France and elsewhere, because they're not just in France, and they made it feel more accessible both for the companies but also for the freelancers themselves. And as a matter of fact, I'm using Malt myself to find some expertise that we don't have internally. I did before, and I'm still doing it as we speak. So that's the first part about about Malt.
Now, obviously, the question was how I differentiate myself from Malt, [which] is a mainstream platform. When I'm in mainstream, it means that you can find an IT developer, you can find a marketing [inaud.], you can find an assistant as well. So you have 270.000 or 300.000+ freelancers in Malt right now, in the different countries where they are. And obviously this is not just specific to one type of job. The way we differentiate ourselves is that we are coming from the administrative support world. This is where we have our expertise. We know what the customer demands and we know what the profile expects as well and what's their task. And I think that's where we differentiate ourselves. When we talk to the clients, when we talk to the companies or the freelancers, we understand their language. We know what they are expecting, and I think both the companies and the freelancers like that very much, they appreciate to be able to talk to experts in both ways.
So basically, yes, we are an integrated (?) intermediation platform. Absolutely. And this is our business model, but we aim to be more than that and to bring additional value to both the companies and the freelancers. We will soon provide some specific training for the freelancers that you obviously cannot do when you're a mainstream platform, some collaboration tools in between the freelancers as well, and some automated tools that we're using ourselves and that we have developed for our service providing business, and that we will eventually bring to the pool of freelance as well. So this is basically how we differentiate ourselves because we know the markets, we need to offer the demands and we bring additional service.

Manuel: Okay. So you basically have this one focus, and you have the possibility to get really good and knowledgeable in this area and thereby serve the clients better, right?

Laurent: Yeah. What we want is to become the leader when it comes to… whenever a company in the future will look for an admin freelancer. Our aim is that they think about Timaa as the expert, basically, not only because we have most profile[s] in France – we will soon get there, as a matter of fact – but also because we take good care of our freelancers, we train them and we give them some tools to do their job better, to be more productive, and for the freelancers to feel more comfortable as well being able to share their problems, the best practice with the rest of the freelancers and gain competence throughout the training.

Manuel: I think it makes total sense, of course, since at Uplink we're basically doing something very similar where we try to not just be a platform to find a developer, but we also try to give – to the clients as well as the freelancers – the service of curating the jobs, curating the freelancers, offering them a lot of stuff in terms of education and in terms of connecting them to other people in the in the community. What would you say? What could Malt [?], for example? Because if you're really focused on one area, like you are with the admin freelancers or we are with developers, you have the possibility to go really deep and to really understand your clients – and you're always talking about the same topic, so you become very knowledgeable. And as you say, Malt or Upwork or any other big platform is more like a general platform. What could they do differently to make it harder for smaller platforms like ours? If you ran Malt, what would you do differently, for example, to attack Timaa?

Laurent: I will try to buy Uplink, I guess.

Manuel: Okay. That's a good answer.

Laurent: Well, actually, it's not so much a joke. I think it's two different approaches. You cannot be specialist and mainstream at the same time. So you’re either mainstream and your main asset is to be so big that you can find just everything on that platform, like Amazon, basically: you go to Amazon and you'll find pretty much everything. Now, if you want deep knowledge and you want expertise for each job you're looking for, then obviously you'll be better off with a specific platform. I think it's healthy that both types of platforms exist, as long as the cake is big enough; and it is big enough and it's growing still, I think there's room for everyone [inaud.] Timaa and Malt to thrive, actually.

Manuel: Yeah, absolutely. I agree. There's just so much demand in the area that we work in, there’s just so much development, and so many more people are becoming freelancers every year. So as you say, the cake is big enough. I was just saying...

Laurent: There will always be another platform to come. And because, like any industry – now this is very digital – but the industry is on the rise. Then you have the mainstream platform, then it becomes so big that you can actually have specific platforms to certain jobs, you know, and eventually we will all reach the top. Once we reach the top, the pressure is on pricing usually, so it’s the same thing. So especially commission will go down the fees (?), from 10% to 7 and so on and so on. And then what makes you stand apart is not so much… if you just fight on the fees, it's a lost battle, everyone loses it at the end of the day. If you have already provided those additional services to your freelancers and to your company, I think in the long run – from my perspective – it's a healthier business to work with.

Manuel: So do you think the freelancers that are using Timaa, they are loyal to you? Like if they would see, at some point, [that] they get more jobs via Malt or any other platform, what would make them stick to Timaa?

Laurent: Let’s face it, I think the first reason why a freelancer is going on a platform is to get a job. If you have plenty of jobs and no one goes on a platform, [...?]. So obviously, if you hear about a platform that provides you many more missions every month, you'll go to that platform, that's for sure. The good thing about being specific is that we will soon become, as I said early on, the largest platform in terms of number of profiles within that specific industry, meaning that obviously when you're looking for a profile, then you've got a better chance to find someone if you come on our platform than another one. That's the first aspect.
And the second one is by bringing additional services, always coming back to the same thing. I think loyalty comes through business, you know, bringing business of course, but as well with all the interaction and the additional services you will provide for the freelancer. [inaud.] we are not just an intermediation platform, but we help them to get more competence, have the right training, the right tools that they wouldn't get otherwise, specific tools to their needs. Then there is no reason to go elsewhere, especially if, as a matter of fact, we are already the largest platform in this industry. So I really do believe that it's not just about intermediation and connecting employees and freelancers, it’s to support those freelancers on their daily business and not just bringing some customers. That's how you gain loyalty, I believe.

Manuel: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's what I think as well, that it's a combination of a constant deal flow and the community aspect, that the freelancers really see that you're not just talking to them one on one and they don't know who else is in the community, but you really make an effort to connect them online and offline as well, so they can just learn from each other. I think it's also important that the people in your community see that you're not just trying to make money, but that you do a lot of stuff without making money – so they see that you really care about this topic and about the community and it's not all about making a dime.

Laurent: You feel if it's sincere or not. It's like in a personal relationship: you give because it makes you happy and makes the other one happy as well. And if it's sincere, I think the community feels it as well – that it’s not just oriented to make more money, but we need each other. That's what I always tell the freelancers I'm talking to: you need us to bring you some turnover, and we need you as well! And I feel in that sense, we need to make sure that the platform meets your needs, and meets our needs as a company as well to make money. But it's important that we co-build this platform together with the freelancers. The community is central within a platform and this sense of community, from my perspective: you can only get it if those freelancers share the same problems, they share the same aim. It's very difficult to bring a sense of community when you have an IT developer, UX designer, marketing consultant and assistants. They just don't have the same life, they don't share the same values on time… very different. And we all want to belong to something basically, that's human nature.

Manuel: Yeah, I think that's a trick to make the community so small or so focused that the people in the community have a lot in common. But to make it big enough that it's not just 10 people, but it's a sizable amount that the people feel: okay, it's developing, it's growing. But like you said, it's not people who don't have a lot in common and who don't have the same questions and the same challenges and so on. And it's funny with “community” because I think it became such a buzzword in the last ten years or something.

Laurent: Yeah. If you noticed, I didn't use the word community from the very beginning, because I have trouble with that word, that everyone uses “community”.

Manuel: It's so overused. And if you go to the mall, every shop will tell you: Join our community – by downloading the app or getting our points card or whatever. And for me, it's always the yardstick: do you really encourage the people in the community to talk to each other? If it's only one on one communication between whoever is running the community and the people in the community, it's not a community. If I'm in a community and I don't know who else is in it and I have no way of contacting them, I'm just part of a group, I'm just a customer or a client or whatever. So at Uplink, we always try to connect to people together as much as possible so they know: Hey, these other people are in the community as well! And they feel like: Okay, this is somebody who is similar to me, I belong here. Otherwise, after a while you think: okay, it's growing and growing and I don't know the other people. I'm just a little cog in the machine – and they don't have this belonging.

Laurent: I think this sense of community develops as well when you feel that you have a word to say and you can be heard and you can actually make things change, improve. And again, as you said, if the community is just communicating your internal information, this is not a community, you know. A community somehow has to be able to have a certain power within that platform as well, I would say, to say when it's going in the right direction, when it's not going in the right direction, sometimes even requesting some additional features, being able to complain as well when it doesn't work… So I think if you want to create this sense of community, you have to empower them. I think that's the most important aspect. It's not just about drinking beer in a nice [inaud.].

Manuel: Beer is also a part (?).

Laurent: … but they don't feel empowered. And if they don't feel they can have any impact on what's going on, you eventually lose the sense of community.

Manuel: I think that's the key, especially with online communities, right? Because online you can join ten communities per day, and you can chat with other people. But the bigger it is, [the more] often you don't have the feeling that you can change anything there. Like you said, if if you really feel that the people running the community try to get your input and try to ask questions and really take your answers seriously, I think that's really the deciding factor. When people get asked, they think about what it means, right? When we asked our members: Hey, we want to have this new feature, or what do you think, we do a meetup in this city or whatever – they actually think about it: would that make sense and would I like to do that? How do you do that at Timaa? Like how do you communicate with the people, with the freelancers?

Laurent: Well, that's something we will definitely launch in a more intensive way in 2023. That's something we've announced to all the freelancers, and that's our aim, that's on the agenda. But as you know, when you launch a platform, there are millions of things to do, and we were mainly focusing at first to make sure that the platform is running well to have the right feature – because one of the main challenges when you come on an existing market is that although you’re a newcomer, you expect it to come with as many features as the existing platform. You actually expect it to bring more, because you’re a newcomer. If you don't bring anything additional on the plate, what's your true value?
So it means that there is a certain barrier nowadays when you start a platform, because you need to come with all the payment services and the chats within the platform and so on and so on… I'm talking to someone who is developing on a daily basis. This is not my case. It’s heavy, you know. So we were basically focusing on making sure we had a well functioning platform with the right features that meets at least the market standard, if not better. The first 5 months, the idea was to get enough acquire, enough freelancers to be able to actually go to companies as well.
So the main focus was on getting things right, acquire a large enough freelancer base to be able to go to the companies, and that was basically pretty much our objective. We're very happy with the results so far because we are close to 500 freelancers on the platform which makes it already one of the largest platforms in France for this specific admin support. And we have good success with the companies as well, starting to outsource and use our freelancers on the platform since now October. That was our main focus, so the community as such is really coming. That's our main main focus for 2023. But we had some webinars in the meantime of course, a newsletter and webinars just to let them know what was going on. But we will really start to involve them in the decision process in in 2023.

Manuel: Yeah. Like you said, there's a million things to do. And as we listed, it's about the jobs, it's about the communication with the community, it's about the education with resources like webinars and all that stuff. So as a small team, you can't work in all areas at the same time. You always have to focus on one thing and then focus on the next thing. Although I'm really…

Laurent: Let’s face it, if you want to engage the people, it's much easier to engage a freelancer that's already at a mission or two with your platform than when you just haven't [inaud.], you didn't get any turnover from that platform. Now that we start to get this mission running, obviously it's much easier to talk to those freelancers because they start to see the value of our platform, and then of course they want more – okay, this platform can bring us turnover. What else can they bring compared to the other platform? Then it's much easier to address this topic as well with those freelancers.

Manuel: Yeah.I think so too – it's really key to always focus on the jobs, but not to make it like your whole business. There are some platforms which focus on everything else apart from the jobs. They really say: For us it's about the freelancer education and getting them together to learn from each other and so forth. But as soon as they have the part of “we also post jobs from external companies or from our clients”, that's what they are measured by. If they then have a very low deal flow and only very few jobs, it doesn't make it as interesting as if you really have a constant flow of new deals.
What I wanted to mention is that I find it fascinating how many services there are for people like us who are trying to build a community. There are so many. I find something new like every week. I'm going to put some in the show notes, of new ways to get the community together, to build communication tools, to build voting tools and stuff like that. I think even that is one level apart from us, it's really developing very quickly because so many online services really are trying to build an active community and get them engaged. I think that's really cool, that you can see that it's really the focus, not just for the platforms, but also for people building [inaud.] for the platforms. Were there any counter-intuitive things that you learned? Where you would say you expected it to work completely differently than how it worked in reality?

Laurent: You mean as being an entrepreneur or for the platform itself or both?

Manuel: Both, yeah.

Laurent: As an entrepreneur, I would say no, not really. I'm not that young anymore, I'm close to my 40 (?). And as a matter of fact, I learned to trust my intuition more and more. And if I look back, any decision that I took those past 10 years, whether it was a private decision or a work related decision, the best ones were always the one where I trusted my intuition. Again, intuition is not just something you’re born with, you build it with experience as well. So it makes sense that when you get a bit older, some grey hair, like we start to have, Manuel, you gain some. Your intuition maybe is better than when you were in your early twenties, you know, and although I'm very rational and I always base my decision on facts, I would always favor the intuition if I have to make a decision. And so therefore, I know I can't really say that something was [inaud.]. Now I just trust my intuition and I'm not saying that I'm right, but it's right for myself at least.

Manuel: Yeah. Okay, that's cool. I think we could go on talking about this topic for another 4 to 5 hours, but we have to come to an end, unfortunately. I have two more questions for you: Is there any tool or service that you use that you can recommend, that not many people know already – that's kind of flying under the radar?

Laurent: I wish I could say yes, but to be totally fair, we have a good insight with the tools that are being used right now, because with our executive assistance service, we basically work with the tools of our own customers, and our customers work in different industries, and they have specific softwares, software specific to some jobs, to industries... So I think we are exposed to many different tools, and I would say they vary – some of them are just options, but you see them all the time on Internet. I don't think it makes much sense to just name them. But what I do see, actually, and maybe I'm going to change your question actually, is like: sometimes I feel like we're using too many tools. Maybe that's not where you want it to go.

Manuel: … just too many tools that you don't want to use anymore. That's maybe [inaud.].

Laurent: You know, after a couple of months, when we work with our customers, quite often we look at the processes – the way they work – and quite often we come to the conclusion that they have too many tools. We have very good [ones] in society and generally speaking, to create needs and to have one tool, one SAS software for each little problem… and you end up having companies, especially actually small sized companies, a medium sized company accumulating lots of different tools for very specific needs. And if you actually go down really deeply into how much they use it and how much it costs, because eventually, although it costs sometimes just 10 or 20€ per user per month, when you add all the SAS software, it becomes quite expensive. So yes, there are some great tools, but if I had to to make a recommendation, it would be actually: just use the one that you really need for your business that really makes a big difference, because the rest just distracts the employees and sometimes makes the whole process much more complex. So maybe that's not the answer you were expecting.

Manuel: No, I agree. I mean, I always like to discover new tools and I think sometimes these new tools… like Timaa is very, very focused on one problem and Malt on the big problem, sometimes the more specific tools solve this problem so well that you're happy to pay 10 or 20€ per month. But I absolutely feel you when you say that we’re accumulating more tools and it kind of shows at the end of the month when all the bills are rolling in that there's just too many.

Laurent: Maybe we can take the example of collaboration tools. There's so many of them, and I've seen companies using four or five, six of them for the same purpose. And you know, once they don't get an answer on one of them, they just use the second one and then the third one. And then eventually they call, just think about that… it's meant to bring a better communication internally. Any company's purpose is to increase productivity, let's put it that way. And all those tools, for most of them, the idea is to be most productive. And I'm not sure that at the end of the day, the result is always quite there, especially for those types of tools.
I do differentiate tools from services. Tools – from my perspective – are software, SAS software. A service is like Uplink/ Timaa/ Malt, basically. And I do believe that especially for small size companies but not only small sized companies, if you don't have the expertise internally, it's always better to get it from an external source. Sometimes it's even better to wait a little bit to get a cash flow and get the rights and expertise than do it internally – unless you're very, very talented and can become an expert in every single domain, which is not my case. I tend to always use someone that has the expertise, and I think even for larger company, this economy is going so fast that even when you bring an expert on board, he doesn't remain an expert very long, because then eventually you just melt into the company culture and you don't have this disruptive approach. So services, from my perspective, are very different from from tools. And obviously services like Uplink and Timaa are absolute, you know, things that you need to [inaud.] on a daily basis.

Manuel: Absolutely. I think we don't have to discuss the advantages of freelancers or of experts in a certain field. I think we both agree on that. And another question I always ask our guests: is there any book or podcast or blog post, anything that you recently discovered that you really like and that you want to recommend?

Laurent: Well, again, this is very personal. I know it's very good to say that I'm [inaud.], to say that I'm listening to this business podcast and it changed my life.

Manuel: [inaud.] podcasts, in case you want to [inaud.].

Laurent: As a matter of fact, I'm quite boring. I still read books, I do listen to podcasts, but I tend to read books because I want to learn something, whether it's something very personal or whether it's business oriented. The last book that I read was Sapiens. I don't know if you read this one, it's basically one of the bestsellers in the US and it's a writer called Harari (?), I think [inaud.]. And it gives you a broad perspective of the evolution of humankind. So this is a great book, I recommend it. It is really easy to read, that's personal reading.
And then on a more business side, I have on my desk right now “rethink lead generation”, and that's something that I just need to learn from because obviously I do have experts within my company, but if you want to manage this expert (?), you need yourself to be up to date – so I'm reading that. Nothing breathtaking, but something that's very personal. And as a podcast – actually podcasts are something that I listen to in my private time. So up to now, I don't listen to business oriented podcasts. I'm more into things that I actually like: sport, nutrition, surfing, stuff like that, you know, which unfortunately doesn't really bring anything to your question, I'm afraid.

Manuel: No, it does. It does. I think it's really important to keep a certain area of your life as your personal life. As an entrepreneur, I think many people just switch over and only listen to business podcasts and only read business books and only read online if it has something to do with your business. And then you're just thinking about it 24/7. I think it's really important. I mean, some do it naturally, maybe like you, that they say: Okay, I don't really read any business books or I don't really listen to any business podcast, but I think a lot of people need to actively try to carve out a part of their life that stays private and that stays within their hobbies.

Laurent: And maybe it comes again with the age, you know, where you've got a family and you need to find that right balance in between work and family time and taking care of yourself as well. When I work, I focus 100% on work, but when I'm off, I tend to be off as well and have my own time. So I leave those business discussions and books and podcasts away.

Manuel: That's great. We should do another episode in 10 years when you're approaching 50 and I just turned 50, and we'll talk about age and priorities again.

Laurent: Absolutely.

Manuel: Laurent, thanks so much for talking to me and for being a guest. I found it really interesting, your views on this whole topic of building a platform, building a community… obviously you are in a completely different market than us in Germany, but I think it's similar enough to learn a lot from each other.

Laurent: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure.

Manuel: And we'll talk again soon.

Laurent: In 10 years.

Manuel: Yeah, the latest. Take care. Bye bye.

Laurent: Thanks, Manuel. Bye bye.