Louis Jonckheere of Showpad

Founder Coffee episode 005

I’m Jeroen from Salesflare and this is Founder Coffee.

Every two weeks I have coffee with a different founder. We discuss life, passions, learnings, … in an intimate talk, getting to know the person behind the company.

For this fifth episode, I talked to Louis Jonckheere of Showpad. He leads a 260+ person scale-up that equips sales and marketing teams at Fortune 500 companies with the tools to organize and track the delivery of sales content to their prospects.

Louis is a born entrepreneur, hustling since he was young. And he’s also one of these guys who can recognize and double down on a good opportunity when he sees one.

We talk about his passions, how to build a great team and culture, and the power of optionality.

Welcome to Founder Coffee.

Prefer listening? You can find this episode on:

Jeroen: Hi Louis. Welcome to Founder Coffee.

Louis: Thanks Jeroen, it’s great to be here.

Jeroen: You are founder of Showpad. It is a product that is not really known amongst startups, because you mostly focus on big companies. So for those who don’t know what Showpad is, would you like to give us a quick brief?

Louis: Yes! Showpad is a sales enablement platform. We are a software platform that helps salespeople find the right presentations, whitepapers and content to share during a customer interaction.

We’re a content management system that is built for sales and marketing. The idea is to make the teams more effective and efficient at what they do.

Jeroen: So you focus mostly on content delivery and tracking that?

Louis: Exactly!

For example, if you look at a typical customer for Showpad — like Xerox.

We take roughly 10 thousands pieces of information that their sales people need to use. We then have solutions that make it much easier for these salespeople to find the content they need to share with a potential customer.

At the same time, we obviously track this activity too, to know what the sales team is using and if they know how prospects and interacting with what they share.

Jeroen: Sounds smart! How did Showpad come about? At what moment did you exactly decide to start Showpad?

Louis: Before Showpad, PJ and I had another company called In The Pocket, which was a service business.

It was a business that developed custom built applications for big brands. We were working on that company, when suddenly we started to get requests from customers who just bought iPads.

Seven or eight years ago, the iPad was just released. A lot of companies were starting to look for applications that sales people could use on an iPad because it is naturally a presentation and sales conversation device.

That’s how we started to get into sales enablement and built a few applications for some customers on a recurring demand. Then we decided to start a company called Showpad that actually made a product out of that.

Jeroen: Would it be correct to say that you saw an opportunity and jumped on it?

Louis: Yes, exactly. We started because of the iPad — the opportunity it had in enterprises to be used as selling device. Afterwards, we saw a bigger opportunity of aligning sales and marketing with it. Actually, sales productivity and effectiveness.

We then started creating Showpad with a much bigger point of view.

Jeroen: So basically, big companies bought iPads and they needed something to do with it?

Louis: Yes.

For example as a good first customer, the website was live for literally 3 days until we got a call from a guy in the US that needed 2,000 licenses because they just bought 2,000 iPads. They had no clue what to do with those devices.

Jeroen: That sounds like a big crisis.

Louis: Exactly!

Jeroen: So you started as a consulting business?

Louis: Yeah.

For example, we had a company in Belgium coming to In The Pocket, saying, “Hey we have less of a requirement we want to put in a mobile application. Can you guys build it? Can you further refine the concepts?”

Like those were the types of things we did. That company still exists. It’s kicking ass!

Jeroen: It was just you and PJ in the company or were there more people?

Louis: That company was started with just 3 people. Jeroen, who is still the CEO of In The Pocket, PJ and me.

Jeroen: So you guys went out of In The Pocket to start Showpad?

Louis: There was a transition period of 6 to 12 months where both PJ and I divided our time between In The Pocket and Showpad. We didn’t want to just abandon In The Pocket and wanted to make sure it still worked.

We had a long transition period and we made sure that Jeroen, who stayed at In The Pocket, was surrounded by a good management team. We made sure that everything was set for that company to continue to grow, which it did because at the time we weren’t working with Showpad a 100 percent.

I think they had roughly 20 employees back then. Now In The Pocket is at about 100. They’re still doing really well!

Jeroen: Companies like Aztec Overflow, Trello and Intercom, started from a consulting business that partly paid the bills in the beginning. Did In The Pocket somehow finance Showpad?

Louis: Yes, definitely. In the beginning, Showpad was developed under the IP of In The Pocket.

It was the agency that developed it for our customers. But then the moment we decided to pull it out, we did it in a fair and correct manner. We bought over the IP with Showpad. So In The Pocket did finance Showpad for a while with loans, which were paid back eventually.

But, yes. Having an agency financing the initial development of a product like Showpad saved us as founders a lot of dilution because we didn’t have to raise money in the beginning.

Jeroen: Was In The Pocket your first start up or did you have other ones?

Louis: It was the first real start up. During university, I had my own company that rented out karaoke systems online to other students and so that was at that time quite an undertaking. I had a few students working for me in Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels. Karaoke, for the Flemish people, that was the name of the company I started initially.

Jeroen: That was just karaoke systems? This started when you were a student, but what exactly did you study?

Louis: I studied law in Ghent and I think it was in my second year of law that I started this company with a friend. It basically rented out karaoke systems online, through websites. If people were interested, they could pick it up from my home. That was basically it!

Jeroen: Have you always kind of known you wanted to go into startups? Because you made a decision for law, which is not really in line doing that.

Louis: I still don’t know why I ultimately decided to study law, but I did.

I think at that point in time, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. But the moment I started studying law, after my third year, I knew it had nothing for me and I just had to complete the study.

I didn’t want to give up. I always knew that I was going to end up with my own company and that I was going to end up starting my own business. That is something I always knew.

Jeroen: Is this somehow influenced by your parents, family or friends?

Louis: A little bit by my parents, actually.

My father was also an entrepreneur, but on a smaller scale and in art. He definitely gave me some inspiration. But more the friends that I had, those who surrounded me, most of them were entrepreneurs and very ambitious.

Being in that type of environment really pushed me to be something myself.

Jeroen: Did you ever have a real job?

Louis: I did, for 6 months. After I graduated from law, I went to Vlerick because I figured I missed some practical knowledge. I was very happy with that decision!

Jeroen: So you went to a business school?

Louis: Yeah, a business school to get masters in general management.

Then I did my internship for Netlog. Later, I got a job there and carried on for 6 months. Netlog is where I got to know PJ, my co-founder. That’s where the idea and conclusion of doing it ourselves came.

Jeroen: You have worked with Boris from Xpenditure, who was also on the podcast? [episode coming up soon]

Louis: Yes, Boris was my first and only boss.

Jeroen: You were in the commercial department then?

Louis: Yes, the strategic partnerships. I was tasked with finding revenue streams for Netlog, outside traditional advertising.

Jeroen: Cool. What was the initial ambition with Showpad?

You had a consulting business and you wanted to start a product, but what was it that you had in mind when you started doing that?

Louis: After having In The Pocket for a year, PJ and I started to talk about how this was fun. We were learning a lot and having great successes, but we wanted to build something scalable — something that recurs and is easy to internationalize.

Service businesses are hard to scale. Right? It depends on the amount of people you have and the amount customers you can sign up.

Louis: Before Showpad, we had that urge to build a product, something that we could sell on a recurring basis. Then we got onto the idea of Showpad creating an additional revenue stream on top of what In The Pocket was doing as a service business.

But at that time, we hadn’t fully grasped the opportunity we had stepped into.

It was only after a few months when we suddenly started to get Apple interested in us, Audi becoming a customer, then Xerox, Snider and all these huge brands out there wanting to buy our license. That’s when we started to realize that we had something much bigger than what we thought.

That fed our ambition, our drive to do everything!

Jeroen: When growing your business, were there any examples that you were looking at? Other companies that had build something similar?

Louis: Oh, yeah.

A company I personally looked up to, as of the beginning, was Hubspot. I was very inspired by what they had done. They built a product in a very busy, competitive market, with a very strong company culture. With strong leadership, they built a very simple and scalable product. They managed to build a multi-billion dollar company with it.

I was always inspired by them, even in their early days. I still remember Showpad was one of the first customers of Hubspot in Europe. Definitely had a lot respect towards those founders.

Jeroen: You are talking about the culture at Hubspot. Were there any other aspects that you wanted to recreate at Showpad?

Louis: Yeah, totally.

Company culture is something that grows on you. When we started Showpad, PJ and I really never wrote down what company culture was or what it should be or how we thought about it.

At the beginning of a startup, it is a very natural thing, right? It is how you react, how you work, how you deal with colleagues and your customers.

The moment you start scaling, this happened to us at around 30–35 employees, you have to start writing down some of the values you have for some of the things you really believe in.

The bigger you become, the more important that is because people will identify with it. This also helps in recruiting, your brand positioning and your business in general.

Jeroen: When you started writing those things down for your employees, how did you communicate it to them?

Louis: In the beginning, we had weekly meets called Showpies. Basically, we at Showpad get together every Friday at around 5 to just eat some pie together and share our thoughts. That’s where PJ and I had to formally start sharing the values we believed in.

We wrote down those values together, we made sure that the management was involved too and talked about them. The great thing is that even today, our employees really identify immensely with the ‘Showings’ — which are our values.

If you would take one Showing away, some people would probably revolt and not be happy at all because it is so personal.

Jeroen: Can you give us an idea of one Showing?

Louis: Yeah, sure. Be humble. Super important.

It is very crucial to PJ and me that we have people in our company who are humble, who don’t see themselves as the most important person in the room. It is something that trickles through everything we do. Like how sell, how we renew, how we hire and how we do things in general.

Jeroen: If I’m not mistaken, you are VC funded? Was that a conscious decision?

Louis: Totally.

I think the decision to go with venture capitalism was the moment when our market reached around half a million euros in revenue. That’s when we started to think about how we could easily bring this to like 5 to 10 million instead. But to hire engineers fast, we needed the money.

We evaluated a few aspects and went to some banks. But believe me, 7 years ago the landscape was very different than it is now. Getting money from a bank was a no go, unless you were willing to be guaranteeing yourself for default.

So yeah, it was a very conscious decision to start raising venture money.

Jeroen: If I’m not mistaken, you are still on the venture track and raising more funding?

Louis: Yes, we are.

Jeroen: Have you been approached for an acquisition at some point?

Louis: Yeah, we have — multiple times. I’d say if you have a fast growing tech company, people will notice it.

Actually, when we reached around a million, we had a very concrete acquisition offer. When the company was at 10 million revenue, we got more. But we said no to it all. We have been through those scenarios already a few times.

Jeroen: That’s 10 million ARR?

Louis: Yes, 10 million ARR.

Jeroen: Cool. You never decided to sell the product, why is that?

Louis: Hopefully, every founder who is listening to this podcast would have been in that situation. We got a very serious offer on the table around 10 million euros in annual recurring revenue. That’s like a golden number and beyond that, things could go crazy.

At that time too, we said no to the offer for a few reasons.

We were having fun and to put it very simply, we believed we could double our company at a minimum.

Even if we looked at the company valuation downwards, it would mean that you’d have to wait a year until your revenue doubles so that you can sell it at a higher worth. Let’s just say, big belief in the company and our short term goals.

We’ve said no to a lot of money. I was 30 years old at that time and selling our product didn’t feel like the right thing to do.

Jeroen: Which track are you on now — moving towards an IPO or?

Louis: We had our yearly team meeting a month and a half back in Miami. The idea was for the team to get together and us being able to provide people the perspective of who we are and what we want to achieve.

For example, the next big milestone for Showpad, is to get to 100 million euros in recurring revenue in a few years. That’s the goal.

Then obviously you need to answer the question, why are you putting that number up front, why is it important and where does this bring Showpad? The answer that for us is very simple.

If you grow fast enough in a few years time and get to 100 million, then you will have all the options at hand. You can choose to move towards being an IPO. You can choose to stay private and maybe take some more private equity money.

You cannot raise money and just become profitable, or you can choose to be acquired by a very strategic acquirer because you believe that Showpad could accomplish more with another company. We have no preferred choice at this moment, other than having optionality at 100 million euros in revenue.

Jeroen: So you’re keeping all the options open?

Louis: Yes, it’s one of the biggest advices that I always give to entrepreneurs. Make sure you have all the options at any point in time — be it to grow further or to exit; otherwise you’re really in a bad position.

Jeroen: How big is Showpad now in terms of employees?

Louis: I think we are now at about 262 — that’s the number.

Jeroen: That is very exact.

Louis: It changes. We have a dashboard in our company that is counting the employees, but it changes every week. People get hired and sometimes they just leave. It is a very fluctuating thing right now.

Jeroen: Is that what takes most of your time now or are you working on other things?

Louis: I would say that the period when the company was between 5 and 20 million, that’s when it probably took most of my time — especially building up the team in the US and hiring that initial executive team. It’s only been a year since we started to professionalize HR at Showpad. We now have a recruitment team, benefits team — all of that is being done now.

Jeroen: What is your job right now?

Louis: My job right now is to spend more time with customers and partners. Either helping the sales team in selling or helping the customers success team to renew or build strategic alliances with some bigger partners out there, like a Salesforce, Apple, Dealoid, etc.

A lot of customer facing communication takes up 30% of my time. Another big part goes towards product strategy — creating a product roadmap, doing design reviews, working with product managers and aligning the engineering team.

I would say that thought leadership is becoming more and more important. Showpad is in an industry that is fairly new. I would say that we are creating that industry with one or two other companies. If you are in a situation like that, you just have to be out there a lot — give more presentations, write articles, do whitepapers, be that thought leader.

That’s a really big part of what I do. I can channel company strategy, like partnering with PJ on deciding on the objectives, the metrics, following up deals and all of those fun things.

Jeroen: That’s a lot of different things. High level sales, the brand, the product, partnerships and strategy!

Louis: Exactly. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. It’s a lot of fun!

Jeroen: What are the skills that you bring to Showpad, Louis?

Louis: Oh, that’s a good question.

I have always been very good at product strategy — long term, short term and mid term. I have a very good idea about what a product should do, what it should solve and also, strategically, where it should go to.

For example, at this stage if Showpad looks at becoming a 100 million dollar company, we could get there with just tweaking what we have today, by tuning up the market teams, by adding a few more features and creating new partnerships. But that is not something that will get us to 3 or 400 million.

In order to do that, you need to think much more strategically. You need to think about what your acquisition strategy is and what other technologies you want to add to Showpad.

Louis: I would say, the overall product strategy is my forte. Like working with the product manager and reviewing designs is something I have always been very excited about and think I’m pretty good at.

The next thing would be, hiring and maintaining a world class executive team. I created it together with PJ. We have always put a lot of effort in that and if you look at Showpad’s executive team, it’s actually world class — our COO, our VP sales, our VP marketing and our engineering leadership. That’s one of the most important skills you need to have as the founder — the ability to hire great people to build a kick ass executive team.

Louis: Even the overall product communication. You would be surprised how much you need to communicate, once you scale your company. Be it with employees, investors, partners, customers or even prospects. You have to repeat yourself a lot!

It’s not like you say things at the beginning of the year and you’re done. You have to repeat stuff every week. I am also pretty good in that, I think.

Jeroen: Sounds like you get most of your energy from building things? Building a product, building a team and building a brand.

Louis: Yes, the building phase is the most exciting — whether you’re starting a company or building a product. Coming from an underdog role is really something that energizes me and makes me want to get up every single day.

Jeroen: Talking about getting up, what time do you get up in the morning?

Louis: By six, because my youngest son is awake then. He is a year and a half old, and he’s an early bird. So I get up around 6, give him food and stuff to drink with my wife and then I work an hour and a half at home before I go to work. I like to start early.

Jeroen: How many kids do you have?

Louis: I have two. I have a daughter, who is almost turning 3 now and my son’s just a year and a half. It’s busy!

Jeroen: So when you come home in the evenings, you set aside time for your kids?

Louis: Yes, I always try to be home on time. My calendar always consistently, blocks my agenda between 6:30 and 8:30. Mostly between 6:30 and 7, I am home. I try to spend another hour with the children because otherwise I wouldn’t see them. I don’t want to be that type of a dad.

Jeroen: What happens after 8:30? Do you go back to work?

Louis: 60 percent of the time, yes.

Although, I try to avoid that. But a big chunk of our team, 100 of the 260 employees of Showpad, are in the US. With the time difference, it obliges me to get a lot of calls in the evening — to conduct and to collaborate with the team members. There is a lot of that. That sometimes gets a bit tough, if you want to combine it with a family. But it works.

Jeroen: When we met each other last time in San Francisco, I remember you saying that you didn’t open the laptop after 8 o’clock. That changed, then?

Louis: That changed and the reason it changed is because until a year ago, I lived in San Francisco for 4 years.

If you work from San Francisco with European teams, then literally 6 or 6:30 things shutdown. In San Francisco people stop working, so you have a few hours where nothing really happens.

In Belgium, it’s the opposite. If we get home at 7, it is 10 AM in the morning in San Francisco or it’s 8 in Chicago. We have no choice. So unfortunately that rule, I had to kill it. It’s for the greater good!

Jeroen: What do you do currently to stay fit?

Louis: Whoa, dude. If I’m honest, at this point in time, probably 95 percent of my time goes to working and spending time with the children.

I’m a big snowboarder. This winter, I found the time to go snowboarding 3 times. I try to hike as much as possible with my wife. The weekends still remain pretty untouched, so I can do a lot there. I’m an outdoor type of guy. The moment I can, I am outside.

Jeroen: If you sell Showpad for a ton of money and could decide whatever you would like to do, what would you do?

Louis: I think in the scenario where we would sell Showpad or we would IPO, we cash in for some reason and didn’t want to be at Showpad or we wouldn’t be at Showpad anymore, the first thing I would definitely do is take a few months off. I would travel for 6 months maximum.

Do those types of things because life is too short to work all the time and if you are financially able to do crazy things, do crazy things. It is something I wouldn’t be able to do for the rest of my life. I think very quickly after a long, long holiday, I would think what the next startup would probably be.

Jeroen: Any idea in which space?

Louis: No.

There are so many opportunities today. For example, with blockchain technology, machine learning, driverless cars, there are so many massive trends that are growing where and you can build upon them. No concrete idea yet, but I am pretty sure there will be one.

Maybe something else in enterprise software. Who knows, may be something totally different from IT.

Jeroen: Like consumer or more small companies?

Louis: Consumers, small companies — as long as we are having fun. That is the most important criteria.

Jeroen: Where are you based now and where is Showpad?

Louis: I’m currently in Ghent, moved back from San Francisco a year ago.

Jeroen: That’s Ghent in Belgium?

Louis: In Belgium, yes.

But if I look at where I am, I travel a lot. In Q4, more than 50 percent of my time was spent traveling. I always say that my home is wherever I need to be. Either Belgium or London, where we have a team. In Chicago, where we have our headquarters or in the US or, in San Francisco. It depends where I have to be.

Jeroen: Is that four or five places?

Louis: With Portland, five.

Jeroen: Five?

Louis: Yeah. A lot of office management!

Jeroen: Is Ghent a good place to have your startup?

Louis: Yeah, it is.

It’s a really good place to start a company. I think if you have an idea that is great enough, people will want to work with you. If you are able to quickly find engineers and go to market people, I think Ghent is a great place to begin. There a lot of local talent, easy-ish connections with the airport that can bring you everywhere in the world.

It’s a very creative environment. But don’t think you can scale up just by being in Ghent. You have to build the mindset of being a global player. You will have to open up offices in London or in the states. Although we are in Ghent, we are actually a global company.

Jeroen: Is that mostly for sales or is that also for other departments?

Louis: It’s in general. Good for marketing, sales and customer success. At this point, you can’t find a lot of experienced people in terms of selling an enterprise software.

When we started, we couldn’t find experienced people in Belgium. That’s why we started to hire a few people in London and then went to the US. The same goes for the engineering team; we have phenomenal engineers at Showpad.

If you look at our crew today, we have roughly 48 people in engineering. At this stage it is becoming really hard to keep scaling there.

You probably know this well as a founder. In Belgium, it’s tough to find good people. The strategy should always be to think very global when you’re building your teams. If your brand is strong enough and your employer brand is good enough, you have something good to offer to people.

But I think you can build a massive engineering and sales team in Belgium. I realizes that a lot of the people who will join you, will not be coming from Belgium. But they will be people who will come from a broad living, moving from another part of the world to Belgium.

Jeroen: We also have 2 Americans in our team, but there are also Belgians. We’re not really competing for developer talent because we are in different cities, Showpad and Salesflare.

What are the startups you are actually competing with, for talent?

Louis: Every startup in Ghent that needs engineers is a competitor between brackets. People who want to build great products, this is the place for it. So, Showpad.

It’s really tough to find good people. Things abroad are becoming more difficult too.

When I went skiing the last weekend, with the founders of booking.com, which is in Amsterdam, I asked them about the engineering team and where they were from. They have close to a thousand engineers or more.

To my surprise, most of them are all in Amsterdam. When he talked about where they come from, roughly 90 percent of those engineers were from other countries. They hire from Spain, Portugal, the US, India and Eastern Europe.

They have worked out a value proposition where it’s very attractive for them to move to the Netherlands. That was interesting because at Showpad, the last 6 engineering hires, 5 of them were people from Ukraine, Russia, India, the US and from New York. It is interesting to see that.

Jeroen: How do you convince people from these places to come to Ghent?

Louis: Our value proposition is pretty straight forward.

First of all, people applying for the job, are those who have considered moving here. Like, I could spend a few years of my life in Europe with the family and then just live here.

As long as you are speaking English, you will do just fine in London. That’s because 95 to 100 percent of the companies have English as a new language. But once you start to look outside of the UK, there are not many companies or startups with that kind of diversity.

There are very few companies that are thinking globally or have offices across the world. I mean, competition on that side is not so big for us. We might not be at the most obvious place for people to live, but once they see how close Ghent is to everything, it becomes really interesting for them.

Louis: I had plenty of candidates that signed up at Showpad simply because of its international and diverse character. In Germany, in most cases, the language will be German. In France, in most cases, it will be French. With us, it’s just English.

Jeroen: Could people also learn Dutch though or do they all stick with English?

Louis: We don’t require it, but we do have a few people who are starting to take Dutch classes because they want to become a part of the community. It is always a good sign if people ask to start taking Dutch classes.

Jeroen: Do you finance that as an employer?

Louis: Yeah, of course. If you are bringing people abroad and that’s an exercise in progress, we want to do better there. You have to make sure that the employees coming in have the right support — even their families. You have to make sure they are settled in. At this point, it’s not really just about the job anymore, it’s how you make sure that they settle in as easy and as comfortable as possible.

Jeroen: You actually have people taking care of helping families out?

Louis: Yes, exactly. That’s where our people think of charity and adding a lot of value.

Jeroen: Wrapping up. What’s the latest good book you’ve read and why did you choose to read it?

Louis: The latest good book I’ve read is probably The Power of Habit. Have you read that book?

Jeroen: No, not yet.

Louis: I think it is a book that came out about 2 years ago. It is a book from Charles Duhigg. It is basically around people are creatures of habit and we all know that. Companies are also creatures of habits.

The whole book talks about what a habit is, how does it look like — psychologically and physiologically, how can you dissect a habit or influence it, how to change them and more.

The reason I liked the book, is that there are so many useful tips on how to change your personal habits, that you can also apply in your company to change its culture. It shows you how to change the way you work. Very scientifically packed book, with a ton of inspirational and handy tips. That’s a big recommendation for everyone!

Jeroen: So you’ve learned more on how to set up the culture at Showpad?

Louis: Yeah. I realized why we are doing certain things in a certain manner. You will be surprised that most of the things you do as a person or as a company, are because of a habit you’ve created. A lot of the decisions you make every single day are based on the habits you form — it impacts the way you think and act. In the beginning, it’s a bit shocking. I will not reveal the whole book, but the first few pages itself are eye opening and that’s really scary. It’s a good book.

Jeroen: Is there anything you wish you had known when you started out with Showpad?

Louis: I wish I had known the art and power of storytelling.

Telling a big story with a big vision that people can relate with. Making that story your vision and mission, makes it more tangible and measurable. It is something we didn’t do a good job of in the beginning.

Having lived a few years in the US with magnificent startup executives, it’s amazing how much you can achieve with articulating a vision that resonates with people. The next company we start, we will do much more of storytelling from day one.

Jeroen: That’s cool. Thank you for being on Founder Coffee, Louis!

I’ll send over a package of Founder Coffee to you in the next few weeks. We have some actual coffee there!

Louis: Great. I’m a big coffee drinker. Thanks Jeroen!

Jeroen: See you soon.

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Jeroen Corthout
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