On Raising €4.6M To Build A Platform For Webinars

Published: October 4th, 2019
Gilles Bertaux
Founder, Livestorm
from Dighalia, Dhaka Division, Bangladesh
started July 2016
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Hi, I’m Gilles Bertaux, co-founder and CEO of Livestorm: Video Communications Platform for businesses. Livestorm provides the infrastructure to host video events of all kinds, from large-scale webinars to 1:1 video meetings. Livestorm’s benefits is are that the software doesn’t just provide a crisp and smooth video streaming experience, it also provides all the tools around your events: designing the registration page, handling all the email messaging around the event, and the analytics and insights about your audience.

Our customers are tech companies, universities, agencies or consulting firms of all sizes and shapes. They use Livestorm for sales demos, training, online courses (for universities) and internal communication.


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

I am a first-time entrepreneur, Livestorm came to life as a student project! I was still doing my internship in a B2B SaaS here in Paris. We got so much positive feedback from professors, mentors and other startups that we decided to go from students to building a product in our living rooms, which was honestly not that big of a change.

Things got serious when we got our first customers in late 2016 and decided to raise a Seed round in mid-2017. This is where I think we realized we were going to build an actual company with actual people working on our product.

Build stuff that scales… as much as possible.

Validation came when we saw revenue growing organically abroad, outside of our circle of friends and relatives. This is why we decided to speak English from day one and appear as a global company and not a French one.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

When we started the only thing that mattered was the product. Getting validation and insight. We started building based on our assumptions, choices, and vision. But at the same time, I would call as many people as possible and show the final prototype of our endgame product. We compiled a huge list of features and ideas.

Then we got our first customers, it was time to do some marketing: find niches of people asking questions about webinars on Quora, writing blog posts on the same topics, responding to people on Twitter.

When the customer base grew even more, I started doing support, collecting feedbacks and reviews to validate our place in that market. I was even hosting demos and training.

When we raised, I learned how to hire, manage, deal with investors, etc.

I think part of that journey is about learning all of the jobs until you find people better than you and delegate.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We just raised a Series A round with Livestorm (4.6 million €, about $5 million). So these are particularly exciting times. While we’ve been running lean since the beginning and focusing on high impact, low spend, and keeping a small team, we now can see a bit more long term, increase our spend, hire more, and use more stable tools.

About hiring, to give you an idea, we were 12 people 3 months ago. Now we’re 25 and we should finish 2019 at about 30. We should stabilize around that number as we’ll have all the talent needed to go to the next step. :)

We’re also increasing our spend on tools and infrastructure. That is true for the Livestorm product itself, as we want to keep pushing the envelope with Livestorm Meet (the live meeting product), and truly make it evolve past a webinar platform which is what we started Livestorm as initially. The vision and use case for Livestorm is much broader than webinars.

Last but not least, we’re investing in marketing infrastructure to help scale our growth. We used to have to choose hacky solutions and do a lot of stuff internally to keep our costs down. Now we can go all out on the best platforms out there which helps us immensely.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think it’s a pretty typical answer for a CEO but I learned a lot about hiring and managing in general. This was kind of new to me when we started Livestorm. I went from my first ever to hire here to promoting people to managerial roles and letting them handle their own hiring and mentoring. This is a big leap to take and it’s hard to let go, but in the end, it’s really the only way to go isn’t it? First of all, I wouldn’t have time to manage everyone anymore. But more importantly, I’ve hired people who are far better equipped than me to make the best choices for their specialty and their own team.

For example, we’ve got Elif on the Customer Success team. She’s got entire years of experience in this field while I only did CS when Livestorm was just me and my 3 co-founders and someone had to provide support to our customers. So she masters that field, and she’s far better equipped than me to make the right choices and hire the right people to work with. My role is only to guide her and help her be successful in that transition to manager.

This is a hard one: letting go of some control and relying on your trust in your employees. I don’t think that’s something you can learn in any way other than to do it.

Product-wise, we learned the hard way that certain types of business that are what I call no-second-chances businesses. When you provide a live streaming software or perhaps a payment solution or a critical data pipeline software, often only one bug can be the tipping point between winning or losing a customer. It changes the entire face of your business: from the way you code to the way you handle support and your hiring process.

Marketing wise, competitive markets force you to think early on about your brand and differentiation. It forces you to stay alert on the competition but do not fall into the trap of copying just to keep up with the market. We probably learned that a bit too late, we wanted to things our way within the product but we never really invested in our brand as much as we should've in the early days. Great brands are often built within crowded ecosystems, think of Patagonia, Slack or even Intercom.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Customer.io is by far the tool I’m the most in love with when it comes to marketing. It does exactly what you expect it to do, but also sprinkles in some additional features you didn’t think about but turn out to be great. I’ve been using Customer.io for 8 years in total (was also a customer as an employee in my previous company and even the one before that), and I wouldn’t imagine using anything else for Livestorm’s marketing automation.

Also, of course, I need to give props to Segment. Segment helps us send all app events (as well as website events, page views etc) to all our marketing apps. Without it, I honestly don’t know how we could’ve built the growth machine we have now. It has saved me and all of our engineers hundreds of hours at this point.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Oh boy, where do I start?

Honestly, when it comes to SaaS related stuff, there are a lot of companies I look up to as prime content creators. Lately, I’ve been super impressed with Intercom. Their book about Sales is great. Even as an object, it is super visually appealing. But its content is golden as well. Intercom also does Podcasts, and they do them well.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Build stuff that scales… As much as possible. At first, you have to move fast and do a lot of things. But most of the time you should take the time to actually build a rather solid, scalable and automated process before moving on to the next thing. Start a small one or two simple workflows. Then grow based on your needs. Never over-engineer, wait for the pain. This is true in marketing automation and in hiring.

For example, we went from 2016 to February 2019 without a salesperson and almost reached our first 1000 customers without a sales team. Of course, I was doing sales demos myself for a while, but more importantly than that, I spent a ton of time building the growth machine to automate customer acquisition and facilitate new user and new customer onboarding.

One of the hardest things to do as well as to keep things as simple as possible. Say you start thinking about lead qualification. Of course, ideally, you’d want a super robust, advanced way of rating each new lead, differentiating them and addressing each segment in the best way possible to maximize your outcomes and learning. But that is simply not possible when you’re getting started (to be honest, I think it’s barely possible to be this granular even when you’re bigger). So, at first, you’d almost want to go with a lead score that is either 0 = no value, or 1 = likely to pay us for our service. That is pretty general, but it’s always better to start from a very simple, minimum viable strategy and improve it gradually, rather than to start big and struggle to get the thing to go live.

Where can we go to learn more?