This past July I met up with Loic Moisand, co-founder of the start-up Synthesio with Thibault Hanin, specialised in web monitoring and analysis of social and online mainstream media. They are a great example of a French start-up that has succeeded, in France as well as abroad. I mentioned them previously in two videos filmed with Trey Pennington, who is in charge of Synthesio’s marketing in the US and the UK (video 1 – video 2). This time I wanted to take a moment with Loic in order to find out more about the creation of Synthesio, on one hand, and about their measurement of influence on the Interneton the other. What I discovered during this interview is a real gem that goes above and beyond a simple market analysis : a very interesting and useful market segmentation that Loic Moisand has created based on his experience in the field that I found to be a fundamental and useful discovery for online marketing experts and branding experts that set their eyes on the web.
I met with Loic in the Cybervillage of Paris at Crimée, the same place where I had met him 1 1/2 years ago ; time enough for the young entrepreneur (28 years old, to be exact) to work hard on developing his start-up. His work has paid off as Synthesio has seen their revenues grow significantly, even if I can’t just yet reveal the exact numbers since the enterprise is private (you’ll just have to trust me when I say – they’re good).
The two Synthesio founders are both graduates of ESSEC (one of Europe’s top business schools), even if Thibault Hanin is the “geek” of the group, having earned his engineering degree beforehand. One worked on the software and the other on case studies, each in their “own little corners” of the school’s campus, according to Loic, before deciding to team up for a bit, just to see. “We worked on a business plan for a month and found that we complimented each other quite nicely”. They were able to raise enough funds rapidly, complete with a student loan, and were off and running. “Our first investors didn’t even look at the details of our businesses plan, they just evaluated who we were and trusted us”. A look at entrepreneurship that is very different from the usual Gaulic jeremiads. “I don’t at all agree with people that say that we can’t invest in France. There are good grants for those that are young innovative enterprise, thanks to the Research Minister,” adds Loic Moisand. Of course the two young entrepreneurs “ate nothing but pasta” for the first year while they developed their offer. But there were numerous surprises…
Business isn’t rational, it’s linked to the entrepreneur’s desires
The story behind Synthesio is interesting in and of itself. Well-positioned today for measuring social media buzz, the start-up began along a completely different route : “We started by creating a sort of Google Alerts,” explains Loic Moisand, but we quickly realized that there was something else going on in social media. Even if we didn’t begin that way”. Founded in 2006, the company took one year to prepare their offer. “I met 400 people, communications directors, research directors, agency directors, etc. during that year” adds Loic Moisand ; and that doesn’t even take into account incidental meetings. Forced to complete an internship abroad for his degree, the entrepreneur chose India for personal reasons, a choice that proved to be incredibly important for what followed in terms of their software operations, which makes the Synthesio co-founder say, “business is not rational and many things are tied to the founders’ desires”. A lesson in humilty and reailty to be taught in business schools, perhaps… “We wanted to visit, have fun, and not make something super French” continues Loic Moisand, and that’s exactly how Synthesio began “with everything in 5 languages from the very start” in order to win – little by little – international accounts that have made a very impressive list of clients: Accor, Orange, Sanofi, Eli Lilly, BNPP, etc. that use Synthesio to measure what is said about them online.
Finding a good brand name
Well-taught marketers know it all too well : finding a good brand name is a fundamental step. The double-team took it upon themselves to create their own algorithm that spit out original names, and Synthesio came out. The domain name was free, so nothing more than to find a logo, which Loic created, partly Ying-Yang, partly a stylized “S” with “the red representing the human, and the gray, the technology” he clarifies.
25 employees in 3 countries and… 30 languages
Synthesio is comprised of 25 employees today working full-time, plus partners that bring that number up to 35, spread out in 3 countries : France, the UK and the US. “But we have people that work for Synthesio everywhere : Morocco, China, India, Russia, Portugal, Spain, etc because the company handles research in 30 languages (the dashboard is available in 6, including Chinese). The multilingual search engine is the cornerstone of their service along with the fact that the analyses are done by humans. The differentiating point is exactly that. The engine is a proprietary development that is partially protected, as only original features and innovations can be patented.
The buzz analysis market : a fusing of 3 stages (+1 or 2 for France that seems to do everything its own way)
The worldwide market is broken down into 3 segments : free, do-it-yourself and upscale, Synthesio belonging to this last group. France is a bit different as it has 2 different types of actors (ami and Digimind) that are editors as well but positioned on different price schemas. This category doesn’t fit – according to Loic Moisand – with Forrester’s and Gartner’s groupings, which would explain their difficulties in positioning themselves internationally, even if the two actors “perform well on French territory”. Digimind has opted, itself, for the third type of positioning in North America. The France, creative as always, also has another example that doesn’t fit with other models : Trendybuzz, a research company with publisher software.