I had the pleasure of interviewing Ludovic Huraux, the CEO and co-founder of Shapr, the leading app for professional networking. Ludovic is a French entrepreneur who believes that meeting new people is the most inspiring action you can take. His app helps over 1.5 million people to network regularly, and build meaningful professional friendships throughout the globe.
Jean: Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share your story about how you became a startup founder?
My father was part of the trade union and was not a fan of entrepreneurship. Even though the idea of founding a company was exciting to me, I followed a more traditional path, went to business school, and ended up working in private equity. My salary was great, but I still dreamed of being an entrepreneur and had an idea for a company I wanted to start. In 2006, two of my closest friends convinced me to finally take the risk, and start my first company, Attractive World. This was when dating websites were first getting popular and more mainsteam, and it was one of the first French-language dating websites to launch. The website ended up becoming one of the top three dating websites in France, and I never looked back. I successfully sold that business, and I am now onto my second entrepreneurial project Shapr and 12 years into being an entrepreneur.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Shapr is all about serendipity — we introduce professionals who share interests and may not have met otherwise, and hope that something magical comes from those meetings. There are so many incredible success stories that have come from the app, from users meeting their cofounders and forming new companies to users hiring entire teams through the app.
However, the best part about Shapr is that there doesn’t have to be a transactional need. Shapr encourages curiosity and a giving mindset, and we spark many conversations between professionals who understand that there is no greater feeling that grabbing coffee with someone new. For example, I had a three hour coffee with a former white house Chief of Staff who I met through the app. It was an incredibly energizing conversation, and I got to learn about American politics from someone who spent a few years working with President Obama in the White House. I spent another three hour coffee meeting a user in London who was a neuroscientist, and he inspired one of our marketing campaigns. Shapr uses data to get you out of the app, meeting others face to face — there are not many apps that are trying to actively get you off your phone!
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Shapr is launching a feature that would allow users to search within the app, and be more selective in who they see based on their current needs. This will be a huge asset for some of the recruiters or job seekers on our app, or startup founders who want to have more dynamic choices on who to meet.
We are also launching an offline club in New York called Connectors Club, that brings together some of our top users for a series of VIP events and offline talks. So far we have hosted four events, and all of them have been incredibly well received.
Jean: What do you think makes a startup successful?
Startups are successful because of the people on the team. You can have a great idea, but if you don’t have a fantastic team to build it, test it, and market it, then your idea will never get heard. Focus on hiring a team that works well together, has diverse perspectives and strengths, and will be a part of the company as you grow. At Shapr, I actually have four co-founders. While we don’t always agree on the strategy, these conversations help us to think through problems from several angles, and give us more diverse networks to dig into for help.
Jean: What is one piece of advice you would give a new and upcoming startup?
Don’t hold your ideas too close to your chest. When we first launched Shapr in 2015, we were worried that others would steal our idea, and we didn’t share the product with a wide enough sample of potential users. We ended up needing to innovate and scrap 70% of the original code. Had we been less concerned with being first to market, we would have probably saved a year of challenges and $1 million in startup capital. When we relaunched the app in 2016, we took the opposite approach and involved our users as beta testers — these people also became cheerleaders for the app and helped to build our word of mouth. Involve your target audience early on and make sure they are part of the process, not an afterthought.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
“The Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle helped me learn to stay present. After reading that book, I made meditation a daily priority, and now find myself much more resilient to change and failure. I worry less about what’s coming next, and instead can stay a bit more centered on what needs to happen that day. (Granted, this is something I am actively working on and will continue to work on for the rest of my life.)
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Startup Founder” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
There are so many lessons I’ve learned, but here are a few that I think can benefit others:
1. Bring on co founders to share the highs and lows. Being an entrepreneur is not always fun, and you want people by your side who will be supportive and understand what you are going through when you hit rough patches. At the same time, you want people there to celebrate with when you hit major milestones. When we hit our first million users on Shapr, it was so incredible to pop open a bottle of champagne with my co-founders, because they knew every obstacle we had to overcome to get there.
2. Be thoughtful in finding investors who understand your values and your business. I have personally turned down one million dollars in funding from investors who weren’t a fit. It’s important to be thoughtful in finding people who want to be a part of your adventure, and who are investing in your team, not just your idea. I actually shared more of my tips on fundraising and finding the right investors for your business in this Forbes article.
3. Listen to your users. Launching a product is just the beginning. You need to continue to refine a product to meet the growing needs of your customers, and to offer new services that keep people interested in your business. Make sure that users are a part of the conversation, and are actively involved in every testing and launch phase. For example, select 200 users to be beta testers that get advance access to new features, or invite 20 people out for a cocktail when you come through a city where you don’t always get the opportunity to meet your customers face to face.
4. Your users make the best hires. If you already have a list of fans devoted to your product and a way to reach them such as a newsletter or social media, share jobs through those channels. We have hired several people off of our newsletter — these are professionals who already love and understand our product, and are passionate about what we are building.
5. Actively practice humility. Ego prevents so many companies from being as great as they can be. When your team is more concerned about job title or rank, they lose sight of the bigger picture. At Shapr, we have an open floor plan, and there are no private offices. I am often the person sitting on the broken chair, because I am out of the office the most at meetings. We don’t do private events for team leaders — every event is by department or by team.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I am fascinated by Elon Musk. I think he is the most visionary entrepreneur in the world and I would value the opportunity to be in the same room.
Connect with me on Social Media:
● Connect on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ludovic-huraux-11a441/
● Connect on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/meetludo/
● Follow on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/c/ludovic-huraux
● Follow on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ludo_shapr_ceo/
● Follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ludovichuraux
Jean: This was really inspiring! Thank you so much for your time.
— Published on June 27, 2018