CTO interview: Vianney Lecroart, breaking the rules to bootstrap to $10mill ARR
Giving people the tools they need to solve their work challenges quickly is the main motto of Vianney Lecroart, the CTO and a Co-founder of lempire. No matter how great is the product, if there is no market need or fit for it, then the work was done for nothing.
Read this enlightening interview with an experienced programmer and CTO and learn how to develop the product in less than a month, abandon some development rules that stall the process and create products that are solving real problems.
Can you describe what is lemlist/lempire? What’s the concept, how does it work?
lemlist is the name of the main project on which we’re working, whereas lempire is the name of the company. Our ambition is to create various projects, so we separated both names. Historically, when we met 4 years ago with my co-founder Guillaume, we wanted to work on business development via emails, which is something Guillaume knew really well because he’s done a lot of it. And he was disappointed by what was available on the market.
Personally, I was finishing another project with my brother that didn’t work well enough, therefore I have accepted an offer to join Guillaume. Usually, people think that you need to keep sending more emails to have more meetings. However, we believe that you need less frequent emails but with much better quality “straight to the point” or proven call to action conversations. Therefore, we wondered how to create a tool that would help send emails, would have open access and would allow to improve quality of the sent-out information and would reduce the number of outgoing emails. At that time, there was no other option on the market for that use case. lemlist allows personalizing messages without having to change emails one by one.
How did you decide to fully bootstrap the project, without raising any funds?
Indeed, we’ve decided to bootstrap, without raising any money, which forced us to focus on the most important tasks and functionality. We implemented the minimum needed to create the value we wanted. We got the first version in a month and the first paid version after 4 months of working. We quickly received feedback: no time and no money would enable us to understand where people really saw the value. Bootstrapping allowed us to isolate ourselves and make the right choices in our development process.
Guillaume had an amazing idea: he is really good at creating communities and rather than focusing on advertising, he created a community with tons of articles on email prospecting. The articles are full of useful information and are completely free. Indirectly, when someone reads an interesting article, the person gets interested in the product. Today, 4 years later, we have the biggest community of cold emailers. 18,000 people in a Facebook group where they share and discuss their work every day. All of it has created momentum.
We attracted people who wanted to do their job well but didn’t know how to.
How many people do you have in your tech team today?
Today we are ten full-stack developers, all very senior. Just a year and a half ago we were just three. The team grew only recently. The biggest chunk of the work has been done by my brother and me with some devs on the side. The strength of our product lies in marketing. A good product isn’t enough to work, there are various examples when not a good product is successful all because of marketing. lemlist is a great tool and we wanted the world to know about it, therefore we invested a lot in marketing.
What is the tech stack? Is it Meteor? I saw you used that framework a lot in the past.
Meteor allows to do both client and server sides. It sits on top of NodeJS.
Do you still program?
Unfortunately, not so much anymore, it’s quite frustrating. Regularly, with my brother, we try to isolate and to program. I also do live coding on Twitch, but very little in general. Now, it’s mostly meetings and strategy discussions. I’m a real “doer”, I started programming at 6 years old. I’m now forced to work on small tasks, which is less exciting than bigger ones, for which I have no more time.
How did your career and experience help you to pick your team members?
It’s been 23 years that I’ve been in the working world. I still program. I have an enormous amount of experience. I didn’t learn to program, as there was no internet at school. I started to programme the same way I have started to speak my mother tongue-I did not learn it, it was natural because I started so young.
In 2000 I worked on a big MMORPG video game in France, where I had my first failures. I learnt to be very agile in 2004. Today, I took all of this experience and transformed it into something where I can adapt to the rules and practices in a changing environment. Our objective is to quickly launch the product, therefore we kicked out all the Agile rules that weren’t making us efficient: no branches, no tests, no Pull Requests. We didn’t want perfect code, but we wanted functional code. If your product scales but nobody wants it, it is useless. Therefore, with my brother François we took all the shortcuts we could to find a market fit as fast as possible.
Our first project management system was some bullet points on a Notion page. As we were recruiting, we had to complexify our PM. When the simple solution wasn’t enough anymore we had to add some structure. Now that we have 10 developers, we have the level of structure we need: still no branches, and we’re just starting to have tests. I’m certain that in 2 years everything will change again.
No branches? That’s very unusual.
It forces the developers to keep working together, grouped. If a problem is not solved within a day, you are forced to break it down into sub-problems. The instant merge allows us to build something more iterative. For every merge, we do them several times a day, it is easy to analyse and detect sub-problems that happen. If it creates a conflict, it’s only on a very small chunk of code that just has been made. We do micro-modifications that allow us to get to our goals. If you refurbish a hospital, you have 2 solutions: either close it for 2 years or keep it open and organize it around by doing small refurbishments. That’s what we do. We also practice a lot of pair programming to share knowledge.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs starting their businesses?
Market-fit. It’s often the main reason why companies fail: a bad market fit. Focus on clients, give them quickly something in their hands, and change, pivot, etc. Developing for months is good for the developers or business people who like to analyse and get to perfection, but it’s bad for the new start-ups. Don’t be scared to launch.
Do you have any fun facts that happened building lempire?
The new design launch: after a year, we launched our new design. When we launched it, we got bad feedback, although we loved it. We did a super nice design, very modern, as we spent lots of time on it. We had to roll back quickly, which was easy because the old code was still in master (you remember? no branch); it was just the switch of a button.
People don’t like change, it’s hard to get your marks. It’s like an ugly t-shirt in which you’re comfortable: you prefer it over any new fancy t-shirt. It requires a lot of time to educate people to make them understand why the change will be good for them.
[FRENCH] Le mot de la fin?
If you want to connect with Vianney, click here.
To learn more about lempire, visit their website: lempire.com
FROM THE AUTHOR