Mathilde Collin, Front — Founder Q&A

Threshold Ventures
Threshold Ventures
Published in
6 min readApr 19, 2018

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When I see everything that’s been done, I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved, even if it’s just the beginning. We’ve created a product and a working environment — and that makes me happy.

A born and bred Parisian has become the living embodiment of the American Dream.

Mathilde Collin has taken her big idea — a tool that helps manage shared inboxes for teams — to the point where her company now has thousands of customers.

After getting her master’s degree from France’s HEC School of Management, Collin and her co-founder, Laurent Perrin, started Front in 2013. They wanted to build a SaaS company with the goal of creating collaborative email inboxes. Collin figured she was not the only one who dealt with the daily hassle of an overflowing inbox. Smart hunch: The idea won acceptance into Y Combinator’s accelerator program in 2014.

Collin would later move Front’s entire team from France to San Francisco as the company’s product received rapid acceptance with enterprise customers signing up for its product. In 2017, Front processed over 350 million emails and messages. And earlier this year, Front raised a funding round of $66 million, allowing the company to plan its next stage of expansion.

Along the way, Collin has ridden the highs and lows, learning what it means to be an entrepreneur as well as a CEO in a fast-changing market.

Q: Growing up in Paris, did you have a particular interest in technology?
That came later. I was more interested in sports and I played a lot of tennis and soccer.

Q: Why did you decide to start your own company?
My father is an engineer and my mother was an executive assistant — and they were not super happy about their work. I was a happy kid. But it struck me as a child that you have to grow up and not enjoy that part of your life — working eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. It was one of the main reasons I wanted to start a company. I felt that if I was to start a company, I could create the environment and values that I wanted and would hope it made people happy.

Q: Was there a particular moment that convinced you, yes, this is the time?
It was more a combination of things that happened around the same time. First, after graduating from HEC, I joined a small software firm and worked there for a year, but the company culture was terrible, and I just couldn’t stay. Second, I discovered what SaaS was, and then I went on to meet Laurent, who became my co-founder, and the person who became our first investor. Everything came together.

Q: So you were ready to trade in the security of a 9-to-5 job for the unknown?
That didn’t matter much to me because I love working and wasn’t looking for a 9-to-5 job anyway. I like to be challenged and that didn’t scare me. Also, I had to do something because I had school loans and needed to start making money.

Q: When you started Front, was the plan to eventually move your headquarters to San Francisco?
At the time, I had no idea that I would move to the US. I had never been outside of Europe. I never had the intention of coming here.

Q: After getting accepted by Y Combinator and moving part of the company here, what did your parents think when you told them you were heading to California?
They were super sad because we are very close. But at the same time, they knew they could come and visit, and I think they are now very proud of what I’m doing.

Q: What was the genesis of the idea behind Front?
When I started working with software, I became interested in email. The pain point that we wanted to solve with shared inboxes was also a pain point that I had personally experienced in my first job. I found the space to be very interesting.

Q: Are you surprised at the success you’ve enjoyed in such a short period of time?
I know that we’ve been very fortunate. While at Y Combinator, a partner said, “only a handful of companies in this batch will still be alive in 4 years”, and even if I wasn’t proud of the state of the product at that time I was quite sure we would be one of them. I didn’t know how, but I was confident we would figure it out.

Q: Do you think that you would have been able to build the same type of company had you remained in France?
I think Front would have been a successful company, yet I don’t think it would have happened this quickly. I think that coming to the US enabled me to accelerate things.

Q: Have you faced challenges as a female CEO in a male-dominated environment?
I face a lot of challenges, but I don’t think that’s because I’m a woman. I think that being a founder is a challenge. But I wouldn’t put anything special around the fact that I am a woman. I think that being a CEO is what’s interesting while being a woman CEO is the less interesting aspect. One thing for sure is that there are fewer women than men in tech and so having speaking opportunities is sometimes easier because you’re underrepresented.

Q: When you reflect on your time as an entrepreneur, what are the things you’ve liked and found not to your liking?
When I see everything that’s been done, I’m extremely proud of what we’ve achieved, even if it’s just the beginning. We’ve created a product and a working environment — and that makes me happy. It’s an incredibly difficult job, no matter how well your company might be doing. I don’t believe any entrepreneur who says it’s easy. I’ve learned that as your company grows, it just gets harder.

Q: Has the experience helped teach you anything about yourself?
Tough question to answer. I’ve learned so much. This job pushes you so hard that you can’t really lie to yourself or lie to others. I’m just discovering who I am — how I work, how I treat people, how I learn, how I react to bad news, and how I react to good news. I’m really discovering everything about myself through this journey.

Q: Do you still block off an hour of time every other week for the “Mathilde’s free to chat” meeting room?
Of course.

Q: How did that idea come about?
As the company grew, more and more people were telling me, `Oh it used to be so easy to talk with you, but now you’re so busy and so we don’t want to bother you.’ But I really want to share as much as I can, so I thought that I’d work from a meeting room on occasion — then, if people wanted to come and ask me about anything, this would be the right moment for them to do so. That’s how it got started.

Q: You are a big fan of LEGOs. What’s the attraction?
It’s just something I liked to do as a kid and I never really grew out of it. When the company was smaller, I would buy LEGOs and we would build them together. It was a good team activity. Now, every time someone joins the team, they can pick out a LEGO set from the LEGO store and everyone helps them build it during their first week on the job. It also means that we have more and more LEGOs as we scale.

Q: Do you have a favorite book?
I do. Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Q: What is one movie that you’d pick to watch over all the others?
Life is Beautiful. I love this movie.

Q: Is there something you try to adhere to as part of your daily routine?
I meditate every morning for 10 minutes and it’s incredibly helpful. It’s changed my life a lot. If there are entrepreneurs reading this, I recommend they try it.

Q: Who’s the one individual you most admire?
Patrick Collison, who is the CEO of Stripe. I met him six years ago when I was at Y Combinator and he told me that he really believed in what we were doing. When you are a super small company and have never before been in the US or started a company, having someone who has been successful demonstrate confidence in you has a huge impact. It showed that he believed in me, which I appreciated.

Q: Besides friends and family, what do you most miss about Paris?
The food.

Originally published on April 19, 2018, edited on July 13, 2020.

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