Mission accomplie. Et maintenant, à la recherche de ma prochaine opportunité.

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Photo : Crystal sur Flickr

Il y a deux ans, Craig Smith, président de HomeAdvisor, m’a offert l’occasion extraordinaire de joindre l’équipe de cadres supérieurs de cette société du groupe IAC en tant que vice-président, innovation produits, pour ouvrir leur bureau canadien, assembler une équipe de vedettes du Web et opérer comme une jeune pousse au sein de cette grande organisation. C’était l’enchaînement professionnel parfait, après six années au sein de ma propre startup, Praized Média / Needium.

Au cours des 18 derniers mois, nous avons bâti une grande place de marché en-ligne, HelpedBy, où les consommateurs canadiens peuvent trouver des entrepreneurs en rénovation de confiance. Des milliers de professionnels se sont abonnés à notre service et font désormais partie de ce nouveau site de recherche vertical. La semaine dernière, nous avons finalement livré la vision complète que nous avions définie en 2012. Vous pouvez voir le résultat à www.helpedby.ca. Je suis très fier de mon équipe et du solide boulot qu’ils ont accompli.

Maintenant, il est temps de passer à autre chose. De quoi à l’air la suite me demandez-vous?

Tout d’abord, je vais prendre quelques semaines de vacances et tenter d’être le plus possible en mode hors ligne. Après tout, l’été à Montréal est magnifique !

Ensuite, j’amorcerai des recherches plus actives pour choisir ma prochaine opportunité professionnelle. Je cherche un poste de direction dans une société en technologie/ Internet opérant en mode entrepreneurial et, comme la dernière fois, je garderai un esprit ouvert et écouterai les idées, suggestions et propositions. Les types de rôles potentiels qui pourraient m’intéresser incluent vice-président gestion de produits, chef de l’exploitation (COO), directeur général, et autres postes similaires de direction. La compagnie qui m’embauchera bénéficiera de mes grandes habiletés de direction générale, gestion de produits, développement des affaires, et de stratégie. Aussi, pour la bonne opportunité professionnelle, je suis prêt à déménager en Europe ou aux États-Unis (villes préférées : New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco).

Comme je ne suis pas pressé de choisir une nouvelle fonction, je vais aussi être disponible pour des mandats de consultation. Je vais finalement utiliser une partie de mes temps libres pour faire progresser un projet de matériel connecté (connected hardware) sur lequel j’ai envie de travailler depuis quelques mois. Pour plus d’information, vous retrouverez mon profil LinkedIn ici. Contactez-moi à sprovencher AT gmail.com si vous souhaitez discuter avec moi. À très bientôt!

Soirée-bénéfice des entrepreneurs technos pour la Fondation Marie-Vincent

fondation marie-vincentEn ce début d’année, j’ai décidé de donner un petit coup de main aux organisateurs (notamment Dominic Becotte) d’une soirée-bénéfice pour la Fondation Marie-Vincent. Cette soirée, animée par Gregory Charles, aura lieu le 25 mars prochain au Théâtre L’Olympia. L’événement réunira acteurs et entrepreneurs du milieu technologique de Montréal. Elle mettra en vedette une dizaine de leaders du milieu qui, dans un élan d’audace livreront une performance musicale sur scène.

Outre le divertissement et le réseautage, l’objectif fondamental de la soirée consiste à amasser des fonds pour permettre au Centre d’expertise Marie-Vincent de continuer d’offrir ses services spécialisés aux jeunes victimes d’agression sexuelle. Étant papa de 3 enfants qui ont complètement changé ma vie par leur simple présence, c’est une cause qui me tient à coeur.

J’ai convaincu Frédéric Harper d’être un des chanteurs de cette soirée et maintenant, j’aimerais vous convaincre d’acheter votre billet et de venir avec Annie Bacon et moi pour l’encourager. J’aimerais avoir 8 autres de mes ami(e)s avec nous autour d’une bonne table ce soir-là. Ne soyez donc pas surpris si je vous envoie un courriel dans les prochains jours vous invitant à participer! Et si ça vous intéresse, envoyez-moi une note.

Merci de tout coeur.

Announcing My New Role

Today, I’m very happy to announce that I’ve joined HomeAdvisor Canada as Vice President of Product Innovation. Based out of Montreal (Canada), I will be responsible for growing HomeAdvisor in Canada and developing innovative new products for homeowners and service professionals.

For those of you less familiar with HomeAdvisor (formerly called ServiceMagic), it is a U.S.-based company that connects homeowners with pre-screened and customer-rated service professionals and provides a suite of comprehensive tools, products and resources to help with home improvement, maintenance and repair needs. HomeAdvisor’s international operations include Canada, France, UK and Germany.  HomeAdvisor is a subsidiary of IAC (NASDAQ: IACI). You can find out more about the company in its About” section.

I’m very impressed with the company’s senior management team and I’m excited to join the organization. This new senior role fits perfectly as a next step in my career, allowing me to continue building innovative local search products in a very entrepreneurial environment.

You can find the official press release announcement here.

Vous trouverez le communiqué de presse officiel ici.

Moving On (And Looking For New Opportunities)

Photo: Bernat Casero

After almost six years and a long, thought-out decision process, I’ve decided to leave Needium (i.e. Praized Media Inc.), the company I co-founded in 2006.

What a journey it has been!

  • Creating our original concept and prototype in 2006
  • Signing our first customers in 2007
  • Raising our first venture capital money in 2007
  • Executing our first pivot to enterprise products in 2008 (when the credit crisis struck the world)
  • Constant product innovation between 2006 and 2012
  • Executing our second (and successful!) pivot to Needium in 2010
  • Seeing advertiser and revenue growth in 2011 and 2012!

After beta testing Needium in 2010, we brought in help to structure and scale operations/sales. We now have a dozen resellers (including very large media sales channels) and I feel I can leave in confidence that the company will continue to grow and prosper.

There are many people I’d like to thank for the incredible journey this has been for me:

  • First and foremost, our customers, the people who pay for our products. We built Needium for them. They will be in good hand with the team in place.
  • Our employees (past and present), especially the dev team (most of whom have been with the company since the beginning). Loyal and dedicated.
  • Our investors, who have trusted us since 2007, through hell and high water.
  • And finally, to Sylvain Carle, my co-founder (who is also announcing his resignation) and brother-in-arm. I will miss his daily presence dearly.

My last day will be Friday March 2nd 2012. After that, I will take a few weeks off but, as a next step in my career, I’m looking for international experience. I’d like to work in Europe or in the United States as a senior exec in a media/Internet company (large or small). I bring with me solid experience in product management, business development, Internet strategy, social media and management. You can see my LinkedIn profile here and you can reach me at sprovencher AT gmail.com. If you think I’d be a good addition to your team, don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll discuss!

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Et maintenant, en français:

Passer à autre chose (et à la recherche de nouveaux défis)

Après presque six ans de travail et une longue réflexion, j’ai décidé de quitter Needium (i.e. Praized Media inc.), la compagnie que j’ai cofondé en 2006.

Quel beau voyage au cours des 6 dernières années!

  • La création de notre concept et prototype original de Praized en 2006
  • La signature de nos premiers clients en 2007
  • La levée d’une première ronde de financement en 2007
  • L’exécution de notre premier pivot vers le modèle “entreprise” en 2008 (lors de la crise mondiale du crédit)
  • Le développement constant de produits innovateurs entre 2006 et 2012
  • L’exécution de notre second pivot (un succès!) vers Needium en 2010
  • La croissance du nombre d’annonceurs et des revenus publicitaires en 2011 et 2012!

Après les tests bêtas de Needium en 2010, nous avons amené du renfort pour nous aider à structurer et accélérer les opérations et les ventes. Nous avons désormais une douzaine de revendeurs (incluant des grands groupes médias) et j’ai le sentiment que je peux quitter avec confiance : la compagnie va continuer à croître et à prospérer après mon départ.

Je désire remercier plusieurs personnes qui ont fait partie de cette incroyable expérience:

  • D’abord, nos clients, les gens qui paient pour nos produits. Nous avons bâti Needium pour eux et ils seront en bonnes mains avec l’équipe en place.
  • Tous nos employés (présents et passés), et en particulier l’équipe technique. La plupart d’entre eux sont avec nous depuis le début, loyaux et dévoués.
  • Nos investisseurs, qui nous ont fait confiance depuis 2007, à travers vents et marées
  • Et finalement, Syvain Carle, mon cofondateur et frère d’armes (qui démissionne aussi). Sa présence quotidienne va me manquer.

Le vendredi 2 mars 2012 sera ma dernière journée. Après cela, je vais prendre quelques semaines de vacances. Pour la prochaine étape dans ma carrière professionnelle, je cherche une expérience à l’international. J’aimerais travailler en Europe ou aux États-Unis comme cadre supérieur dans une compagnie média/Internet (grande ou petite). J’amène avec moi une expérience solide en gestion de produits, développement des affaires, stratégie Internet, médias sociaux et gestion générale. Vous pouvez voir mon profil LinkedIn ici et vous pouvez me contacter à sprovencher arobas gmail.com. N’hésitez pas à m’écrire si vous croyez que je ferais un bon ajout à votre équipe!

Needium: The First 6 Months and Answers to Your Most Burning Questions

This blog has been extremely quiet in the last 6 months and there’s an excellent reason for that. Turns out it’s much more work operating a company that’s successful than one that’s not! Six months ago, Needium, our social media lead generation service officially came out of beta and it became the sole focus of our company. With a full-team in place (currently at 16), we’ve started conquering the local/social space. But before we talk about where we are now, after 6 months, let’s go back a bit in time to explain the insights that lead to the creation of the service.

When I joined Yellow Pages Group (YPG) in 1999 (actually, its ancestor Bell ActiMedia), one of the first things I learned, talking to an experienced sales manager was that, the biggest competitor to Yellow Pages was actually word-of-mouth, that small merchants get most of their referrals through personal recommendations. At the time, it served as a great answer to show there was indeed “competition” in the business directory space but it wasn’t a real threat (yet!).

That thought stuck with me as we saw the arrival of new social media sites like LinkedIn. I was one of the early adopters in late 2003 (user #46,750 in fact) and I started using the site as a rolodex, adding all my contacts in there. When I quickly reached 200 direct contacts (I’m now close to 2000), I discovered that LinkedIn had become extremely useful in my role as head of online business development at YPG. I could reach out to almost anyone working in the Internet industry and it proved very convenient many times.

I realized that there was something bigger in this nascent social media space. If you could assemble a network of contacts readily available at your fingertips, you were really building this huge word-of-mouth network that you could use to ask any questions, find answers, connect with people, get recommendations and interact with brands and businesses.

In the summer of 2006, when I first met with my co-founders Sylvain Carle and Harry Wakefield (who left the company in 2009), we knew something big would be happening at the intersection of local and social. We set out to build technology to capture, aggregate, structure and make sense of local content being generated in social media, hereby creating value for local media companies and/or local advertisers. Over the years, we developed core technology expertise in local questions & answers, real-time local search and real-time local content which would become the backbone of Needium.

Early 2010, I was fascinated by reputation management software but felt these technologies were too reactive for most small businesses. I’ll oversimplify but with reputation management, you wait until someone express an opinion about your brand/business, the technology detects it and you reactively jump in to thank the person or try to solve a problem. This is not how small merchants see the world. Small merchants are proactive; they’re always promoting their business. They’re not sitting on the sidelines waiting for people to comment on them. They want to engage consumers; they distribute leaflets on the streets, they offer samples in grocery stores, they give away their business cards in networking events. Why would small merchants behave differently in social media?

Another key insights that lead to Needium was all those questions publicly being asked in social media (take a look at one of my 2008 post for an early look at that insight). You’ve all seen them: “Can anyone recommend a North East photographer for a wedding on Sat 27th August?” or “Can anyone recommend a cool/modern or cosy/lovey hotel in Berkeley, CA?”.

Thinking about local search and Yellow Pages usage, we started thinking about those explicit needs but also about life events and situations that trigger an implicit need. You’ve seen those as well. “I need to eat .. I’m hungry”, “Well Since My Laptop Got Stolen Guess I’ll Get A Macbook Or iPad .”. Taken all together, this means that, every day, millions of needs are expressed by consumers in social media. These represent a huge amount of potential leads for local businesses. Yet, very few of these needs get acknowledged or answered. What if businesses could quickly identify local leads that are relevant to them? Could they convert those into real customers? And this is where Needium steps in. We’ve created this short video to clearly explain what we do. Watch it before you continue reading this blog post.

Whats is Needium?.

Needium is a customer discovery service that monitors, identifies new local business opportunities in real-time based on expressed explicit and implicit needs found in Twitter. These opportunities are surfaced in a dashboard where Needium community managers select which consumers to engage with and we do that using the merchant’s own social media presence. Needium is invisible in the whole process.

Basically, with Needium,

  1. We create the social media presence of a merchant if they don’t have one (Twitter and occasionally Facebook and Foursquare)
  2. We identify business opportunities in social media for them
  3. We engage in conversations with potential consumers
  4. We transform those conversations into sales.
  5. We listen and reply to existing consumers.

Our retail price for the service is $150 per month, no set-up fees.

Using hundreds of keywords and expressions, our semantic formulas surface relevant tweets based on merchant categories (restaurants, hotels, bars, auto dealers, plumbers, etc.). We currently cover 88 business categories in 73 cities in North America. Altogether, we cover 197,548 Km2 of North American metropolitan areas.

We currently have 300+ advertisers using Needium and are growing at 30% per month in the last few months. We’ll reach a thousand advertisers by the end of the year. Our sales strategy uses a two-pronged approach. First, a small local sales force in Montreal has enabled us to quickly build up revenues but most of all, it has allowed us to refine the sales process iteratively.

That’s key because our core sales and distribution strategy is executed via large-scale local media sales channels. We have a white-label platform and processes and a wholesale price based on volume. Reseller either bundle the service within an existing offer allowing them to increase share of wallet by having a solid proactive social media solution or as a standalone service. Eight sales channels are presently reselling the white-label version of our service. That includes four large North American local media publishers who have started reselling the service in the last 8 weeks and we’re starting to see some explosive sales from a few of them.

We’ve pitched the service to hundreds of potential advertisers, sales channels and venture capitalists. Here are the most frequently recurring questions about our business:

Q: Right now, you’re mostly focused on Twitter. Is there enough activity in Twitter to create a robust and scalable lead generation business?

A: Yes. Twitter recently disclosed that they generate 200 million tweets a day. Out of those, in all the cities we cover, we’re indexing 10 million tweets a day (and growing as we expand into new cities).

Q: How do you know if a tweet is “local”? And are there enough “local” tweets?

A: we use implicit and explicit geo-location. Explicit is obvious enough. It’s the location shared by the Twitter user. Implicit is derived by words used in tweets like city names, neighborhoods, points of interest, merchant names and local events. And if you’re wondering about volume of local tweets, these examples are telling:

  • Los Angeles: 1 million+ tweets
  • London, UK: 1 million+ tweets a day
  • Atlanta:  800,000+ tweets per day
  • Chicago:  700,000 tweets per day
  • Washington, DC: 600,000+ tweets a day
  • Toronto: 500,000+ tweets a day
  • Boston: 400,000+ tweets per day

Q: Are there enough local needs being expressed?

A: Yes in every B2C business categories. For example, we’ve been able to extrapolate that about 10% to 15% of all local tweets are related to food, entertainment and travel needs. Right there, you find a substantial volume to sustain thousands of advertisers in every large metropolitan area in North America and the UK. Other more specialized categories like dentists for example will see a few hundred leads per day. We are also working on integrating other social networks where “needs” are expressed: Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Localmind, etc. to increase that number even more.

Q: Do small merchants understand what Needium does? Do they require a lot of education?

A: They understand quickly because they already know what Facebook is and they’ve heard of Twitter. They’re often Facebook users through a personal account and understand that Twitter is similar. Most of them don’t have a corporate Twitter presence. We show them in real-time the local opportunities they’re missing out and they understand the need to have a proactive presence. Our direct sales team can close the sale in one meeting if the right decision-maker is in the room.

Q: Is Needium generating return on investment for the advertisers?

A: Yes. Needium helps increase consumer awareness, strengthen loyalty, increase social media follower count and drive store visits and sales. As soon as you can show a few great conversations where consumers say they’re going to come visit you or tweet that they visited following a merchant suggestion, advertisers are extremely happy. Most telling, our churn rate is in the single digit percentage, much lower than other popular online products.

Q: Can you prove that you’ve generated an actual sale?

A: Yes and no. We can anecdotally but we don’t purely sell the product on “leads”. We sell the service on a variety of metrics, number of tweets sent, conversations, number of followers being three key ones for most merchants. Advertisers see the value of the conversations we’re generating but they also see the value of having an active Twitter account and new followers joining month after month. We’ll soon be indexing Foursquare and Facebook check-ins to track actual visits following a Needium conversation but we want to get closer to a pay-for-performance model. We want to explore the pay-per-call model and the pay-per-action model. Is there a pay-per-check-in model in the future? A revenue share on transactions? Maybe.

Q: Don’t consumers think what you’re doing is spam?

A: We’ve sent over 40,000 tweets so far and only a few hundreds have generated a negative reaction. This is much lower than I expected originally. This is key for us as we don’t want to create a product that’s seen as spammy or in a negative light. We want to add value to the ecosystem and even if that number is extremely low, we’ve learned from them and know which situations trigger negative reactions.

Q: How different are you from the hundreds of social media monitoring tools out there?

A: We don’t see ourselves competitive to social media monitoring solutions. We’re focused on “consumer need” discovery, which leads to commercial conversations for our advertisers, something that’s highly monetizable. It certainly has more upside in the long term than pure social media monitoring usually priced at $10 to $50 a month. We’ve shown that the service can sell for $150 per month and a performance-based component will probably bring us higher revenues. My experience with local merchants has shown me that only a small percentage (5%?) will be sophisticated enough (or have the time) to operate social media tools themselves. By partnering with large local media publishers, we’re going after that other 95% who will not buy self-serve and will not operate tools themselves.  Finally, through the API we’re developing, we will be able to integrate Needium in any social media monitoring solutions providing instantly the local lead gen portion as a paid service.

Q: Any additional learnings?

A: Yes.

  • SMB advertisers are hungry for social media solutions tailored for them but they need managed service. For the bulk of SMBs, self-serve still doesn’t work.
  • Small merchants can outsource their social media efforts without losing credibility or their voice.
  • At the intersection of local and context (need expressed), consumers welcome conversations with businesses.
  • B2C works much better than B2B because companies and company owners are not yet expressing corporate needs in social media (although nothing prevents them!).
  • Large local media companies sales forces can easily sell Needium

When we set out to pivot Praized Media to Needium last year, we knew we were unto something big. I had created DirectoryPlus at Yellow Pages Group, an online ad product that’s very successful, and I know what a great local ad product feels like. Needium is my next DirectoryPlus. This will be a huge space. Our early success has generated a lot of good buzz. We’ve shown the product works, that advertisers will buy it, that it’s generating ROI, that sales channels can sell it and that it can generate explosive revenue growth. We’re now heading for breakeven and, with the support of our current VC firm, we might not need funding from a new VC. Still, we’ve had meetings in Canada, in Silicon Valley and on the East Coast to see if there’s an opportunity to raise a new round of funding to accelerate our growth. The best compliment we often get is “We’ve never seen this” and “you guys are onto something” (if you’re a VC, you can see our AngelList page here).

In addition, we’re always looking for new sales channels to resell our white-label service. If you’re interested, send us an e-mail at sales@needium.com. This has been an interesting ride and I’ll try  to keep you updated regularly over the next six months.

Needium Pay-Per-Call Trial: Looking for a Few Good Advertisers

I’ve been very silent on this blog in the last few weeks but it’s not because of a lack of topics to discuss. With the success we’re having with Needium since our launch in January, I am simply too swamped and busy helping the team scale the company! I have a blog post coming up soon that will talk about our first six months of operations.

As a recap, Needium (www.needium.com) is a social media customer discovery service. Our service monitors Twitter and retrieves local business opportunities based on user needs and life events. Basically, we’re  identifying and indexing public local tweets that have an implicit or explicit need expressed such as “I’m hungry”, “My car just broke down” and “Does anyone have a good Phoenix restaurant to recommend?”. We then surface that information in a Web-based dashboard where Needium community managers (yes, humans!) log-in to join conversations on behalf of the merchant (using the merchant’s own Twitter account). We converse with Twitter consumers to convince them to come visit us (us being the small merchant). You can see a 1-minute video explaining what we do here: http://needium.com/video

Needium can definitely amplify consumer awareness, strengthen consumer loyalty, increase social media follower count and drive store visits and sales, but we think Needium can also drive phone calls in some business  categories. We would like to test that hypotheses and we’re looking to trial Needium on a pay-per-call basis with a few advertisers.  If you or your advertisers already use the pay-per-call model and you’re interested in trialing Needium, I want to hear from you. E-mail me at seb AT needium.com.

Flickr Picture by plenty.r.