The Index Family dinners: where entrepreneurs share their experience

by Martin Mignot

A couple times a year, Dominique Vidal and I invite all our Paris-based CEOs for a dinner at TheFamily. This time around, Jean-Daniel (Capitaine Train), Paulin (Drivy), Nicolas (Algolia), Anthony (Rad), Keyvan (onefinestay), Fred (BlaBlaCar), Benoit (Criteo), Oussama and Alice (TheFamily), alongside Dom and I, attended. At Index we organize all sorts of events for entrepreneurs all over the world, but this one has a very particular focus in that everyone arrives with one pressing issue/challenge, and the whole group brainstorms together to try to solve it.

The issues brought up this time were extremely varied, ranging from marketing ("I rely a lot on one marketing channel, should I keep optimising it or try to hedge my bets with another one, even though it's not profitable at first"?), to company culture ("I need to change the culture of my company to deliver faster and on deadline, but I don't want to kill people’s creativity, so how should I go about it"?) to internal communications ("It was perfect at 10 employees, but isn't working anymore now that we are 30…"). And so on.

Interestingly, a lot of the questions related to HR/culture/internal communications. These are areas every CEO has to contend with. As leaders, with the final word on hiring and firing, their essential function is to coax the best from their teams and ensure that people are working together efficiently.

Obviously, a twenty minute discussion, even between top fellow entrepreneurs, will not generally be enough to solve some of the thornier and more complex issues at hand. But nonetheless there were fascinating insights aplenty, especially coming from the more experienced entrepreneurs who have already been through the journey of scaling an organisation from five co-founders to 150+ employees.

One of these was contributed by Fred, the CEO and co-founder of BlaBlaCar, who explained how setting up a rolling weekly ‘all- hands-on-deck’ meeting transformed their work culture. Every week, one of their six teams (tech/product, marketing, communications, customer support, new biz and operations) presents their progress over the previous six weeks and their targets for the next. Not only are these meetings a useful way of sharing information with the entire company, but they have also proved to be amazing at building sub-team culture and boosting the mutual respect and understanding between teams.

As Fred puts it, the tech team, for example, emerged from the first meetings saying things like: "OK, what these guys in marketing are doing is actually incredibly sophisticated!". BlaBlaCar first set up these meetings when they had just twenty employees, and still find them as useful with 200.

This is the kind of practical learning that only the experience of scaling an organisation can bring. And the point of these dinners is precisely to share these insights across our portfolio companies. There are tangible, instantaneous results too: half of the CEOs present decided to experiment with weekly ‘BlaBlaCar-style’ meetings, starting Monday.

Since we first invested in TheFamily over a year ago, a lot of people have asked us about our reasoning behind it. Some wondered if it was for dealflow. Others assumed (wrongly) it was about PR. These Index Family dinners provide the best answer to that question: we are working together on building something bigger; a true entrepreneurial ecosystem in Paris. Before joining Index, I remember chatting with Gerry Rimer, our 80-year-old founding father (alongside his sons Neil and David, and Giuseppe Zocco), who told me: "We are not a family business, but we are a business family".

And this is exactly what Alice, Oussama and their team have set out to create. They provide a home in Paris for us and our startups, a venue where great meetings can take place and where people with experience of scaling tech companies can share their learning with the next generation of entrepreneurs. This is the kind of knowledge and education that is required to help companies grow faster and become global leaders in their categories. In that, TheFamily and Index share the same vision, and the same ambition too.

Published — Oct. 9, 2014