Bootstrapped in a basement; sold for $32,000,000

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Today I have a guest who I have been talking to for over 10 years as he bootstrapped his company.

Francois Arbour is the founder of PremiumBeat, a curated library of royalty-free music for creative professionals.

He sold that company to Shutterstock and has gone on to do many other things. I want to know how a guy who started out in the basement became somebody so freaking good at building companies that he’s helping others do it too.

Francois Arbour

Francois Arbour


Francois Arbour is the founder of PremiumBeat, a curated library of royalty-free music for creative professionals.


Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs. Joining me is a listener who I met when I did an event in Austin about, I guess it must’ve been almost a decade ago at this point. I

Francois: 10 years, 11 years.

Andrew: killer man. This is a guy Francoise Arbor, whose voice you just heard.

Francoise was living in a fricking basement at essentially working hard with his dad. You guys still have a good relationship.

Francois: Great. Fantastic.

Andrew: Fantastic relationship had this idea. You know, what, what if we could sell audio stock audio that people can use in things like their flash creations back when flash was the thing fricking bootstrap, the thing middle of nowhere, no one was paying attention to him.

I was so glad that he listened to Mixergy and we were introduced because then I invited him to do an interview about how this company that he created with his father premium beat was doing incredibly well. Years later, he, he emailed me and said, Andrew, I sold the company to Shutterstock. He told me how much he sold the company for.

We’ll see if he, what he can say within this interview, that was phenomenal. Stayed with them for a couple of years. And then a few days ago, I got an email from him saying, Andrew, I sold the business. I’ve started investing in other companies, 60 investments. Plus six exits guys become a good investor. He started a couple of other businesses.

One of them is acquiring other companies. It’s called Noack all e-commerce businesses. Look at how far you’ve come. I see the smile on your face. You’re proud you.

Francois: I mean, it’s just weird to talk to you 10 years later. I, Andrew it’s, uh, you’re right. I was in a basement. I remember very vividly. I was pretty nervous to, to talk to you because, uh, it was my first interview I’d ever done in English to boot, which is, you know, my second language. So back then, uh, you know, I was just younger and more and more, uh, impressed by, uh, by all these things, you know, and, and, but it was a fantastic experience.

I remember, um, connecting with so many people after this interview. Like, it was crazy in the comments. I remember back and forth and I got probably over a hundred emails over the next three years after that. I even, you know, uh, mentored a few people in there. I, uh, I see people still look at that interview and talk to me about it.

Like, Oh, I saw your interview on Mixergy about like, and what you said about SEO. And I was like, wow, that’s probably not really relevant today, but that’s, you know, it’s okay. So yeah, it was, it was a great

Andrew: PHP? You taught yourself SEO, all this, just to build up premium, beat the company that you sold. Um, since then you’ve started making investments. You’ve got no core. You’re buying e-commerce companies. You’ve got designed Stripe, which is a new company that I don’t fully understand what it does.

You’re not saying very much on your website, but you saw that I was hunting and he also has, uh, angels of many, since he’s been making a lot of successful angel investments, he’s created a syndicate with Angeles. I invited him here to talk about all those things. I want to know how a guy who started out in the basement became somebody who is now so freaking good at building companies that he’s, he’s helping others.

And we can do it. Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors the first. Oh, and I’m a little nervous about this. One of the emails that you sent me about half a decade ago was how my ads could be done better because you were skipping them. We’ll talk about it within this interview about how I’m in Purdue, improving my ads for.

My two sponsors. The first is HostGator for hosting websites. The second is rippling. If you’ve had, if you have a team of people, I’ll tell you later why you should use them first, France, while good to have you here, man,

Francois: Thank you.

Andrew: from a very posh, a pool room. This looks beautiful, dude,

Francois: It’s actually my pandemic office. I built, uh, this pool house here for the kids and, you know, for workouts and stuff like that. And I’ve been spending way too much time here during the pandemic. It’s, it’s kind of two different buildings of the, uh, the property. So I, uh, So I’m not bothering everyone at the house all day with my calls.

Andrew: you, um, you sold the business for how much, what do you feel comfortable saying here?

Francois: So I’ll tell you the amount that they announced, because in transactions, you always very often have like the announced amount and then addition, and then they said additional consideration, but the base amount was 32 million and with additional compensation. So I don’t, uh, I don’t want to give too much info there, but that’s

Andrew: but it was more than 32 million fair to say, right. Considerably more. I will say. All right, let’s go back to just how this whole thing started for a little bit. Talk about why the company worked out and then we’ll catch up on what you’ve been doing since then. It started when you were a flash designer in the advertising space, you needed audio for yourself and you said I’m going to create what, what was your original vision for premium beat?

Francois: Actually I started, yes, you’re right back then. We loved flash. It seems weird to say today, but we loved flash. We were making crazy million dollar websites for big customers and big clients with like 3d spinning cars. And, and back then we hired musicians to produce the music because it was considered like, like a TV ad, you know, advertising agencies were selling these things for a lot of money.

So we had the budget to hire people to do custom soundtracks, but then after awhile budgets came down, down, down, and then we only have like a few hundred dollars for music per, per project. So we essentially decided to go and look on the web where we could find. And the only thing we could find was a bunch of sites.

There were selling CDs of music, like 12 tracks per CD, and you have to like put the CD in and then call someone and then negotiate every six months. So I was like, there’s no way there’s not something better than this. Right. So I started to think about, Oh, I know all of these musicians I used to hire, you know, that now don’t have a job because the budgets came down.

They probably would be interested in making a bit of side money, you know, with this project. So I contacted a few musicians and I said, you know what, I’m going to put some music online and for flash websites, literally. And it was even called I think, music for flash or something at the beginning, because I really thought this was a future.

And that was pre YouTube, right. 2004 pre YouTube.

Andrew: And you YouTube, YouTube succeeded, largely because they were built on flash. Everyone had flash on their

Francois: exactly.


Andrew: videos. Well, it could play audio. Well, it did websites well enough in, so in many ways it was clunky, but what it did to websites was allowed them to have things, as you said, spin around, have audio and video and do a lot more multimedia without having to ask people to install stuff.

So that was your original focus. I think you partnered up with these musicians, as you said, you then had a lawyer. You told me in the past that you spent forever getting the contracts written out because what was the agreement going to be between you and the musicians?

Francois: Oh, we didn’t really know. At first it was, we went back and forth. The thing is like, I didn’t know anything about the music industry. And to be honest, I don’t really know anything about music industry per se today, either. I know about the sync licensing, the various music licensing for ads, you know, and for, for video.

So it’s a very different thing than music in general, but yeah, I mean, sorry.

Andrew: The agreement was essentially that you were coming up with something like they keep 60% of the, of the revenue you keep 40 and you sell individual tracks.

Francois: Yeah, exactly. So every basically they would put it kind of like an art gallery, right? You put your, your work’s there and if it sells, we give you a cut of the money. So we started with that model, which was, uh, you know, we negotiated for a while. And then down the road, we, in 2013, I had the idea of big becoming a Netflix before Netflix in the sense that we were saying, why don’t we produce our own content?

Why do, why do we just go out in the market and, you know, and, and, and get, you know, the, the kind of open marketplace, wait, uh, so we decided to start producing and we hired a few musicians, partnered with studios in LA and across the world in the UK. And we started buying outright content. Right. And that was a huge revolution for the business because it drove margins way, way, way higher, higher.

Um, so yeah, it, it progressed the model progressed, but I think it was successful for one main reason. And that is curation. Everyone is sick of having to go through millions of things, whether it’s photos or music or whatever curation is the key here. And that’s why premium B2 is so successful. It’s because it was based on the absence of things in the, like, we didn’t say we have a million tracks.

We said, actually we have maybe 10,000 because we handpick each and every one of them. And when they’re like not fresh, we, we kick them out. Right. So that was the, basically the counter approach of the market, which was quantity. And we went with quality and curation.

Andrew: Why don’t you also adding a visual element to the audio? So it was easy to see where the beats were. It was easy to understand what you’re getting before you hit play, right? Yeah.

Francois: Yeah, of course there was a wave form, but we were like pretty. I mean, I would say the other most important thing was consistency. And in, yes, you could, you could see where the, the, the, the audio was happening, but also you could have like a full track. You still can actually, or loops or 1530, 60 seconds. So we were kind of the first ones or one of the few ones to, to really have that for every single track.

And that’s only possible if you control the whole, you feel vertically integrated, right? If you don’t have any attraction with musicians, you can’t tell them to do it this way. You can’t tell them. So you have a bunch of tracks that you buy from here. A bunch of facts, some, some of them have the short version.

Some of them don’t, some of them have certain rights limitations. Some of them don’t. So our thing was like consistency and curation. Everything was the same price, the same rights you couldn’t say, Oh, you can’t use, you can use this track, but not for automobile ad because someone has it in Asia. You’re right.

So it was a very, very successful approach. I’m super proud of what we built a premium B and I, and it’s doing well really well right now, uh, within Shutterstock.

Andrew: To get customers. The first thing you did was I think you bought an ad in a Montreal newspaper. Right.

Francois: An actual paper, physical newspaper,

Andrew: but that’s not what took off for you. What was it that got you?

Francois: YouTube. That’s what happened. So basically the, the, if I had kept on the flash thing, I would have failed miserably, miserably. I would have sold a few hundred tracks a year. Um, that reality is the, the, the. The appearance of YouTube changed everything because all of a sudden the demand for audio was like 10 fold because everyone was making you do videos.

And because of the PR the, the YouTube content ID you would getting flagged left and right. So we were the solution to that. Right? And so people were like legal music to use on YouTube, boom, premium beat. So, and I, I would say a third component that made it massively successful was the blog. So we built a blog with millions and millions and millions of visits a year.

And I think at some point it was the top blog in the video editing in the category of video editing, basically anything you search for how to do X, how to do whatever and find a cup pro always the premium be blog. So that was our big, big strategy. We had like a full staff, basically a media company, the company.

Andrew: I had no idea. You got that big with it, and you intentionally were hiring people to create this content. When the audience reached out to you about SEO, that was the big search engine optimization technique that was working for you, or you also SEO on the individual tracks.

Francois: Yeah, I see you on tracks. Not, not that much. We were really strong for royalty-free music. The keyword we’re always in the top six up and down sometimes number one, two, three, and then the blog is really strong for long, long tail. So any like really specific keywords and we had quite a production machine.

It was, it was a really great team.

Andrew: We used you for Mixergy and other projects. What I like about it was, it was, it was inexpensive enough that anyone on the team who wanted to buy something could just go and buy it and not have to make a big deal out of it. Even if they didn’t end up using it. It was no one was going to be upset.

Eventually though, we saw that the market was shifting towards subscriptions and so somebody would get a subscription and that’s the only place that we would go. I don’t think premium beat ever moved into subscription. Right.

Francois: Yeah, I did actually, but I was working on that before I left. And I think we, we waited a bit too much, but you know, it’s when you party, I wasn’t the CEO at that point, so I couldn’t really make other decisions, but yeah, they did quite successfully, I think, transition to the

Andrew: after, after you’d sold the business.

Francois: Yes. Yes. I think two, two and a half, three, not even four years after.


Andrew: Did

Francois: I think I sold because I was tired. That’s really it, you know, as you remember, I bootstrapped premium beat when my dad, you know, like me and him, we worked like crazy. And then I bought back his shares and then did four years without him. And that’s all I had for a while. I was still living in my, you know, basement, no car, no house.

No, I wasn’t dating. I now I have kids and everything, but, uh, no, I was so busy. I

Andrew: You had no social life at all?

Francois: it was, I mean, I had social social life, but I couldn’t really maintain the relationship to be honest for multiple reasons. First of all, I was really putting a priority on the business and the, in a, to be honest, like a unhealthy way.

And, uh, I, I would go at it very differently today, but you know, you learn and, um, I don’t think I was just available for that at all. At that point I was just so in my things, in my projects and, uh, yeah,

Andrew: Why? Why didn’t you care that much? That you’re willing to give up relationships, dating family space, to just think why, what was it about you that drove you there?

Francois: uh, it’s a, it’s a tough question. I don’t really know. I it’s just like this. I come from four generations of entrepreneurs and project builders and. My dad was a project builder. He still is, always has projects and businesses. And you know, my granddad had a business too. And my, so it’s, it’s just, it’s just how I was raised.

Basically. I wasn’t raised, my dad never talked to me about getting a job ever in my life. You talk to me about building value and a, about entrepreneurship and about creating your own opportunities. And I guess a side of it, why I was so, uh, obsessed by it. Honestly, I think it was a bit because I wanted my dad to be proud of me, you know, he’s he’s, he was in the business with me, but he also is a mentor of mine.

Right. He T he taught me a lot of what I know in business. So I was like in a project with him. I just couldn’t fail. You know, I just couldn’t fail. So. Um, but it was a rough ride. It was a very rough ride. We people thought, Oh, wow, it’s so successful from the outside maybe. But you know, we, we had some issues.


Andrew: were the big issues?

Francois: Oh, I mean, I mean, first of all, my mental health and like general health was declining pretty quickly because I, I just didn’t know how to be healthy. I

Andrew: What does that mean? What does that mean? I mean,

Francois: it means, it means that

Andrew: seem fine.

Francois: yeah, it’s, that’s the problem, right? You seem fine because I’m not obese. And I, you know, but the reality is like mentally I was broken, I was functioning.

I’m maybe 10% of my capacity and.

Andrew: did that mean? Like if, if you can think of a day when there was a problem, what, how did that look day to day? If I were to

Francois: Oh my God. Yeah. So at some point, at some point, I’m not going to say the name, but it’s a very well-known artist. Uh, someone on PremiumBeat, uh, made it was too cold, too close to that artist’s track. And we got sued, not sued, but we got, you know, letters. Let’s just say that from these artists and the big artists and pretty, and, you know, pretty scary letters when you’re, I had no idea, right?

Like at first time in my life, I got letters of like, Hey, you should, you know, you need to take this down. And, uh, our lawyers will talk. And, um, I remember sitting in my bed with heart palpitation and like just waves of panic going through my body. And I was like, Hm, is this how heart attacks begin? You know, like I was so sad, stressed.

And just to say at that exact moment, my dad’s partner girlfriend, my basically she acted kind of my side, my mom for, for years and years, she had, uh, two cancers in a row. So my dad was told to me, my father was like, listen, I can’t, I can’t really do this anymore. I have to take care of Dylan. And, um, so he went and I had to basically take the business, which was in jeopardy for multiple reasons at that point.

And I basically pushed everything aside and I just could Drupal down and that’s where we scaled the business, but I did it now. I know that I did it too, to the expense of my health, you know, it’s, it’s not.

Andrew: Worth it though, because now you can tend to your health. You’ve got safety for the rest of your life. You’re not going to have to worry about money you’re you can you’re open enough that you have space to think this stuff through your dad is now into nutrition. Cause he has the time to do that. Right.

Isn’t it worth it to suffer to get here?

Francois: I mean, it’s hard. Of course now I’ll say yes, because I’m not in it. Right. But it’s hard to know you can’t AB test life, unfortunately, I think, and that’s just a thought maybe. I wasn’t really productive as much as I thought I was right now. I know that there were things I was doing back then. They would just noise, like details that I shouldn’t really, you know, take a look at or like things I shouldn’t, I don’t know, like a detail on the design, for example, on a button, right?

Like the big, the big view is much more important, but I was like focusing on and getting super like intense with every detail. And the problem is, I didn’t know how to delegate. This was like a two to three people business. Right. So I was doing everything and not in the best way. And so I wasn’t, it’s not a good way to do things.

It really isn’t.

Andrew: if you’re saying, look, if the alternative is Andrew given to weakness, be lazy and sit at home and give up on the business versus this clearly what you did is better, but that’s not the only all alternative. The alternative, the alternative you might’ve picked was to say, I’m going to get my mental health, right.

Because then I could be even more productive instead of nitpicking on one little thing. I w you could’ve spent more time thinking of bigger picture, bringing more people into the business. Got it. Got it. I was seeing the wrong dynamic.

Francois: the main thing is building a business is a marathon. You’ve been doing this for what, 12 years now, Andrew, something like that.

Andrew: Yup. Yup.

Francois: It’s, it’s, it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. And I can S I thought it was a sprint. And, and I sprinted like, like a madman, but, but at some point I stopped sprinting because I was, I was out of, out of energy.

I just didn’t have anything in me yet. And, and, and, and I had to transition out of my CEO role and my role at Shutterstock, because I just, I w I just wasn’t my best. And I needed to recharge. I sold because I was burnt out. I was tired. I was burnt out. I just, I, I don’t think I, I could have really built it.

That much, you know, bigger with the, with my health situation. At that point, it was pretty, I would just, I was having pretty bad issues with like sleep. Um, so I, my feeling was that I needed to sell the other thing too is imagine the only thing I had financially was that right. I had nothing, nothing,

Andrew: and everything goes away. And now when you’re exhausted, you have to figure out how to get a job,

Francois: Not just that. It’s not just me. That’s my dad’s retirement.

Andrew: right.

Francois: My dad would, you know, I, I think he’s pretty happy today because we really grew the business and then sold it. But it was, I had my dad’s retirement in my hands. Right. Like if I, if I mess this up, that’s it like he doesn’t get to spend the, you know, a relaxed the rest of his life at home and, you know, doing insect photography,

Andrew: Yeah, I see that he’s in macro photography, entomology, nutrition, and Latin America. That’s where his life is right now.

Francois: Pretty much. Yeah.

Andrew: Do you remember the day you sold? Was there like an exciting thing that happened? You do tell me what happened.

Francois: Yeah. What I remember is that the most anticlimactic thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s basically, you, you say you’re going to close for like two months and you always are this disclose this, close, this close. And then when you get the signing you’re so like you’re done with it. You’re like, okay. Just wire the money.

So I, I didn’t really, the moment I remember is when I went and pitched a premium beat in the empire state building, because that’s why that’s where Shutterstock is. That was pretty cool for a Canadian to go like, you know, 21st floor pitch on the boardroom with the view of New York is really quite a fun experience.

But the day I sold, I saw the number in my bank account. And then I expect expected to feel the surge of like happiness and it never happened. Never, it just never happened. And I, I am still waiting for it. I don’t know if it’s going to happen one day.

Andrew: Is a sign of real mental burnout that you. You can appreciate that, right? Cause even if you watch it, the end of a marathon, as tough as it is for people, the most exhausted people will still then just feel this sense of elation for a moment when they cross, except if their bodies are completely shot

Francois: Yeah. I think, I think you’re right. I never thought about it that way, but I think you’re 100%, right. I think that’s what it is.

Andrew: all right, I’m going to talk about my first sponsor. And then we’ll come back and find out what you did afterwards and how you ended up being the guy who can now buy and own multiple companies and not burn your, or maybe you did burn out. You told me something happened a couple of years ago, but my first company first sponsor is a company called rippling.

Here’s what they do. You tell me if I’m explaining this right. You know, now because of the pandemic, people are doing what you’re doing, right. They’re working from home. Some people have moved, gone to other places. Meanwhile, if you’re running a business, you still have to pay them and you still have to be in compliance with all the rules, wherever it is that they’ve moved to.

Right. So what rippling does is they say it doesn’t matter where people work. It doesn’t matter where they live. We’ll make it easy for you to pay them. And if they’re not W2 employees, they happen to be 10 99. We’ll take care of that too. And at the end of the year, if you’re running an American company and you need to follow the 10 90 nines, phenomenal, they’ll do it for you or you.

That’s why I signed up. That’s why I like them. What I didn’t realize until I signed up, because there are all these other headaches that go into onboarding people. Like you have to get them to sign an agreement. You have to get them access to their email address. You have to get them. We don’t use Slack, but if we did, we’d want them in Slack and in the Slack rooms that they need.

And we’d have all these, all these other needs, some companies even want to get a computer to the person who’s working for them. So that it’s exactly set up the way that they wanted. All these headaches rippling takes away. Yes, they make it easy to pay people, but they also make it easy to onboard them properly.

And finally, Francoise. I hate to say this, but we also have to off-board people. Sometimes they make it easy to then take away all these different accounts, because I keep seeing examples of people who, who they hire, right. They give people a lot of responsibility to access. And then when the person decides to go rogue, I’m going to interview a founder and a little bit who had that situation.

He was locked out of everything. Literally this business was taken away. He’s done great for himself now, but he, he had to suffer that huge setback before he could recover before he could recover and do as well as he is now. So the point is onboard your employees or contractors, board them well, and then take good care of their payments in between.

That’s what rippling does. That’s a little long-winded. What do you think, France? Why? Right?

Francois: that’s great, actually. Um, so I have a pretty distributed team for a design Stripe, and we have people in Argentina and Europe and Indonesia and everywhere basically. And we, um, we pay them remotely. And when we started, and even we paid people with Bitcoin, even like it’s, it’s, it’s really starting to, uh, you know, to, to happen more and more.

And it is super complicated to

Andrew: What do you use? Even if it’s a competitive, even if it’s a competitor of my sponsor, what does

Francois: I think we use deal

Andrew: deal. Okay. I don’t know.

Francois: E L I think we use that, but I’ll look, I, look, I look at them too. We end the onboarding and offboarding is extremely important. It’s somewhere, you know, at the end of the world, you can’t like knock on his door and say, come on.

You know, give me the, you know, there’s you, it’s, it’s really

Andrew: how about this? Even day to day, when they’re working with you, there are people who then go and create extra accounts. Even though you, as a company created accounts on these apps for them, they don’t know the accounts exist. They don’t know that they could use them with rippling. It’s all there throughout the experience, right?

If you’re out there listening to don’t sign up with them, they’re sponsor. I’m still going to say don’t sign up. Here’s what I’m saying. Instead, go get a demo. Let them just show you what’s there. So when you want a new option, it’ll be in the back of your head and you’ll be ready to sign up. I know I’m not going to get any credit if somebody does this, but if you go to and to sign up for a demo and come back even a year later, you’ll thank me even if they don’t thank me, but I want you to at least get to know this company.

And when you use my URL, they’ll give you a great demo and introduce you to the company. It’s, All right. How long after did you decide you wanted to invest after you sold the business?

Francois: Actually investing was, was, uh, forever. I wanted to have wanted to do that forever. Really. I love the idea of I’ve been mentoring.

Andrew: have the, you don’t have the ego that goes along with, uh, wanting to be an angel investment, man. What is it?

Francois: It’s about mentorship. I, my, my true passion in life is education is mentorship. That is my true passion. And that’s why I think I’m pretty good at building businesses because I’m good at transferring knowledge and training teams, making, building really good performing high performing team.

Um, but, um, yeah,

Andrew: How long after did you decide that you were going to start making angel investments? It looks like it was pretty

Francois: yeah, yeah. I, I started, I think even before I left Shutterstock, yes. I think I did one investment before I left. So I started in 20. Oh no, no, no. I started in 2015, starting 2015. My first deal was in a very complicated hardware, software business, and I had no experience and I, I made, uh, I cut a $250,000 check, which is.

For an angel investor starting out. It was a stupid amount. Now I do these checks, you know, more often, but like when you’re starting out, you don’t want to start with two, two 50. You want to start with like 25 K eight 50, because you almost, almost guaranteed to lose that money. It’s it’s almost like, do you know when you make pancakes?

The first one is always like a throw away. That’s kind of it, it’s like, it’s almost like you have to just go through your first one. You make all your mistakes. So my, my first advice for people wanting to invest is invest very little to start with, just get the hang of it. But I was excited and like a lot of other entrepreneurs that sell their business, they want to invest right away because they it’s exciting.

Right. And so I started investing primarily with a theory that I was going to be, not be a CEO because yeah, I, you know, I was burnt out super tired and I didn’t want to be a CEO. It was out of my, like forever. I w I was like done with being a CEO. And I decided to be an investor in STEM. So started with a few deals.

Do, did a few traditional deals. It’s mostly tech, a bit of biotech and just try it, a bunch of things and it started getting a bit better. And I started having a lot of fun working with entrepreneurs

Andrew: made you better? What, what’s the change that made you a better investor?

Francois: better and recognition

Andrew: What’s a pattern that you started recognized as something you could articulate or more of a gut instinct developing.

Francois: Oh no, definitely. Definitely. So. I I’ve developed a, a good six sense for, for, I would say wantrepreneurs for people who want the lifestyle and they want the glamour, but they’re not really willing to do the actual work. And, and sometimes it’s hard to see because these guys, these people often have very good at pitching because that’s part of the lifestyle of the entrepreneur, right?

It’s just winning pitches, winning pitch competitions, and basically promoting, promoting, promoting, but not th th they’re usually not the best people to actually build cultures and businesses. They’re very self kind of focused. Um, and cause they’re basically trying to build a personal brand and not a company.

That’s my issue with that. Um,

Andrew: So then how can you tell when somebody is more of the more, like you were willing to work in the basement? Have nobody care? Have people think that they’re losers because they’re not at the conferences, they’re not, they don’t have a personal brand, but that’s where the work is. How do you find those people?

Francois: humility and self-awareness, I would say so if someone who says to me, listen, I’m very, very strong at operations and I’m very strong at finance. Do not put me in charge of people do not put me in charge of tech, but give me Excel sheets. And I’m the best you will find. You know, I, and that person let’s say that’s the CFO, CFO of the company or something like that.

And the CEO tells me I absolutely suck at finance. I’m fantastic. And building products, right. That’s the kind of team where like, and I respect the hell out of this guy and I respect the hell out of it. So they’re like mutual respect basically. Like when, when companies work, it’s like two puzzle pieces that snap together with partners, it’s just the right amount of empty space with the right amount of overlap.

It just clicks and

Andrew: And an awareness that one is not good at the other. And willingness to say that not even the Akron’s arrogance to say I’m not good at it because I don’t spend time on it. And if I did, I could get really good or I’m sure I could pick it up. It’s more like, this is not me, but I know this other person, which is them.

Got it. Okay. That’s one thing. What about this? Except for no joke, as I’m looking at your investments, I don’t see, I don’t understand what the thesis is. What’s the one thing, or what’s the outlook that, that guides

Francois: So I’m, I’m actually, my thesis is to invest in the best leaders possible. So I literally invested, I have fight camp, which is a boxing fitness app, which is doing amazing. We signed the Mike Tyson as an ambassador. Like it’s just doing amazing. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. They’re

Francois: uh, so, so that’s one of my most successful startups. I, and I invested because Kayla, I met Kelo, the CEO in Montreal.

Uh, there, there people from Quebec moved to LA and I just, his energy and his like, It’s just clear to me that he was so hungry and willing to learn anything that it takes do anything that it takes, take a backseat on anything. If someone’s better than him, he like, so coachable self-aware he would himself go and get like coaches for CEOs, you know, that kind of guy.

So that to me, like, and I invested, it was like a tracking boxing thing. It wasn’t even like a training at home life, like Peloton

Andrew: it? Because right now what they have is they’ve got that punching bag. They could sit on the ground, you don’t have to tie it to the ceiling, which is a big issue. And then I think you could use like Apple TV or something to watch it, or frankly, anything, or just even your phone, right. To watch what you’re supposed to do.

Francois: You put the little devices and your gloves, it comes with a whole kit and you just basically do your training and it tracks every movement and it tracks your speed, your agility, your power.

Andrew: I don’t need the punching bag. I could just punch shadow boxing and it

Francois: could, if you want. Yeah, you could, if you want, there are, there are some shadow boxing trainings, but I would really recommend getting the full kit.

It’s amazing. So, so that’s doing well, right? So that’s an example where I just met someone. I thought, wow, this guy is smart, super smart. I want in, right. I invested in a whole bunch of other companies just because like, for example, Cabo is a dog food delivery. Um, but you know, it’s two founders, immigrants with a really crazy backstory twins, uh, the work that his book, and now they’re starting this thing, it’s like such an entitled, like crazy smart people.

So I just, when I met, when I meet these, these people, I just invest it. I looked at the business model. I think it made sense. Reality is early stage. That’s the main thing that people don’t understand if you invest early stage age, and you’re too analytical about like you basically looking at the unit economics.

And you’re like, Oh, this is not going to work. I don’t like the unit economics. Those are going to change so much in a few years. If you six months in 12 months and do not like say one side of the other, don’t say, Oh, they only acquire customers at $1 per customer because that’s going to scale a lot too, you know?

So you, you, and you can’t, you have to be extremely careful about what kind of just a second again,

Andrew: Yeah. I wonder what just happened, man? I wish we could show the show, the video of what this pool room pool, Nepal room, what this, uh,

Francois: I have a, so here I have a, uh, a sewn, a spa that’s, uh, that might be about to burst into a bubbles cause it’s it’s on. Uh, so anyways,

Andrew: On a timer. Okay. All right. We’ll keep going. What about, what about this cat? What Cabo does is they make, um, it’s it’s like specialty, dog food. Doesn’t begin to say it. It almost looks like human food. It comes in these special pack.

Francois: basically like for crazy people like me who love their dogs, as much as their kids, you know, they want like the best fresh

Andrew: I get it. Let me ask you this though. What I don’t understand is what’s different now in the world that allows them to reach customers in, uh, in once becoming a competitive marketplace and still do it. Well, I, I understand that. You can put up a Shopify store or, or, or comparable. I understand that you could buy ads online, but what, give me a little bit more insight that I couldn’t see from the outside about why this business does well.

And the reason I’m asking is because this is an area you do spend a lot of time on e-commerce. What, what what’s working on this.

Francois: I mean, so the e-commerce is about customer acquisition, basically. It’s, it’s the toughest part of e-commerce. It’s not the Shopify part. It’s not the design, it’s not the photos. It’s customer acquisition. Everyone is competing for the same dollars. So it really is about building that brand. That’s going to convert and connecting with, with consumers in different ways.

For example, you know, at a company like Kevin, So you could really build a very big presence in terms of content you could buy. For example, media companies, you could buy five blogs that are animal related, right. That gives you a million hits a month, and then you can promote to that audience. There’s, there’s a lot of different things that you can do.

And it’s the reason why I invested in these guys is because they, they’re not just basically throwing money at Facebook ads and that’s it. They’re trying to go around, you know, other people and be smarter and, and, and be more capital

Andrew: What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve seen either them or someone else do to acquire customers consistently, not just one of these one hit fund hacks.

Francois: Well, I have a, a, a company called beside, beside cabins, and basically it’s a magazine that started years ago and they built a physical paper magazine and they built a huge audience through that magazine by distributing it at everywhere across the world. And like the specialty stores, it’s very design.

And then we built that audience. And then what we did is we built real estate for that audience. So we started from a paper magazine, built that audience, and then these customers, we built a project in nature for them. So we sold 70 cabins so far. And we’re going to build about a thousand cabins in the next 10 years. No, I don’t. I’m a 10%

Andrew: 10% owner. Oh yeah, this is beautiful. Got it. So all they did was a magazine, not all, but they had a magazine and a website that showed these beautiful cabins. I could look at this stuff all day. This is like, uh, this is more interesting than porn to me.

Francois: Yeah. Well, you know, there’s cabin porn, the, the, the channel, the, yeah, so, uh,

Andrew: So what they did, and then instead of saying, we’re going to sell you stuff for your home.

You created a place where people can buy cabins and have this whole atmosphere.

Francois: We created the ecosystem, right? Imagine I think that’s the, the, we’re flipping the script when it comes to building products. And I were a lot of like last year, for example, it was a blog about fashion and beauty and they turned it into a huge brand. So that’s what we’re doing now, instead of saying, this is a product let’s try and figure out what we can say to these people.

So they buy it. Instead. We, we talk to people and we say, Hey, this is the, this is the environment beside is offering we’re about culture and nature and getting back to nature and music and architecture. So that’s, you, you, you basically set up that whole atmosphere in that whole ecosystem, and then you can produce a product.

You develop something that people really love, and that’s really fits with that audience. And that’s how we were able to sell out in like no time, like 70 Gavin sell

Andrew: They sold the cabins or are they renting? I see on the site, it’s at 75 units available to rent.

Francois: Yeah. So we basically sell it to people who then can rent it or go, you know, there’s different. You can go there, you know, all the time or you can rent it out. So it’s also an investment

Andrew: I can buy one more of these you don’t. Can you make a 76 months?

Francois: we are making, we are, we have a project in New York coming up, we have a project and, uh, we’re gonna have, uh, 10 projects across North America.

So they might be on close to you at some point.

Andrew: Can then go by this and decide I’m just going to list it on Airbnb or I’m going to rent it to other people so that they could live in it or live in it myself.

Francois: Yeah. So you can stay there if you want. But really most people are going to be there. You know, I don’t know, 40 to 60 days and days a year, let’s say. And the rest of the time it’s going to be rented through our platform. Not, not Airbnb. We’re going to be all like it’s all the beside platform.

Andrew: I do it on my own platform. If I wanted to on an Airbnb or hip

Francois: no, no. We, we rent it for you.

You, you, you had nothing essentially. No renovations. No.

Andrew: up in between people complaining you handle the

Francois: all done for you. Yeah. It’s all

Andrew: Why aren’t you just raising the money and doing it yourself? You don’t need to have 75 owners to be noticed. Yeah.

Francois: Yeah. I mean, we thought about doing that, but it was so attractive to, to buy the plot of land and then subdivided and sell it as at broth. Like, it was just, just a better way to fund the operations. We are raising money right now, actually. So

Andrew: Four beside cabins.

Francois: yeah,

Andrew: So is that one of the things that I could join in as a syndicate member and invest in,

Francois: you, you might actually, this might be a syndicate deal. Uh, but I have, I mean, I have so many deals coming. This is just one, one of them.

Andrew: look at this, the guy who’s like the flash artist, it’s got so many fricking deals. You can’t even list them. All right. Um, one of the problems that I’ve got with angels of many, and I get why you would do it, you get all these great. How are you finding all these deals by the way? You don’t seem like you’re, you’re a rockstar venture capital angel investor, right?

You’re just a dude. Who’s

Francois: well, so here’s, here’s the twist you’re right. That in the, in the specific territories, I, my name never comes up. Right. Uh, but I concentrated on the Canadian ecosystem mainly. And so in the Canadian ecosystem, I have a, I have a good name enough that people send me deals. And sometimes I get deals from everywhere, but you’re right.

Uh, but you know, I’m on 60 something cap tables. So my name comes up all the time. Right. So it’s a, that’s good. I call it cap table marketing. It’s almost like,

Andrew: it’s, that’s a word word of mouth cap, table marketing, right? It seems like is what it is that one person says Francoise helped us think through this. He’s got interest in that. Go talk to him.

Francois: exactly.

Andrew: I’d love to see you speak out more than that, but I get it. All right.

Francois: Well, I’m very active on LinkedIn, by the way, anyone who’s listening to this, I’m super active on LinkedIn. Now I’ve started. Oh, I can talk to you about this for a long time. I, I love it because it allows me to be just the business person. I don’t want to be pop public as a personal person. I want to be public with what I do professionally.

And sometimes there’s certain specific personal aspects to it. I’m pretty anti-Facebook to be honest, like, I, I don’t like Facebook at all. Um, especially this year. And, uh, so, um, I try to get, you know, not use Facebook and, uh, I don’t use Twitter, not because I hate it. I actually enjoy Twitter, but it’s like, Twitter is very, it drives me a bit anxious sometimes.

Like it drives anxiety in me because I keep on like scrolling and scrolling side as a, you know, I tried to change my habits there. So no, no more social media doomed scrolling for me.

Andrew: Okay. All right. I get the, I get the interest. The thing that I was going to say about angels of many is that’s where we could invest along with you. The problem I have is I don’t even want to decide. I just want to say friends while I hear some money. I trust your sensibility. Just go put it in, whatever you think makes sense.

But your PR I guess what you’re saying is, or what you told me before we started was the opportunity to do that. Wasn’t available when you were getting started with this. Now there is the rolling fund. You might do rolling fund where people can sign up for subscription. I’ve seen some that are just for a few thousand bucks every quarter to put in.

Right. And now you’ve got a bunch of people who are all invested. Got it. All right. Um,

Francois: I might very well do that. Uh, we, we have way too many interested investors for the amount of deals we have now. So we have, we’re going to have to. There’s a lot of capital that wants to be invested, especially the Canadian tech ecosystem with Shopify and Lightspeed. And these companies that have kind of emerged in the last few years is starting to be pretty interesting.

And there’s some really good deals here. So for American investors, uh, definitely look to Canada, Toronto Calgary, Montreal, three, great cities, Vancouver.

Andrew: All right. I’m going to talk about my second sponsor, but I’d like to bring you into the ad here. So that way you could criticize yourself if it doesn’t work out well, all seriousness, the second sponsor is HostGator. You know, HostGator allows people to launch, save word PR lots of different platforms, but I like WordPress and will commerce on top.

If someone were listening to us right now, Francoise, they were the way that you were when you were in your twenties, early part of your life, and they don’t have your dad to like bounce ideas off of, they just have you right now. What suggestion would you give them for what to do with a w with a host Gator hosting package?

What business would you suggest that they launch today?

Francois: Well, if you need, so we used a bunch of providers specifically for WordPress back when, uh, I was at premium beat with the blog. Right. So the blog was such a huge, huge part

Andrew: Would you suggest today even blogging because it did so well, then you seeing it today will work

Francois: Oh yeah. Oh,

Andrew: What would they blog about? What’s a topic that would still work for a blog.

Francois: Well it depends what the business about, well, what’s the business about.

Andrew: Find a business. I’m saying somebody who’s just getting started. I love just kicking off new ideas in these HostGator ads. Instead of talking about HostGator, I talk about your new ideas that could be hosted on HostGator. What would, what would you come up with? What’s an idea of either that you would kick off today.

If you had the time or a process you’d use to kick off an idea.

Francois: Oh, I mean, the process I would use is I would listen to people, complain around me too. Like what, what do people need? What people are looking for? Like simple details. Like the other day I was using tongues for salad and it kept like pinching my skin. And it was like, what kind of design is this? Why do they always pinch the skin?

And maybe that’s going to pop in a new idea about designing new tongues or going on Alibaba and trying to figure out dropshipping. Those are all the most important thing is, is not the ideas to get started. Just like get started. And especially with WooCommerce, for example, we, we used to use a WooCommerce on our rocket stock, so premium BBR pre-numbered.

And then we started rocket stock, which was about motion design and we used a WooCommerce on there and it was really great. Yeah, it was, it went really well. Um, so if you’re not going to use Shopify or, or, uh, or a website, which I really like, I think definitely like I would get a dedicated WordPress hosting.

WordPress is surprisingly heavy sometimes. And, and not very secure if you do everything yourself, uh, and you try to like, keep up with the updates.

Andrew: Yeah. One of the things that HostGator has, they don’t advertise it, but they do manage WordPress hosting, which has become the thing to do. I noticed even, I think it’s Matt Mullenweg who invested in another company that does mat manage WordPress hosting. Which one is it? The one that, uh, Jason Cohen created?

Um, I forget the name, but it you’re right. At some point when it becomes really big, just straight up clean, nothing else included. WordPress hosting is a lot of work. And so that’s what we did. We just upgrade with HostGator, but if you’re out there starting out, I want you to get the lowest price possible on service that will just work.

And yes, it will scale with you. It did with us, all you have to do is go to When you do, you could get started. You could experiment, you can try the tongues idea. Imagine if you do that, and then you come back to France and you say, look, I did,

Francois: Million dollar tongues. Yeah, I like it. And I can buy, I can buy their business. Maybe I can buy their tongue business. I’m in the cookware space. Why not?

Andrew: Do it We’ll get you a great price, dependable service that will scale with you. All right. At some point you decided I’m also going to start buying these businesses.

Francois: Yeah. So my partner, Alex and I, my partner, Alex and COO at a premium beat, we had. You know, we know we’ve known each other for 27 years, I think, or 28 years. So we’re like childhood friends and he came in and basically replaced what the role my father was playing at premium beat, which was more like operations, finance, and he really, really helped scale and structure the business so we can sell it.

I would honestly not be able to sit here today and say that we would have sold the business for as much, if it wasn’t for Alex, he, he took like a family business and really structured it. Right. So I’m, I’m the product guy and the strategy guy tack all that stuff, but I don’t, I’m not good at operations at all.

So he, he did an incredible,

Andrew: did he do? What was his process for operating the business

Francois: just like structure, like weekly meetings, you know, checkups performance reviews, everything that you would do in a normal company that onboarding, offboarding, all that

Andrew: you don’t want to

Francois: he’s just now and he’s fantastic at it. So after he stayed almost three years, I stayed two years at Shutterstock.

After that he and I decided that we were going to tackle physical e-commerce because we’d never done physical e-commerce I, Alex had done a bit, but for me I’ve always sold digital things, right. Ones and zeros. So now I had to deal with, I have to deal with like inventory and logistics and returns and stuff like that.

So we were very kind of interested in that. And I really loved that, you know, design and products in general. It’s really interesting. So myself and Alex, uh, four years ago said, you know what, uh, we’re not going to start an e-commerce store. We’re going to buy e-commerce stores. And back then it wasn’t four years ago.

It wasn’t really a thing. Now it’s like 60 something companies do it. Um, and we said, uh, we started by buying Amazon stores and then figure it out. Uh, you know what, Amazon, you know, they, they just like turn a dial and you’re not profitable anymore. You know, they, they have you, you really don’t own your customers.

So we decided to go with a more Omni channel app approach. And, uh, we bought, I think, 12 companies or something like that. We’re in the process of buying two more and, uh, it’s growing fast. So we’re growing fast and, uh, we’re, we have some plans to go public. Um, it it’s, it’s a really exciting moment to be any commerce.

There’s a lot of consolidation. There’s a ton of players out there. There it’s very fragmented. There’s like, I think 30,000 stores or whatever, 25,000 stores that make a million or more on Shopify. It’s a lot. Right. So, so I’m, I’m, uh, focusing on buying great brands and then we, or sometimes the brands not great, but the distribution is there.

So we buy the, you know, the, the remnants or the, of the business and we kind of scale it up and rebrand it

Andrew: What’s the distribution, like when it’s good enough to compensate for no brand.

Francois: For example. So they have agreements, like a company has agreements with a few big companies for recurring business every year, you know, and we just get into that relationship and we scale it.

Andrew: Uh, where there are a few companies who just want to keep buying from your, from

Francois: yeah, exactly,

Andrew: Is that it? What would a company want to buy on a recurring basis?

Francois: For example, uh, we have a company called Alex bottle in their tumblers and it’s very common that people want to engrave their logo on the Tumblr. So that’s an, they can buy like, I don’t know, $250,000 of tumblers a year on a regular basis. Right. So if you have that relationship, we can put a price on it.

It’s not as. You know, not guaranteed because if the relationship is severed, then you know, it’s not worth anything, but we, we, we can put a price on that kind of business. Maybe it’s not doing well that much, but the product is great. There’s a lot of, you know, uh, money invested in it. And so we, we, we sometimes buy distressed assets.

People say, you know what? I don’t want to do this anymore. I have 500 K in sales products. Fantastic reviews are fantastic, but I’m tired. Or I just got a kid or, you know, Oh, I just got to a million in sales. I don’t know what to do next. So these are the situations for us that where we jumped in.

Andrew: You have any economies of scale by owning multiple brands?

Francois: Absolutely. That’s the whole purpose, essentially.

Andrew: the con,

Francois: we

Andrew: are the economies of scale?

Francois: everywhere. So we built a core competency at Noax. So we have experts in logistics and marketing and distribution and manufacturing, right. Something that you don’t have as an independent brand brand. You don’t have these experts in house.

You don’t have a full team. Right. And that’s what we bring. So if you’re a separate brand out there and you’re making, I don’t know, 28%, uh, contribution margins, well, we might buy that company and grow it to 38 or 40 because we’re more efficient. We automate more. We remember in the first call, I, uh, we had that, I talked about automation a lot that stayed with me.

Like I still automation is so important to companies

Andrew: what, what are you automating? Ah, got

Francois: marketing, like everything.

Andrew: Got it. So everything is systemized as much as it can be. Let me ask you something by the way, Alex is it’s beautiful mugs. The thing that I, that surprises me is your sites are all incredibly beautiful. There’s not extra stuff on it. And still on the bottom of Alex, I see all the different ways I could pay.

Why is it that you put all those logos for payment? W why do people care at that point to go look at the footer and see it? It’s just such a little thing that stands out in my mind that I got to ask you.

Francois: Oh, it’s just a social proof. Right. It’s just probability when we, when we, we see logos, we know and respect, we applied that credibility to whatever we see it

Andrew: it’s not that someone says I need to pay using Amazon payment or else I’m not in, it’s just, they see the Amazon payment logo. It gives them some sense of credibility from the

Francois: yeah. It’s it’s yeah, exactly. Uh, it, it was there when we bought the company, to be honest, and it’s still there, so it’s not a, not, not a big strategy on our part, but yeah,

Andrew: You know, it’s also helped a lot with, uh, with online purchases. For me, it’s Apple pay, my delivery stuff is in there. I don’t have to get my credit card out. I don’t even need the CVV or whatever. The last three digits are called. Right. It’s just hit the pay button and it shows up

Francois: xAPI also is fantastic is really, I use it all the time because the, the, the big advantage that Amazon had was exactly that the single click buy, but now it’s shop pay. If you bought at any Shopify store, you’re in the system. So to me, that’s, that’s such, that’s the beauty of Shopify. It really is.

Andrew: the, um, uh, for me it’s Apple pay, I guess, because all my stuff is in there all the time. The one big issue I have when I leave the. When I leave, the Amazon world is, is delivery. Shopify does great. When it comes to digital, when it comes to physical to Adams, that’s where there’s a problem because ups will get stuff lost.

FedEx will put it in front of my house. I have a video of someone stealing from front of my place here in San Francisco. I’m not a bad neighborhood. I mean a good one. Maybe that’s why they’re coming around on there. I see the dude on his bike coming and stealing it. Um, and Amazon will have a clicker open my garage, put it in there if I wanted, I think they could even put it in, in my, in my trunk.

That’s their big challenge. Isn’t it.

Francois: yeah, that’s going to be a huge, well, Shopify is launching logistics. I don’t know if they have it already, but they’re really obviously interested in all these, all these things. Right. That’s going to be the name of the game, the last mile delivery, the experience. But there’s a lot of providers now that, uh, actually allow you to have that kind of level of service of same day delivery it’s being built.

And the problem is, uh, if you’re in New York, it’s something, but if you’re in rural Alabama or Montreal, or like, you know, whatever here in Canada, up North it’s like the logistics are complicated. Like for countries like Canada, for example, very far from one house to the other, and same for rural areas. So it will always be tricky.

Logistics is, is extremely tricky. Um, inventory financing is another one. That’s very tricky. I never understood the amount of cash you have to put into actual inventory that sits in a warehouse. It’s, it’s pretty, it’s, you know, uh, very different than, uh, running a, a, a SAS business for sure.

Andrew: Is another one returns you trust Amazon to just handle returns? No question, but pants for running. They sent me the wrong ones. Now I have to go back and figure out who am I returning with? There’s not a clear return trust.

Francois: Yeah. There’s no consistency in the experience either right. From one shop. It’s that. And the other shop it’s that. And it’s like, it’s, it’s, it’s a mess

Andrew: That’s where the that’s where the challenge is where the, the upside today is. Alex just looks freaking beautiful. I can’t stop looking at this right there. There did the tumblers not get knocked over?

Francois: No, it’s actually pretty good. It doesn’t knock over too, uh, too badly. It’s with a rubber base. It’s really, really good product. So that’s the kind of business where they invested a lot in the molding rights, very expensive molding and extremely expensive and complicated. And now we come in and we take the brand and we consolidate it with other brands.

So now that we have Canada, which is the, the cookware brand, we can cross sell all these products together. So that’s another right. That’s another big one, right? The more the network grows. For example, we just signed crate and barrel for Canada and, and the West Elm and Williams-Sonoma and all these

Andrew: your people who then have the relationships, their job is to got it. So kind on its own. Couldn’t do it. Not in the same way you have it. Once you have a relationship with Williamson and Sonoma, you could. Okay. All right. Now I’m getting all this part of your empire design, Stripe, the hell. Where does this come from?

You finally, like you’re investing. It makes sense. You’re buying these e-commerce things and suddenly design Stripe does what.

Francois: Okay. So here’s a scenario for you to make you a understand you you’re at an agency, you have a client which does construction and they want a website and they love illustration. They want something illustrated because they don’t want to have to take pictures and all that stuff. So you say, all right, you go on Shutterstock, Getty, all these sites and you search for the stations.

And you find some pretty good ones actually, and you click on them and you’re like, wow, this is perfect for the homepage. It’s a guy with a hammer. It’s whatever, it’s exactly what I need. So you paste that illustration on your front page, you show it to the client. And the client’s like, wow, I love, I love this.

It’s perfect. Now, um, I have this event coming up and I would love an illustration that shows, uh, instead of the hammer, it’s a microphone in a guy’s hands or whatever it is, right? Whatever. Like I want something a bit different. So I go back to Shutterstock and Getty. I try to find something different.

It’s not there because there’s like 25 illustrations and that specific style with that specific color scheme. And so I go, I try to click on the name of the person who did it, the illustrator, and it’s someone in Russia and I try to contact them and then they’re not available. So I go back to, I try to find another illustrator to modify the illustration, but it’s not quite it because it’s not the same illustrator. And so I’m like, you know, it’s, so basically what happens is you have lack of consistency with your brand and your, your illustration styles. And I see that, see this all the time, where people will use a certain style of illustration with a certain color scheme, and then they send an email and it’s another style and another color scheme.

They just, they don’t have the people in app. So design, Stripe. Allows you to select a style of illustration that is made by us in-house and you stick with that style and we bring you that content through a customization interface where you can customize your illustration to you needs or your colors.

For example, if you have someone that’s in, it’s an event in Saudi Arabia, and you might want people with hijabs or it’s in, you know, a country where people have different skin tones and all that stuff, you can all modify it yourself. As someone who buys someone in your agency, a designer, a writer, whoever, and you can click that and you can even tell me what your brand color is and we’ll recolor the illustration for you.

Andrew: Does it start with, does it start with, uh, almost stock designs that people can buy? God, it starts with that with customized, with a team that will customize it.

Francois: no, you customize it yourself. So basically how

Andrew: software will let me customize it in real

Francois: yes, absolutely. It is, it is. Yeah, it’s really cool. Actually, we, we basically built an in-house studio of 12 now 12, 13, uh, illustrators, and they produce content for us. Full-time so it’s kind of like HBO and not YouTube.

Right? We produce our own content. We are the, the opposite of an open marketplace. We super curated and made in-house. And our goal is to bring variety, customizability and consistency, consistency being the most important one, because that’s why companies stop using illustrations because it becomes a mess and people are, people pile up a bunch of styles together and they get stuck with it.

Andrew: So Francoise, how do you manage all this? Where you’re now on 60 cap tables. You said you’re, you’re running a company. You’re running a syndicate. Where’s your time going day to day, you’re running a bunch of e-commerce sites. What’s what’s the day to day that allows you to do all that.

Francois: Well, the truth is I’m not running all these things, right? So the e-commerce company, Nope. Alex is a CEO and I am the chairman of the board. So I talked to Alex an hour a day maybe. And that’s my involvement. And, uh, no, can, you know, I started the business with him and all that stuff. So that doesn’t take that much time for me.

And, uh, in terms of, uh, design Stripe, I spend, I would say, I don’t know, a good 35, 40, 40 hours a week on it. And the rest of the time, you know, a year in there, I spend on my investments. I do, you know, probably spend the 60 to 65 hours a week, I would say, uh, working on different stuff. So that’s, that’s pretty much it.

Yeah. Andrew, I lost a, you muted, Andrew.

Andrew: Uh, I, uh, I I’m now so habituated to on zoom, hitting you when you’re not talking. You know what, it’s not just me. First thing that happened in the pandemic, when my kids started going home to do zoom classes, the teacher taught them how to get into a habit of hit mute right away and an unmute.

Francois: how many times did we hear you on mute? You’re on

Andrew: Uh, yeah. I wish that there was a way to, uh, like to have you unmute me.

But, um, what I was starting to say was there so many different things that I would love to talk to you about? I I’d love to come back. I know a couple of years ago you had this issue, um, with, you know, when we talk about let’s look at, this is such a negative thing to end on, but your life changed for the positive

Francois: It’s not, it’s not negative at

Andrew: what happened a couple of years ago? Yeah. Tell me

Francois: Okay. So a few things happen, first of all. I sold my company, which was the event, the most stressful event. I’ve never felt in my life really, really stressful. And just like, yeah, it was rough. Yeah.

Andrew: Yep. Okay.

Francois: then I was two years at a public company in New York and, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a public company and it’s a big company and it was complicated.

And I, I didn’t really feel like I fit there. Uh, And it was, it was stuff. And then I started to feel like I was more and more like kind of anxious and more, uh, alert to like things and more jumpy. And my, I don’t know, I guess I wasn’t feeling too good for awhile. And then a few things happened. My son had a really big injury, which really bad w which I was a witness of, had to go to like emergency big, big thing.

And then we went to travel and Copenhagen, and my girlfriend almost died because she got stung by a bee and got, uh, almost like a blood infection. So not almost she died of blood infection and almost died. So, uh, that was really stressful. And I dunno, things kept accumulating. And then I came back and I had a big rush on with, no, I think I was building a tool with Nope.

And I just like, forgot about everything and just worked and worked and worked. And at some point I felt my hands tingle and I starting to have like trouble breathing. I was like, Whoa, what’s going on? I’m on the computer. I have, I was doing nothing special. And I literally had a panic attack right there for no reason at all, just because my, my, my system was so like to the breaking down.

And that was a really rough experience. As a few weeks after that, I was really struggling and I decided to change things because I had put aside my physical health for so long thinking that I was a walking brain, essentially like everything that’s important is in the brain. And the rest is like, it’s all, you know, the brain.

And now I know that everything’s connected and I can’t, I can’t really have a fit brain if my body’s not fit. So. I, um, I actually started to go into like deep, like, you know, wellness, meditation research and all that stuff. And I did a lot of like crazy stuff, like reprogramming my brain. And I tried everything trying to figure out what was wrong, you know, why, why am I so anxious all the time?

And went back to even my childhood, what generated some stress and talk, talked it through. And over a year I really came out of it. And I started doing yoga an hour a day. And I started just like taking walks all the time, meditating every day, eating it all better. And it completely changed my life. It changed how I build businesses and, uh, it, it changed.

I mean, it changed everything. I feel like a different person really.

Andrew: And taking time for yourself,

Francois: meditation and yoga, just like taking the time and being consistent with taking the time to, no matter what, every morning you do an hour of yoga. So, um, yeah, I was very, uh, it was, it was a year of, of trying to figure out what works for me and give back to my, you know, healthy state.

And I, I did pretty well with that. And a year ago I actually started a new business, a well designed Stripe with the purpose of, well, basically with the intention of building a wellness first company. So I don’t know if it really exists, but my. I call it a wellness first company, because the first person I hired was actually the director of culture, culture, and people.

So before hiring any developers, any like we hired a culture, people at Carol culture person. So that’s Jen and she’s, she’s like a absolute Ray of sunshine in the company. And she had issues with anxiety and, you know, stuff like that before, too. And so most of our team, by the way, I seem to connect with people who also have the drive to accomplish a lot.

And these people often have anxiety issues, right? So when I interview people, now I tell them, Hey, this is a wellness first company. We will pay for you to do an hour of wellness, whatever you want today. On the job, right? We pay people to do yoga an hour, a day on the job if they want to, it’s not, you know, uh, mandatory, but, and we talk on a weekly basis, we talk about mental wellness and like what, what, you know, sleep habits and nutrition.

And it’s just, it’s part of the performance package as a professional. If you’re not healthy, you’re not a good professional. You can’t communicate, you can’t interact well with other people. If you’re not healthy, if you know.

Andrew: You could do a better job of explaining that on your, on your job site, because this is way bigger than that you acknowledge. When you say on your job site, look, we are, um, our values are focused on wellbeing. They’re on flexibility on optimism, on generosity, and then you do acknowledge. You say, sounds cheesy.

We know as hard. And then you continue to explain that it’s not cheese. I think the more specifics you give, like the fact that you hired her name is Jen, right? The fact that you hired Jen, the fact that this is an issue, the more that you could bring that in. I think the more it’ll really stand out because I’ve not seen a company that at your stage, especially does this and is willing to not just talk about it, but invest in, say, we’ll pay you for an hour a day to do this, and we’ll be okay with it.

Francois: I really, we develop a new perspective on, on how to build teams. At least for me, I didn’t have that perspective before where. It’s radical candor and it’s radical. Like self-awareness and a, we will literally call ourselves out in the middle of a meeting if like, you know, we’re we’re I dunno, we’re getting distracted by shiny objects and we’re excited about a project.

We might step back everyone together in a meeting. Hey guys, are we bullshitting ourselves right now? Like, can we really accomplish this? And like, not, not just going with everyone. And then after the meeting say, we’re never going to get this done. You know, like actually being extremely candid. And, um, we work on being really, really good at getting feedback and giving feedback.

That’s a huge part of what we do. Always getting feedback, giving feedback, getting good at that, getting good at metal work. So everything that’s around work so that, you know, the way you work, the way you communicate, the way you interact with people, the way you, you, you know, you, you tackle challenges.

Metalwork work is extremely important. So we’re very, very picky about all these elements of the business. And, um, it’s made a huge difference. We have a global team now of 32 people in 12, 13 countries speaking. I don’t know how many languages and, uh, we have never seen each other. Cause we started in the pandemic.

So it’s all random people. I reached out to this guy in Australia. He’s not my partner. I reached out to this guy in Argentina. He’s not my partner. So now we have like a partnership with like on multiple continents and it’s, it’s something I would have never thought possible before. And, uh, it’s quite, it’s quite fantastic.

It’s really fun.

Andrew: The website is the website is designed strive. I’m going to add myself to your waitlist. And I’m going to say to anyone who goes on, I think one of, one of the things you should do is just look at the very bottom of the site, that little smiley face, tap it. It’s a nice little Easter egg on the side, and it just shows me the level of care you’re putting into, into your products.

I think you always had that the little details have always been cared for. All right, Francis. This was freaking phenomenal. I had no idea you were up to so much.

Francois: Yeah. I’m pretty busy.

Andrew: Yeah, impressive, impressive. And it also shows me that maybe I’m out of touch. Even with Canada. I did a marathon on every continent a little over a year ago, and I wanted to interview people on all these different continents.

And I realized I might’ve missed parts of North North America. I might’ve missed a lot. That’s going on in Canada

Francois: come to Montreal. We’ll have a, we’ll have a go have a bite when it’s, when it’s possible again.

Andrew: I’d love to. All right, man. Thanks so much for doing this interview. Thank you. Thank you all for listening to the interview. There’s somebody right now who like Francoise, listening and hustling on something. I would love to find out about you before you get to the point where you’re ready to do an interview.

Just say, hi, I’m going to give you my email address and I can do it. Thanks to SaneBox. They watch my email to make sure I don’t get flooded. It’s and I will look and respond to every single one, I think, unless I make a mistake, but really I want to respond to you. So message me. Tell me what you’re working on and I want to thank two sponsors made this interview happen.

The first, if you’re hosting a website, go to And the second when you’ve got a team of people go to a Thanks Francoise.

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.