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AHFR19 Keynote Address

In 2011, Mantu CEO and Founder Olivier Brourhant had a problem: his CFO was not happy with the company’s invoicing system.

It wasn’t hard to understand why: on average, the processing time for a single invoice was around 45 minutes. However, rather than jumping to conclusions, Olivier wanted to understand the root cause of this inefficiency.

It turned out that, instead of changing the software to print a ready-to-post invoice with the client address on it, the accountant would paste a sticker onto the envelope and painstakingly write in the client’s address by hand. With up to 1,000 invoices to process every day, that meant a lot of stickers.

Why was this happening? When the company first started, it only had a few invoices to process on any given day. At that time, it would have taken longer to change the software than to simply write up each client address on a little sticker. Olivier immediately understood that the process had to be adjusted to reflect the incredibly fast growth the company had experienced.

Q&A with Sean Park and Olivier Brourhant 

As he told this story in his keynote at this year’s Anthemis Hacking Finance Retreat in Meríbel, Olivier emphasized that scaling is not just a question of expanding market share or boosting profits: it is a holistic undertaking that has to feed into every aspect of the company, right down to standard, everyday processes—and one that has to start from the very beginning of building a company.

Radical scaling is not new to Olivier Brourhant. Having previously grown large international teams for IT consultancies Altran and Axen, he has now scaled Mantu from an annual turnover of 10 million euros in 2009 to an expected 450 million euros with a workforce with more than 6,500 employees this year.

The pace of this growth is staggering. Introducing Olivier to the stage, Sean Park, Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Anthemis, said, “I literally have never seen a company that has grown as fast as Mantu.”

In his keynote, Olivier explored how he had transformed Mantu—not just from a small startup to a multinational company, but to one offering services as diverse as innovation for Lidar in electric cars, to vision and strategy coaching for corporate leaders. He also shared his key learning points for achieving scale with the audience.

Start as you mean to go on
For Olivier, the key ingredient of effective scaling is anticipation. Realistically, he says, organizations won’t have time to change later. So while entrepreneurs are focusing on day-to-day problems (finding new business, finding new clients) they must keep the future in mind at the same time.

From the very beginning, Olivier and his team at Mantu laid out the foundations for the company they wanted to run in the future. They launched their website in multiple languages knowing that, eventually, they wanted to expand internationally. For Olivier, the key question remains, “Will that be sustainable when I have 10,000 employees?”

Don’t let success blind you
Success and strength can also lead to failure. “When you are good at something, you have to realize that’s where the problem is going to come,” Olivier warned. For Mantu, the company’s original strength in social media blinded it to other strands of digital marketing: “We thought we knew what digital meant.” But, as you continue to be successful within your field of expertise, it’s easy to focus on what you know and miss innovations coming from the next generation.

To counter this attitude and ensure organizations remain relevant, Olivier also recommends taking radical action: “Destroy your own business.” For Mantu, that meant starting a SaaS company internally to disrupt the existing consulting model. Not only did it test the robustness of the existing business, but it opened up the opportunity for huge revenue. Since its inception four years ago, that internal company now accounts for 20 percent of Mantu’s overall turnover and is on track to become bigger than the rest of Olivier’s businesses.

Structure for growth
IT systems are vital for growing a company, argued Brourhant. “Cloud-based, data-driven since day one, working remotely everywhere, fully digital, paperless—easy.” But the IT side of structuring a business is not the end of the story.

The second crucial part of scaling is structuring business roles to allow for expansion: human scalability. Mantu breaks out key functions like marketing, recruitment and payroll into their own self-sufficient hubs that can serve regional offices remotely. This set-up also allows for more efficient sharing of resources. If you’re starting an office in Chile, Olivier offered by way of example, you only need to hire local sales experts instead of an entire operational team and can move faster.

“When you have two meetings in a day, one with a candidate, and one with a client, but you can only manage one, which one do you cancel?”

Know the culture
The same long-term thinking that applies to operational processes also applies to the corporate culture. “The culture you’re going to give to your company is going to last a long time,” Olivier added. “And, even when you grow to several thousand employees, the culture is still informed by that embryonic culture at the start.”

Part of safeguarding the culture is allowing for the free flow of information and values across every office the company operates from. “When you’re in a single location, it’s a piece of cake to have a company culture,” Olivier explained. But, as the company grows and becomes more dispersed across the world, “if you don’t have a social platform where people can connect, it’s a huge problem.”

Culture relies on transmission: without that, the company’s vison and values can quickly get lost.

The right people, in the right place, at the right time
“When you have two meetings in a day, one with a candidate, and one with a client, but you can only manage one, which one do you cancel?” For most companies, Olivier argued, they would cancel the candidate’s meeting. But finding good people is the main challenge to achieve success—and that focus should be reflected in the company’s actions.

Ensuring someone is a good fit for your company in a dynamic process. As the company evolves, it may become clear that some people need to move to different teams and failing to do so rapidly can get expensive.

As for CEOs, Olivier believes their job is always “to find the right people and put them in the right place. If you do that,” he smiled, “it will always work.”

→ For more insights on scalability, watch the full video of Olivier Brourhant’s keynote

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