Entrepreneurship – How did they experience it ?
How did you come up with the idea to start CALYSTA and what changes did you want to bring to the market?
Mounir and I shared the vision that IP services should be re-invented and that it was time to stop the old-fashioned practice of staying in the office without necessarily seeking contact with clients.
We strongly believe that our mission should evolve towards IP consultants instead of IP attorneys. Of course, the core-business requiring cutting edge expertise on procedural matters is as important as before, but clients are in need of close contact, of people who have the willingness to understand their day-to-day challenges and to design an IP strategy and portfolio which really support their business activities instead of weighing heavily on their budget constraints. We were willing to bring to the market IP consultancy work taking into account the challenges of our clients, but also the behavior and trends of their competitors. This can be summarized as offering meaningful IP rights and services to our clients.
For reaching this objective, the first main challenge was to become independent from the administrative margins and from the very lucrative “factory” filing business model. We therefore worked hard to identify if we can invert the business model and invoice the administrative work at the right price while putting forward high added value work and be able to run a company where the money will originate from the real intellectual work and not from the filings themselves (i.e. administrative work). It was clearly not obvious, but we came to the conclusion that this may be feasible and we reinvented our approach and our pricing.
What did entrepreneurship teach you personally?
Well, it is a difficult question. In fact, when you start your own company, you have to do a lot of things you are not used to do. You have to become more educated in finance, HR, commodities management, … You have to learn how to sell your services, prepare marketing support, negotiate with banks, and you have to take quick decisions without knowing exactly the degree of risks you can take or not. When you choose your cloud, your IT systems, your ERP, your providers, such as accountant, insurer, … you know that you bind yourself to providers for some years, and you must act quite quickly as time is money. This was not our expertise and even if it was very exiting to discover all those new aspects, it was nevertheless stressful. When I reflect today on what we have done, I think that I was very lucky to be able to count on an incredible team, willing to take responsibility for some tasks and at the same time be the ambassadors of Calysta. I was so helpful to make myself available to increase the visibility of Calysta, get new clients, speak at events, teach younger people and give IP training. Therefore, what I learned the most was first that alone you are quick, but together you are stronger and secondly that taking the wrong decision is better than not deciding.
I actually realized that it was the most exciting journey and experience ever. The first months, the first contacts, the first decisions were hard but exciting. The days were very long but the time limited (I realized that a day is no more than 24 hours 😉). But the main lesson learned is what Ludivine says : together you are stronger: 6 months after the launch of Calysta, I had to take a step back for personal reasons beyond my control. Despite of this absence, Ludivine and the whole team kept building this new company by working hard, developing the activity, acquiring new clients and pursuing the venture started only a couple of months earlier.
How did the first months / years go? What were the challenges you faced and what were the critical moments? What were the foundations for the success that have today?
With ups and down. I must admit that this may be the most surprising aspect for me of the start-up life! On the same day, you can have the feeling that this is a business-as-usual day, one hour later, be worried, crying and shortly after be so delighted from a congratulation message from a client or jump in joy for any good news. Emotional stability does not exist in the early stages of a start-up.
We started very early with developing our client portfolio, doing prospection, making ourselves visible. I remember very well Ludivine and I sitting in front of the same PC screen, in our one-room-office during an evening conference call with our very first prospect, assisting them for a key and tricky negotiation, combining Ludivine’s technical experience with my legal one. That day, our first client was served by the combination of the knowledge of two experts and we realized at that very moment that this was exactly why we created Calysta : team work in the interest of our clients ! 😉 One of our main concerns was the slow conversion of prospects into clients, even if we clearly noted during our meetings, presentations or calls a high interest of prospects for our approach and vision. When you have to keep your budget on track, this comes as a unexpected disruptive (sometimes worrying) element all entrepreneurs have to live with…
We identified that we needed to reach companies which put Intellectual Property at the core of their strategy and targeting them was not so easy. As a consequence of the fact that the companies we met consider IP as a key asset, the IP decision process was quite slow because for them entrusting Calysta, a very young company not yet well-known, with a strategic asset was a difficult decision.
We did not give up and did try and try again and after a while, you succeed. We were all eager to work, deliver, and to go the extra-mile for our clients, and when the first clients come and speak positively to their contacts, you get a second and a third, … And this gives you an incredibly high level of energy!!! But one of the key challenges is clearly finding the right balance between developing the activity of Calysta and having enough work to make Calysta sustainable and be able to deliver the work expected by the clients, especially coordinating to not have too many peak activity periods or too many periods of low activity. In summary, the main challenges we faced was getting clients and recruiting quality profiles sharing our values. The main critical moments that we faced were in fact more financially related: we had to keep the trust of our bank who financed Calysta and had to take decisions about how to spend our money efficiently and in what to invest. But all of this had a very positive result. We shared in real time our situation with the team, which resulted in a great awareness of everybody and we were able to count on great support, devotion and many good ideas to overcome our challenges and critical moments while all agreeing on the fact that the priority number 1 is to deliver a high quality job. That’s the foundation of our success I think. We are proud to say that today, more than 230 clients trust Calysta, which matters a lot to us and is a reward for all our hard work.
What else will happen to Calysta in the next years?
I think that we have many opportunities today, some of them, we created ourselves. Calysta will no doubt pursue its growth and we are confident that we will have good news to share with our clients over 2020-2021. We will stabilize the company after the fast growing phase and further invest in developing our IT tools. While already counting on state-of-the art tools, we need more for our clients. We have also new service offerings in the pipeline to respond to new and future needs.
A lot of positive developments… but sssht, we keep them secret 😉.
Your quote of the day…
I must admit that many come to mind like, just do it, yes you can, together we are strong, … but what I really want to say is that “putting the client at the core of our strategy was the best decision we ever made” and honestly this is what matters the most. Receiving congratulation messages or nice quotes about the work we have done from our clients is so rewarding and therefore my last message is: ”Thank you”.
for not repeating Ludivine’s one as to the place of our clients in our strategy, I propose another one that relates to team work : “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team” (Phil Jackson – American basketball coach (even if I am not a fan of basketball). And before closing this interview, I take the liberty of adding a second one that has absolutely nothing to do with Calysta but that I like a lot: “Belgium is the best remedy against patriotism.” (Geert van Istendael – Belgian author)…