Philippe Laval: Turning a Nice-To-Have into a Must-Have

Dec 6, 2011
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For the past few months, I have been using a service called WriteThat.Name. It’s a pretty nifty “nice-to-have” service – not quite a “must-have” – and it has one interesting property: once you use it, it works so well you forget you use it. To put it simply, WriteThat.Name manages your email address book. Anytime you receive an email from someone who is not currently in your address book, WriteThat.Name scrapes the email for everything from name, email & phone number to twitter handle, website url, and fax number. Because WriteThat.Name works so well, you don’t notice it running, because anytime you go to write an email, all you have to do is enter part of the name of the contact, and all their information is pulled from your local address book – right where WriteThat.Name stored it for you.

In addition to an amazing team, the brain behind WriteThat.Name is Philippe Laval. Founder of Kwaga, the company which developed WriteThat.Name, Philippe cannot be found at Start In Paris; you probably won’t see him stealing food from La Cantine’s bi-weekly Google AdWords events; and he’s not raising money. In order to see Philippe, you have to come to him on the 7th floor of one of Paris Incubateur‘s many incubation facilities, Pepinière Massena.

Tell me about your entrepreneurial background.

In the middle of 2008, I started Kwaga after I created and led Sinequa for over 10 years. During my leadership, Sinequa became the French leader for corporate semantic search solutions. It is used in many major press websites and intelligence agencies.

What’s the story behind Kwaga & WriteThat.name?

Every time that I was running to a meeting, I remember searching through my emails, trying to find the exact address and/or phone number for my client. I imagine plenty of others experience this same frustrating situation! So we started with a simple idea in mind: help email users truly benefit from the data that is nested in the messages they receive. To do so, I leveraged the experience I have in semantic technology and further strengthened it with a team of experts in NLP (natural language processing) who just as enthusiastic the time-saving benefits of this service!

At what stage is Kwaga right now?

A friendly update with all the information taken for a new contact

In the beginning, we focused on individual users. We gained some extremely loyal clients, who started referring our service to all of their coworkers. WriteThat.name definitively had a place within corporations. Since releasing our enterprise-friendly version in September we have approximately 100 corporate domain accounts, including companies as prestigious as Euromaster, l’IAE of Aix en Provence, and Admeld, and continue to attract more organizations through the Google Apps Marketplace. Shortly we will be releasing a connection to a CRM that will anchor us as a necessary tool for enterprise information systems. We have analyzed more than 20 million emails and extracted details for over 250 thousand contacts.

How do different types of PR help bring new users?

We are regularly featured in publications such as TechCrunch, FrenchWeb, Locita, Netted, and The Next Web. Each article gives us additional visibility, allowing us to touch different sectors of the public; however, it is the endorsements given by distinguished gurus and influencers in the startup scene – like you, Robert Scoble, Eric Ries, Jérémie Berrebi or Gonzague Dambricourt, to name just a few – who use our product and see the daily advantage of having an address book that is maintained automatically that provides us with the best traction.

Any advice for startups looking forward to their first big PR wave?

WriteThat.name was the original idea I had when I created Kwaga. However, it took me 2 years and 4 other products to be developed and launched to finally do it – mainly because external people didn’t believe as firmly as I did that it was such a killer product. So my advice is to just keep pushing forward and believe in your product, because it’s the journey that makes you stronger!

What’s the long-term goal for WriteThat.Name?

We have a lot of new improvements in the works. The features that we are focusing on the most right now would be further developing the integration with other email clients and CRMs. Right now, WriteThat.Name is a product centered on personal productivity. Our visions is to provide clarity and productivity at the enterprise level.