[Interview] Mention CEO Matthieu Vaxelaire discusses their big 2015 plans

[Interview] Mention CEO Matthieu Vaxelaire discusses their big 2015 plans

Fast-growing media monitoring startup Mention has gone through a significant evolution over the last year.  Starting out as an eFounders company, they closed an important seed round with Alven Capital and Berlin-based Point Nine last year, shifted their strategy to focus more squarely on their enterprise offer and shook up their team, bringing in a new CEO Matthieu Vaxelaire to drive the new strategy, expand the team and rapidly scale-up their presence in the US. These recent moves have certainly started to pay for them as 250k customers now use Mention everyday, including the likes of Github, Crunchbase, Asos, Microsoft, Century21, MIT, and Home Depot. Since switching their focus to the SME market, they’ve seen double digit growth in revenue and paid customers .
I caught up with Vaxelaire recently to discuss Mention’s evolution and their big plans for 2015 and beyond.
vaxelaireI understand that there’s been some evolution in your model over the past 6 to 9 months. Tell me a bit more about what’s changed?
Previously, we focused on our freemium model, so acquiring users with our free plan and then working on conversion of those users to our premium features.  The driver at that time was really sign-up of new users. That worked very well and got us a lot of traction in terms of new users. We rapidly grew in terms of users from 50,000 to 100,000 to, now 250,000+.  But what we realized was that bigger companies such as Spotify, Airbnb, Etsy, Microsoft started to jump in directly and buy our premium plan.  So that’s the shift that happened a few months ago where we decided to move away from the freemium approach, which was driven by the acquisition of users to now being driven by the acquisition of paid users. This is not a dramatic shift or change, but still it’s a strong evolution of our model.  So, where we used to target solo, one user accounts we’re now targeting what we call big volume B-to-B or the ‘Fortune 5 million’, which is principally the SME market. This still adds huge volumes. These customers start with a 14-day trial and then decide during the trial period if they want to continue with the service.
This has implication on every part of the business of course;  on the tech side, on the product side, etc.  What we realized was that what was important for larger customers  and we weren’t doing well enough was the statistics part. As an enterprise you want to have much more data on the keywords that you are monitoring. As a result, we launched better features regarding the statistics part of the application, so there’s been strong evolution there. In terms of marketing as well, there’s been obviously been a change in strategy with the shift in focus to paying customers rather than just number of users. We also started to develop our sales team more.  The focus is now on inbound sales, so we now have someone full-time in NYC as well as someone here in Paris.  An inbound sales model requires that we do more lead-scoring, identify customers that can be upgraded to larger plans, make sure new customers get the right on-boarding, and ensure that customers that sign-up for the trial can be moved to a paying plan.
What other products and services are customers coming from when they move to Mention?
With our previous positioning we were basically competing with Google alerts.  It wasn’t difficult to convince people that our service was better as it’s multi-platform and we’re also following several different sources.  So this enabled us to easily acquire new users. However, because they were coming from something free, it was very difficult to transform them into paying users.
Now as we move upmarket, we still have some people who are coming from Google alerts, but most of them either have another solution and want to move away from it or had no solution before.  Those who were using another solution tend to move from platforms like Meltwater, Hootsuite , or even other platforms that don’t really specialize in media monitoring. In the case where they haven’t had a previous solution, we focus on educating them (about how media monitoring works, our functionality, etc).
What do big companies feel is not sufficient about a service such as Google alerts?
People seem to have become increasingly unsatisfied with Google alerts. It seems to be following the same path as RSS reader that Google essentially killed. Google is only monitoring Google of course.  We basically monitor 17 other sources, including Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and other web sources such as Hackernews, Tripadvisor and Yelp, that Google don’t. On top of that, the performance of Google alerts has been decreasing as well.  For example, they’ve just made another change which people are quite unhappy with. But, in general, it’s rare that larger companies use Google as a professional media monitoring tool.
Do you have any other types of firms other than enterprise firms, such as PR firms that are using your platform?
We have several thousand paying users and we definitely have a good chunk of PR and advertising agencies. We make it easy for them with a few key options such as opening up the platform to their clients so they can access Mention directly.
What other markets have you seen traction in or are you looking to expand to?
The US is definitely our biggest market at more that 40% of our customer base.  We definitely have plans for growing our business in other markets, but the US market is really our biggest driver of growth. So, we have two people in the US and we’ll be investing more there in terms of sales and marketing. Tech and product is here in Paris; we have great talent here. But for sales and marketing it makes sense that we be based out of New York and have our team there.
The interesting thing about the US market is that you see a lot of different use cases. So what we realized was that not only are US companies using us to monitor their brand names, but we also see people like lawyers and others concerned with reputation management monitoring mentions of or for their clients.  Another use case is sales lead-generation. For example, it’s easy to see that when someone complains about your competitor it’s basically a hot lead for you to reach out to the person or company with the complaint and start a discussion. Workable, for example, particularly loves using Mention for lead generation. (Here’s a post on Mention’s blog about the lead generation use case for Workable).
So for 2015 any big plans?
2015 is a very important and exciting year for us.  We started the shift of our strategy in 2014. End of 2015, we plan to complete this transition and within 18-24 months become the de facto media monitoring solution for the SME market. This is a big goal. And, obviously, being much more present in the US and building the team there.
We plan to keep our edge. One big differentiating factor for us vs competitors which we plan to reinforce is that we’re cross-platform (we have an iOS app, Ipad app, and newly released android app). We believe strongly in mobile. This has been and will continue to be a strong focus for us.  With media monitoring, people need to be able to respond on the go, directly to Facebook comments for example, or just to be constantly aware of what people are saying about them.  Mobile for is both an acquisition and conversion channel. So, it enables us to acquire new customers directly and, for people who sign-up on the web platform, mobile is another big positive for customers which helps convert them to paying users.