ANTOUN SFEIR, FOUNDER & CEO OF EPRESSPACK
It is a complicated time, especially since part of my family is in Lebanon. But you have to stay focused, take care of "your" entourage, family, friends, and professionals. Make the right choices, not necessarily financial, and give something real. For a business leader, the crisis is harder, because the prerogative of this position is to be alone. Alone but caring.
Tell us about yourself, your career, and how you created or joined your business
I started my career in marketing for a telecoms magazine and then joined a media database portal, which was called PR Newswire at the time. I supported its launch in France and then led the acquisition of its main competitor, Hors Antenne. I spent 8 years in information processing as the head of Cision, a benchmark player in the communication sector, before founding Epresspack. It was 2011 and RP2.0 was in its infancy. I was convinced that the job of the press and public relations were going to become more complex, given the multiplication of channels and sources. Communication and marketing professionals would need a comprehensive solution that made it easy to create and deliver their content to reach fragmented audiences. The media had already made their digital shift, but brand communications have not really yet. The big bet was to build a global B to B software player made in France.
How does your business innovate?
The company is constantly innovating to advance the tool and make it stick to the new uses of communication professionals and the media. R&D is everyone's responsibility with us, in the sense that ideas can come from anywhere. We are very sensitive to customer feedback and their requests, but circumstances are also often the driving force. The covid crisis, for example, prompted us to quickly launch a space dedicated to Live, an alternative to the large American operators. Dematerialized press conferences, live speeches by CEOs, meetings of shareholders, or remote investors ... confined communication professionals would need to distribute live and replay content in complete security. And then in recent weeks, we have been organizing a major update to the tool to make it easier for our clients to work as a team and manage flows.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business and how are you dealing with this crisis?
The adoption of our technology, which supports the digital transformation of our clients' public relations, is a slow decision for some players but a fast one for others. This is the case of EDF, Bercy, SNCF, and SACEM, which have adopted our tool in the midst of a crisis. In total, we have won around ten new customers since the start of the school year. Sectors of industries that are suffering, such as luxury goods and tourism, are taking the opportunity to review their entire digital strategy. For our part, we took advantage of the crisis to focus our efforts on innovation and release new features. And we offer part of our “crisis” solutions to our customers in the most affected sectors.
Did you have to make tough choices and what are the lessons learned?
There was a delicate passage at the very beginning of the crisis on the issue of jobs. I made the bet not to fire anyone because the rise of digital practices would necessarily benefit us. The organization of work also arose. How can I boost my 50 employees remotely and for an indefinite period? It took a lot of energy, I had to multiply the meetings so as not to leave anyone behind; a kind of crash test from which we came out seasoned. We weren't really prepared, but we put people first, made mistakes, learned really fast, and came out different, stronger, and more agile.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety during this time and how do you see yourself and your business in the future?
When you're a business owner, you can't communicate your emotions to teams, especially when they are small. We must support and motivate them especially when distancing weakens human relations. And then we had to prepare for the future. Hiring a CTO, keeping new recruits, investing in a bigger office in Milan, increasing R&D investments… we had to move forward. There was little room for existential questions and hesitations. The crisis has abolished some physical barriers, we are going to take advantage of this to accelerate internationally, which already accounts for 45% of our sales.
Who are your competitors and what are your advantages?
The market for digital solutions serving “public relations” is very fragmented. We don’t have a perfect competitor, in the sense that none offer all the functionality in one tool. However, we are challenged in certain segments. The fact of offering an all-in-one tool that facilitates the work of communication professionals is a clear competitive advantage. Still, the technology must be enriched in design and offer simplicity at competitive prices to remain a winner.
A final word?
Our tool supports our customers every day, regardless of their sector. For those most affected, this is a positive project during the storm. And if there's one thing that keeps you north in all weather, it's the trust of your customers and teams. And the certainty that to each one we bring the best we have.