Marcel LeBrun is the senior vice president and chief product officer of Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud. Over the years Marcel has co-founded and led multiple technology startups to Nasdaq IPO and successful acquisitions. His most notable startup, however, has been Radian6 which he sold to Salesforce.com for US $326 million in 2011.
I’ve asked Marcel the same 3 questions I asked entrepreneurs in the previously published interviews and the wealth of his responses made it difficult for me to cut so let’s look at them as they are, in all of their wisdom.
Think back to when you started your first business, what were the hardest days, and the best days like in the first year?
I was 27 when I built my first business plan and 28 when I became co-founder and CEO. The first year was exciting, but it was also a bit scary because I had high profile investors, and I was learning as I went along. It was exciting to be building a business from the ground floor up; scary because it was the first time I was doing it, and I didn’t know what to expect at 27/28 years old. On the contrary, when I co-founded Radian6, we had experience; it was a very different feeling than starting my first business.
The hardest days and best days might actually have existed in the same week. The hardest days were overcoming major setbacks – i.e. receiving a rejection from an investor or technical setbacks. But working to overcome those obstacles and uncovering solutions to our problems were the best days. From these experiences I learned that difficulties provide a chance to create opportunities. Building value from challenging situations is always more rewarding, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment
How about the second year, what kept you going?
Every stage of a startup is difficult and has unique challenges. I learned a lot about communication during the second year – to shareholders, stakeholders, the public/media, etc. When the first year of a business is successful, there are high expectations for the second year. As an entrepreneur, you are still a startup, still proving your market.
In the second year I learned about managing expectations and developed my communications skills to build better relationships with employees, shareholders, and so on. The end result put everyone on the same page with a shared vision of the company.
When did you know you’d made it?
Like a lot of entrepreneurs who rarely dwell on mistakes of the past, I chose to remain focused on where I’m headed – the next growth phase – and never really consider myself to have “made it”. To me that implies being static and business is not static.
As entrepreneurs, we must always be moving forward.
At a point, your business eventually creates real value and achieves significant milestones – such as first investor, first profitable quarter. But nothing guarantees you will “make it,” not even an IPO. It is simply the next phase. When Salesforce acquired Radian6 (milestone), I looked at it as a transition to another growth phase.
The question of knowing when you made it is much easier to answer retrospectively than in the moment. When achieving each milestone, you feel like you’ve made it for that fleeting moment. But when you look back, it truly shows whether or not it was a key moment in the development of your business success.