Hey Julien, great to have you here. Let’s start with some quick facts about yourself.
City where you’re from: I’m originally from France, but I’ve been living in Hong Kong for the past decade
Hobbies: I’m a marketing guy but I love programming, design and… karaoke! That’s the Asian effect.
Favorite quote: “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” Jim Rohn
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Try and stop me.
I’ve been dreaming about being an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. As a child I would find a new business idea every week. I sold home-made scratchcards to my family when I was 5. Then I sold collection cards. I started a library in my garage where I’d lend books and games when I turned 8. And it went on and on, for years. It has never been about the money though: it was always about building something from scratch, generating an interest and creating value.
When I turned 18 I started my very first online business. It was a disaster, but I learned a lot from it. I took a break for a few years, gaining knowledge and experience from smart entrepreneurs, but really thinking “one day, it will be me”.
But it felt like this day would never come: building a company is like having your first child, you’re never ready. I would always come up with a good excuse: I need more saving, I need more experience, I need the right idea, I need the right timing, I need the right partner… But the truth is, if you look for excuses, you’ll always find one! Being an entrepreneur is a leap of faith, and if you’ve got it in your blood, all you need is a kick.
I had my kick, I decided to stop giving myself excuses, and I jumped. I quit an amazing job in a fast growing company promising me a bright future, I left a comfortable salary, I gave up on 10 years of saving… and I became entrepreneur.
Who were your biggest influences? Was there a defining moment in your life?
My biggest influencers are not celebrities.
One of the people I admire the most is a dear friend of mine – he started his first business at 16, made money off it, sold it at 18. Started a new one, made money, sold it. And he went on and on for over 15 years. He has worked only 2 months in an company in his entire life, the rest has been nothing but entrepreneurship, through hard times and great peaks. He now has a very fast growing business, leader in his own market, and he lives “on the road”, with nothing more than a luggage, so he could regularly move from a country to the other.
Another person who dearly inspires me is Shing Chow, founder of lalamove. When he hired me in 2014 his company was literally just starting. He built an empire in the tech-logistics business, with no knowledge or experience in neither tech nor logistics, but with true grit and strong belief that he would make it. His story is amazing.
What are you working on? How did you come up with this idea?
I am the founder of myfairtool – the only platform to help exhibitors through their entire journey with tools for planning, budgeting, promoting your booth, capturing leads, following-up with prospects, tracking progress and so on.
I was myself an exhibitor at multiple trade shows in Asia, America and Europe, and I felt the pain of connecting all the dots.
Most companies still don’t have a proper method for planning their booth and capture leads with pen&paper. Having been there myself, I know how inefficient that is.
Back then I developed my very own solution for capturing leads at trade shows, and it increased my productivity a ton. I could follow-up with prospects during the show instead of struggling for days and I got way more contracts than ever before.
That’s only a few years later that I realized that what worked great for me could also be a real game changer for many companies around the world.
What makes myfairtool a baus service? What has been your favorite moment with it? What’s the vision?
myfairtool is unique because no-one else does what we do. The eventtech industry is huge, and many companies provide solutions for capturing leads or planning for a show, but, to date, no-one has been able to provide a one-stop-solution for exhibitors. What we offer is not tech, or tools. What we offer is to remove the hassle of putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, and that is truly priceless when you consider that time is your most valuable resource.
But like every business, there’s no better way to learn than failing. We’ve made many mistakes but we used each of them to improve. And there is no greater feeling than having a chat with a customer who tells me how grateful he is and how amazing our product is.
My vision is to go way beyond that. myfairtool as it is today is just the tip of the iceberg and we want to provide much more than that in the coming five years… but let’s keep it between us! 🙂
What types of marketing channels do you take advantage of?
At myfairtool we don’t do Facebook ads, because our target is businesses.
We are very active on Social Media, specially LinkedIn and Twitter, because it is where our audience is.
We are also very active bloggers, and I force myself to personally write a new piece each week. That’s not something you can delegate – writing forces you to think, to understand, to keep yourself up-to-date.
I don’t believe much in paid advertising – not only because it has an obvious impact on your budget, but also because it does not build trust, and trust is the most important element of every business relationship.
We bet on content strategies because we have to give first to receive something in return. Even though it is a slow and painful process, that is also the best way to connect with your audience.
Did you experience failure along the way? What did you learn from it?
Each time I fail at something, I drop a few notes. Why did I fail? What could I have done better?
If you don’t fail you’re not an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur is someone who creates, invents, tries new thing – there is no way to do everything right from the start if no-one has done it before.
Our very first big contract was with a trade show organizer. We were so excited; we spent a lot of time and money planning for everything, we wanted to over-deliver every step of the way to surprise our partners and delight every participant. We did what you could call put all our eggs in the same basket.
But then things went wrong: the organizer went bankrupt 3 weeks before the show. I was devastated. We had put months of work and energy into this project, and at no-point did our partner inform us that things may go wrong.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to quit, give up. But the next morning, I forced myself to get up and fight even harder. Two weeks later we had landed an even better contract!
It taught me a great lesson – the entrepreneur’s life is a roller coaster. You can go very high and fall very low. What matters is to keep focused, to have a vision, and to don’t let external events or opinions take you away from your target. If you give yourself priorities, stick to it.
Give our fellow entrepreneurially-oriented readers the best entrepreneurship tips you have.
I will give you three:
- Delegate – I am a person who needs to touch everything, I want things to be done my way and I must know everything happening. This is great when you start a business, but it isn’t sustainable in the long run. Learn early on to trust your people. If you don’t give them the freedom to make mistake, you will never tap their full potential and you will limit yourself as well.
- Listen, but don’t listen – you have to listen to others, especially your clients. You must hear what they need, understand their problems, analyze the market. But you cannot let others get into your mind: it is easy to change direction because one person told you you are wrong. It is easy to build new features, start new projects because someone suggested it. No-one knows your business better than you do. Keep your mind open to people’s suggestion, but do not get dragged away from your own vision.
- Innovate – you certainly know the phrase: The 7 most dangerous words in business are “We’ve always done it that way”. Well, it is absolutely true. Big companies can certainly afford doing what they’ve done for 30 years with little to no changes, but entrepreneurs don’t have this luxury. If you want to succeed, reinvent yourself every day. What you were proud of yesterday is outdated today. Improve, reshape, reinvent, over and over again. Otherwise, someone else will.
Teach us anything valuable you’ve learned over the years that we can take away from this interview
In a B2B environment, there are 2 strategies I strongly believe in: content marketing and trade shows. Both of them have a single trick to success.
Content marketing is the black sheep of marketing. When you have budget, you tend to ignore it because you can throw dollars on the table to get visibility. When you have no budget, you tend to ignore this strategy because you are overwhelmed and it takes too much of your time. And that’s true: content marketing is painful and takes a lot of perseverance. But it is also the key: perseverance is what makes content marketing efficient.
When you start your own blog, it takes you about 6 months to see any effect, and another 6 months to see conversions. If you are not willing to try hard for at least a year, then you’ve better not try at all. But for those who do try, the results are fabulous! It is not just about SEO, backlinking, or lead capture. It is about credibility and expertise. If you are able to write good quality content regularly and teach people something, then all you need is grit. Don’t give up, push always harder. That is what we do with our blog The Exhibitor – one article a week, always on something people care about, always giving free value to our readers, and it works!
Participating in trade show is also a wonderful way to get new business, especially in a B2B environment. Think about it: where else do you have your buyer personas coming to you with both the time and interest to listen to what you have to say?
But trade shows can be very costly and time consuming. So I have a single tip for these activities, and it will change your game forever: come prepared. You can’t pay tens of thousands of dollars for a show and expect wonders if you haven’t done your homework. Plan & budget your booth properly, make smart customer-oriented promotion, prepare your follow-up strategy ahead of time, capture leads efficiently, get in touch quickly after the show and measure your impact. Either that, or don’t go. Your time is too precious to waste it in unprepared activities.
While working on your project, have you come across any interesting bit of knowledge that you’d like to share? (i.e. any new research finding, any new platforms, some novel management technique, etc)
B2B companies spend an average of 39.2% of their annual marketing budget in trade shows (*source: CEIR). You know why? Because it works!
At trade shows you meet people you wouldn’t find online. Yes, we are in 2017 and the web is essential. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the traditional methods that give you face-to-face human interaction and builds relationship that last.
Here is an infographic that shows the advantages of myfairtool:
What should an entrepreneur focus on?
There should be no other focus.
Know your clients, understand their needs, satisfy them. All the rest (branding, marketing, visibility, product development, etc.) are important, but lead nowhere if you don’t know your client.
What are some of your favorite books?
As a matter of fact I recently published my first book: “The Trade Show Chronicles”. It is a business book that takes a non-business approach. I wrote it like a novel and bring you in Andrew’s life, a young salesperson organizing his very first exhibit booth at a trade show. I don’t believe much in checklists or bullet-point style books, because nothing really sticks after your close the book. But a good story is something you can relate to that will truly impact your vision.
Where do you see yourself and your myfairtool in a couple years?
I honestly don’t know where I see myself – and I don’t think it matters. When you are an entrepreneur you need to forget yourself and focus on your business. If tomorrow I find someone much better than me to lead myfairtool, I’d be happy to let him lead the way.
But myfairtool will be THE tool everyone uses at trade shows a couple of years from now. We get amazing feedback everyday and a quick look at our testimonials page shows how much people appreciate what we offer.
Like every innovation, it takes a little time to reach the tipping point, but in two years, we’ll be everywhere.
Connect with Julien Rio via Linkedin.