Freespee

Anne de Kerckhove: Freespee’s new CEO joins us on International Women’s Day

international women's day

I am incredibly excited to be joining Freespee as CEO.

It’s always wonderful to lead a very talented team of many backgrounds and nationalities.

What perfect timing: I join on International Women’s Day. I have worked hard over the last few years to promote diversity at all levels of organisations: mentoring and financing female entrepreneurs, coaching women to join boards and helping men and women from all backgrounds and skills succeed in fair and equal environments.  Diversity is an essential success factor of any company. And anybody with common sense finally recognises that. But we still have a long road to equality of gender, ethnicity, backgrounds, particularly in the Tech and startup world.

I have a confession to make: I am a tech startup addict.

Over the last 15 years, I have helped lead 5 tech start-ups to profitability and IPO.

I don’t have a pension plan or big savings: I reinvest all my money into the next generation of talent and innovation. I have personally invested in over 25 new tech companies and set up and invested in 3 tech early-stage funds. I mentor over 10 founders a year, as a way of giving back to our startup community. I am one of the few female executives in the UK to sit on 2 public company boards in the tech and gaming space.

I love it.

It’s as exhilarating today as it was when I started. In fact, it’s more exciting these days. AI, Bots, big data, UI/UX, virtual reality all enable us to create amazing new immersive and personalised experiences for customers in B2B and B2C.

I did not start up as a natural candidate for tech startups. Both my parents were diplomats and far removed from tech businesses. But my brother was a child model and with his earnings at 8 years old, he bought our first Apple computer. We played every game possible for weeks and then we took the computer apart out of curiosity. I was hooked from that day onwards. Our household was littered with decomposed computers and games over the years.

My mother always worked and made it to the top of her profession, having come from a very modest background where her schooling was stopped at age 14. My sister and I had a natural role model at home. We never questioned whether we could be leaders. We thought all women were naturally designed to lead. My sister was fearless and left the house at age 7 to pursue her career as a dancer. She became a prima ballerina and choreographer by the time she was 19.  Role models are so important. They drive our behaviour.

At 17, I set up my first company: a travelling theatre troupe whilst studying at McGill University. That’s how I made money to travel around the world and live my passion for discovery and new cultures.

Then I became a banker…Can you believe it? In fairness, it was a fantastic learning experience and I was surrounded by great mentors. One, in particular, noticed that I was always asking too many questions. He realised I was not fascinated by finance but by what we were financing. He transferred me to a new project and innovation financing division. It was amazing. Our role was only to finance things that had never been done or created before. I was surrounded by entrepreneurs and innovators in small and large companies.

I quit banking with his blessing and support and joined the camp of the MAKERS.

I have never looked back. It is very important to understand your true nature and your passions and to work in an environment where you can embrace them every day.

At Freespee, we are at the Inflection Point: when a company has found its market fit with a unique and superior product and is facing double-digit growth. It’s such an exciting time for us.

Our challenges will be to manage this hyper growth effectively:

We must stay true to our company DNA.

We must continue to recruit only the best.

We must continue to innovate to stay ahead of the curve.

We must continue to have our clients at the centre of everything we deliver.

We must empower our clients to have greater conversations with their customers.

We must continue to foster a culture of integrity and impact, of innovation and risk-taking and a culture obsessed with our clients and their businesses.

We must continue to grow the diversity within our business and promote young talent from all backgrounds.

We must push forward the best engineers, the best salespeople, the best customer service teams through constant training and empowerment.

We must drive a culture of joy and success amongst our teams and our clients.

We must create a culture where extraordinary things happen.

This is one of the biggest trends in tech currently across the world, pushing the boundaries to deliver the unimaginable. It’s not about a specific continent or country leading the startup scene.

From Elon Musk taking us to Mars, to Xavier Niel creating the world’ largest incubator in Paris: great people are making extraordinary things happen.

They refuse to believe in barriers and limitations. That’s the next generation of tech start ups and Freespee will be part of that.

Extraordinary requires risk. Risk requires diversity. Surrounding yourself as an executive or founder by people who think like you, who look like you, who come from the same school and neighbourhood as you, who share the same skin colour means you will never push the boundaries.

Worse – you will probably create a culture of exclusion and inequality, whether you wish to or not.

Creating true equality in Tech firms will require us to be courageous and bold, to stand up for what’s right, to make our common voices heard. Change won’t just happen. We men and women leading the tech world will make it happen.


Learn more about Anne on her blog here. 

The Quiet Swedish Company Whose Software You Probably Already Use

This is a translation of an interview with Carl Holmquist, Freespee co-founder & CEO, published by Mimi Dilling from DI Digital on 1st January, 2017
http://digital.di.se/
“We got off to a false start at the beginning”, Carl Holmquist, CEO and co-founder of Freespee
When Carl Holmquist and Tobias Lindgren founded communications platform Freespee six years ago they initially met with considerable resistance. Now the company is attracting venture capital and major customers.
An ‘old’ approach to web-based customer communications saw online customers managing their own buying process with little interaction with the vendor. Freespee founders Carl Holmquist and Tobias Lindgren saw an opportunity to make it easier for brands and consumers to communicate and drive superlative customer experience.
“We were hitting our heads against a brick wall when we started talking about this six years ago,” says Freespee’s CEO Carl Holmquist. “Back then, everyone thought the Internet was self-service, but that’s simply not true. Customers are just as loyal to online stores as they are to physical stores; the only difference is that if companies are unable to provide a good customer experience online, it’s very easy for the customer to take their business elsewhere.”
Freespee has flown somewhat under the radar so far and has even been described as an obscure Swedish company . Few people know who the founders are, despite the fact they have acquired a huge sum of SEK 143 million in venture capital. This means it is more than likely that online shoppers will have encountered their software.
Freespee’s technology sits on top of the sales systems and customer systems of client companies, handling communication between them and their customers. One of its functions is to help companies answer their customers’ queries through platforms such as live chat, email and over the phone.
Read this article (in Swedish only) for more information: Swedish Freespee brings in SEK 90 million – “We are anonymous” 
“It’s like when you’re waiting for the train and it turns out to be running late,” says Holmquist. If the train operator doesn’t let you know, you get really irritated. The train might arrive at any time, which means you can’t leave the platform. But if you’re told that it’ll be leaving in half an hour, you can go and buy a coffee or something while you’re waiting,” says Carl Holmquist.
Last autumn, the Uppsala based company obtained a total of SEK 90 million from French venture capital firm Ventech and from their current owners SunstoneCapital (NTL) and Inventure (NTL). It also landed a host of major customers, such as JLLeBayBNP ParibasLloydsBank, the Marriott hotel chain and car giant FiatChrysler.
“And whether you’re a customer waiting for a train, sitting in a telephone queue or waiting for a response to a live chat, the communication about what to expect is pivotal to a customer’s experience,” continues Carl Holmquist.
“It’s like when you decide to call up a company. Rather than the website telling you that there’s a seven minute wait, you call them and make your way through the voice prompts before being told how long you have to wait. Why didn’t they just say so straight away, you can’t help wondering. This is something that could ruin a customer’s experience.”
“The problem here is not that the company doesn’t want to talk to you. They love talking to customers. As long as they’re talking to you, they’ve won because they’ve created a customer relationship.”
According to Carl Holmquist, 98% of visitors to a company’s website leave without buying anything. This is a problem that companies are only just realising exists and want to address; assistance from Freespee is just one of the ways they are trying to deal with the issue. Thanks to this trend, the company has grown so much that it now employs 40 staff and has offices in London, Barcelona, Paris and Cologne. But Freespee was not an obvious success from the outset.
“We got off to a bit of a false start at the beginning. We thought we could solve all the problems associated with communication between our customers and their online visitors. But such problems can vary hugely from organisation to organisation, and that’s where we dropped the ball. Fortunately, we were able to remedy this when our investor Sunstone came on board in 2012.”
Aided by this autumn’s capital injection, the company will continue to develop its software by exploring artificial intelligence-based features. Freespee is also considering expanding into the United States to get closer to US customers who are already using the company’s service on the European market.
“We now know exactly what we are doing and things are really starting to take off. We’re at the heart of the ecosystem for enabling new consumer behaviours,”declares Carl Holmquist.
The original article in Swedish can be found here: http://digital.di.se/artikel/freespees-grundare-vi-trampade-snett-i-borjan

Topics: Customer Experienceinterviewceo