“Take care of your team. Building a business is a marathon”: Interview with Ringover’s CEO, Renaud Charvet

Despite the pandemic that shook the economy in the first half of the year, the year 2020 proved to be a healthy one for enterprise software investing.

As the pandemic changed the way people work, this led to an increased need for collaboration tools such as Zoom and Slack, accelerated the adoption of the cloud by employers, and left IT departments scrambling to secure a larger attack surface while millions more employees worked from home.

We’ve recently caught up with French scaleup Ringover’s CEO, Renaud Charvet, on the future of enterprise communications, cloud-based tools and the importance of choosing when to take on external funding.

Hello Renaud, thank you for sharing some insights into the Ringover adventure. Could you please give us a brief summary on your journey into entrepreneurship and Ringover?

Hi Arnaud, I’m very excited to share the Ringover story with you. The journey started just when I graduated in 2005.  At the time, with my cofounder Jean-Samuel, we were offering a low-cost calling service for international calls and then moved to B2B services for SMBs like faxtomail and audio conferencing.

We started working on the Ringover project in 2015 and we’ve been selling it since 2018. It took a long time between the beginning of the project and getting our first customers because we built the whole telecom solution in house.

Ringover is based in Paris, France. What is your opinion on the environment for creating a tech company there? 

Paris and other main cities in France are great places to start a tech company. France has a lot of talented and involved developers, marketers and sales. And not only in Paris. Nantes, Bordeaux, Lyon and Aix/Marseille are real tech cities, with universities and local talents. Graduates are much more eager to work for a startup or launch their own business than 15 years ago when we started the company. The ecosystem is growing quickly with the La French Tech network. French tech companies also have real access to notable venture capital firms, in France but also to European and US funds.

Finally we are getting lots of support from local authorities through BPIFrance subsidies or loans, and from tax incentives for Research and Development.

Ringover recently completed a €10 million in Series A, its first ever venture funding. Would you like to tell us more about the objectives of this new milestone? 

Whilst Ringover was profitable since 2005, we decided in 2019 to invest in the platform and infrastructure and this revenue wasn’t enough to power our growth plans. It is a big decision to take on external investment, particularly given we’ve never done so before, but because we want to develop and improve our in-house SaaS platform and push forward with international expansion plans, venture funding is a way to do that.

We want to become the ultimate tool for enterprise communications for SMEs across the world and we’re excited to use this funding to do just that.

Expedition Growth Capital was the sole investor. What were your main expectations towards them in terms of partnerships and long-term vision? 

Oliver’s team at Expedition Capital approached us last summer and straight away, we saw the benefit in us working together. Their expertise in SaaS businesses means their advice will be essential in helping Ringover to grow, and I liked the way they challenged us on our international growth.

Over the next few months, their expertise and support will help us take Ringover to a new level, particularly when it comes to expanding in the US and UK markets.

This news comes in the midst of a never-ending COVID 19 pandemic which is dragging along and has put a strain on the world’s economies. What has been Ringover’s move to face this unprecedented challenge? 

Like all businesses, we’ve faced challenges in ensuring our staff feel supported throughout this big period of upheaval. At the same time however, the business is doing really well. B2B tools have been moving to the cloud for a while, and the business phone is one element of this trend.

We’re seeing more enterprises invest in remote digital platforms that can allow their teams to carry out their core sales and core centre functions without being in a physical space. It’s something we’re expecting to continue long after the pandemic, businesses are making plans to be fully or partly-remote once social distancing is over so the tools we’ve invested and added to the platform such as after-sales support via video conferencing and coaching tools for training remote staff will help businesses continue to operate, whether they are in the office or remote.

One of your ambitions is to grow the team by 100 people. What is it that matters to you when you think about building a strong team?

Finding people with the right passion and skills for the company is the main thing. Everything we do at Ringover is focused on providing the best possible tools and services to our customers, so that focus and drive when it comes to customer service is a priority.

Having the right attitude is also a major point we look for. We want to make sure new hires complement our existing team members to make the overall team stronger and more effective and having the right attitude is key.

It’s not just about hiring new people that contribute to an effective team but also ensuring our current team members and managers are motivated and feel like they’re having a positive contribution to the overall mission and vision of the company. It might seem like an obvious point, but communication is so important, particularly when we’re not all working together in one office.

What do you think of the current status of the European cloud-based contact centre market (supply chain, digitization, technology used) and where do you see it in five years? 

Cloud-based tools are only going to become more important. There’s a huge cost-saving practice for businesses when it comes to digital transformation, moving away from old-school desktops and software, to agile web-based applications that can operate anytime, anywhere. By 2024, this market is expected to grow to $7.1 billion and this is an exciting opportunity for companies like Ringover.

What are the three main lessons you learned as a founder and business executive in tech cloud communications? 

  1. Just because something is in the cloud, location is still a critical factor. We own all our infrastructure and all data is hosted in Europe at three data centres while the network is managed internally. We find that this is an important factor for businesses choosing Ringover, because they know their data is being managed and held securely.

  2. Don’t be tempted to raise external funding and buy into the all growth at any costs mentality. We grew from humble beginnings in France to the point where we are now, and it was done on our terms and at the right pace for the business. This also works best for investors too, they can invest in companies with less risk, causing fewer issues in the long term.

  3. Take care of yourself and your team. Building a business is an overwhelming task, a marathon, whatever industry you’re in. Ensuring you’re taking the time to look after yourself and your team is really important, particularly given the upheaval of the past 10 months.