Thibaud Clément: How Loomly Helps Solve the "Blank Canvas" Effect
Loomly CEO, Thibaud Clément, discusses how international travel (and a candy store startup business) helped him understand the need for connection and collaboration, even in a digital world.
Thibaud Clément, Founder and CEO at Loomly.com
- Thibaud and his wife (and Loomly co-founder), Noemie, traveled the world studying ecommerce and interviewing entrepreneurs before starting their first business together, a candy subscription service.
- Winning a diversity lottery for a green card brought them to the U.S.
- They developed Loomly to help their own clients manage social media, but they didn’t tell them who created it, because they wanted honest feedback.
- Thibaud says Loomly is primarily aimed at team collaboration and helping people craft compelling content out of a blank canvas.
IVAN STEGIC: Hi Everyone! You’re listening to The TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I’m your host Ivan Stegic. My guest today is Thibaud Clément, the CEO and co-founder of Loomly, a brand success platform for marketing teams, essentially helping marketing teams manage their social media content publishing process. Thibaud has been a serial entrepreneur ever since he graduated in 2011, and has even published a book about it.
Thibaud, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you on.
THIBAUD CLÉMENT: Hi Ivan. Thanks for having me. I see that you’ve done your homework. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] Just a little bit of homework, not to be too creepy.
THIBAUD: [laughing] Okay. That’s alright.
IVAN: I got to say I love Loomly. We’re big fans of the product. We went through so many different iterations of figuring out how to best manage our social media, we landed on Loomly, and you guys have been awesome. So congrats on a great product from our perspective.
THIBAUD: Thank you so much for saying so. It really means the world. We try to make something that’s helpful, and we try to adapt to what our beloved customers tell us, and so it’s always a great pleasure to hear that one of those customers, your team in particular, is happy about it.
IVAN: Well, I’m sure we’ll get a little more into Loomly later in the show, but it’s just so nice to be able to have a vendor and a product where you feel like you’re heard and you can talk to, and that the support is what it is, which is wonderful.
I know your company is based in LA and in Europe, but I think you’re the first person on our show with a distinctly French accent. So, I’d love to find out where you were born and where did you grow up?
THIBAUD: Yeah, that’s a good one. Yes, I do have a French accent. I’m a native of France. I was born in Orleans. So, here in the U.S. you have New Orleans, I come from old Orleans, if you prefer. And it’s in the Loire Valley where you have all the beautiful castles. I studied in Grenoble, which is in the French Alps and I also studied in Canada in Ottawa, where I got my MBA. So, broad experience.
IVAN: Grenoble’s a wonderful part of the world. My son was there for an exchange program a couple years ago, and I’ve always wanted to go there to ski. It’s basically a skier’s paradise. It’s in the foothills of the Alps, isn’t it?
THIBAUD: It is. Absolutely. It’s really cool, some consider it like the Silicon Valley of France, not as for the great number of startups, but for the actual great advancement of technology, like microchips and this kind of thing. There’s a lot of innovation, so it’s a very interesting city, fast growing. And yes, it turns out it’s just in the French Alps and you have some pretty amazing ski resorts.
IVAN: Did you study business there before you went to Ottawa?
THIBAUD: Yes, absolutely. I was majoring in marketing. I was a Master in Science of marketing, and that’s basically what I studied. I went to Ottawa through Grenoble, through my business school, kind of like your son. My experience in Canada, in Ottawa, was an exchange program allowing me to spend a year over there and actually get a dual degree. So, it’s really cool. And that’s how I ended up with my MBA.
IVAN: Did you go backwards and forwards between France and Canada, or did you end up staying in Canada after that work you did?
THIBAUD: No, it was actually a full year in Canada. I went there from August 2010 to August 2011.
IVAN: Is that where you met your spouse and your co-founder?
THIBAUD: No, actually I met Noemie right before that, so Noemie is my spouse now. We met before that in France. We were both interns at L’Oréal, the giant cosmetic company, and that’s how we met. We hadn’t met for a long time, but then we decided to go together to Canada and pretty much ever since everything we’ve done, we’ve done together. So, it’s a pretty big part of the story.
IVAN: As you said, it is a big part of a story of how a startup is founded. And my understanding is that, and at least it’s been my experience is that, usually a good company that evolves and has an amazing product comes from the founder who is really just trying to scratch their own itch. They were trying to solve a problem that they had themselves. And my understanding is that’s partially what happened to you. You had another company before Loomly. What were you doing before you started it? How did that happen?
THIBAUD: That’s exactly what happened to us. What’s funny is that it’s actually multiple faults of the story if you want. We were in Canada, in Ottawa. You may know that, but Ottawa is where Shopify is headquartered. That’s when we met them, we were extremely lucky to meet with Harley Finkelstein who is now President of Shopify. By then, when we met them, it was a team of 40 persons. They’ve come a long, long way and seen tremendous success.
But of course I met with Harley because he had just graduated from the same MBA as I was doing. It created a connection. Already he was so inspiring and so energetic. He inspired me a lot. That’s when I decided that rather than starting right off and getting a job, I would take a year off, and I would go around the world to basically study ecommerce. The reasoning is I had learned so much by being for a year in Canada compared to France, just because of the cultural differences, that it was already so inspiring.
Before that I had spent a couple of months in Dubai, and it had also been so inspiring that I figured I would learn really a lot by going to different countries. So, Noemie and I, we designed these one-year trips around the world, where we would spend a month in each city that we would visit. And then I was doing interviews of entrepreneurs, mainly in the tech industry, focusing on ecommerce. This taught us a lot about what people were actually doing, and how they were growing brands online, and how they were starting businesses and growing those businesses. After a couple of months on the road, we figured the way that we would learn the most would be by doing, so that we would be able to apply whatever we were learning on the road.
So, we started our own ecommerce business. It was a pretty crazy idea. It was a candy subscription business. And so, we would buy candy wherever we would go, and then we would ship them across the world. And just for the story, for the fact, I like to joke about the fact that we actually bootstrapped this business with minus $200 in our bank account. [laughing] It’s not even that we didn’t have much money, we didn’t have any. So the way we kind of bootstrapped it was, because we would both kind of accept pre orders for the candy, and then with that money, we would buy the candy, by the envelopes and everything, and then we would ship the candy. So, it was a very, very interesting learning experience. I’m trying to get to your point, but that’s kind of the whole story.
IVAN: No, of course. I love hearing that story.
THIBAUD: Okay. Cool.
IVAN: What was the name of the candy business?
THIBAUD: It was named CanDiscovery. So, like candy and discovery all of kind of candy if you want.
IVAN: Was it a subscription service?
THIBAUD: It was. Yes, it was.
IVAN: I thought I saw something about a subscription candy service from Japan that went viral a number of years ago.
THIBAUD: It was not us.
IVAN: Was it that one? That was not you was it?
THIBAUD: What was the name? I think it was Candy Japan. I think that’s what it was.
IVAN: That’s right. Yeah.
THIBAUD: So, we start this business, then it gets some traction, especially in France where we end up having some exposure in the media, including on national TV and stuff. And so, we grow it, and then within 18 months we find ourselves in the position of selling it, because there was a couple of entrepreneurs who had the different business, different ecommerce business that was very complimentary, so they were interested in acquiring it. That business, that we had bootstrapped with minus two hundred dollars, we ended up selling it 18 months later. That’s basically how we started our next business, which was essentially an advertising agency.
What happened is, as we got a lot of exposure through the ecommerce business, we started having people around us saying, Hey, how did you do it? Can you help me do it?
So, it turns out that Noemie and I had pretty complimentary skills. Noemie was, and still is, very, very skilled with social media and everything analytics. And I was specializing in ecommerce and content marketing. So, we started our new agency, and then, that’s one other pretty crazy thing that happened to us is that we got a chance to come to the U.S., because we were picked in the diversity lottery for a green card.
THIBAUD: Yeah, pretty insane.
IVAN: That’s insane. What year was that?
THIBAUD: It was 2013, I guess. So, we find ourselves in this pretty amazing situation. We have to make a choice, but it’s amazing, and so we’re like, Okay, we’re just starting our business, we got a green card, what do we do? So, we said, Look, we can always start another business, but we will never get another green card, so let’s get to the U.S. We go to the U.S., and fortunately all our clients from the agency stuck with us until the end, which was 2018, when we just closed down shop to focus on Loomly.
Then we moved to the U.S. We spent a year in San Diego, then we moved to Los Angeles, and then we basically start having an insane experience, because we have this knowledge and we have an agency running in France, then we have people in the U.S. asking, Can you help me?
You have to remember that was five or six years ago, so digital marketing was just not where it is now. So, basically we opened up an agency here in the U.S., [laughing] and we do the same thing. And in France we were extremely lucky to be able to work with L’Oréal, which was our biggest client, of course, we were managing five brands for them online, and here we worked with many startups.
Now I get to your point [laughing]. So, essentially, we have this process where we have to manage editorial calendars for our clients. So you can think of that as spreadsheets with a list of pieces of content that are supposed to be published on social media and blogs and through press releases and things like that. And all of that happens inside of Excel, which is terrific with numbers, but definitely not meant for media, text or collaboration.
So, we start looking online to find the tool to streamline the process, and we can find only two types of tools. The first one is, generic project management software, which is great for collaboration, but it doesn’t really cover our entire content publishing workflow. On the other hand, we find social media schedulers, which are great to publish the content, but do not really cover the collaboration part. So, we are like, What are we going to do? I’m not an engineer. Like I said I studied business, but I learned programming on my own, and I started building a prototype in 2015.
By the end of the year we had the prototype up and running, we started using it with our clients, and we don’t tell them it’s our own product, because we want some honest feedback and not just a gentle pat on the back.
So, they like it to a point that one of our client’s says, Guys, if we have to go back to Excel after using that platform you are fired. [laughter]
So, like, okay, maybe we are onto something. Then we open up the platform in public beta two months later, and then we started getting some great feedback, and we start improving the platform. And then the rest is kind of a crazy entrepreneurship story where today we are pretty close to recurring revenue and almost 7,000 clients around the world growing about 100% per year. We feel really, really fortunate in this adventure. So, I hope I answered your question. [laughing] It was a very long answer.
IVAN: You did. It’s always fascinating to hear the origin story of a company. So, are you literally located in Los Angeles right now? That’s where your company is based?
THIBAUD: Loomly has been a distributed team and a remote company 100% since day one. We never had an office even when we were not in these crazy times. So, we have team members in San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Portugal and even Montreal. So, up until about a month ago, Noemie and I were based in Los Angeles, and then we actually recently relocated to Texas, and it’s just a crazy story where we kind of got one of the things that are specific to LA or that are part of the life in LA, which is an earthquake and it just woke us up at four AM on Noemie’s birthday, so we got scared. It was already a stressful year, and we decided to try to get some rest. We love LA. We miss LA. But we tried to do what was best for us.
IVAN: That’s really interesting. You may know that TEN7 is a fully distributed company as well, and we have members all over the U.S. and I think it’s the best way to run a company, at least in this industry, at least in this space. It’s been wonderful having the flexibility to be able to work when you need to work, and have team members that you can trust that you can have go do their work and collaborate online. So tools like Loomly and Slack and all these other things really become very important in running your business when it’s as distributed as it is.
THIBAUD: And, if I can ask, because today it’s almost become the norm to be distributed, but you know, back in the days we had lots of questions to say the least about the viability and the scalability, and how we can make it work. So, I’m curious, did you run into these kinds of questions and friction and resistance around you in the early days?
IVAN: Yes. And in fact, I was the one that provided the most amount of friction and resistance [laughing] to be honest. Our story is that we were, and always planned to be, a local company in Minneapolis that hired local talent and that worked in the same office space so that we could learn from each other. That was the idea. To collaborate by being together and by building a culture like that. In 2016 and then in 2017, we went through a change where it felt like the industry and the toolset that we had at that point was ready to actually take the leap to become a distributed company.
I think in answer to your question, I think that I was most resistant because I didn’t want the good culture and the good atmosphere that we had to change. I didn’t want to lose that. So we made a transition to being distributed over the course of about six months, where we spent one day a week, then two days a week, then three days a week at home, and other days in the office. Then finally we were like, You know what, it doesn’t make sense to be in the office anymore. Let’s just do this online. And my thought was very different after that six to then twelve-month period.
So, it’s been amazing. It’s been hard to find the right tools though. And that’s why I wanted to go back to talking about Loomly. It sounds like you designed Loomly to be the thing that the other competitors were bolting on as a feature. So, the collaborative part and the social media publishing part, the editorial calendar and being able to work around the editorial calendar, it must be hard to see all of the competitors out there like Buffer and Hootsuite, and jump into this market and make the product that you have as successful as you have.
THIBAUD: First thing, thanks for sharing your story about remote work. It’s super interesting. And yes, it’s interesting, actually the market has evolved in the past few years, the market that we are in. The firm fact is that in the very early days of Loomly, we were actually integrated with Buffer, because we did not even see ourselves as competitors. We were seeing ourselves as the collaboration brick that was missing. And so, the first prototype that I built for Loomly was very simple, it was a basic CRUD application.
You could upload images and copy. You could just preview your post. And then you could assign it to a collaborator who was able to approve it, and then just leave some comments around it. So that you know as a team you were able to collaborate around the counting. At that time there was no asset management like there is now, is Library. There was no native publishing that was done through Buffer [laughing] which was crazy, and there was no analytics or even interactions like we have today. It was basically a collaboration app, and that is still our main differentiator. And I think it’s still part of the effect when you know users start using the product. They’ve known they’ve used Buffer and Hootsuite. We are aware of that.
But then they come to our place, and it’s kind of like WordPress. It’s almost a content management system, where you can build your content and see it at the same time. So, what you see is what you get thing. Not just a simple text field with an upload button. It’s basically a tool that helps you create the content.
So, that’s how we started and that’s where we have capitalized upon, because nowadays although we have some overlapping features with Hootsuite and Buffer and many others in the field, basically we see ourselves as the collaborating platform for marketing teams. And an analogy that we like to make is that developers, all developer engineering teams collaborate with GitHub, product teams and design teams they collaborate with InVision and marketing teams they can collaborate with Loomly. That’s really how we see ourselves.
IVAN: I love it. We were actually Buffer users before we were Loomly users, with an in-between step of a company I can’t even remember the name of. But that did not work out well for us, and I think the fact that you can comment on and collaborate on a post and go through an approval process, this really is the differentiating factor. And it’s definitely something our marketing team really appreciates and loves. It’s almost as if posting to a social media channel is secondary. It’s almost as if that’s like an expected thing that this platform should just do.
THIBAUD: Yes, it’s a commodity in the market. Now there are even some social networks that just allow you to do it. From day one, we thought that saving a couple of minutes by automating the scheduling was probably not the biggest pain point. The biggest pain point was how do you come up with ideas, because when you are in front of your empty spreadsheet, and you have to come up with 20 ideas for your social media for the upcoming months, it can be intimidating. So we post ideas into Loomly, so that based on Twitter training topics, or some market that you are subscribed to, or the day of the week, or the day of the year that we can give you some ideas so that you don’t have to start from scratch.
So that was pain point number one. Pain point number two is how do you actually create a post, and how are you able to see what it’s going to look like. So, for that, we built integrations with Unsplash and Jiffy, so that you know that if you are looking for an image because you don’t have one, you can basically just search for it from Loomly and import it for free. And around post builder this generator of mockups that show you in real time what your post is going to look like on social media. So that makes the whole creative and production experience much easier.
We built in some post imagination tips, but then most importantly we built that framework to allow you to share every piece of content with your team before it goes live. Because that was the main pain point. It’s kind of the bottleneck in the production and publishing cycle, where even if by some miracle you are very effective in creating 20 posts per month or 30 posts or 40 posts per month, then you know somehow most of the time you need the approval from someone. If you are a freelancer or agency, you may need the approval from the client. If you are working in house, you may need the approval from your boss.
The thing is, this can be stressful, because there may be multiple versions of the file, or it can get lost in the email. And maybe your boss or your client doesn’t really see what was it going to look like, and it’s hard for them to understand why they could be so short on Twitter, and why there are hashtags on Instagram or these kinds of things. With Loomly it makes it incredibly easy to do that, because you actually see, you don’t have to guess.
We actually have some very large clients who work in the luxury product industry. And they are publicly traded companies. And for them, it’s not only the CMO that needs to review the content, it's also the CFO and the persons from HR, and the person from legal, because basically any post that is put out there is potentially a liability for the company, and it can impact the stock price. So, when you have these types of persons that you need to get approval from, you want to make it as easy as possible to get it. There is nothing easier than bringing an iPad to a CFO and saying, Here is what the post is going to look like. Do you like it or not? If you like that, please press this button. It’s much easier than saying, Hey, we’re going to use this image with that text, it’s going to be published on that day. Do you agree? And then they have no clue what they’re approving.
IVAN: I spend most of my time in Loomly approving posts before they go out for social media.
THIBAUD: That’s because you’re the boss. [laughing]
IVAN: [laughing] That’s true. That’s exactly true. But I just wanted to comment that I know exactly how those folk are feeling and having that pending confirmation, I can’t remember what it’s called, but it says pending.
THIBAUD: Pending approval.
IVAN: Pending approval. That’s right. And you just click on it and you see the list and you go to each one and you see exactly what it’s going to look like, and you hit schedule and you’re done. It’s completely reduced the amount of time I have to spend in the spreadsheet in Buffer, in any kind of discussion about what the posts are going to be. I trust my staff. I trust the marketing team. They come up with what they need to come up with, and we use Loomly. It’s been wonderful.
I saw that you are looking for an AI engineer. I think I saw that on your LinkedIn profile maybe. What are you planning with Artificial Intelligence in Loomly? Tell me about that.
THIBAUD: [laughing] This actually, it’s good that you tell me that, because it reminds me that I need to update my profile. This is kind of like a previous project that we had, and we decided to discontinue it. Not unfortunately because it’s just we realized it was not what we should be doing. We had an idea to just basically be even more assistive in what we do with content creation, but it turns out there were some challenges on the product side, and also on the legal side, and not where we wanted to go, so we kind of moved away from that.
But, yes, we’re still building new things, and we actually have exciting features coming up. One I guess you are going to love, and your team is going to love, it’s called Custom Workflow, and it’s all related to what we were discussing. It’s all about improving the way the collaboration is happening. And so, very quickly in a nutshell, you will have the ability to define triggers and to define guards. Triggers will be rules that basically say every time this post enters this state, so let’s say every time a post becomes pending approval, then please assign it to Ivan, so that your team doesn’t even have to do it.
That’s number one. And number two is, guards, guards is going to be a next level layer of safety and security for your approval process, because it’s going to say, a post isn’t really approved unless Ivan and maybe another person has approved it. If it’s only one person then it’s not really approved, it’s pending approval, but we need those two persons to approve it. This is not for everyone. It's more for teams with an advanced workflow and different labels of management, but this is ready, we are testing it, and it’s going to be available soon for everyone.
IVAN: That’s wonderful. So that addresses the use case you just mentioned where maybe there’s a CMO and a CFO and maybe legal needs to approve it before it goes out, so you can route it between those three and only if those three people approve it then does it get approved.
THIBAUD: Exactly yes. Again, you can think of it as kind of the same thing that happens in GitHub when you have to approve a request, and you request approval from three different persons. Technically the approved request is not approved until those three persons have approved it.
IVAN: Have you seen any change in business, any change in the market since the pandemic started? How has that affected Loomly?
THIBAUD: Yes, we have seen a lot of changes, and I don’t want to jinx it so I’m just going to knock on wood. But so far, there are kind of two trends that we are observing at the microeconomic level that are kind of helping Loomly in a way, or that make Loomly more relevant. The first one is that many small businesses have shifted online, and they have started establishing their presence with, for instance, an online store.
I’m sure you are pretty familiar with that. [laughing] Once they have their website up and running it can be with an online solution, like our friends from Shopify since we were mentioning them, or maybe they have a great team helping them, putting together a website. Then the very next thing they need to do once they have a website is promote it. So then they usually turn to social media. Then it can be a bit overwhelming with so many options and so many things to understand. So that’s usually where Loomly comes in, because it kind of helps make the process easier for you to keep producing great content.
So I would say that’s the number one trend. It’s basically the fact that there is a major shift to online business.
The second trend is that so many teams have shifted from onsite collaboration to online collaboration. So, so many of the processes that were happening in the office, in the meeting room, now it needs to happen online, on Zoom, in the email, on Slack, and so that’s where Loomly, the collaboration layer is coming in. And so that’s the second trend that we are seeing. In a way we could sum this all up as with just one trend, it’s basically digital transformation. That’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to help marketing teams with digital transformation for their specific processes.
IVAN: Is that the mission of Loomly, to aid digital transformation?
THIBAUD: It’s how we are trying to achieve our vision. Our vision is basically to help every single marketing team in the world, wherever they are, how small or large they are, regardless of their industry, to build a successful brand online. We think that goes through digital transformation.
IVAN: One final question. What does the name Loomly mean?
THIBAUD: It’s a good question. I was explaining earlier what we are trying to do is, we are trying to solve the pain point of content production of you going from a blank canvas and having to create 20 posts for Facebook for the next month. That’s really the pain point that we are trying to solve. How we help you grow from zero to actual posts published on your account in a repeatable manner.
So, loom in English is basically this kind of tool that you use when you are trying to weave fabric. And so it’s this kind of tool, this kind of framework that helps you create fabric faster. That’s how we see Loomly. We see that this framework, this template, this tool that makes the creation of your content faster and easier and more efficient.
And this is kind of the joke where we also have a URL shortener which is loom.ly where we basically shorten your link. So, that was working very well.
IVAN: Well, thank you so much for explaining that, and for spending the time with me today. It’s been wonderful learning about you and your history and the building and origin of Loomly. I wish you great luck, and I’m sure you’re going to grow even further. Join us again on the podcast, please We’d love to hear from you again soon.
THIBAUD: Thank you so much for having me. And thank you so much for your kind words about Loomly and for trusting it. It really means the world to my entire team. So thank you so much. Thanks again for having me on the podcast. I wish you also the best at TEN7.
IVAN: Thibaud Clément the CEO and co-founder of Loomly, a brand success platform for marketing teams joined me today. You can find them online at loomly.com, and of course their URL shortener is loom.ly.
You’ve been listening to The TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thanks for listening.