Legend has it that the idea for Qualifio was born in a cellar around a few beers – sounds like the perfect start for a Belgian start-up! Qualifio is the brain child of Olivier Simonis and Serge Rapaille, 2 Belgian media veterans who created the company in 2011 with the ambition of empowering companies with the right tools and the desire to design an innovative way of doing marketing. Their belief in the power of interactivity and its ability to engage and push customers down the conversion funnel is what led them to start the Qualifio adventure.
The Qualifio adventure so far
Much has happened in the 10 years since the company was launched with just a handful of employees in 2011: many new team members have joined Qualifio, while others have left; funds have been raised ; hundreds of media companies and brands have used the platform to engage their audiences with countless creative and inspiring interactive campaigns; prestigious awards have been won; and much more.
As CEO, Olivier Simonis steered the Qualifio boat with a sure and steady hand through the roughest and the calmest of seas over the years. But after 10 years at the helm, he has decided to bring some new blood to the role. He stepped down from his role on July 1st this year, handing the reins over to Quentin Paquot, himself a Qualifio veteran, having been with the company since 2014 in various roles. Olivier explains that
“Quentin’s appointment as CEO is a clear reflection of the company’s current state and the next logical step for the company to take. We are ready to take on the future and we’re fired up ahead of an exciting future with a new product on the horizon, new prestigious customers to onboard and an ever growing and inspiring team. Quentin perfectly exemplifies the values that we’ve always wanted to establish at Qualifio: empowerment, transparency, commitment, fun, togetherness and creativity. We push for nothing short of excellence in everything that we do, always looking for new ways of learning by working and listening with our whole team and our customers.”
A Belgian football fanatic in Singapore
Quentin describes his 8-year old self as “a calm and kind boy who was football mad and living in Singapore”. Paquot spent much of his childhood living abroad, as his father’s job as a civil engineer specialised in dredging meant that the family were posted in several locations around the world, from Singapore, to Ivory Coast and Morocco.
Passionate about Manchester United due to there being very little other football available in Singapore in the early 90’s, Quentin was also a fervent supporter of the Belgian national team. Not only because of their presence at the 1994 World Cup, but also because he attended the Lycée Français and was therefore very proud of his Belgian roots. He hoped as a young boy to become a professional football player but didn’t quite make the ranks.
When asked what advice he would give his 19-year old self, Quentin answers without hesitation “work harder”! His decision to study law was based on his dislike of Science, a somewhat unfounded decision he later concluded. So after a couple of years he swapped his law books for communication studies in Namur, that he then followed with a Master’s degree in marketing and corporate communications at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
Admittedly not the hardest working student, he was involved in numerous sporting and social projects off campus and found his love for statistics and digital marketing while setting up and running websites for his football association and the student organisation he represented.
The prologue to Quentin’s Qualifio adventure
Quentin’s first professional experience was an exhilarating one, but was ultimately a failed venture. He was tasked with selling bio-mechanical innovative golf software on the South Korean, Japanese and American markets, but the company was ahead of their time and the software they were trying to sell was too advanced for the available hardware.
“It was an amazing experience and I learned so much in a relatively short period of time. For me it was perfect: the job involved numbers, sport and I got to travel a lot. And because it was such a small company I had to do everything, not only all the business related stuff, but also all the marketing. So the SEO, the newsletter, the website, … I really learned how to get my hands dirty and to just get on with the job.”
This first professional experience gave Quentin a first introduction to working for a product-centric company. His love for the product side of the company was similar to how he feels now about Qualifio, leading him to place the product and its development at the heart of everything that he does. He also credits his first job with giving him a positive mindset about failure: it doesn’t matter if something doesn’t work. As long as you take stock and re-evaluate the situation, then make the changes you need and move forward with what you’ve learned, it won’t have been a waste. Hard work and dedication are some of the other key values he gained from this experience.
Olivier hired Quentin as an Account Manager in 2014, when only 7 people were working for the company. At the time, 95% of the company’s revenue came from media companies and the goal was to expand the customer base to B2C brands. This was one of Quentin’s first challenges at Qualifio on the Belgian market. He then moved on to opening up the Dutch market and further developing the French and Spanish markets as Head of Sales. The next challenge was to take on the more diverse role of COO where Olivier recognised his love of the product and the ambitions he had for the tool. Marvelling at the number of people who create content and campaigns on the Qualifio platform every day, engaging with millions of consumers, Quentin highlights the fact that Qualifio is a tech company, so our product and our team are our only assets and we have this amazing opportunity to create something truly amazing. He jokingly says his dream job has always been Head of Product but he missed out on that one!
But Quentin still has a passion and love for sales and vividly recalls signing Qualifio’s first major Dutch media and the incredible buzz and sense of pride he got from it. “I still love sales, you just can’t beat that feeling of pulling off a great sell!”
What’s next for Qualifio?
Quentin answered the question “are we winning?” with a resounding “yes!” Followed by an even more resounding “but”.
“Qualifio is winning because we have a great project with an amazing team of people that is helping those people to grow, whether they’re young or more experienced. We have a goal and we’re able to develop it while being financially viable. So the work that we do at Qualifio is supporting 80 families, and that’s something that we can be proud of. And the core of our business, the product that we have developed over the years, must of course still be improved, but it has already proven incredibly successful and there are still a lot of exciting things to come.”
There is a “but” that follows this positive note because we can’t rest on our laurels, so ‘winning’ cannot mean that the game is over. Quentin draws a parallel with a tennis match: “you can be winning a game by 2 sets to love but still lose the match.” So it’s important to stay focused for the whole journey, through the hard times and the good times. He concludes his answer: “I think we’re in a good position today. We’re looking to the future, at the next part of the game with confidence. And as long as we continue to work and grow as a team, and keep the product at the heart of everything we do, we’ll be on the right track.”
Taking hard or strategic decisions is a big part of the role of a CEO, but Quentin is confident that he is surrounded by the right team and that he has their full support in the decisions that need to be made.
“The key strategic decisions that will have the biggest impact on the company in the coming months won’t be taken solely by me. And that’s something that I really value, we have a strong team with some great managers and decisions will be discussed and understood by all before we take them. More often than not other team members will know better than me what we need to do, so I will always ask for their opinion.”
Quentin continues by saying that the biggest decisions we’ll be making as a company in the coming months will be about the evolution of our product. We will need to be asking ourselves “what are the next chapters in its history?” and deciding what direction we take. This will then have an impact on the HR side of the business, on the recruitments and the investments that we make.
When asked what the main focus points need to be in the coming months for Qualifio, Quentin highlighted 4 of them:
- ? Anticipation and innovation: we need to be constantly challenging ourselves, if we think that we’ve won and that the game is over, then we’ll lose. So we need to be very down-to-earth and always re-assessing what we’re doing to not become complacent and lazy. We’re not sending rockets to the moon or solving world hunger, but our tool is used by hundreds of companies daily and reaches millions of consumers, so we owe it to them to keep innovating and improving to provide them with the best tool possible.
- ? Security and integrations: In our field of work, security is key. We need to be best-in-class about everything that is security related. We’re handling PII from big companies so our security protocols and integrations need to be the best available on the market. We also need to play a role in educating our customers and helping them to be as secure and efficient as possible. For example, a few years ago GDPR was a super complicated topic that confused a lot of people. But with a set of well-explained and easy-to-follow features, we managed to make it seem simpler and more approachable. We need to be doing that with more topics.
- ? Support: the quality of our support is vital – increasingly companies are replacing actual human support with bots and I want to avoid that at all costs. The best way of solving a problem is working together and communicating with a smile, so that’s what we strive to provide for our users. People need to be at the heart of our approach to customer support, in order to offer the best possible service.
- ? Becoming a multi-product software company: we’re working hard on launching a new product at the end of this year that will be totally complementary with our current tool. The transition to a multi-product company is a very exciting challenge that we’re ready to take on.
Quentin describes his management style as transparent and honest, and throughout his tenureship as CEO he plans to place an emphasis on 2 key elements of the business :
- The people, not only the team at Qualifio but also all the people who work for our customers.
- The product (soon to be products) that Qualifio is proud to bring to the market.
He strives to be straight-talking without being impulsive or brash, so that his team knows that they can always come and talk to him. He would like to set a good example of what a CEO can be for the younger generation at Qualifio, and believes in surrounding himself with a talented and solid team to support and inspire him. He is clearly ambitious and believes that we’ve only taken the first steps in what Qualifio can achieve, but that there are many more to come.
8-year old Quentin was football mad and loved living in Singapore, what would he think of what 35-year old Quentin has achieved and where he is now?
“I think he would be happy to see that I’m working hard, while staying true to my values both in my personal life and at work. I’m proud to live by the values that my father gave us. He would also say ‘be amazing at work and do a great job, but don’t forget to come home’ and that’s something that our generation needs to do better than our parents. It’s really important to have the right balance between our professional life and our home life. It’s not an easy one to strike and I don’t think I’ve got it all completely figured out but I’m working on it! My job is obviously important and brings me a lot of pride and fulfilment but what’s going on at home is just as, if not more, important. And that’s a message that I want to really focus on in my role as CEO, so that the young people in the company see that it can be achieved. We work hard and passionately during the day but we remember to have fun and also live a full life outside of our jobs. It’s all about being smart in the way we work so that we’re as efficient and creative and possible, allowing us to have a good slice of fun while we work.”