The story of the guy who sold his startup to Box in 7 months

Martin Destagnol, him-self …And then became Director of Mobile Remember back in 2013, when reading files on “mobile” was new and everyone was wondering how the h*ck to do it? That’s when Martin Destagnol, entrepreneur and engineer, built Folders. And seven months laters, Folders got acquired by Aaron Levie’s Box. Destagnol is now Director of Mobile and […]

Martin Destagnol, him-self

…And then became Director of Mobile

Remember back in 2013, when reading files on “mobile” was new and everyone was wondering how the h*ck to do it? That’s when Martin Destagnol, entrepreneur and engineer, built Folders. And seven months laters, Folders got acquired by Aaron Levie’s Box.

Destagnol is now Director of Mobile and of Box Notes — the French “serial” “startuper” went from building a product in his apartment (we don’t get many garages in Paris) to managing a whole engineering team inside one of the fastest-growing startups in the Silicon Valley. How does one do that? Here’s the story.

Startup genesis and crazy-fast acquisition

As you might hear often times when wondering why an entrepreneur built a startup, Folders came from Martin’s own frustration: accessing cloud-stored files on mobile was just a pain. So he decided to build an iOS client providing the very best User Experience possible.

But Destagnol also brought a strong business rationale to the idea: as Folders was his 3rd startup, he knew what kind of risk he was willing to take and what outcome to expect. His previous company, Plyce, was a social network based on coupons, which had a great potential but also high risks. When coming up with Folders, his ambition was to build a product much more targeted, with higher chances of a “smaller scale” success. The bet was that one of the existing cloud providers could need a product like Folders; worst case scenario, he would still sell enough to make up for the money invested.

Then he shut down everything else but work, and built Folder in 7 months. Full time. Like, 24/7. As in 100% of the time.

Once the app was approved by the Apple store, Destagnol decided to come to San Francisco to show it to Box, Dropbox and Google Drive. The product wasn’t launched, but he figured the sooner he would show it to the big players to get their feedback, the better — for those of you who are reading from elsewhere than San Francisco, yes, that’s what happens here, you can just meet people like that. Hence Destagnol coming; although to be fair, he had some introductions.

Right after his first meetings with the platform and mobile teams at Box, they asked him if he could stay a little longer to show it to some additional people. They all clicked instantly, and at that point, Destagnol had figured out this meeting was actually going somewhere.

During the same day, Martin met with 13 different people including Aaron Levie, Box’s CEO, Sam Schillace, SVP of Engineering and Sam Ghods, CTO, who were freaking out over how great the features and UX of Folders were. When Box offered to acquire Folders, Martin knew instantly that it would actually happen: that’s “entrepreneur’s intuition”.

source: Techcrunch

How can you make a cloud content reader app so cool, the CEO of “the” cloud content manager company thought it was impossible?

Today, Folders’ first features seem pretty obvious: fast picture loading, folder offline saving, snappy interface. But at the time, other products simply did not have them; in bigger companies, the back-and-forth movement between the product team and the engineering team takes a lot of time and energy. Product people make requests to the Tech team, the Tech team knows what’s possible or not, but does not necessarily have the overall vision. Destagnol had all the skills and was super detail-oriented; that’s how he managed to build the best UX, faster than them.

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(tweet found, of course, via RudeBaguette)

Secret formula (don’t tell anyone)

[Personal Frustration + Business rationale] * hard work + entrepreneur intuition = Successful startup

How a hands-on builder becomes a manager at scale

When Destagnol joined Box, he started as a manager, and got carte blanche on re-building the whole iOS app for Box with a team of 10 people- and the opportunity to go up the ladder pretty fast.

Destagnol was basically coming to re-build everything using his ideas, which was potentially frustrating for the existing team. So Destagnol pushed the team to restart from a blank page together. They looked at each features and decided to take the best from both sides. That way, they all felt like they were part of a common project, and every engineer felt as if they were the owner of the decisions being made.

After a successful launch of the iOS app, Box asked Destagnol to do the same thing with Android as well. So when the annual review period arrived, Destagnol was pretty sure he would get promoted. After all, he had de-facto doubled the size of his team and had 2 successful launches. But he didn’t. And he was extremely disappointed about it.

When he discussed his non-promotion with Sam Schillace, SVP of Engineering at Box and former creator of Google Docs, Sam told him: “If we had promoted you, you would have become an assh*le” (he eventually became Destagnol’s mentor and they get along very well, in case you were worried).

It may sound harsh, but this was the most valuable feedback I ever received, and it really transformed the way he was thinking about leadership” he says.

When you’re initially a hands-on manager, like Destagnol, it’s actually a huge challenge to learn to scale and delegate. What works when you are a small team doesn’t work anymore as you grow. He learned that it was not O.K to break an existing dynamics in a team, just to get results. Nor was it O.K to decide things by himself without bringing the team along with him. He had achieved outstanding results, but this had also led the product manager and designer to leave the company; so, even though the app launches went really well, there was an issue.

How to not be an assh*le and still be an effective manager, then?

For the next 6 months, after his reality check, Destagnol relied much more on his team to make decisions and was there only as a last resort. As a result, the team stepped up and felt more involved, and Destagnol got a lot more time to take on new initiatives. Destagnol started working with the Box Notes group and was promoted twice in a year. He now leads the iOS, Android, Windows and Box Notes teams, which represent more than 30 engineers and managers.

In a highly competitive atmosphere like the Valley, where every company is struggling to hire qualified people, it’s critical that Destagnol maintains a happy and productive team. For that, he makes sure to define a sense of purpose for each individual, which is a combination of many different things: how you believe in your company’s vision, how your own team contributes to it, what do you personally bring to it, how what you do is aligned with your career goals, how you get along with your teammates, etc.

All of these dimensions matter and every retention issue is related in a way or another to this sense of purpose. Destagnol and his managers make sure they talk openly and candidly with each teammate every week, so that can quickly identify issues and elaborate improvement plans with them.

When questions are asked the right way, 90% of the action plan actually comes from the employee himself”, he says —” the extra 10% comes from the good manager”. In addition, Destagnol makes sure he is always reachable for anyone, especially as humility is a strong part of Box’s company culture.

Being a manager “at scale”, for Destagnol, means witnessing people growing around you. A manager’s own performance doesn’t matter, it’s his/her team’s that’s important. In a nutshell, Destagnol realized that a good manager makes himself optional.

Thanks Martin for this inspiring conversation. I hope this has encouraged you, other readers, to build your own. If’s it’s the case, see you back 7 months!

Interview + article by our Content Manager @VanierRachel

This article is part of the publication Unexpected Token powered by eFounders — startup studio. All eFounders’ startups are built by extraordinary CTOs. If you feel like it could be you, apply here.

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The story of the guy who sold his startup to Box in 7 months was originally published in Unexpected Token on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Source: eFounders