Platypus was started with the goal of bringing a more data-driven approach to establishing “cultural fit” in the recruitment process. It turned out to become a tool for so much more than this. Nico Blier-Silvestri’s experience has taught him that company culture is at the core of every step of an employee’s journey, from attraction to management, to retention.
They believe that culture is democratic. All employees have an impact on the culture of an organization, bringing their personal values as cultural drivers. Company culture is not defined by top-down values but by everyday actions.
They named our company after one of the most extraordinary animals on the planet – the platypus, for a reason. Only in the right environment can the platypus come into existence, develop and thrive. They strongly believe that this also holds true for everyone who is joining a new organization. And so, they set themselves on the mission to help organizations understand their culture better and make sure every employee, whether current or future, has the opportunity to prosper.
Originally from France, Nico is now based in Copenhagen since 2012 after living on three different continents. He is the father of two and the husband of Danish/Italian Wonderwoman.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
Nico Blier-Silvestri: I’m Nico, CEO and Co-Founder of HR tech start-up Platypus. I’ve spent the last 15 years building efficient and successful People/HR/talent teams with companies such as Trustpilot, Falcon Social, Unity, Revolut, and Peakon. In January 2019 I had an epiphany, whilst recovering from knee surgery, that led me to start Platypus with Co-Founder Daniel Bowen.
TA and HR need a data-driven approach to working with company culture to ensure cultural alignment and to be able to build better, more sustainable teams and stronger organizations. Both Dan and myself experienced this frustration when we worked in HR, that there isn’t a tool that measures culture, and this is so often a problem. So we created Platypus, a recruitment tool that we wish existed in our HR careers.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your viewpoint, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
Nico Blier-Silvestri: I don’t believe entrepreneurs are born. If I look at my personal experience, I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, it wasn’t something that I dreamed of. We had an idea and from this it became a natural progression, it felt organic. You learn skills that make you become a better entrepreneur than others, such as the love of building things and the willingness to learn. You also need to be strategic and tactical. If we take the view that you can only be born an entrepreneur, then this narrows who can become one.
Everyone can become an entrepreneur. It might be harder for some than others, but everyone has the ability to become successful with the right idea. Along with this, you need to have the right co-founder and support network, both professionally and personally.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: I think I’m definitely engaging in my vision and mission. I get people to believe in my vision and what I want to build. I like to get involved in all aspects of Platypus. In fact the only department I’m not really involved in, is tech, as in writing lines of code, but this is because I’m not capable of doing that. Although, sometimes I think you can be at risk of falling into micro management, and most entrepreneurs are guilty of this, as this idea, this product is your baby. Crucially, it’s allowing yourself to be part of the decision making process without making the decisions. I hope to be engaging, motivating, and always available to my team to be used as they need.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: Platypus, today on the B2B side, is a platform that helps organizations to understand what drives their culture via their employees’ values. With this data, we help companies with recruitment, retention, satisfaction and employee engagement. With regards to recruitment, we give data on whether a candidate is culturally aligned with the company and team or department they will be joining to give insights on the ease or difficulty with onboarding that candidate into the organization.
What we have built recently is Connect (Beta), which is the only global tool that matches candidates and organizations based on their professional values. Then we can connect people and organizations at scale based on these cultural priorities. The concept has changed quite a bit over the last three years, but the idea for Connect was there from the beginning. The initial inception idea for Platypus was for it to be a recruitment tool. But it’s actually become far more than this due to the unique methodology that we’ve created and built.
Gaining data on company culture is critical for recruitment in organizations, but also for the entire lifecycle of an employee. Everything from retention to communication and satisfaction. Platypus has become more complex as a product and a tool than we first imagined. The product has developed due to the talent we bought in. It has evolved beyond Dan & myself and it is thanks to those in product, design and data analytics that have made it the product we see today. It’s a group project now. Both myself and Dan’s goal is to keep the direction and mission where it needs to be, whilst keeping the amazing talent we have engaged and motivated in the process.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: You should assume that someone else had the same idea as you. If someone hasn’t had this idea before, then maybe it is not a good idea. It isn’t necessarily the case of having a better idea, but rather being better at execution. You don’t need to be a creative genius to be an entrepreneur, what you do need is dedication, hard work and structure. It comes down to how strategic you are and if you are able to prioritize, especially where to put your energy. There is going to be frustration and intensity, but also a lot of happiness. But it is going to be relentless, hence why your support network is critical. Your family and friends are part of the success as without them you won’t survive!
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: The good thing for Dan and I is that we had over 10 years experience working in start-ups. So we had learned what not to do from these organizations. The biggest learning curve for us was in regards to the legal aspect, such as building the organization, creating a founders agreement and starting to talk to investors. We had no idea about fundraising or shares, warrants or how these worked. No idea on the value of an organization. I remember at the start we approached an advisor who we wanted to work with, and I offered them 10% of the company, luckily for us this didn’t happen. I didn’t know the value of our company. You don’t know what you don’t know.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain.
Nico Blier-Silvestri: Go faster and go slower. Go faster in your discussions and have the confidence to talk to investors, be more bold in what you ask for and how much you require. With the knowledge I have now, I realise we were not ambitious enough in the first rounds of raising money. That said, HR tech was not as sexy as it is now! Secondly, the importance of how you present the tech, your mission and vision. When we first presented the product, we showcased what was important to us, but not necessarily what was key for investors. I realise now we should have over-reached and then added 20%, as the burn of money in a start-up is frightening!
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: There has been so much! Recently we received questionable advice on Platypus going Freemium. Don’t give a product for free that others are willing to pay for. This logic is limiting, and will impact the growth of your business, in terms of product, the team and your strategy. Everyone has an opinion when you start a business, even my 92 year old grandmother! She had a business where she imported toys from China into Europe in the 80’s. I discuss with her weekly the direction and nature of my business, and she can have good advice but also advice from the 80’s! Listen to as many people as possible, as sometimes a good piece of advice could come from someone you least expect.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: The most obvious one, is that you’ll have access to more talent as you should think ‘remote’. But with remote working, comes challenges such as structure and maybe a lack of sparring opportunities. I am so grateful that I was able to deep-dive into what my team were discussing in an office environment. What hasn’t changed is the amount of money flying around from investors. Be brave and bold when asking for funding rounds.
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: The biggest lie is that you are free and can do what you want! There is a parallel to be drawn in the way society lies to you about having kids. “ It is amazing and you are going to love it from day one!” It is amazing, but society is not genuine about this for two reasons, because we want to see entrepreneurs succeed and for that we have to sell the dream, much like we want parents to be happy and be successful in raising their children.
But on these two things it is exhausting, and no one tells you this. It is hard on your relationships, both personal and professional. On the flip side, I don’t think there is anything more fulfilling than seeing your children grow and learn, much like your company.There needs to be an honest conversation around the stress and pressure that comes with running your own business.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: I know it’s a cliche, but you need to be driven and extremely stubborn. You’re going to be told on a daily basis that your idea is terrible and won’t work and they could do better. It’s a difficult mix of being driven and relentless but at the same time to have the self-awareness that some of these things might be true. You need to listen without being fully influenced. You need confidence without arrogance, especially when you are starting to succeed. This is why I love being a co-founder with Dan, I couldn’t do this alone.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
Nico Blier-Silvestri:Sorry to have another cliche, but I really like the film Jerry Maguire, with Tom Cruise. He goes from an arrogant, non self-aware person to caring for people. I think the future of entrepreneurship is caring for people, being people-centric. You don’t walk on people but with them and you succeed together. This is why I find this film inspiring. With regards to vision and mission, I think the film Interstellar encapsulates this well. The main character has a mission and is driven towards that to succeed, to jump into the unknown, take a leap of faith.
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: The one I had before, Chief People Officer. In HR, every single day you build an organization with the people you recruit. You build a strategy in the type of people you want in the company, and the goals we want to achieve. It is exhausting, but so much fun!
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
Nico Blier-Silvestri: Yoda. One source of knowledge.
Jerome Knysewzski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Nico Blier-Silvestri for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Nico Blier-Silvestri or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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