Jean-Marc Tassetto joined us for this new episode #6, an episode that will take us on the paths of Google, entrepreneurship, product management, the challenges of technology, and innovation in the service of education.
What is interesting in your career path is that you have 3 main axes and a very interesting eclecticism.
The common elements are that you have a very marketing profile, you worked for the consumer goods industry, at Danone and Panzani. There’s also a very technical dimension because after a few years in the consumer goods industry you worked for SFR, where you were one of the group’s managers. Then you were CEO of Google in France and then you launched yourself into entrepreneurship with Coorpacademy.
Can you tell us in 3 sentences what Coorpacademy is, this platform that you created in 2013 with Arnauld Mitre and Frederick Bénichou? What are the key figures so that we can size things up a bit and your positioning?
In 2013 we wanted to reinvent boring e-learning, which had become very pejorative and less and less used in companies and we said that coming from Google, the web and technology, the real digital culture of learners (not one of managers but of employees) deserved a pedagogical protocol and a more adapted and modern way of learning online.
So, words have their importance and at about this time, on a global scale, we have moved from e-learning to digital learning. This is the digital revolution applied to education. In this context, we created Coorpacademy, the name says it all. We are focused on companies and the training issues facing companies. We have written a new pedagogical protocol, more engaging, more fun, more social, and more digital. We have encapsulated this protocol in a platform, which is Coorpacademy. All this is nothing if there is not good content delivered by this type of platform and so we have a library of content.
In 2020, we are positioning ourselves as a smart content library, because we have more than 16,000-course models on our platform, and we have signed important partnerships with CEGOS, which are the world leaders in the provision of content. We deliver it in a smart and committed way.
About the figures, these are the 3 indicators that we particularly monitor
- The first indicator is the performance figure, which is the rate of learner engagement. E-learning meant less than 10% commitment on the platform, and the HR department had to regularly check. Today we have an engagement rate of over 85%.
- The second indicator is the completion rate, i.e. when you start a course, is it completed? Here too we are on quite spectacular rates at 85%.
- The last figure is the NPS (Net Promoter Score), which is the difference between ambassadors and detractors, and this NPS in our company is 60%.
We have more than 1600 courses on our library recommended by Coorpacademy, with our syndication partnerships, which is access to more than 20,000 contents.
Finally, we have developed more than 120 platforms for our clients internationally. These are customised platforms at Richemont, BNP, Schneider Electric… There are soft platforms, which are shared by all our clients.
We have over 1 million learners on our platform.
When we look at your career, we see a great evolution in large, even very large groups, established, structured, with big means, big teams, nice names. At what point do you decide to put everything at risk, to start from scratch to create a start-up? Was there a triggering element? And why embark on such an adventure?
At some point, you are driven by a form of energy, which is not always rational. The real triggering factors are always a bit the same, mine is my meeting with Arnaud at Google and Fred who is a serial web entrepreneur.
At the end of 2012, I met with Peter Norvig in California, a professor at Stanford. He told me that he had just given class to 165,000 students. This made me aware of the MOOCs, and the digital revolution that was impacting education. He also told me that the top 200 students in the course were not from Stanford. This side of the democracies of access to knowledge enabled by the web attracted me.
Back in Europe, we said we were going to create Coorpacademy after a trip to London and Zurich (at the Google Center) where we met a lot of people.
One of our most important meetings was the meeting with Patrick Aebischer, the president of the EPFL, and Professor Pierre Dillenbourg, a high-level scientist working on online pedagogy. These meetings plus a momentum made us realise we had to create Coorpacademy because 100% of companies were impacted by the 4th digital revolution faced with the challenges of recalcification of their employees.
After all these meetings, and after a reflection with my wife, I decided to leave my job as CEO of Google in France and start my adventure with Arnaud and Frederic.
How did you experience this major change, in the world you were in before, if we can put it that way, you had rather strategic roles, there you switched to a more operational world, even very operational at the beginning, contrary to a classic career path that would evolve from operational to strategic. How did you personally experience these changes?
Personally, you should know that during my career I had already left Danone to go to Sophia-Antipolis. I had created a startup when I was 27 years old, to use relational database service management for direct marketing programs. I had already experienced this transition from a large group to a blank sheet of paper and a photocopier. I was familiar with that transition.
After leaving Google, I had taken a week’s holiday in Scotland and when I came back it was on a Tuesday. I was literally panic-stricken. I was getting a real awareness, I was in the concrete of the project, I had given up Google and its resources for a laptop, wifi, and my associates. The next day, on Wednesday, we started to get a taste of freedom, and then things happened naturally. Our first client was Nestlé at the end of 2013.
I’m interested in hearing about your experience as an entrepreneur, tell us a little about your experience of the first few months, the first few years, what has marked you since you started? What difficulties have you encountered and, on the contrary, what proud moments have you experienced?
On this autonomy side, all the energy released focused on the impact has been very rewarding. Moreover, the project developed very quickly commercially, in terms of platform and content. We created 250 videos, 1600 questions translated into English, French, German, so because it worked, the positive energy was there.
When you feel that things are going, that you have the right subject and the right partners, everything gets better and better. It’s all very rewarding and it was exactly what I was looking for. I was looking to have an impact to help companies deal with critical issues.
What difficulties have you encountered with this entrepreneurial role?
It’s always the same problems, between money and clients. However, the main difficulty, which you also encounter in large groups, is recruitment.
Our main pride is to have succeeded in creating a team of 60 employees in Paris and Switzerland who are top guns. Recruitment is the main difficulty in companies, both large and small, and I must say that we have made efforts and mistakes, but today we are particularly proud of our team.
Before going into more detail about Coorpacademy, I would very much like to come back with you on certain stages of your career, in particular, I would like to have your feedback on your time at Google, it’s an inspiring name, few groups are also present in our daily lives, and many people would like to work there. I’m interested in hearing about the Google corporate culture in which you had to immerse yourself, a big American tech group like this one must have a culture, a managerial approach, and an organisation that must be very different from a more traditional French group, what can you tell us about these subjects, what you learned, the big differences, what marked you?
I was very marked by my time at SFR and Danone, who are certainly French, but there was an international dimension. Google’s culture is not American but Californian. Several things impressed me, as a marketer, it’s the culture of you are the first, and the rest will follow. If you put the user at the center, then you take everything else on board positively. As a marketer, I put the users at the center, we were small teams, and we had to put the whole company on board in relation to the consumers. At Google, I was strengthened by this culture that success comes from focusing on the user.
At Coorpacademy, we interpolated this saying the Learner first, and the rest will follow. If we put the learner at the centre, we are opening up the world, and changing the relationship to education.
The second thing, to come back to recruitment, recruitment at Google is very elitist, but the organisation behind it was very flat, the philosophy was to release the energies of the employees. I really liked that, and we tried to apply it on a very small scale at Coorpacademy. We give our employees 10% of their time to work on the subjects of their choice, organising the way of working as flexibly as possible, giving autonomy to our managers, directors, and employees. This culture of releasing energy by giving time to work and to customers is part of the culture that impressed me a lot at Google, which we have recovered.
After technology at the service of experience, the importance of iterative processes, this culture of a minimum viable product, we have taken over our team of developers, a culture of iteration, fail fast, minimum viable product. We were inspired by this culture of development.
Why did you choose to get involved in the world of Education? And besides, where does this closeness to pedagogy/education come from, I understand that you are the son of a teacher, you were a teacher at CERAM and I believe you are a member of the HEC teaching staff? Is there a link between these experiences and your choice of EdTech?
It comes first of all from my family’s history, my mother was a teacher, the culture of the fundamental importance of education. Material goods may disappear but not education, which is consubstantial with what one is as a citizen. I have always taught and wanted to teach. As a manager you are also in the business of sharing knowledge and expertise, to better transmit what allows you to learn too. Each of us has a way of learning and assimilating. This is also what digital education is all about, which is both massive and individualised. Nobody has the same YouTube, Facebook, or Netflix feed.
Basically, we all went through protocols invented in the 18th century, reinforced in the 19th century. These protocols said that we all went through the same mill, we followed the same maths class, at the same time, in the same way, whatever the level of the pupils. This was also a difficulty for the teachers, who did not know whether they were basing their lessons on pupils with difficulties or those who had facilities.
Thanks to the power of digital technology, algorithms and the perspective of AI applied to education, we are trying to address this difficulty for both students and teachers. That’s why we decided to have a campus at the EPFL where there are two laboratories of very high level on all that is AI applied to education. We sell an impact to our clients.
On the education side, and EdTech, we feel a craze for all these subjects of training, education, whether it’s for students or corporate, it’s a sector that seems to be exploding, I imagine it’s not pure philanthropy, why such a craze and such investments in this sector?
I think it’s happening because all organisations are in transformation. Not just digital transformation but managerial transformation, cultural patterns, organisational models, social responsibility. Faced with these transformations there is a major challenge on a global scale, it is absolutely necessary to accompany the rise in skills. This must be done at the speed of these transformations. This is not the first time that humanity has been confronted with disruptions linked to the industrial revolution. It’s the first time that everything is going so fast.
A new solution must be found. In Africa with nearly 2 billion inhabitants, we need 1 million teachers. With the old patterns, it is very difficult to imagine a new way of transmitting knowledge. That’s why there is such a craze. There is an enormous and fundamental and founding need.
As the son of a teacher, the interaction with the knower must quickly become even stronger, the learning must be very efficient. The subject is efficiency and the search for maximum efficiency through dual transformation.
On a more global level we see major players investing in the sector, Linkedin Learning seems to be accelerating, Jack Ma from Alibaba wants to dedicate himself to education, how is Europe positioned in this market?
There is a very strong dynamic in Europe. Jack Ma has left Alibaba to return to his core business, which is teaching. Linkedin who bought a platform Linda.com created Linkedin Learning which was bought by Microsoft. The giants are in the battle.
There is a movement in Europe. There’s an abundance of startups in France, in London, in Germany, all over Europe. There is a complexity peculiar to Europe, which is the diversity of languages, which annoys the big American players. However, this can be an opportunity for European players, who are closer to European content producers.
Coorpacademy is translated into 18 languages, and we have content in most of the major European languages. There is a very dynamic technology in Europe. What has happened in terms of sites is that in 2012-2013, it is the emergence of the first players that count, including us. In 2019-2020, it is the end of this phase of proliferation and we are entering a phase of consolidation where some major players will emerge in the world and in Europe. Coorpacademy seems to be well placed for this race for the moment, but we must remain vigilant and innovative.
In the world of EdTech, there are actors who “only” provide the platform, others who provide the platform and the training content (content that can be on catalog or tailor-made), and still others who accompany major accounts in their training strategy, I’m interested in you telling us a little about the segmentation of the EdTech market and how Coorpacademy is positioned and distinguishes itself in this market, To whom do you sell Coorpacademy concretely, in the sales process, What are the specificities of Coorpacademy?
We have been qualified by the Financial Times as the Netflix of Coorporate learning. Our reference is Netflix, i.e. an integration between a platform, algorithms, data and above all, content.
In our world, the term we use is a smart content library. At the end of the day, it’s going to remain the battle of content. For example, if you see a detective film on Netflix, you can’t say you’ve seen them all. It depends on the film’s director. For us, it’s the battle of premium content, it’s a battle to create the best possible courses, which involves resources, teams, the ability to select, produce and make our courses as attractive as possible.
The content is produced by Coorpacademy, or clients have the means to create and edit their own content?
There are three types of content:
- There is the content edited by Coorpacademy.
- We have created an ecosystem with publishers, Fabernovel, IBM, Axel Springer, media groups from all walks of life (Hachette, Dunod, Eyrolles), inspired by the Netflix and Spotify world. A platform that allows us to distribute all kinds of content on our platform, sometimes we co-publish and pay a fee if the course has been taken on the platform.
- Our clients also have the possibility to edit their own content with our authoring tool, which takes our pedagogical protocol and encapsulates the expertise of our clients’ experts in a pedagogical protocol.
This mix between edited courses, co-published by companies, is what is served via playlists and what makes the performance of the experience on the platform. In the end, we have scrolled through access to the content, and we have focused on the quality and editing of this content.
When you sell Coorpacademy and you approach a large account, do you rather address the HR side?
Most of our contacts are HR, the Chief Learning Officers, those in charge of identifying the solutions that will support the major transformation projects. They are the HR directors, who will identify the link between training and change.
They can also be the bosses of single businesses, the world of CSR because we have a catalog of courses that are expanding on these subjects, and the Chief Digital Officers who are asked to find solutions and platforms.
We always have an angle and a subject. The company has to realise that transformation is important, and the requalification of employees is part of its competitiveness. This is beginning to be the case for the majority of companies.
From a technical point of view, how have you managed your innovation and the design of this platform since the launch, you started from scratch? How do you go about developing such a solution, what technological and financial human resources have you implemented? Tell us about Coorpacademy’s technical and organisational environment on the dev, product, and innovation side.
On the R&D side, we have research programs thanks to the laboratories of the EPFL, which allows us to know what works and what doesn’t work. We have also published a white paper on the impact of gaming on learning, on crunch data.
EPFL has 2 million students online, which generates Data on how videos are consumed and how pedagogy can work, we can gain efficiency. On the European R&D side, we have put ourselves in the best place in Europe and one of the best places in the world to be connected to the right scientists.
On the dev side, once we have focused on interaction, the hardest part starts. We need to recruit a devs architect, who masters the programming development process. This is where the expertise and competence of Fred, our CTO, and co-founder, is key.
The ability to attract developers is also very important, as the developer market is under pressure, in Switzerland, and especially in Paris. France is an excrement ecosystem for startups, so there’s a big draught on the developer side. We need to be able, through the technical Stack, through the importance of the project, through the impact of the company, we need to be able to attract the best possible developers, ideally Full-Stack dev. For the moment we have succeeded in attracting developers who deliver an experience that has been recognised by Capterra, which is a world-renowned auditing organisation. We are therefore number 1 in Europe ranked on the UX.
How long did it take you to have a “usable” platform?
We were created in March 2013; we had the first version in February 2014. We began to have an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) that corresponded to what we were trying to do.
How do you think the EdTech market will evolve over the next few years, from a user and technological point of view?
The changes that emerge on the technological side are everything related to the data, the algorithmic part, and the way of delivering the content that will be adapted. This massive hyper-individualisation of pedagogy is key. Tomorrow we will follow the same course theme, the content will be delivered in a pedagogical form that will be adapted to each one. For this, we need machine learning, AI, and DATA.
As far as content production is concerned, we expect a lot from the technology on the machine translation part, which is key, automatic video production. We’re making great progress and we’re getting closer to it.
There are more and more developments on the gaming side, these are subjects that technology can influence the commitment of users?
We were on TV this morning for the launch of our new series called Suspects. A police series, in order to advance in the investigation, it is necessary to assimilate certain elements of the course. An immersive way of interacting with the police series.
We’re starting to be at the crossroads between entertainment and education, so we’re talking about Edutainment. We’ve moved away from e-learning with digital learning, we’re going to move away from serious games towards edutainment. It’s a very exciting evolution that will come, with this rapprochement between the world of television and the world of game production.
This osmosis is part of the landscape over the next 3 to 5 years.
Quick questions before leaving us:
What advice would you have for project leaders?
My first tip is don’t forget this is an adventure and a trip, so you must be well prepared. That is to say, at the project level, you need to find something to crack, which is a difficulty on the market or with the clients where a solution can be found. Uber, Airbnb, Google, Netflix brings a solution. You have to be refocused on the solution.
My second piece of advice would be for the choice of partners. It’s a difficult adventure, it’s good not to go alone, to be accompanied by partners in order to create something very complementary and powerful.
Finally, it will take time, nobody talks about their failures. Successes come after several years of alternation and pivots. You must forget all the fantasy of technology and its success stories and tell yourself that you must dig a furrow and hold out for a few years.
Success comes with time and determination.
Do you have any books to recommend on the managerial approach, on entrepreneurship, or any other book that has made an impression on you?
Literature for business:
Exponential Organizations: Why New Organizations are Ten Times Better, Faster, and Cheaper Than Yours by Michael S. Malone, Salim Ismail, and Yuri van Geest.
Montaigne by Stefan Zweig
What are the apps on your phone that you recommend for everyone to have?
SBB Mobile – The Swiss mobile railway app that is extraordinary in terms of ergonomics.
You don’t just have to benchmark just your app. You have to benchmark the digital culture of your customers, whatever the sector of activity.
Is there a Tech company in Europe or in the US that inspires you particularly?
I’m very inspired by Google. Not only because I know it, but also because I’m impressed by the power, the culture of external growth. It’s not only internal innovation and company growth can also be achieved through acquisitions and external growth; I remind you that Android and YouTube are acquisitions.
The organisational model, the dynamics, the performance of Google continues to inspire me.