How can your startup be nurtured by its partners? Feedback form Patrick Joubert

Are you confused between Ponicode and CircleCI? It’s not you, it’s us. Ponicode was acquired by CircleCI as of March 2022. The content and material published prior to this date remains under Ponicode’s name. When in doubt: Ponicode = CircleCI.

Patrick Joubert, former CEO at Ponicode, now Head of Developer Experience for CircleCI, was invited by Microsoft to share his multi-entrepreneur experience of how to build great partnerships for startups. This talk was part of B2B Rocks, an Axeleo conference that took place online from September 7th to 11th.

Thank you Axeleo, Microsoft and Karen Fortin for inviting Patrick Joubert and letting him share his experience with the startup community.


Hello everyone we are back on stage for a new session on this first day at B2B Rocks. We are pleased to welcome Karen and Patrick. How are you?

We are back on stage for this new session closing the first day at B2B Rocks

We going to have a 30 min discussion about partnerships with Patrick sharing his experience and Karen from Microsoft

Happy talk, the stage is yours.

Karen Fortin: Hello everybody I am very pleased to be today at B2B Rocks 100% digital. So Today we have 30 min to discuss how startups can be nurtured by its partners. I am very pleased to have with us Patrick Joubert who is a serial entrepreneur, he will share with us his experience. I will let you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Ponicode and what the company is about

Patrick Joubert: Thanks Karen, Thanks for the invitation I am very happy to be with you guys for this session. Karen you said serial entrepreneur but for me it sounds like a serial killer so I would be a bit scared to say that - I would rather say multi entrepreneur. I am in the making of my third company, I first built Bemap about cloud transformation more than 10 years the second one was so a conversational AI solution, a company which was also part of the Microsoft AI Factory incubator. And the last company is Ponicode, an AI based company to improve developers life and improve code quality. We started to build the first AI based unit test generation tool. So let’s imagine you are in VS Code writing Javascript you can generate in just a few clicks unit test. So that’s it about me

To add one more thing I am a product guy, I love to build products. A fun story, a few years ago I started a design company which didn’t work. I started to build design teapots, completely different, it’s also tech but not the same kind of tech.

Karen Fortin: I am Karen Fortin, I’m with Microsoft, in charge of VC and startups relationships. We are helping startups to develop partnerships, technical business and marketing. Patrick will talk about it. But as a multi entrepreneur Patrick maybe you can tell us why developing partnerships is so important for startups.

Patrick Joubert: A startup by design is part of an ecosystem. If you want to build your own company, you need to build different partners around it in order to start it and to make it grow. The first challenge is to hire talents and we know that you can’t do anything without talents. Thus the first challenge with your ecosystem is to be identified and to be known by people. The team is the first ecosystem you need to be part of.

The second is that you will need to have clients, you need to be part of an ecosystem from a business perspective.

Then you will move forward with building the company, you will need technology platforms, tools, and from the research standpoint, links with universities. When you kick off the company you need facilities to gather teams together like station F for example.

And then when you have your first MVP you will need some financial partners to have enough money to continue to build the product. If you are in the software industry you also need money to first build the product and then to sell the product.

And then obviously there is the distribution part: you will need a partner to sell everything you build and build the right ecosystem on the selling part.

Moreover I think it is very important to have other startups around your startup. As a CEO, founder or CTO you need to meet startup makers and people that can be interesting counterparts to challenge what you think, what you are building. This is also part of the ecosystem.

I won’t forget advisors. Finally I think it is important to have people who can challenge what you are doing, maybe former entrepreneurs or people with more seniority, who can support and help you and who can challenge and improve your project. Last but not least the outsourcing partners, because we all need very well-structured companies, you need lawyers, you need an accountant, various specific outsourcing partners that will definitely support everything from the start. So you see that it is huge, to build a startup you need loads of partners and you have to find what would be the best for you and for your company.

Karen Fortin: A lot of partnerships and it takes a lot of time to build them. As we know time is key for startups. What piece of advice would you give for a startup to have successful partnerships and most importantly how to choose the right partnership according to the maturity stage. I guess that you don’t have the same partnership when you are starting and when you are scaling.

Patrick Joubert: Building your company is a challenge and the timing is of the essence. You have loads of things on your plate and you are working day and night and on top of that you need to put the partnerships on your agenda. A good partnership is more than just a contract, or something you sign with some partner, it is something that you will invest your time building. And the partner will invest time into growing the startup. You need both parts to have a will to invest into the partnership. Following the question on the different stages, when you are early stage you are looking for acceleration, visibility so I think at this stage you are looking for an accelerator partner. Microsoft AI Factory is a good fit for an early stage company.

Following the early stage you have the seed stage when you build your first MVP: you need financing, tech support so maybe technical partnerships are adequate in order to build the best product. You also need facilities, AI Factory provides this kind of support. You also need help with communication: very often I am being asked why we are pushing on communicating, it is because you need your startup to be known and well known in your field. Be known for what you want to do, what you want to deliver. It will impact your company, including with hiring talents. As you can see, some key rewards of being part of an ecosystem are not obvious at first.

When you scale up after you have the product and your first sales you will need distribution partners to help you with sales and communication. The first layer of partners is of course still valid at this stage and a partnership is a long run investment. You start with it and you keep it until the end of the company so it is a bet, and it is worth the investment. The last part, when I was preparing this talk is something we might forget, is the partner when you have some offer when someone wants to buy your company. I sold two companies and you know the first time I did it alone and it was terrible. The second time I looked for a partner to help with the sale.

The journey to build your ecosystem and your partner relationship is long and time consuming but you need to create that space, you need to explain to your partners what you want to do, what you are doing, where your company is, the stage you are at, and what you need. Startups can poorly explain these because they don’t always identify their real needs. That is why the better they know you, your needs and what you want to achieve the more chances of success you get.

Karen Fortin: Thank you Patrick. I can add from a corporate perspective that we always look for the give and get. You spoke about the entrepreneur side but from a corporate perspective it is the same, we want to find a partner for the long run where we will be able to bring value to the startup and it is more than having a logo on the side. We are looking to build something meaningful. Don’t waste your time if it’s not the right stage today.

You have been partnering with Microsoft for 10, 15 years now. Can you tell us the story of your relationship with Microsoft and why you chose to join the AI Factory with Ponicode for the second time in your multi entrepreneur story.

Patrick Joubert: As we mentioned, I have had a very long relationship with Microsoft, over 10 years. I would first explain the story. In 2017 Station F was just opening, Recast.AI wanted a partner that brings visibility, let us inside an ecosystem and we wanted to be supported on the AI side. Recast.AI go-to market was B2B so we needed a B2B ecosystem. We applied to the AI Factory because of the great fit we thought we were for this program, and we got accepted. Same for Ponicode, similar go-to-market, again an AI based startup which wants support for AI and B2B.

What is the value behind being part of the ecosystem, have more visibility?

After 4 year of AI Factory the ecosystem is well known and recognised by the market. Some startups in the AI Factory are well on AI and well on the b2b go to market so it is nice to surround yourself with them. Being in station F is also nice for communication, for hiring. Sometimes when people hear we are at Station F they consider us more seriously.

Being part of the AI ecosystem for Microsoft back in 2017 there is the link with INREA, it was super interesting to be able to chat with academic scientists to support our R&D.

Loads of synergies with Microsoft as well: AI, tech, support on the cloud, communication, marketing for visibility, sell and co sell.

There is direct sale and co sale, co selling is building an offer that Microsoft can build on its own and Ponicode can build on its own so I think it is an interesting solution.

Last point I think the key point is the relationship, I have long term relationship with some of the Microsoft guys and I see the people because when you are starting a company and you say ok I will be the conversational AI in 2016, and people say “interesting” but there is no product, there is no team, no financing like Ponicode last year when we only had a few founders. I think people being partners and specifically Carlo, Anthony and all the Microsoft AI Factory team really believe in the startups. Microsoft AI Factory enables us to know that we can find people in our ecosystem that believe in our project. I think that the believe word is important, believe that we can do a company even if it sounds weird or there is uncertainty around the technology.

I love that our ecosystem at Microsoft believes in our project.

Karen Fortin: Thank you Patrick. Interesting, can you share examples about the co selling part?

Patrick Joubert: Yeah I have a specific example about Recast.AI, we have the solution on multiple clouds so based on Azure obviously and we can deliver a specific solution for conversational AI for Telcos and link on Azure, which means each time there is a Recast sale there is a Microsoft sale behind. So you can have the Microsoft team selling the solution as Azure which is part of Recast.AI. I hope we can build the same story for Ponicode today.

If I can add as a conclusion, I wanted to add a specific topic for the CEO of a startup building its ecosystem and partnerships: I think it is part of the strategic plan.

You have to imagine your company in 1, 3 ,5 years and what you will need in order to leverage the company growth. Think the earliest you can about the partnerships because it will have a critical impact on your company along the years. You have to think about partners in a way that you don’t need them. For example you have to talk about distribution guys early on before you have anything to sell because they have to know you, they have to understand what you are doing and what you want to deliver and so on. And also for tech partners to have to start building something small and then build trust and then when you have the scale problem you can leverage the relationship you built for months or years ahead.

Karen Fortin: As a reminder of what Microsoft provides: a technical support of course. We work with startups when they are on the right maturity stage of course. On the go to market gaining visibility but also co sales. Microsoft provides the platform but we are looking for startups who can add end to end solutions to our Azure platform for example and bring that value to the customers. That is why Recast and Ponicode are actually completing the value proposition of Microsoft’s products and this is when we build great partnerships.

Do you want to add some comments about Covid Patrick.

Patrick Joubert: The world will not be the same again. Especially on how we organise the team. We were remote friendly before but today it has become part of our DNA. We are currently on a 3 days 2 days base. On the organisational perspective things will never be the same and I think that people like that. Regarding financing things are going back on the right pace, Ponicode was in a financing round during covid expected to close in June. We were lucky in a way that our investors like Breega believed in the project. I know some startups are having a hard time to find investors but I think things are getting better. The message is to really be prepared for the coming month unfortunately.

Karen Fortin: I think we have covered all the topics about partnerships. I hope it gave you insights and some good pieces of advice for your entrepreneur journey. Thank you Patrick for having us today.

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