People Matter Most: How To Organize Your Team Meeting And Embrace Multiculturalism

Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.
Steve Jobs

Tuesday, February 21th 2017, I have to take the 7am train to Paris. This week something so great happened that I finally decided, after months thinking about it, to write about the entrepreneur journey my team and I are undertaking together with passion, vision, and all its challenges and rewards.

Last week we had our first “international team meeting” hosted in Nice, gathering our whole team coming from France, Turkey, India and Romania, the ones from Ukraine and America living in Nice already.

Additionally, we just grew from 5 to 6 team members a week before this team meeting, which is great as it has balanced the team’s genders, with 3 women for 3 men, and added up a 7th nationality in the team.

From left to right: Olivier (French), Radu (Romanian), Bilge (Turkish), Jyoti (Indian), Isla (Irish-American), Nikita (Ukrainian). Photo taken in Nice, France, February 19th 2017, PocketConfidant AI team.

For this first international team meeting we successfully gathered everyone after months of desire, wait time, planning and challenges to support our multicultural event… Indeed, when you are a startup, at the beginning of your business’s story with no standard HR contracts and only a few tailored documents to support your legal and economic activities, the level of challenge you meet is just different than when you are a revenue-generating company. We had originally planned this team meeting in July 2016 for September 2016, then postponed it due to the team’s organizational dynamics, to then plan it in February 2017. We completely ran out of money in December 2016 requiring us to pause, come together as a team, and decide how to move forward with a belief in what we were doing in spite of the lack of financial resources. When in January we received a government grant for innovative startups – thank you France  – and signed our first clients at the same time, we decided that now was the right timing and deserved reward for everyone to get together. Taking a bunch of euros from our personal savings we finally offered our team what we had been dreaming about for months, or even years for those who had been dreaming about creating an international company…

The thing is that our ambitions and dreams are big, and we hired top talent from all over the world before having the first customers signed up! So, the challenge was to make sure everyone could get to France on time, which became at some point a “hope” because our Indian teammate faced two visa rejections on two consecutive weeks, two weeks before our meeting… Challenge! It was upsetting and stressful to think that we would not have everyone together for our first team meeting; and for those who have already dealt with Embassies in their life, I think they may know how complex and frustrating it can be. Briefly, the problem we faced was that or Indian mate had diligently followed the visa request process, gathered all the required documents and – as we did too – complied with the visa requirements. But, because we’re a startup, without a big bank account and with a short business history – less than a year – we could not offer our mate a standard HR contract, which meant that she had to create a company on her own so that we could hire her as a consultant. As a result, her legal business structure was less than 6 months old. Plus, it seems the Indian and the French Embassies are afraid of Indian people not returning to their country, because one visa rejection reason was “your return isn’t assured” – even though we had booked flights and accommodation, crazy! This also tells us a lot about our economy and foreign dynamics, and shows the challenges we face when doing business internationally. So, to conclude this visa story, while our Indian colleague was dropping the idea to come in France – her friends had already booked a restaurant to cheer her up – I was sending emails to the French Embassy in India, making calls with no success trying to reach the right people to explain our situation. My message finally got to the French Consul who intervened, forwarded our information and explanations to the visa officer who, after reviewing our case thoroughly, decided to support us to help us get the visa… While our Indian mate was ready to cancel the flight ticket, the visa came through one week before our team meeting. MILESTONE! #happiness

One thing to keep in mind: if you want something, believe in it and strive until you get it, put all your effort into communicating your cause with authenticity and humility. Your perseverance will – in most cases I believe – be rewarded!

This is just an awesome and thrilling milestone! Can you imagine?! You may or may not know, but when you start a new business with the aim to build an innovative product that only a few people understand – read about early adopters -, that you are striving to find your first customers, talk to investors because in a few months you may die from the lack of capital, hire talents, and want to reward every one with a bit of “human interaction”… Well this is NOT EASY!

Think a minute about two initial founders who started to work on the business in January 2015 – two years before this meeting, with no or little clue about how to build that product – with an unthinkable amount of will, trust, passion, resilience, to build a business that could change the world, and with a will to surround themselves with talented mindsets no matter the gender or the color… Well you can understand that this first international team meeting is a milestone, a gift.

We finally succeeded – a first time – and spent those days as a team, with team-cooking-building activities, all-day-long working meetings with white boards and white papers on the walls, walks in the city, sunbaths on the beach and some back and forth from and to the airport.

Meeting all together was very important for us all. When working to achieve a big vision, you can’t just sit behind a computer and spend days on code, business plan, market research or phone calls with potential customers. All of this hold together if you have a strong synergy with a team, really. A team is a group of people who share the same vision as you, commit to work together to put their intelligence, time, energy, creativity and expertise in a common cause: building a successful product. This isn’t only about computer science expertise or sales ability. It is tied to the strengths, will, ideas and motivation you extract from the presence of a group of people, as smart as you are or smarter than you simply. It is just different – and enriching – to spend a bit of time talking as humans, and being able to sit together when brainstorming about solutions or attempting to explain your vision in detail.

So, in the end we did a lot in a few days… We had vision-sharing meetings where everyone was able to share and express their desires, expectations, thoughts and feelings about the future of the company and the product; we had great working sessions on product strategy, team’s roles, organization and strategic and operational planning – here below is a picture of our Scrum brainstorm.

We had initially planned to visit French villages and beautiful places in Provence, but we ended-up spending hours in rooms to put our thoughts and energies down on the paper with home-made and last-minute made meals. Luckily, we also had time to take time together for diners, talks, walks and some laughs, and rewarded ourselves with an Indian-cooking-party-working-meeting on Sunday for our last day of team work.

Team walk on a Tuesday afternoon before dinner…


Closing-work: collective and individual expressions (this is where emotions surprise you sometimes – try it and you’ll see).

Keep one thing in mind: success is made with some effort, but also with fun, sharing, caring and lot of communication.

Keep one other thing in mind: there is no real established process to build a great team, what you need is simply patience, listening, passion, will to achieve, communication and…”just do it”.

Today, we grew our team from 2 to 6 in two years, surrounded our team with an expert and scientific board of professionals and advisors, got accelerated by the European Innovation Academy where we found our first customer, validated our product hypothesis, joined Oracle WeLoveStartups program, Microsoft BizSpark program, PFactory startup partner, talked to thousands people, wrote thousands lines of code, signed our first BtoB clients, received BPI France’s innovation grant, created dynamics in the US, Europe and Australia, received about 200 CVs until today… and finally built an amazing team with talented people. In the end… PEOPLE MATTER MOST.

In our next articles, we will be sharing some experiences, thoughts and processes on how to simply build international team meetings and take the most out of it. Stay tuned, and do please contact us to share your thoughts, experiences or questions, which we’ll be glad to read about them.

Written by Olivier (French native).