Interview with Philippe Laval (Kwaga)
Kwaga was founded in 2009 to help email users benefit from business data that is nested in the messages they receive. I interviewed Philippe Laval, Kwaga founder to find out more. This interview is the eighty first in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Philippe for the interview!
How would you describe Kwaga in under 50 words?
Imagine – emails that recognize they’ve been forgotten, are urgent, or appear before you jump on the plane! Kwaga has created the technology and product hooks to deliver smarter emails at the right time and in the right place, whether at your desk or running around in the field.
How did you come up with the name?
I wanted to have a small word and something similar to zebra – something that blends into the background. For me it communicates our goal of combining advanced machine intelligence with a beautiful customer experience in order to deliver you smarter emails without even having to think about it.
Tell us about some of your products.
Since our launch in 2009, we have released four products. Each product was related to helping our users make emails more efficient, and each was a step forward in creating a tool that was simpler and more transparent. Our goal is to create a product in which you can simply subscribe to and that’s it. It can do its job in the background with little interference from you.
WriteThat.name was the original idea you had when you created Kwaga but it took 2 years and development of 4 other products before it finally came to fruition. Why was this?
Excellent question – creating a startup and working on the next big thing is an interesting process. A great challenge I faced was trying not to lose focus, listening to the advice of other people. WriteThat.name was the original idea I had when I first created Kwaga. But it took two years and four other products to be developed before I finally go to it, mainly because those people didn’t believe that it would be the killer product that it is! Honestly, though, it is the journey that makes you stronger.
What technologies do you mainly use to develop your products?
Leveraging our unique 100+ combined years of experience in applied computational linguistics, the Kwaga team’s knowledge flow has led to proprietary semantic technology that understands Email text based on linguistic analysis and artificial intelligence technologies.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing WriteThat.Name?
Addressing the needs of our customers worldwide and identifying the differences between countries that have nothing to do with linguistics nor semantics, i.e. internationalized telephone numbers. We learned that our customers from the USA did not like that we internationalized their phone numbers and preferred to keep the 10-digit telephone number they are accustomed to. We reformatted the numbers based on these preferences per country.
Do you have any new products in the pipeline?
Our strategy for now is to focus primarily on WriteThat.name and further develop it in two directions:
1) B2B – integrate further into enterprise applications, CRMs, etc.
2) Consumers – we are about to launch a new feature called Dashboard, stay tuned…
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
I would have loved to know about the “lean startup” method and Steve Blank’s customer development methodology. This would probably have saved us a year!
Where do you see Kwaga in 5 years time?
We want to be your email guardian angel, unobtrusive but there anytime you need it.
Focusing on WriteThat.Name, has it got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
I am so grateful for our users, there are so many people that are spreading the word and advocating for Kwaga. But as an entrepreneur, it is never enough.
Any big clients on your list?
Absolutely! However, our dedication to their privacy (and yours) keeps us from name-dropping. But we are proud of our recent enterprise clients such as Euromaster, l’IAE of Aix en Provence, Case Western Reserve University, and Admeld.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
The closest thing we have to a competitor would have to be Plaxo Personal Assistant. Our service is different (and better) because you actually get information that your interlocutors want you to have, not crowdsourced contact information.
This means that you get always up-to-date info, private contact info only sent to you and contact info from the people you are actually interacting with. In the words of Jason Calacanis “If you haven’t tried WriteThat.name for GMAIL it’s awesome… basically a better version of Plaxo”!
What is the biggest hurdle you, personally, have faced or are still facing?
I would have to say it is staying high energy and being able to continually share that with my team.
What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?
Just keep pushing forward and believe in your product.
How many emails do you send a day?
It’s not how many I send, but how many I receive – and out of those how many actually deserve my attention right now, or can wait, or even need to wait for someone else’s input. It’s more about how to best decipher how much attention and time one gives to each email.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Kite surfing! This summer I am taking my kids near to Grenoble, France to teach them how to do it, as well.
Can you convince the reader to start using Kwaga products in under 50 words?
Make email work for you! WriteThat.Name keeps your address book up-to-date automagically! We recognize the signatures of emails you receive and either create the contact when it isn’t in your address book or update the existing one – with a new mobile number, for instance.
Finished reading? Check out Kwaga!