At Felix he focuses on SaaS (Worktech in particular) and gaming investments.
Before joining Felix, Julien spent 11 years at Facebook, where he led the global platform partnerships team, helping Facebook partners build, grow and monetize their mobile apps and games. Also he has been serving as Vice President of Facebook Workplace. Under his leadership, Workplace went from 0 to 10 million paid subscribers at companies like Walmart, Nestlé, McDonald's, Chevron, Astrazeneca, Spotify and many others.
He grew up in France, and he loves croissants. Now he lives in London with his wife and their two boys.
During this episode, we discuss the crazy growth journey that he experienced with Facebook from 500m users to the IPO, how the best investments he made took 2 seconds to decide and why sometimes you should go slow and don’t break things.
"Julien Codorniou - The journey with FB (Meta) from 500m users to IPO, assessing teams and angel investing and the consumerization of IT"
- by Venture Europe. ⚓ Links to Spotify, Apple and Google —> https://anchor.fm/ventureeurope/episodes/Julien-Codorniou---The-journey-with-FB-Meta-from-500m-users-to-IPO--assessing-teams-and-angel-investing-and-the-consumerization-of-IT-e1pqvcv
(translated with AI and slightly edited. You might find some mistakes :) )
Calin: Let's travel a bit back in time to 2011. You are with Microsoft and decide to join Facebook. Paint us a picture of where Facebook was then and why you decided to join them.
[00:02:15] Julien: It's a long story, but, from 2008 to 2010, I was, working at Microsoft HQ in Seattle, in the developer's division. A few friends of mine all left at the same time to join Facebook to build and to start the developer's division.
I have to say I did not see the potential of Facebook as a development platform when I was there, but I realized that all the good people I knew, or the people I really wanted to work with, I work for, we're living there. I got interested in talking to them and in potentially joining, I came back to Europe.
There was an opportunity to join a team to help and build the platform. Basically ping the people I knew there and went through the interview process locally in Europe to join the team. But I really went there because I was following people I trusted and that I respected. And then once I joined Facebook I realized the massive potential of Facebook as a platform.
[00:03:06] Calin: Do you remember the conversation with your boss when you told him, Hey, I'm leaving for Facebook. I would assume that there are competitors.
[00:03:13] Julien: Yeah, and it was hard because I was, honestly, I was the happiest Microsoft employee. My dream company when I was young was Microsoft. Took me a lot of time to get in.
I really wanted to work in the US at the HQ as well to experience, Microsoft from the inside. So I was extremely happy. I had excellent managers. I love my team, I love my job. But I think I was looking for something, I'm gonna say a bit more entrepreneurial. There was no risk in joining Facebook, but I wanted to join a rocket ship, something that would accelerate, something that would go public, something where we could experience, where I could experience growth and scaling significantly a business like that. So they actually, they understood it.
It was tough because I owed a lot to these people. And all the managers I had there, but they understood that I needed something different. And that Facebook and the stage at which Facebook was back then was very different from Microsoft Stage at that time. It was hard because it was, I had been well taken care of and I had great managers there. I learned so much at Microsoft. It was not, it was ridiculous.
[00:04:13] Calin: Looking back, was the journey with Facebook now meta what you envisioned?
[00:04:21] Julien: It was, a hundred times crazier than everything I imagined. I joined, I think we, we had less than 1000 employees. I think Facebook passed half a billion users, so it was already a very popular service and a growing business.
But the business model itself was finalized. But back then, Facebook was all about likes and pages. So the ipo, there was a shift to mobile, the shift to, in feed ads as well. And then other, ad tech. Business models, but it was the journey of a lifetime, the growth. We went through the learnings as well of going that fast, going public, having a complicated ipo, recovering from that scaling and having a love story with the market every three months.
Then you know, some challenges with, some tougher moments, great learning experiences. Being part of that and having the responsibility to grow first, the gaming business and then the developers platform and then workplace was, was, youthe opportunity of a lifetime. And I learned so much, but I could not have imagined that it would be that crazy and that it would go that fast.
[00:05:19] Calin: And what do people often get wrong about Facebook?
[00:05:23] Julien: I think there is always a two years lag between what people think Facebook is doing and what Facebook is actually doing. just let's take the IPO for example. When Facebook went public, people were shocking Facebook because they thought that Facebook did not see mobile coming, that they had no mobile plans and that the CEO was too young and that she did not care about what the market was about back then, which was mobile internally.
At Facebook, it was a very different story. You had people who had been working on mobile for a very long time, and maybe in the last 18 months before the IPO, you could not talk about anything that was not mobile. So the company was obsessed with making mobile work. They had the plan, they had the right people in place, but externally, people were asking if Facebook actually understood mobile.
And I have seen that discrepancy many times. At Facebook, I think it's because of maybe a lack of communication or a lack of transparency that I think is being fixed, but it was always shocking to me that Facebook is very well aware of both the challenges and the opportunities that they have to fix or to go and grab, but that the perception of the public market sometimes is very different and it takes time to catch up.
[00:06:29] Calin: What do you think they do exceptionally well? You just mentioned that it was like a crazy journey, 100 times more crazy than you would have imagined. What do you think they do exceptionally
[00:06:39] Julien: well? I think it's the scaling of, of, businesses of features from a small set of users from a small group and a small cohort of ab testers to basically 3 billion.
It's a remarkable scaling and gene scaling machine that I have not seen very often on, on the market. When they notice that something works or that something is working or about to work, they can scale it extremely fast and they can also kill it extremely fast if they see doesn't work. So that ability to ab test and to understand the early signals there to turn it into a best practice or into a Facebook family of apps wide feature is remark.
Especially at that scale.
[00:07:17] Calin: You mentioned that there is this difference of two years. What do you think they are seeing now with the Metaverse and also changing the name to Meta?
[00:07:23] Julien: I think that change has been quite public when it happened in q3, , Q4 actually last year. But it's one of the I would say one of the example where what Facebook is actually working on is something that is known and understood by the public. Would it work? I don't know. I hope it's gonna work. I know Facebook is betting the farm, but it's I think that move, that pivot has been, better managed some of the things that Facebook spent a lot of time and energy on.
That I would say the public did not understand, for example, the integrity effort, which was something Facebook took extremely, seriously after genetic and other drummers like that. But I don't think they got enough credit externally for the efforts and for understanding the complexity of the problem.
So I think it's, they're probably getting better there, but it's an opportunity for greatness, as we say.
[00:08:09] Calin: And just to change gears a little bit, and to focus on investments now, when did you. Interested in investment.
[00:08:18] Julien: I was always interested in investments. 20 years ago I was reading books like, Eboys is about the team at Benchmark or High Stakes, No prisoners.
So I was always interested, but I knew I had to start my career as an operator to eventually one day go back or going into the investing, world. But as soon as I could, thanks to Facebook invest in companies, I sold Facebook shares to invest in private tech companies. I really wanted to do it not.
I needed that financially should have been sometimes a much better call to keep my Facebook shares. But because I just wanted the thrill and the adrenaline of being part of somebody else's journey, and that was the kick I was looking for when I started investing, I was meeting a lot of great entrepreneurs and I just wanted to be part of it and to watch and observe how they operate and to learn from them.
Especially, for my Facebook day to day job, you learn a lot from entrepreneurs and builders. So I wanted to be exposed and to feel part o another entrepreneurs journey.
[00:09:12] Calin: You joined Felix Capital 10, 11 months ago. Do you remember, like the first meeting with the team? Why did you decide to join them?
[00:09:19] Julien: I was active Angel. I've done more than 50 deals as an angel. I had the opportunity to work with, some of the best investors in Europe, Sonali at Excel. Luciana from Sequoia and more so I was exposed to that community, that ecosystem. But I knew Fredrick, the founder of Felix for a long time, we met 15 years ago when I was at Microsoft.
When I came to London. When I was at Facebook, he pitched Felix to me. He was looking for advisors and LPs and I told him that I would love to invest and I would love to be an advisor. So I'm new to the Felix team. Per se, because I joined in December, but I'm not new to the Felix family because I was an advisor and an investor in every fund since day one.
When I decided that I wanted to move to the, investment world, after having talked to, people in industry and discussing with Fred and with, Susan and O one and the rest of the team at Felix, I decided that you, it was an easy way for me to get in because I knew them. I knew the numbers. They knew me as well inside out.
I was coming from the world of big tech and operat. They were more on the VC side of the house. It was a good match, but it was, I could say it took 15 years because that's when I met Fred, but actually it took a few years and I knew the team and how they operated very well even before joining them full time, which helps a lot.
Especially, having that trust and that trust respect in a small team like that is super important. I think it's the main risk when you hire a partner as a Visa fund and that trust and that respect Mutual, I believe was there very.
[00:10:45] Calin: How is it different investing actually from an institutional fund than investing as an angel?
[00:10:49] Julien: It's very different. as an angel, my, my best deals are deals I've done in two seconds because I absolutely wanted to invest in these people. For example, triple doubt in gaming was. One of my best investments cuz I knew the team I King used to work for me when I was at Facebook. And so I knew that whatever he would do, it would be something big.
And so I just wanted to be part of it. I invested in Pigment in France, because I really wanted to see how Ima would, would operate. I invested in Blue and Wild or in in BI as well. Cause of, something I saw that got me excited, but it took me two seconds to make the. As a vc, it's, of course very different because it's not your money.
You're investing other people's money, so you have to document, you have to spend time on the team, on the market, on the size of the market, on every potential risk that could be there, and also every opportunity that you see for the company. So it's a much longer. Thoughtful process that needs to be documented so that when you look at it in 10 years or 15 years, you understand why you made that decision or why you passed on the company as well.
So it's very different from the drive by investing lifestyle of an, which also is great for me because this is a new job and I'm learning it from people that are very good at it, at the Felix team. So I'm glad that at my advanced stage I can learn something new and be like the rookie in the team and in the industry.
[00:12:06] Calin: It's always good to start to learn different things and feel like a rookie.
It's much more exciting. I'm curious because you mentioned that the best deals are made in two seconds, and it's mostly driven by the assessment of the team, which I guess is still applies at FedEx, but then you add all the new information and new analysis about the market and try to manage risk. If we will have to focus maybe on the analysis of the team, can you pinpoint like what exactly convinced you to bet on the team on two seconds?
What really helped me as an agile is that my first two deals were quick disasters. The first two companies I invested in, and trust me, when I invested in, I felt, that would, these two companies would be the next big things. But I lost every single six months, quick, massive, failures. And I realized that I did not know these guys before.
I got welled by the pitch. I got it wrong. I did not check and so I had to set up a code for myself and I decided to only invest as an angel in people that I knew that I've seen it work for a long time. Ake is a good example at Triple Dot. Same thing for ROA at pigment or a at woman wide vesting products that I use all of to use, Deliveroo was a good example again, Bloom and Wild.
Great example. Link Tree. Great example as well. Or I invest when deals are recomme. To me by people I really trust, like the mentors I had in the industry even before joining the industry myself, people at Felix of course, but also Excel, Sequoia Index, Blossom, Moon Fire. So that was my code, being now full-time and becoming an institutional investor.
I need to keep that and I need to keep, I would say the connections and the history I have with some funders, but I also have to be open to surprises and to invest in people. I don't know. So you reduce that risk of investing people you've never heard of? I've never seen it work by doing all of the extra work, on the duty diligence, looking at the product, talking to as many customers that's possible, interviewing the team and all.
I would love to be able to keep both cuz I believe that there's something interesting or there was. When I look at my portfolio, my best deals came from that by just investing in a players that you've seen at work that you trust and respect and I just want to back. And at the same time having the more scientific approach to venture investing.
I really want to try and keep both, but because I'm investing other people's money, I have to be able to document that and to explain why we make these.
[00:14:25] Calin: And how do you assess a team if it's a player team, if you have never met them before or see them work?
[00:14:31] Julien: There's lot of pattern recognition. I can absolutely say that I was a B player at Facebook, but I was surrounded by a players I've seen and observe and studied.
I would even say, Fantastic operators and entrepreneurs at Facebook. starting with the ceo, she Sandberg, people like Fiji SMO or Alex Schultz, Deb Blue who created a few billion dollars product at Facebook. So I can tell an A player when I see one because I was exposed to a lot of A players when I was there and also at Microsoft and with my angel activity.
So there's some pattern recognition, but then you know, a few. Spending time with people, you look at who they hire, you look at their values, their principles, how they drive their business, and so helps historically in the software industry, a lot of college dropouts have created empire with Microsoft is a good example.
Facebook as well recently, Figma as well. So you need to keep the open for amazing surprises. Because you never know, where the next big thing or the next big funder will come from. And maybe she will come from big tech or she will have created an amazing company before. Or maybe she would just be a college dropout and you want to find her and back her, even if that's the first time at Hot Runner.
[00:15:37] Calin: I don't remember Andrei from Accel telling me that he's looking for a sort of obsessiveness and intensity. I like that, to see that someone is very obsessed and intense about a problem to solve it. And tell me a little bit more about Felix Capital. what are you guys looking for?
What type of companies do you guys invest? And maybe you can tell me a little bit more about your last investment.
[00:15:57] Julien: We have $1.2 billion on the management. We just raised the $600 million just a few months ago. Had four venture deals and had four gross deals. Historically, Felix was a very. Friendly fund. I would say the flagship deal for Felix and for in particular, is Farfetch.
So there's a lot of consumer deals there. But slowly, Felix extended that to, technologies, helping brands and communities to be successful. That's why they invested in Miracle. For example, they expanded to SaaS, b2e I would say companies like Unwind and Peppi in the women health area to some crypto as well.
Let's say we, we look at the evolution of the journey of the consumer and we try to find, if that makes sense and that could be, the consumer at home, but also at work. And I specifically joined Felix to invest in gaming, which is new for Philly. And I've just done a dealing gaming.
In that space. And also, SaaS and future of work in particular. But we want, when we do SaaS investments, we want to invest in SaaS companies and SaaS products that as many employees as possible really use it and really love using it. We would not do cyber security or dev tools, which are SaaS tools that only a few people in the company use.
But things like un Mind paper, UBI are very good examples of where we think, coming from the world of consumer and having that obsession. User adoption and user retention I think, can help. And my last deal, Colin, which it's one of the, one of the two deals I've done so far is a company called Tradco Company across, London and Paris.
It's an in inventory management software solution. It's a seed deal, $5 million round that we ended, that we led, and the company is helping omnichannel brands, people selling on Shopify, but also selling offline to plan order and finance their inventory more accurately. Most brands and most Shopify merchants use Excel to do that.
It's a mess. Legacy tools are not great as well. You never want to have too much inventory. You never want to have, not enough inventory to sell when you know you have a good thing going on. So using AI and software, looking at the past, looking at what you have today, how the business is evolving, looking at what you are going to see, but also how much we want to invest in marketing.
All of that can help, software to. And to empower, eCommerce and hop runners to forecast, but also to order and finance more accurately. So it's a team that we fell in love with a sector that I, really appreciate as well. we'll see that it's, it's a very exciting company and an extraordinary team.
Talking about a players 30 minutes with the founder. I told myself, Look,we have to back this guy. whatever happens, you will find a way. He will make it work. I had no doubt that it was a company we should be backing, and I'm glad we ended. Winning the competition to back then and to have the pleasure to working, to work with them every day.
[00:18:49] Calin: Do you remember the first meeting with them and how did you build that confidence in 30 minutes? what exactly helped you to build that confidence and say, We have to back them?
[00:18:58] Julien: It’s a company that the Felix team attracted for a while, and so they invited the CEO to come to the investment meeting.
So there was a lot of work and. Before that we, there were also fewer angels that we trust on the cap table. people like Gil, the sea of checkout, I think the sea of CLA was also, on the cap table. The sea of Process out, which is a company checkout acquire was there. So we had a lot of friends that we respected on the cap table.
So the team tracked the company, for the last few months when the CEO started looking for a formal sit round. he was invited to come and pitch. But, so I met. I loved the pitch. I love, how thoughtful he was about the business, how well he knew the business. He was a consultant in inventory management for companies like TECO or DFS for many years.
So he's actually productizing something that he's been selling and providing to the market for many years, and you could see that. You could see a passion for the mission and a deep understanding of the both problems, but also the opportunities that omnichannel brands. But I remember vividly because I told the team, Look, if we don't back someone like that in that sector, which is a very Felix sector, it means we're not doing our job.
Then we had to do the homework and of course, win the deal, which took some time. I remember vividly when I met Joey. I was also, help my partners. The first deal is you have cannot lead. You have to be the psychic and you have to learn from the best. OTO one and helped me a lot to go through that process.
[00:20:16] Calin: In closing, let's get a bit personal. This is actually my favorite part. What was the most challenging period in your career, and how did you overcome it?
[00:20:24] Julien: It was when we decided officially to start workplace as a business at Facebook. When I left Microsoft i told to myself, I will never go back to b2b. Too slow, too boring, b2c, so much fun.
You can scale to billions of people. And six years after I joined Facebook, I was basically asked to go and create a B2B business, a SaaS business, selling to the biggest, the most complicated buyers on the planet. And so when you walk into the office of the CIO of Walmart, or the CIO of AstraZeneca with a Facebook badge, on your T-shirt, you need to have a lot of trust and passion and mission.
It was. It was challenging, but we actually loved it. We love to be the underdog of the SA industry. We love to be able to close these deals. like Walmart that we signed, AstraZeneca, McDonald's, which was a 2 million people size deployment and a size deal. So it was hard because there was no one at Facebook we could go to and say, Hey, teach me how to build the size business.
Teach me how to go to market with a direct sales approach. We stop down world to world. Because it was hard and because we were the underdog, we loved it and we, every deal was an opportunity to prove the market that they were wrong to, maybe to not take it seriously, but it was definitely harder than, building the gaming team at Facebook when we had the most amazing distribution and monetization platform for gaming companies.
people are just coming your way, inbound to work with you. Workplace was very different.
[00:21:47] Calin: What is the best and worst advice you have received?
[00:21:49] Julien: Before joining Facebook, I was always told that as an operator you have to be good at everything. Like you have to be good at partnerships and if you can be good at marketing as well, it's great.
And if you can also be good at accounting on the side, it really helps. I joined Facebook and basically Facebook tells you, just do the thing. You are the best at first because you will enjoy it way more. And two, because we don't want you to do something while you're like health good and health interested.
So that feel is a fear of you. Pushing people. To only work on these things that are the best at, I think, Reveal is the best in operators and in employees. It was a misconception I had for many years that I had to try and be good at everything or to be a rigid at everything. When you join Facebook, people tell you, if you're good at something, if you're the best at something, just do that.
We don't want you to be disrupted by these things. You're not good at, nobody wants that, especially, the employee. But, you, it changed the way I was thinking about tenant manage.
[00:22:47] Calin: Have you taken that now to Felix? Are you telling your colleagues, Look, if you're extremely good at something, just focus on that.
[00:22:52] Julien: It's a bit different, but I know that my skill set at Felix is that a former operator and so this is also why, Felix wanted to hire on me, is that if you need someone to review a term sheet, I'm probably not the best person in the team because I'm still learning. How to do that and how to spot anomalies and opportunities, in a 50 page of stamp sheet.
But as an operator, I love spending time at the boards. I love spending time with sales team, with entrepreneurs, with funders, especially, in SAS and gaming because this is who I come from. And this is the beauty of the partnership we have at Felix, is that if a SAS hop owner wants to talk good to market, I'll be the first one to rush in, and I will be actually extremely happy to do that as often as possible.
So everybody brings a different skillset. Fred is the chief investment officer. He thinks portfolio construction, healthy management and all of that. I don't know thing about that. Making sure that we all optimize for everybody's strengths, I think is a very good thing.
[00:23:43] Calin: What are some trends that get you excited nowadays?
[00:23:44] Julien: I think the consumerization of IT, which is not a new trend, but has been there forever. And people have been talking about that for a while. Slack is a great example of that, or Figma as well is a good example of that. But more generally, SaaS products becoming as good as mobile friendly, as consumer friendly than consumer products is interesting.
And personally, I'm obsessed with, SaaS or IT for the 99%. Which is something I experienced and that I witnessed, firsthand when I was at workplace. But you look at the frontline market, which is a market of 2 billion people who go to work every day, who never had an email, never had a pc, never at a desk.
This is a cohort of employee that has not yet been revolutionized or been augmented or empowered by software like you and. In the last few years, and I think serving these employees, that category of employees, which everybody calls now, critical workers, giving them tools to feel connected, to feel informed, to feel augmented, with bots and AI and all of that.
I think it's a market. I have a lot of passion for my workplace days and we have an investment in that space with Felix in a company called uic. There will be a lot of startup. Going after that category of employee and helping them to, get the job done, but also to be upskilled faster, to learn new things, to be promoted faster and to grow through the rank faster.
And that I think is something I'm super passionate about solving
[00:25:05] Calin: for the rest of 99%,
[00:25:07] Julien: the HR tech and work tech in general is interesting, but that cohort of employees is super interesting to me at least. And it's aligned with the Felix thesis as well, of democratizing it and not just thinking about the 1% who want to pay 60 bucks per month for their SaaS app. There's something else behind that.
[00:25:23] Calin: Inclusion and access. In closing, if Julien from 10 years ago would listen to this episode, What would you tell him?
[00:25:30] Julien: I would tell him that he doesn't need to move that fast and he doesn't need to break everything all the time. , it was one of the principles at Facebook back then, move fast and break things, which I loved.
I felt I was made for that, but I think I pushed it sometimes a bit to the extreme level. And that, it's okay to slow down and, to break everything all the time.