We talked to Amédée Levillain of Knowa on how to enable directors, advisers and stakeholders to meet, collaborate, and access all of the Board’s knowledge in a single, secure ecosystem and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Amédée Levillain: The pandemic has forced change on everyone, so we’ve all had to find different ways to adapt our daily lives. As the founder of a tech startup, it’s incredibly energising to see the pace at which tech adoption took hold over 2020. But there are some things that technology and human agility cannot replace – for my family and me. It’s the limited face-to-face interactions with friends and family that we’re missing the most.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Knowa.
Amédée Levillain: I started in investment banking at JP Morgan. I grew frustrated with the quality of advice UK pension scheme sponsors were receiving from their advisers. So I decided to do something about it and co-founded a pension consulting business, Zephyrus Partners. I’m proud to say that twelve years later, the company continues to grow and be successful.
It was this same desire to challenge the status quo, which led me to co-found Knowa. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly aware that sitting on the board of a company, charity or pension scheme is a complicated task. Yet no one had developed a solution to truly help these directors and trustees become the most effective board members.
As an advocate for the use of technology in business and alumni of Singularity U, it was maybe inevitable that I would look to solve these problems myself. Our ambition at Knowa is to maximise board members’ headspace by removing and automating the tasks to which they add minimal value –for example, searching through disparate sources of information. We’re proving with Knowa that is possible by curating the best tech and combining it with a strong focus on design.
How does Knowa innovate?
Amédée Levillain: You will struggle to bring truly innovative ideas into long-established industries if the only voices you listen to are from those already within the industry. So from the start, Knowa has prioritised how the diversity of views and expertise can help us build the best experience possible for board members.
Knowa is a design-led solution – something we try to remind ourselves of every day. We aim to delight and help our users’ leverage technology by delivering the best experience and innovation that our users need.
As a curator of software, it has also been crucial to remain agile and adapt Knowa to complement the latest innovation seen elsewhere. So whilst we have our favourite software solutions today that integrate well with Knowa (like Airtable) we’re always looking out for new ideas and ways to improve a director or trustee’s working life.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Amédée Levillain: The pandemic has put a real spotlight on aboard’s ability to govern remotely, and as a result, interest in Knowa is booming. Directors and trustees are no longer willing to settle for the friction they experience when navigating between their meeting pack tools, KPI dashboards, online document repositories and email/messaging tools. They expect to log in to a single platform that gives them all of this and more.
The team has to juggle all this accelerated demand for demos, pilots and onboarding new clients whilst also delivering our ambitious product roadmap. Of course, there have been some tough and busy times for all of us, but it has been overwhelmingly positive when we look back at what we achieved in 2020.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Amédée Levillain: There are choices to make every day in a startup, and the pandemic has undoubtedly increased the need to make the difficult ones swiftly. It has also emphasised the need to challenge our ways of thinking and be willing to go back on decisions if needed – to be open to contradicting ourselves and reconsider a problem that we previously thought we had solved.
The pandemic threw multiple curveballs, and from a product perspective, we revised our beliefs when needed, even if it meant some investments were side-lined. We’re big believers in Peter Thiel’s Zero to One – start small and dominate a niche. When you have a great idea, you will always want to deploy on multiple markets, but it’s a tempting curse. So we made the hard decision to choose our niche where we can offer a solution that is 10x better and 10x cheaper and stick to it. The lesson learned is that it works.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Knowa in the future?
Amédée Levillain: Stress and anxiety drive me. I continually want the best from myself, the team, and from the solutions, we are delivering. I am always stressed, and anxious that we never compromise: We still pursue the optimal outcome. So it is the right kind of stress. Whilst I may have a vision for the future, I have learnt over the years that it is your clients and users who have a plan for you and your company. So the key is to deliver the best product and then listen to them to make it even better.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Amédée Levillain: We’re pursuing a blue ocean strategy, so we’re not directly in competition with others. Some successful companies offer meeting pack functionality, but these tools cannot collaborate outside the boardroom nor integrate with other products. Technology and board room requirements progressed years ago, but inertia and complacency have meant that the solutions have never bothered to catch up. The key to our future success is our agility. We’re committed to recognising when technology moves on, and to roll with it. And when it inevitably does, we’ll ensure we provide the best user experience so clients can seamlessly access the technology and its benefits within their Knowa ecosystem.
Your final thoughts?
Amédée Levillain: For me, the exciting thing that the coronavirus pandemic has shown is that boardrooms arent slow to evolve; they’re not full of dinosaurs. They need to see innovative technology that makes sense and helps them deliver the best outcome for shareholders and employees.