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An interview with Xavier de la Tour, co-founder

   

ith over 6000 registered users, Super Secrétaire is the largest online community of office assistants in France, possibly in Europe.  The site offers information and tools to make its members more productive.  A large library of document templates is one of the most popular features.  Active communication spaces provide the "glue" for the online community.  But that is just the beginning...

We caught up with Xavier De La Tour, Co-Director of Super Secrétaire, in the company's new offices at Republic Alley, Paris' hotbed for Internet start-ups like NPTV and NewsFam.  After having stolen the show at last November's IT-Asset, Super Secrétaire is poised to make a big splash in 2000.

CyberE - In retrospect, Super Secrétaire seems like an obvious winner, but how did the idea come about?

Xavier - The original idea came from our wives.  At first we didn't pay much attention but the more we thought about it, the more it made sense.  Secretaries are often the first to be connected to the Internet in small and medium size companies, they spend a large part of the day in front of their PC and they influence many business purchases.  

Assistants support the organization but where do they go when they need help?  Super Secrétaire fills a need for tools and information while providing a support community. 

With 1.5 million francs in recent Angel financing, Super Secrétaire has passed the first big hurdle in a start-up's life.  Where did the money come from for the first months?  

We were lucky in that the site quickly attracted users with virtually no initial marketing.  We just got the word out to the relevant search engines and experienced viral growth right from the start.  Of course, it wasn't a free ride.  We haven't taken out a salary for the last few months but we were able to start without outside cash.

Our upcoming expansion made it the right time to seek financing.

What exactly does Super Secrétaire got up its' sleeve?

In French, Secrétaire can be separated into two words, "Secret" which has the same meaning as in English, and "taire" which in means to remain silent (smile).  For the really cool stuff, you will have to wait until the launch around April. 

 

The basic idea is to go from a being a community for office assistants into being a productivity tool for office assistants and virtually every other office worker from the top to bottom of the organization.  

In our first months of operations we found that about half of our frequent users were not secretaries but managers in small companies.  We had built the site to serve secretaries.  Half of our customers were using the site as the own personal assistant! 

In the upcoming version of the site we will offer more tools and information to help office assistants do their job better while at the same time providing services for companies in which the boss is the office assistant.  We are really excited about the transition because it grows our potential market by a multiplier and lets us move up in the value we can bring to our customers.

What has been the key to success this far?

Luck and staying focused on our market segment's needs, not necessarily in that order ;-)  

Our alliance with Assistant Magazine has proven very valuable to both parties.  We went to see them early on to explore collaboration options.  We found many areas in which our respective mediums, print and online, could be complementary.  One example is surveys.  Doing them by mail is expensive and cumbersome, doing them online is a breeze.  We simultaneously publish the results.  We also exchange advertising which brings us more traffic and them more subscribers.  It is a win-win situation.

Any advice for other community builders out there?

Listen to your community members, they may lead you to a bigger opportunity.  We started off catering to office assistants but quickly realized that our services could interest a much broader audience.  The transition to becoming the perfect support for all office workers isn't going to be easy but the upside is big.

We are hard at work preparing the next version of Super Secrétaire which should be out in April but we are simultaneously listening to our community for the next big thing... 

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