Mathilde Collin, co-founder and CEO of Front. Image courtesy of Front.
Parisians Mathilde Collin and Laurent Perrin wanted to build a company that could help people be happier at work, so they went back to the basics and took a cold hard look at one of the most critical work tools -- email.
A year after graduating from HEC School of Management, Collin teamed up with Perrin to build Front, an email management platform that streamlines communication for teams.
“I founded Front because I wanted to challenge the status quo,” Collin told The Org. “I had been working in sales at a software company for a year, so I decided to take on email because I had seen first-hand how much time I was spending in my inbox, how much more efficient we could be as a team if we had the proper tools for that, and I knew that millions of other people were in the exact same situation.”
This idea led the founders to Mountain View, California where they participated in YC’s accelerator program. Today, the company has over 6,500 businesses using its platform, including Shopify, Dropbox, Airbnb and Mailchimp, to name a few.
The platform has raised over $138 million in funding and is backed by prominent venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, the investors behind well-known startups including Airbnb, WhatsApp and Dropbox.
Reflecting back on the early days of Front, Collin is grateful that she found someone that genuinely believed in her vision for the company as much as Patrick Collison -- the CEO of Stripe -- did.
“Having someone, specifically the CEO of a company I respected, who believed in me gave me the confidence to make big leaps later on that led to Front’s success.”
Practicing radical candor and vulnerability
Founders often shy away from talking about the emotional toll that building a startup can have on them, but Collin believes that practicing radical candor and vulnerability is critical in driving better business outcomes.
On the morning of March 17, 2020, Collin, who was three and a half months pregnant with her first child, woke up to an anxiety attack. She was stressed about the future of Front, and the uncertainty tied with the pandemic.
“Instead of bottling up my emotions and throwing myself into work, I immediately made a virtual appointment to see my therapist, scheduled a hypnosis session and uninstalled Twitter from my phone. To be a better leader for my team, I knew at that time I needed to focus on my health first,” Collin said.
She opened up to her entire company at an All Hands meeting about her experiences with anxiety and the coping mechanisms she had put in place to help manage her struggles.
“As a business leader, if you can be vulnerable in front of your team, even when society or popular opinion might tell you to show resolve, you will build a more trusting, empathetic team.”
Collin is a strong advocate for prioritizing mental health. After experiencing burnout in 2016, she turned to therapy and looked into ways to find a healthier work-life balance. Now, the first thing she does every morning after waking up is meditate.
“As a CEO, I'm solving problems every single day and meditation enables me to approach these situations in the right headspace and as the best version of myself. I’m able to live in the moment, be fully present, and not get caught up with emotions. So this practice isn’t only beneficial for myself, but also my company, employees and my family,” she said.
Collin added that she also work apps from her phone to maintain work-life balance and she challenges her employees to reduce the amount of time they spend on their phones too. In 2019, she held a company-wide challenge where she encouraged employees to reduce their screen time to less than two hours a day, and if they did she paid them $200 per month.
Founder Files Q&A:
What have been some of the biggest challenges starting your company?
One hard part, that certainly caused me a lot of anguish at the beginning, was to constantly second guess all parts of the business. In retrospect, things would have been easier if I had made my leap of faith (starting the company), and then had the discipline to stick to it and be patient for a while. If you work hard at making something people want, and work on it for long enough, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t have anything to show for it in the end, so you can save yourself a lot of stress by not questioning everything.
What does a day in your life look like?
As CEO, my day is split into four main roles. I’m a people manager, I’m the public face of the company, I’m responsible for our financial situation, and I’m a major decision maker. These various roles demand specific things from me every day. The manager part of my day consists of being a support system for my employees, whether that's 1:1 meetings, weekly syncs or an All Hands meeting with the company. As the public face, I chat with podcast hosts and journalists about the future of our industry. I’m in charge of funding, of making sure we have enough resources to reach our objectives. Lastly, it’s my job to make difficult decisions that no one wants to make. At the heart of it though, my job is about building relationships. No one creates anything on their own, you need people to lend a hand however they can, so my most important duty is to forge many strong relationships.
If you were in any other role at Front, what would you be?
I’ve always loved internal communications. It plays a huge role in supporting employee motivation and engagement and that’s what I care about the most.