France Hoang says if he had to choose one word to describe himself, it would be “unemployable.” And yet, his resume is unrivaled.
A Vietnamese refugee, France is a military veteran who served in multiple operations, he served as the Deputy Chief of Police and SWAT Commander for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he clerked for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, he was appointed by President George W. Bush as an Associate White House Counsel and Special Assistant to the President, and he was also the founding member of both a law firm and an aerospace company.
On this edition of Founders Journey, France takes us through his incredible history, how it led him to start his own company, boodleAI, and how his experience has taught him to view entrepreneurship as a public service.
More information: https://boodle.ai/
France Hoang is a veteran entrepreneur who has been on the founding teams of companies that have generated over $600 million of combined sales and employed over 1,200 professionals across the fields of law, aerospace, defense, government services, and artificial intelligence.
France is the co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of boodleAI (www.boodle.ai), a SaaS technology company that finds the best prospects in any contact list. It leverages proven AI/machine learning to rapidly model the untapped data sitting in organizations, along with billions of third party data points, to help organizations achieve significant lifts in conversion, engagement, and retention rates through predictive analytics.
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
France Hoang 0:00
Great entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to serve. I used to think that like, my military service, and then my legal service, were different than being an entrepreneur. Now I realized that all the same.
Alexander Ferguson 0:18
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our Founders journey series. Today I am joined by my guest, France Hoang, who’s based in Colorado, co founder and chief strategy officer at Boodle.ai. This is part two of our discussion, definitely go back and listen to part one, where we understood a bit more about their product, a people focused predictive analytics platform, basically anyone who’s needs to raise money or increase sales for people. This is a platform you want to check out. But in this episode, I want to dive a little bit deeper into your journey, friends that you’ve been on with your co founder of the insights and the lessons learned. And really, how did you get to where you are today? So let’s start there. Like, what what did you do before starting boodle? And and how did that lead to where you are guys where you are today?
France Hoang 1:02
Yeah, a great job. Alexander, the so the journey. So if I could pick one word to describe myself, it would be unemployable. I came over this country as a refugee from Vietnam at 18 months old, grew up in a small town wanting to give back so I joined the army, went to West Point, served in the Army for five years, then came to Washington DC, first group, it became a lawyer, and frankly, wasn’t that great of a lawyer on still ended up working in the White House for previous administration. And then in my mid 30s, because of a poorly developed sense of self preservation, and or a high risk tolerance. I rejoined the army at the age of 35, and went to Afghanistan and served with a US Army Special Forces came back and then probably because my risk tolerance level was pretty amped at that point, became an entrepreneur. And joining the founding team to not just one but two different companies simultaneously, a law firm, and a company that provided real time situational awareness by operating planes, drones and helicopters all around the world. The law firm grew to be dozens of lawyers, several 1000 clients continues today. The other company mag aerospace, has grown to know almost a couple 1000 employees, several 100 million dollars in revenue. I served as the chief strategy officer and we had a private equity turned over a couple of years back and that allowed me to go out and try some other things. And among those things, was making the founding investment and being one of the co founders of boodle
Alexander Ferguson 2:37
what a fascinating journey that I have absolutely not heard anyone else on this series share, which I think is amazing. Have you talked about your your risk tolerance? I mean, being able to go into the military once, not once, but twice. And then going into entrepreneurship? You’re like, yeah, this is easy bulletproof. I can, I can roll with this. And then starting in two different jobs and startups at the same time. They’re I imagine over those years, there’s a lot of insights that you’ve that you’ve gathered now, whether maybe look at Google for a moment, about two, coming up three years, right, next year will be three years they started, if you had to think about like one lesson or one insight that you wish you could just tell yourself, like go back three years ago and say, Hey, you should really know this. What comes to your mind? Yeah, I’m
France Hoang 3:26
gonna make dogs don’t appear to actually because I think they’re both super, super important. And this applies not just Boomer. But all the endeavors I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of. The first is that group entrepreneurs, great entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to serve. I used to think that like, my military service, and then my legal service, were different than being an entrepreneur. Now I realize they’re all the same in the sense that great entrepreneurs are great, I think, partially, maybe all the because, or mostly because they really believe in what they’re doing. They believe in the product or service and building and they believe most importantly, that it’s going to help other people, it’s going to make a difference. And that belief that what you’re doing is going to be of service is actually what drives and sustains you through the hard times. And that kind of brings me to my second point, when you know, people often ask me like, hey, should I become an entrepreneur, you’ve been entrepreneur for 10 years, you seem to really enjoy it. You know, the question I always ask them is, do you love your your product or service your company enough that you’re willing to fail at it? And they’re most of the time they’re taken aback? Like why don’t want to create a company to fail? And I said, well, then you don’t love it enough. You know, you should be you should love what you want to do. You should be so passionate about it, that you would do it even knowing you’re going to fail, because that’s the amount of passion you should have about what you’re building. That knowing from the beginning. This isn’t going to work that you would still do the journey because if you’re only doing the journey because you believe you’re going to be successful, that’s probably not enough because there’s too As we all know, as entrepreneurs, there’s just too many dark times right? what I call with your moments and you can look up what wikihow stands for, that you need something else to drive you.
Alexander Ferguson 5:12
I really am fascinated with that concept of, you’re willing to do it even if you know it fails, because you’re preparing for those dark moments. A lot of people, other founders, I asked what’s your favorite book, they say, the hard thing about hard things where it’s the same going into all the hard moments and how appropriate then that concept of, you’re willing to keep moving forward through that. Wow. Now, for both of these businesses. To begin the journey, you do need some cash, you need fundraising. Obviously, boodles is around fundraising, too. But what insights can you share? Like major mistakes, whether you made it That’s okay, if you don’t want to share that one, but maybe other places? A major mistake when it comes to fundraising that someone else to try to avoid when they’re growing their startup?
France Hoang 5:56
Yeah, I think so we were very fortunate both at the prior company I was in and now with with boodle, we were really fortunate that we raised money, we got more than just money. Look, the money is important. It gives its fuel for the plane you’re building while flying it right and all those great analogies, but the money comes from someone and that someone should be a partner. And so while the money is important, I think the partnership is more. And the intangibles that come from bringing on an investor that not only not only believes in the economics of your business, that there’s going to be the return that believes in the founding team. And it takes a partnership mentality. That’s critical. And I was very fortunate that ad mag we had Claire vest out of Toronto as an incredible partner and boodle. We have Osage Venture Partners out of Pennsylvania. And they both take this very founder centric partner centric approach that comes along with the capital they invested. And that is been critical, I think the biggest mistake that founders make is where they just think about bringing on investor because of the money, right? And don’t think enough about the partnership.
Alexander Ferguson 7:04
So when it comes to that partnership, I mean, what what if you think of your experiences, like what real value Have you seen? Or if you got to, like quantify or even just pull out an exact tactic or experience or like, wow, this is really what what is it? This is what partnership is all about?
France Hoang 7:19
Yeah, so to the extent that entrepreneurship is a journey of failure ship, right, you’re gonna, you’re gonna make mistakes, and you’re gonna have failures. It’d be better if you had a partner that had seen and experienced a number of failures along the way, you can help guide you on what to avoid, right? In other words, I’m a big fan of biographies. Why? Because life’s short. And, you know, if I can read and learn from other people’s mistakes and successes, that helps me because I’m only gonna live one life, right. But if by reading a biography, I can live 20 lives, does the same thing. But having a great partner, they have dozens of companies they’ve invested in, they’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly, and they can impart that wisdom to you as a, as a entrepreneur and a founder on your journey. And whether it’s the first time or the third time, right, you’re never gonna have as much experience as someone who’s been through it 20 3040 times.
Alexander Ferguson 8:15
fundraising is one piece, the next 10 is actually building the team to be able to make it happen. When it comes to hiring and looking for the right candidates and building your team. What have you seen are good tactics or good mindset to have when you’re building your team?
France Hoang 8:32
Yeah, I think, you know, if I was going to give a formula for what a successful company is, it’s 1% idea. 49% people and 50% execution. So the team is absolutely critical. And I think when hiring, you know, obviously, you want people who are competent and capable. But I think most importantly, you want people to fit your culture. And that means you’ve got to think about what culture you have. And culture isn’t something you teach people once they join. Culture is literally right, the people you have. And so every time you make a hire, you’re actually deciding what kind of culture you want. And so I think, as founders, you know, I think the companies that I’ve been, again, blessed to be a part of that been successful. If I could point out one thing that was critical for that success, it was we hired and motivated and retained the people that fit our culture. And that was purposeful, it didn’t happen by
Alexander Ferguson 9:27
accident. How do you determine whether someone’s a good fit for your culture? Like what tools or tactics do you use?
France Hoang 9:34
Oh, it’s a great question. I think first off, you have to know for yourself what kind of culture you want, right? And be able to articulate it. And then I think you need to have like honest conversations right with the people who are prospects and that’s what I’m a big fan of, you know, if if you are, you know, a company that, you know, works hard and plays hard and but expects people to like put in long hours, then be upfront about that, right? Because you don’t want to stop somebody that had a different expectation to join the company. Now there’s conflict, right? If, if you’re a company that expects people to, you know, behave a certain way and in, you know, the way they conduct themselves with your customers, then you should be very clear about that. So I think it’s, it’s about being a knowing yourself and being able to communicate that and then having the courage to communicate that as early as you can in the process, so that people who aren’t a cultural fit self select themselves out.
Alexander Ferguson 10:28
Already, even in the onboarding process, when you’re looking to hire somewhere like, Hey, this is what our culture is, you like it? You don’t okay, but by now, what about as you grow? Obviously, it changes you, the organization, the team moves forward, how big is the team today? We’ve got 26 employees, what would you say is have you found? And maybe it’s not at this point yet, but you have previous experiences as well? Like, what point does it start to change? And how do you have to have like reoccurring conversations around culture and fit? And how does that as a leader, do you have to make those decisions?
France Hoang 11:01
You absolutely have to make those decisions? conversations are good. But you know, there’s a great book, right? What you do is who you are, you’re making decisions about culture every single day, right? The how the decisions you make about how you run the company, the policies you put out, you know, who you allow to stay in the company, right? You know, if somebody, you know, if somebody is a poor performer and you tolerate, then you’re sending signal that poor performance is tolerated, right? So it’s all the things literally everything you do and everything you don’t do, right influences the culture, because it’s sending a message. So I, I, it’s not something you talk about it. I mean, it is, is something you should talk about. But that’s not how you create culture, culture is Action Group that 100%
Alexander Ferguson 11:45
that book suggestion was, what you do is who you are. Okay, I’ll look that up. I like that. Now. You’ve got fundraising, you’ve got money, you got a good partnership there. You’ve got you’ve built a team now, to actually market the product and to get customers, when it comes to marketing in the world that we’re in 21st century, have you seen any common mistakes that people are making and should avoid?
France Hoang 12:09
Yeah, I saw a stat once you know what 97% of Steve seed stage companies fail. And when they did a analysis, one group, right 70% of companies fail, because there’s no market demand. Like literally these companies, these founders built a product or service that nobody wanted to buy. And so there’s I think there’s two critical components of building a successful, you know, startup, you know, one is getting good product market fit, you know, you want to build something that is useful to people and they’re willing to, and you know, it’s useful because they’re willing to pay you for it, right. So that’s, that’s the build part of the equation. But if that’s all you do, you’ve built a really great science experiment, you haven’t built a business. The other part is actually getting traction, right? It’s go to market, it’s, it’s building a business around that product or service, that product market fit and all the things that are involved in that right generating leads and converting those leads and keeping those customers happy with customer success, and then running the finance, the operations and the HR. And so that other component, the go to market is is separate than the first part. And so I think the answer your question, the biggest mistake that I see in among founders is they think the first part is enough, that if I just build a great product or service and have product market fit, that the second part is going to take care of itself. Now sometimes it does, sometimes you have a runaway product that goes viral, that it doesn’t matter, you don’t have to do any go to market because it just takes off, right? But hope is not a strategy. Like I’m not going to hope for a viral hit. Right. So planning out the second part of the go to market is a whole separate exercise different than building a great product or service.
Alexander Ferguson 13:48
Building a great product market fit grid is generally that leads to building a great science experiment, I hope is not a good strategy. That’s a powerful insight. So then when you actually get into the thick of it, and you’re like Alright, what’s the go to market strategy and and reaching out from your experiences? What have you seen have been tactics or, or exact outreaches that have worked really well for you guys?
France Hoang 14:11
Yeah, so two things to go back to what I said earlier, listening to your customers, right? So going routine, what you do, talking to customers, not just about what product they want, but talking to them about marketing, right? Yeah. You know, some of your early evangelists or your earlier customers are going to be early adopters
Alexander Ferguson 14:27
calling them up or like, hey, let’s chat. Like hey,
France Hoang 14:30
I want to expand my business how do I find more people like you and seeing what they say and getting their insights so product you know, that that customer discovery is critical, not just in building a great product, but in building a great business and I think you know, one of the one of the ways to accelerate your go to market is to go back to the customers you’ve been successful women get their insights. On the second thing I would, I would suggest or offer up is just like there’s an expertise in building a product right? You would hire a great CTO, use an expertise in an HR, right? There’s expertise in sales and marketing and bring on professionals. Early on, look, the first sales people in any company will be the founders because they’re passionate, they know their product, they believe in it, right? But to build a repeatable, scalable sales process, you’ve got to bring in expertise. And so whether you that’s someone you bring onto your team, because they have that background, or whether that’s the consultancy, you bring on board from the outside, you got to get it from somewhere. And again, sometimes products that runaway hits, and you you go viral, you don’t really need that. But I think for us mortal entrepreneurs that have to do it the hard way. You know, leveraging people who have the expertise and experiences is in really important in critical
Alexander Ferguson 15:53
thinking of hiring, whether someone has that expertise or getting consultant, how do you know it’s the right time to hire that person? Like he is right at the very beginning? When do you make that decision? Oh,
France Hoang 16:08
that’s a that’s a really hard question to answer, I think it’s going to be different for every business. And again, this is where having a great partner, right is critical. Like I as a founder, how do you begin to answer that question without just talking to people, right, and getting their expertise, if you have a partner, right, if you bring onboard an early investor that has scaled a company, you can have that conversation with them, and they can provide you the insights. And so that’s why the partnership is key, and maybe early on, right? It’s not an investor, maybe it’s a board member, or it’s a board of advisor, right? So, you know, you want to build an A team of advisors, directors, investors, that hopefully make up whatever shortfalls you may have, right, and you’re gonna have many as a founder, where you just don’t have the expertise or experience.
Alexander Ferguson 16:55
This leads us nicely into this conversation around productivity. I mean, as a as a co founder, and as trying to lead the company, your time is so valuable. How do you decide and manage your own time and focus and where it’s where it’s spent?
France Hoang 17:11
Yeah, I think that that question is best answered as part of a team. Right? So I really believe so entrepreneurship is a contact sport, in the sense of like, you want it’s people that matter, right? So you know, if 99% of the equation is people execution, it’s its people. And so when I really believe in founding teams, you know, I’ve never created a company by myself, I’ve always been part of a founding team. And the great thing about a team is, you’ve got camaraderie, and you make up for each other’s weaknesses with with your respective strengths. And so you know, where you spend your time, I think, you that should be a question answered as a team. And so, you know, hey, I’m great at business, you’re great at sales, you’re great at building technology, that’s how we’re going to split our time, right? And now at least we’re not duplicate, you know, duplicative of one another. And let’s fill in that fill it out with advisors and investors and directors that make up for where we’re weak. And now, right, as a as a group, we need to figure out how to prioritize, you know, and, you know, I’ve once heard somebody say that a CEO, or or C level team has three tasks, right? The first is to have vision and guidance for the company. The second is to hire great people. And the third is to make sure there’s enough money in the bank. And so, you know, the Euro question goes to if you take care of number two, three good people in money, right now, it’s just figuring out the direction and the path to get there.
Alexander Ferguson 18:35
Speaking of then, direction and looking forward, what do you see is probably the next biggest challenge for you at Google to keep growing keep moving forward in 2021 and beyond.
France Hoang 18:46
So our challenge, I think, is the one that every you know, company, you know, that is a startup you know, fights with, you know, we have a certain amount of traction we want to get and we have a certain amount of runway to do it in. Now, that’s that’s brass tacks, right? internally what our biggest challenge is, it’s always to delight our customers, right? How do we delight the customers we have? How do we find more customers to delight and how do we do a better job of creating a product or service that can attract the customers we want that can be delighted and so that’s that’s our focus. We’re very, very, you know, kind of maniacal about that focus. It’s easy to imagine because we were passionate about what we do right building this people focused predictive analytics engine and
Alexander Ferguson 19:30
it said that your you love it so much. You’re even willing to fail because you’re just gonna keep pushing to make it happen. Yeah, absolutely. I love it. So for you to defeat yourself, are there any books, podcasts, places that you go to and would recommend for others to read and look at?
France Hoang 19:47
Yeah, I’m a voracious consumer of blogs. So I use Feedly and have like 150 RSS feeds to like, blogs out there. I’m sure. They’re all the kinds of One of the most technological nerves of you know subscribing to, but
Alexander Ferguson 20:04
I don’t what’s your top three blogs, and they just come to your mind curious,
France Hoang 20:07
Oh, geez, a top three. So I’m a big fan of Steve Blank, and the stuff he puts out. He’s also very focused on national security entrepreneurship, which is also another passion of mine. I really enjoy you know, everything put out by kind of like TechCrunch. And, you know, you can pick any one of those five, you know, kind of major blogs that kind of talk about technology, just to keep abreast of what’s going on out there. And I didn’t kind of like, just kind of keep my, my mind open. You know, I subscribed to two courts, and just to get a feed of like, interesting articles and things, you know, other points of view, just to just to keep in a wide aperture.
Alexander Ferguson 20:57
How often do you are you reading in and looking at this as a daily or weekly? How do you set your schedule of I’m going to consume more word insight?
France Hoang 21:04
Yeah, I try to set a time time every day. I think it’s important to like, part of part of being a founder, and part of being, you know, a effective executive in a company is setting aside time to take care of yourself. And for me, like my professional development, you know, learning having being a lifelong learner is part of it care of myself.
Alexander Ferguson 21:29
Kind of the last question, you’re looking forward, future focused, what kind of tech innovations do you predict? We’ll see in the near term next year, so and long term? 510 years?
France Hoang 21:38
Yeah, look, maybe it’s because the field I mean, right, but anything related to data, I mean data and just pick your poison, there are so many applications, I mean, this this air, for all you are looking for a business idea, right? Take anywhere where there’s lots of different datasets, there a way to bring them all together, and then figure out a way to provide useful analytics, whether it’s descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics, that model can be applied to virtually every industry and a whole host of problems. And while we have generic tools that do that, I think you’re gonna see more and more kind of granular applications of it. And so there’s so much opportunity in that world of, of data and insights and, and helping helping customers solve their problems that they currently have.
Alexander Ferguson 22:28
Just mix and match, find a data science or problem and assigned to an area solution, you can create a new new product. I love it. Thank you so much for the insights and the tips and the journey that you’ve been on and sharing your own mini biography of what you’ve been on. Thank you so much, friends. Thank you. So definitely for those that want to hear more about boodle go back to part one of our interview and you can hear more about their product or people focus predictive analytics platform you can go also go to boodle.ai. This is UpTech Report our founders journey series. Thanks again for joining us. Our sponsor for today’s episode is TeraLeap. If you want to learn how to leverage the power of video in marketing and sales, head over to TeraLeap.io and learn about the new product customer stories. Thanks so much everyone, and we’ll see you next time. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTechreport.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.