Stéphanie Cardot: Entrepreneurship Teaches You to Push your Limits - Always!

Stéphanie Cardot is the Founder and CEO of TO DO TODAY, a company which designs and implements work-life balance and well-being programs for the workplace.

Created in 2001, TO DO TODAY (TDTD) offers companies a portfolio of talent retention and attraction tools to assist employees to balance their private and professional lives, including on-site well-being facilities, concierges, child care and fitness centres.

Stéphanie is also Administrator of FESP (a union dedicated to companies offering services to people); Vice President of the Club L Femmes Forum (a women's forum); and sponsor of the l'Observatoire des Etats Généraux de la Femme 2010 (Observation of the General Status of Women 2010).

Before creating TO DO TODAY, Stéphanie held a Business Development position at Deloittes in New York and co-founded an auctions company in Paris and New York

We spoke to Stéphanie about how she uses technology to grow her business; how to inspire loyalty in employees; and how she balances her personal and professional life!

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch TO DO TODAY? 

SC: Both my parents are successful entrepreneurs, each in their own field, so there is probably some genetics involved.

I worked in NY (1995 -1999), as part of a team in charge of Diversity, WIN and Community Relations programs.

Back in France, I met with top CEOs and tried to push the concept of corporate responsibility. This resulted in deafening silence and ironic smiles.

To give it some time, I invested in a totally different venture: a Paris and NY-based auction house that was going to defeat Sotheby’s and Christie’s! No time to do so, since my business partner ran off with the money. Trying, but positive, entrepreneurship was definitely my calling. I just had to choose my partners more carefully next time. I then came up with the concept behind TO DO TODAY:

  • Provide actual content for companies’ CSR and HR policies, before they even knew they needed it.

  • Reject the idea that a 10% unemployment rate is inevitable in a country where services are scarce.

  • Make it happen in a country where innovation in the service industry is non-existent, the tax and legal environment changes every day, companies are reluctant to change.

Reckless? Maybe… But I was infuriated by the “if it does not exist, it means it cannot work”.

The concept of physically implementing time saving and wellbeing services in the office building rather than providing them from a distance was first. Women, Gen Y, seniors, high level and low level staff all need to delegate daily chores; easy access and logistics are key.

Finding a profitable and scalable business model was next. TO DO TODAY is labour intensive and costly (employer charges here exceed 55% of base salaries). To justify our rates, we had to position ourselves as business-to-business service providers and have the corporate client cover our costs, as well as our margin, with long-term contracts.

Convincing our prospects is last. We focused on the “how to”: full time staff, customized training, ISO 9001 certification, a proprietary information system.

started this business because I was convinced I had found a virtuous circle to achieve sustainable growth, anticipate the needs of corporate clients, increase wellbeing of employees and create jobs.

I also motivate my people to exceed client expectations, retain clients, expand the service offer and increase revenues over time. 

It took several years but it worked: prestigious clients (HP, Alcatel, PwC, Axa, GDF Suez), a 60% market share in France, our first foreign sub in 2013, a staff turn-over < 6% and profits!

TNW: How has technology fueled the growth and success of your company? 

SC: Technology was, and remains, key to the success of the business. Prior to launching the first corporate concierge site, we developed a proprietary information system enabling us to:

  • Create distinct and secure client bases allowing us to track all users & their preferences, buying pattern of our services at each corporate client site.

  • Efficiently track all orders in real time, with a direct link with vendors.

  • Bill automatically thousands of employees on a monthly basis.

Not only has this system enabled us to serve our clients efficiently over time and secure/structure the service process, but since it is web-based, it allows for quick duplication from one client site to another, both nationally and internationally.

Although we firmly believe that services must be personalized (and not virtual), with the Concierge at the center of client relations, the possibilities offered by new technologies open up new and complementary ways for clients to access our services.

As mobile devices are fast becoming an essential part of our everyday life, we are meeting this growing need by developing on-line portals and smart phone applications which are linked to our information system allowing clients to order on-line.

TNW: Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company.

SC: Initially, I thought that banks and investment funds would be interested in the business. Banks declined financing TDTD, since there was a risk involved. Investments declined, since TDTD was a whole new concept. They suggested that I got back to them once the business had proved successful.

I raised funds with friends and family first, then business angels. Funds were used principally to finance IT developments and the initial investments required to set up a business in France (legal, tax, etc.). An investment fund then purchased 20% of the equity, allowing us to finance the expansion of the management team, needed to absorb a very strong growth.

Since then, our cash flow being positive, we have not raised any more funds, financing our investments directly.

TNW: What is your marketing strategy and what has been the most effective source of new customers so far?

SC: Since our targets are big companies and real estate investors, our marketing strategy is mostly based on our reputation.

Our experience and reputation has led to strong internal growth within our client’s company. After an initial “test” on one site most of our clients roll-out the program to multiple sites, or expand the program they have implemented for their employees or tenants.

In terms of acquisition of new clients, our clients are our best sales reps! We have built a strong and recognizable brand in France, and our clients reinforce this image in their interactions with their peers.

In addition, our concierges on the ground communicate regularly with their customers (our clients’ employees), by providing new ideas and new services to facilitate their work/life balance. Customer loyalty and repeat business is key to the success of our services, so each Conciergerie has an annual marketing plan with events, promotions, targeted offers etc.

TNW: What is next for TO DO TODAY? As you look to scale your business, how can technology, capital and networks help?  

SC: Our next step, scheduled for the 2nd semester of 2013, is to bring the TDTD concept to other markets, starting with European countries.

Technology plays an important role in our expansion by contributing to the smooth duplication of our system and processes abroad.

Our services do not exist on such a large scale in other European countries, so we will be launching new services in new markets. In this context, networks such as DWEN can definitely help us identify early-adopters and are vital to expanding our prospect base and building our reputation abroad. This is in addition to the initial contacts made with those of our corporate clients looking to harmonize their best HR practice globally.

TNW: TO DO TODAY helps companies offer their employees a greater balance between professional and personal life. As an entrepreneur, how do you try to find this balance in your own life?  

SC:

Perfect balance is impossible to reach but I have learned overtime to manage “guilt”. 

I try my best, have a wonderful team at the office and the most perfect husband (although also an entrepreneur!) at home.

From a personal standpoint, being an entrepreneur had taught me that I can always go beyond what I thought my limit was. And thanks for that because my three little ones don’t cut me any slack!

Because I value my time, I delegate to TDTD all my daily chores and make a point in being available for my kids and other important matters, such as my community involvements. And if it means working nights to be available during the day, so be it!

TNW: What advice would you give to business owners who may have limited budget, but would like to create an atmosphere for their employees which inspires loyalty?

SC:

Loyalty cannot be bought. To me, values and clarity are the prerequisites.

Defining, sharing and abiding by a clear vision of the strategy, the company’s do’s and don’ts, HR standards, training and potential personal development come first.

Once these business fundamentals are up and running, then employee services programs (Concierge services, fitness and wellness centers, day care centers etc.) can come into play and reinforce corporate values and HR strategy.

Our objective is to design programs according to the needs of our clients whilst respecting their budget. The services are tailor-made according to the client’s budget, and flexible so that they can grow over time if the client’s budget evolves.

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors? What about a motto which sums up your approach to business, or to life? 

A role model:

My grand-mother who, at 94, remains the “Evening Star” in my life for her professional and personal accomplishments: independence, generosity, guidance, open-mindedness, courage.

A mentor:

My father, a successful, global, serial entrepreneur, with whom I have been working closely with for the past 12 years, and who has been relentlessly pushing me to seek excellence for 40 years.

A motto:

Never take no for an answer! Stick to your vision without compromising on principles and work harder: success will result.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN? 

SC: DWEN has allowed me to meet an extraordinary group of people, who feed both my curiosity and vision. The network is extremely useful to approach new territories: sharing experience on how to do business in foreign markets and what business trends are locally with native entrepreneurs both facilitate and accelerate the decision process when defining a “going global” strategy.

TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you would like to share with our community?

SC:

Have you noticed how entrepreneurship teaches you to push your limits always?!

The Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN)celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

In late 2011 and early 2012, The NextWomen partnered with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series. We're very excited to relaunch the series in 2013 with a further five fantastic interviews.

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