June 8, 2022

A story of contacts and comebacks

Discover folk - the CRM for people-powered businesses

Contact managers are among the most commonly installed apps. Hundreds of millions of instances exist on nearly every phone, PC or Mac. Yet nobody uses them, except as address books when looking for a phone number or email. This is something of a paradox: it’s a product that everyone has, but that nobody needs.

So, why are we convinced that there is an opportunity in reinventing the contact manager? We believe that a network is one of the most important assets both for individuals and for organizations. But we think that extracting value from a contact book requires it to be organized, up-to-date, and to make it easy to activate contacts. Current contact managers are dead contact lists unable to deliver this value. Our ambition is to enable individuals and companies to tap into their network’s value by turning their contact book into a smart and actionable database of contacts.

Humble beginnings

It all started as an internal tool custom-built for our needs at eFounders. Back in 2013, we realized that one of our greatest assets as a studio was our network and we developed, with François and Vianney, a tool to help us manage it collaboratively. ContactX — as we called it — was little more than a shared address book for everyone of eFounders to connect their contact sources and share their network. Contacts could then be organized into groups — which we used for investors, journalists, pilots, and candidates. We also implemented campaigns — defined as a subset of contacts intended to be actioned — the advancement of which could be tracked through a Kanban view.

ContactX ended up becoming the hub for our network and our secret weapon to grow and activate it. Finally, in 2017, we decided to open it up as an independent project. We partnered up with a team of brilliant entrepreneurs — Noe and Ronan — and built the first public version of the product for over a year. folk was born. However, it wasn’t long until we decided to put the project on hold: after several months and many attempts to get pilots on board, Folk still hadn’t reached product market fit.

Key learnings

With the benefit of hindsight, there are two main reasons why folk failed the first time.

  • First, faulty product design. folk worked like a shared address book which fit our needs at eFounders perfectly — we work in a small, high-trust environment — but didn’t work for other kinds of organization. Very few people were willing to automatically share their contacts, even in a small group.
  • Second, wrong go-to-market strategy. The design of the product induced a top down strategy. folk had to be deployed within a team or an organisation. However, when it comes to productivity software it’s always complicated to find the right person internally to implement it.

After putting the project on hold, we kept the landing page up with a message warning visitors that we wouldn’t be giving access any more and that the product wouldn’t be maintained. Despite that, we continued to get a lot of leads coming from the website, watching the screencast, and insisting for access. It was very frustrating for us to not be able to open the product to those who requested it — however doing so would have been impossible without a proper product. We continued using it internally, but temporarily closed off all external users.

A year later, motivated by the constant flow of people asking for access to a dead product and inspired by the rise of a new wave of bottom-up productivity tools like Notion, Airtable, Superhuman or Slite, I decided to try again. I started to rethink the application from the ground-up and have worked during a few weeks wire-framing a brand-new folk. Once again, I started looking for a CTO. I found Cyril who started coding the new version from scratch in June.

Rebooting folk

We didn’t just flip the lights back on onto the old product, we completely redesigned the way folk works:

  • First, we built folk for individuals first. When you start using folk, you’ll import your contacts from your own sources to unify your network in one place. Then, you can create groups of contacts and decide which of these groups you share with the rest of your team. It might seem like a small detail, but it completely shifts our way of addressing the market: starting with individuals instead of organizations.
  • Second, groups help organize your contacts. Whether they are personal or shared groups, they can be modified and viewed by members who have access to it — creating a collaborative object, like pages in Notion, channels in Slack, or Inboxes in Front.
  • Third, folk is more than just an address book. We’ve thought of it more as a productivity tool to be used every day when you action contacts. That’s how we came up with the notion of “views”. A view can be derived from a group to make it actionable — like a Kanban view, a calendar view, or a database view. A view is a visual representation of a contact list geared towards action. Our table view provides a database representation of a list of contacts with the possibility of adding custom fields. Our Kanban view provides a flow representation. The whiteboard view gives a spatial representation. An org-chart view represents a hierarchical structure. And our calendar view allows for a time-based visualization. These views turn Folk into a contact-centric application for a large range of use cases.

This redesign is instrumental in helping folk reach an audience that will start using the software for themselves, and then use it in their organization for many different use cases.

But it’s still a bet. Even though we’re already using the new folk for eFounders, we still haven’t put the products in the hands of a large numbers of users. We have thousands people waiting to become pilots — and should have a better idea of whether we’re delivering the value we want pretty soon.

If you’re looking to get the most out of your network and experience first-hand our new approach to contact management, you can sign up to our beta. The folk beta is on invitation-only, for now 😉