The Stack Overflow Podcast

An algorithm that optimizes for avoiding ennui

Episode Summary

We chat with Guillaume Clement, Chief Operating Officer of the video platform Dailymotion, about his journey from Program Director to VP of Engineering to CTO and finally COO. Clement also reveals some hard truths about the recommendation engines that guide our consumption of digital content and Dailymotion's plans to build a system optimized for users' health, not their watch time.

Episode Notes

You can learn more about Clement's career on his LinkedIn and on Twitter (assuming you speak French).

You can learn more about Dailymotion here and check out the roles they are hiring for here.

You can find Cassidy Williams on Twitter and at her website

You can find Ceora Ford on Twitter and at her website.

Our Lifeboat badge winner of the week is Swati Kiran, who helped solve an error causing permission problems in an angular app.

Episode Transcription

Guillaume Clement What we do, is we want to give to the world a platform where you don't feel you waste your time. You feel you learn, or you feel emotionally fulfilled. It's not a learning platform; it's not a self-development platform. But you feel emotionally fulfilled and you understand why you have that type of content recommended. You understand why you have different points of view and opinions around a given item and we want to do that in a safe way so that you won't get harmful content. We want to make sure that you won't leave the platform because it has damaged your mental health.

[intro music plays]

Cassidy Williams Alright, hello everybody! Welcome to the Stack Overflow podcast. My name is Cassidy Williams and I'll be your host today along with Ceora Ford. 

Ceora Ford Hi everyone! 

CW We are super excited to have a guest today, Guillaume, and he is the COO of Dailymotion. Dailymotion is a French video sharing technology platform, and we're super excited to have you on the show, Guillaume. 

GC Thank you very much, Cassidy. Thanks for having me. I'm super excited to be with you today as well. 

CF Yeah, we're excited to have you.

CW Could you tell us a little bit more about Dailymotion? 

GC Yeah, of course. Dailymotion is a video platform that has been there for a long time, actually more than 15 years. So we've been in that space for quite a long time. And we've seen that industry evolving. We actually do two things. We provide to publishers a complete suite for the publishers to manage video content. I have to say that we added recently the ability to manage audio content as well. So we provide a complete suite end-to-end for content management, content distribution, and content monetization as well for publishers everywhere at a global scale. And in addition to that, we own and manage and the associated apps as a destination platform. So that's the two things we do with Dailymotion. 

CF Very cool. And can you tell us a little bit more about what you do at Dailymotion? What your day-to-day is like?

GC As the Chief Operating Officer, my role is to make sure that the entropy is reduced to its minimum, basically between all the teams, and make sure we deliver. But I think concretely, it means making sure we have the right strategy set according to capability. Because the industry we're working in is probably one of the most competitive industries out there at the moment if you look at the competitors. So, it’s to make sure we have a strategy that makes sense, something that can differentiate us and have the ability to take you through, and make sure we can execute on a day-to-day basis. Making sure we have the right resources, we have the right talents, we have the right plan. And down the road, making sure we deliver value to our vision. 

CW It seems like a really cool space to be in, especially because video is booming and has been booming forever and audio as well. And so it's kind of cool that you're breaking into that space. What brought you to Dailymotion? What excited you about it when you first joined, however long ago that was? 

GC That was 2013. So nine years now. Whoa, I did not realize.

CW Nine years ago. Dang!

GC When I joined, I took a role that was about making sure the engineering team can scale. So that was about Dailymotion moving from 50 engineers to approximately 100. And I took the job thinking it's a transformation job and it's going to be for 12 months or 18 months. And it's been nine years. But don't get me wrong, I'm done with that part of the first mission I had to do. I've done different jobs down the road from that role to CTO, CPO, and now Chief Operating Officer. I think what took me to Dailymotion is, as you say, the video industry, the audio industry, it's a growing market. It's really growing fast and it's actually very cool to work in a market that is growing, than the opposite. But the second thing, I have to be honest, that attracted me to Dailymotion is to be not the underdog, but to be a bit smaller than the other player in the area, but still with great values, great talents, and how can we still have a great story while we are a smaller company? I think I've been attracted by the challenge. 

CF Oh, that's really cool. I was thinking to myself when I heard about your responsibilities of helping with scaling and strategy and all that kind of stuff. When I think about those kinds of things it stresses me out. And I can imagine that at a lot of companies, especially at startups, you're trying to make a name for yourself in a space, especially like video, where it can be hard to stand out. I can imagine that that can be something that can seem very daunting. So for you day-to-day, how do you manage that part of it? It seems like you're more excited by it than I think most people would be but I would love to hear about how you think about strategy in a way that makes it less daunting and more like a problem that you and your team are equipped to solve. 

GC Yeah, I think it's not all about the way we're organized, but it's a lot about the way we're organized. Being not necessarily the smallest, but a small player in that space obviously comes with some challenges. But it comes with positive things about the ability to react fast, about our ability to be close to our clients and partners and users and customers. If you have more flexibility, you are in a higher velocity, and your ability to adapt is faster. The decision process is really fast. It's all about the way you organize the team and you industrialize your prediction engine. It's all about that. And in addition, I have to be honest and say that I'm blessed. It's the best of the talents you manage to recruit. We have to say that in order to do what we do with the size of the team [we have], the way we hire and the people we have, let's be honest, they're great. And that makes a big difference. 

CW The company is headquartered in Paris. Are most people in Paris at the company or is it a mostly remote company now?

GC So it's mostly a remote company now. The original headquarters is in Paris. We still have a lot of people in France and in Paris, but I'm seeing France more than Paris. We have offices and people everywhere in France, but actually everywhere in the world. We're global. I think it's important. We have offices in New York. We have a team in the US, a team in APAC. 15 years ago it was a French founded company and they were focusing on the French market and this is no longer the case. The French market is not even 10% of all jobs globally. Now we really have global jobs with global offices. So we're remote, I would say, but globally remote in a way. Globally distributed.

CW How has the transition in the pandemic been with everybody being much more fully remote? I'm sure because you already had offices everywhere your offices were well equipped for that. But did that affect your day-to-day operations that you did have to plan for because of that? 

GC I have to say that we were very lucky for two reasons. Reason one, one of our core principles and core values is 'Caring Matters' that we do have at Dailymotion, and we do care about our people and we do care about what they go through and how we operate and how we can make sure they're safe and feel safe while they operate and work with us. So the first thing I have to say is because of those values and the way we implement that on a daily basis, we already had the framework to take care of our people during that transition. And the second reason why we were lucky is because of the nature of our business, the tools, the equipment we have, the infrastructure, the software. Everything was, I would not say a hundred percent ready to go from non-remote to fully remote in no time, but I would say 90% of it was ready. So we had a couple of stuffs to deal with like extra licenses for the content system that we did not plan ahead, that we had to tag a bunch of stuff to do with some providers that were distributed globally that needed to access the VPN and scale up the VPN. For example, the VPN was not sized for that amount of remote people working through the VPN. 

CW Oh, I'm sure. 

GC Yeah. You know what I mean? Other than that, we managed to move from non-remote to fully remote overnight and we did take the decision prior to the government asking us and pushing us as a company to push for remote. So we were a bit ahead on that. Again, based on that vision that caring for our people is the most important thing for us, this is really what we have at the end of the day. Of course, we own our infrastructure and stuff like that, but at the end of the day what makes us different is our people. 

CF I think that might be a pretty rare circumstance. I think quite a few companies kind of struggled when everything had to go remote. So it was awesome to hear that that wasn't the case for you and everyone at Dailymotion. I wanted to take a step back a little bit and kind of hear more about what your career journey was like, or career path I should say, at Dailymotion.

GC Yeah, that's a great question. I often get that question and I'm not sure I have the best answer to that because I did not spend much time thinking about what would be a great answer to that. But prior to me joining Dailymotion, I worked [for a] couple of years in the media space for an American consulting company. And what I learned in that company is [that] everything is important if you want to succeed, not personally, but as a team. Everything is important. It means that I never really made a choice between, "I want to be a product specialist, or I want to be a technology specialist? Or I want to be an organization specialist? Do I want to be a management specialist? Do I want to be a people specialist?" And I refused to take a decision. I said, "What if I'm a specialist for everything?", which might sound a little bit arrogant, but at least it was the vision. 

CF What would you say are some of the issues that maybe you didn't expect, or even some that you did expect, and how did you navigate those and hopefully overcome them as well?

GC I have to say that I started to be a COO during the pandemic as well. So I don't know which one brings the highest level of challenges, if it's the pandemic or if it's being a COO, we will never know. 

CW Might be a healthy combo of both. 

GC Yeah. I think the complexity really in my role is to make sure that all the teams are aligned on the vision and the strategy. And then once it's done, let's say from the very top of it, then making sure that every stage of the rocket will align and we have everything in place to reduce the entropy when we operate. And this is one of the things that prior to my COO role actually, I started with the team to put together our new organization model and release that model about how we want to work to make sure we are as efficient as possible, and being efficient while we're probably a small company in that industry, but we're not a small company. It's 300 people that you need to make sure work together hand-in-hand, fully remote, during a pandemic, while you continue to recruit and onboard new people that you've never seen. This is not a job that you do alone so this is not just me. This is me and the team and the other department and the people department, and how do we take care of that? But I think the organizational model is very important for us to succeed in such a challenging industry. 

CF I think I've discovered that communication is one of the hardest things to get right. So I'm interested in hearing how you view communicating, collaborating across a distributed team, and how you've managed to do that. Especially switching from an in-person environment to remote, to being mostly based in France to being fully distributed. 

GC It's a very, very good question. And I think the person who has the absolute correct answer to that question is going to be very, very successful if she or he writes a book about it, from my point of view, but it's definitely not easy. It's really not easy. And again, going back to the way we're organized, I think it's very important to do a bunch of things that facilitate and nurture a good environment to be successful, and making sure the communication is smooth and people feel great in contributing to the overall project. I think it's about being able to know exactly what we're doing as a team and as an individual. So what is it that we want to do? What is my impact as a talent into that bigger picture? So it's about having a purpose as a team, and having a clear vision of how as an individual I'm going to impact that purpose. That's the two first things that I would say. I think it's very important as well to recognize and acknowledge the skills of everyone and be able to create an environment where you feel safe to express yourself. I think safety is a notion that took me time to realize, that as a manager, the best thing I can do for my team is not always to clarify what KPI we'll go after, but making sure I can create an environment that is safe for the people, that they can express their doubts, concerns. That they feel listened to, that they feel they can have an impact. So if you set right the purpose, if every individual understands the impact they're going to have into that overall purpose, so that they know why they do the work. It's not just [that] they know what to do. It's why they do the work. If you create an environment where they feel safe and if you're clear on the ownership as well, I have to say. Someone needs to decide what we do. Someone needs to decide when we do, someone needs to decide how we do, and it cannot be the same person. Some people are great at deciding how we should do things. Some people are great at deciding when we should do things because the organization cannot sometime. And some of the people are great at what we do but don't know when and don't know how. But if you combine that, then you've got a great recipe to make sure it can work. So, purpose, knowing your impact, safe environment, and the ability to know what everyone brings into the picture, be clear about that. I will not say that's the perfect recipe, but if you manage to do that you'll already have something solid in place.

CW I love that so much. I think the aspect of psychological safety on a team, to be able to bring things up and chat out problems, things you like, things you don't like. That's something that I think, especially a lot of new managers, don't realize how important it is, because you can say, “You can come to me with anything!”, but if they feel like that might not go well, they won't. Being able to build that kind of environment is a real skill to be able to develop and show people that they can trust you as a manager and that you'll do right by the team. 

CF Yeah, absolutely. I never thought that the person who knows what to do, how to do it, when to do it, could all be different people. That's something really interesting that I'm going to try to take to my job as well. One question I wanted to bring up, too. We've talked a bit about how you operate internally, and we've talked a bit about what you do at Dailymotion and what the company as a whole does. And I think we all kind of understand that Dailymotion is in video, right? And that's a market that's pretty crowded. So I want to hear, what does Dailymotion do that makes them stand out in a market that is hard to stand out in?

GC I think there are two sides of the business, as you understood. We have a B2B business where we provide solutions to publishers and businesses. I have to be honest with you, we have the best content management, distribution, and monetization platform out there. The reason is more than 15 years of experience running that and implementing that. So the team we have has managed to put us at the highest on down from management, distribution, monetization. We own the entire chain so we can customize it. We know that it's transparent and that's what makes us very different. So we don't rely on anyone else than us to do it. So that means we own the product, we know how we can impact the product very, very, very fast. And the second thing that is important in that business is because we've been executing this and optimizing this over 15 years, we do that with a very efficient cost, which is great news for our partners. So, they can save money and they can actually generate money with our solution which is quite unique. On the B2C side of things, which is the destination side of things so and the app, we made a pivot a couple of years ago after the acquisition by Vivendi where we had to get rid of all the crap. The platform was full of crap, crap content, that was not great and the premise was not there. So we had to rebuild from scratch the platform and we had to focus on professional media and publishers in terms of content. And what we do here is a unique platform that is safe for all users. And we do have plans for the next years. I cannot tell much right now. 

CW Tell us your secrets!

GC No, but it's very unique. I cannot tell you the positioning of what we're going to go after. What I can tell you is the reason why we changed it. And I'll be happy to come back one day and present in a few months what we've done, but I want to say something. I think the video and content platform, especially the free one, I'm not talking about the paid premium movie platform, I'm talking about the free video platform. We, because I include myself in this, but that industry failed in bringing to people a product that you will be proud to use and feel safe if your kids would be using it. You don't feel safe when you bring a video free platform to your kid or to someone. And what I'm trying to say by that is, there is a need, we know it from a lot of research we've done, there is a need for a safe platform, for people to express themselves in video and in audio in a safe way without the fear of the trash and harmful content and racism and sexism and sexist content. So what we see here is an opportunity to do a different platform that will stand out from the others in the ability to bring a safe environment for people to express themselves in. And we are pretty convinced about that. I would love to share more, but I'm going to have to come back, sorry. 

CF Yeah. You have to come back. 

CW Okay, please come back because I want to talk about this so much! 

GC What I can tell you is we've done global research of more than 2,500 people, young people, older people, that we interviewed then. And what I can tell you is that they had full feedback actually, when it comes to this video platform. And they use it. They're not saying that they don't use it, but they had full feedback. They're saying that at the end of their time spent on the platform, they feel empty. They feel that they've wasted their time. It's not the case a hundred percent of the time, but most of the time they often feel empty when they're done consuming content. They feel that the algorithm locks them into the same type of content. That there is a very, very strong feeling of sameness. And what we do is, we want to give to the world a platform where you don't feel you waste your time. You feel you learn, or you feel emotionally fulfilled. It's not a learning platform; it's not a self-development platform. But you feel emotionally fulfilled. And you understand why you had that type of content recommended. You understand why you have different points of view and opinions around a given item. And we want to do that in a safe way so that you won't get harmful content. We want to make sure that you won't leave the platform because it has damaged your mental health. That might not be the root and the direction to hyperscale, but we know there is a need and we have to do better than what we do at the moment. And when I say we, it's not just Dailymotion. It's the video industry. 

CF Well, I'm excited. We'll have to invite you back on.

CW Yeah. I'm so hyped for that.

GC Thank you.

[music plays]

CW So I'm going to share a lifeboat. Now, a lifeboat badge on Stack Overflow is where you have an answer score of 20 or more to a question score of negative three or less that goes on to receive a score of three or more. And this lifeboat badge was awarded to Swati Kiran who answered a question about an error, “EACCES. Permission denied.” We'll share a link to that in the show notes. I've been Cassidy Williams. You can find me @Cassidoo on most things.

CF And I'm your other co-host Ceora Ford. You can find me on Twitter @Ceeoreo_.

GC I'm Guillaume. Thank you very much for having me on the show. Can't wait to talk to you again. 

CW Us too! Thank you so much for coming on. Thanks everybody. Talk to you later. Bye! 

CF Bye!

[outro music plays]