‘No entrepreneur is capable of doing it all in a silo’

22 Jul 2021

Alice Default. Image: Double

Double CEO Alice Default discusses the highs and lows of starting a business and gives her advice for other entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur Alice Default worked on productivity and workplace tools for several years at companies such Microsoft, Sunrise Calendar and Front.

She then realised there was a need for effective delegation tools, which led her to launch Double in 2018 with her co-founders Christophe Lamperti and Pierre-Elie Fauché.

The New York-headquartered company matches users with assistants that they can delegate certain areas of work to in order to focus on other elements. It also creates flexible, remote work for executive assistants (EAs) and Default said the app receives more than 3,000 applicants for assistant positions each month.

Here, she discusses how Double came to be and what she has learned along the way.

‘As a first-time founder, fundraising has taken priority in a way that nothing on my to-do list ever has before’

Tell us a little bit about your own background.

I became passionate about productivity during my time at Sunrise Calendar, which was an app with a cult following that was ultimately acquired by Microsoft. That experience taught me that the way people spend their time is ultimately how they spend their lives. Being productive isn’t just about increasing your output at all costs, it’s about living a better life where you get to focus on what matters most to you.

After Sunrise and Microsoft, I realised that even though productivity apps could boost your output, technology still falls short compared to the skill and precision of a human. Double fills this gap between tech automation and human excellence for modern executives, as well as executive assistants.

What kind of projects did you have to undertake starting your business?

User research was crucial for us to get started with Double. Even though none of the founders had ever been nor had an assistant, the idea of helping clients save time thanks to a combination of human and technology fascinated us.

We spent a lot of time interviewing executives with and without assistants to understand their pain points, their challenges and their needs, and we used that intel to build an experience customised for them. I also spent countless hours sitting next to assistants, watching them do their job, to build a tool that would fit their complex use cases.

Another one of my priority projects as a business leader was to secure Double’s first clients and EAs. From the beginning, it was crucial for me to get customers as soon as possible in order to avoid building our service and product in a silo. Our first employee, who is now our customer success manager, started as a Double assistant to understand the ins and outs of the job, and we onboarded our first client on our very first day as an official company.

Finally, like most entrepreneurs in technology, fundraising was an important topic from the start. I have always worked in early-stage start-ups and understood the process from the outside, but as a first-time founder, fundraising has taken priority in a way that nothing on my to-do list ever has before.

What have been some of the biggest highlights and challenges?

Some of our customers, such as Alan, the European healthcare start-up, have been with us since the very beginning and it has been a thrill to watch them grow alongside us.

The CEO of Alan, Jean-Charles Samuelian, has been a customer since 2018 and his Double EA has supported him through Series A, Series B, and Series C and another funding round [in April] that raised $220m at a $1.67bn valuation.

The most difficult part of launching Double is the demands that come of any leader trying to grow a business. There is a constant need to prioritise and ensure that I’m focused on the right things, because I have a team and customers who are depending on me. But that challenge has also helped me guide our customers in a unique way since they are facing the same problem at their own companies.

Most executives come to Double saying they are bad delegators, and I understand how hard it is to learn that skill. Ultimately, the skills necessary to become a strong delegator are the same ones needed to be a strong leader, and I’m excited to empower more founders and CEOs to grow in this area.

How have you dealt with challenges in the tech start-up scene?

It is widely known that only about 2pc of investor dollars go to women-founded businesses. Based on the data alone, I knew fundraising would be a significant challenge, but did my best from the start to set myself up for success. I surrounded myself with experienced entrepreneurs and built long-term relationships with VCs who helped me navigate this process as a first-time founder.

Fostering a supportive community ultimately led me to raise two successful rounds, and as we begin to explore what our next funding round will look like, I have recognised just how valuable these relationships are.

What advice would you give someone looking to start their own company?

My advice to other entrepreneurs is to separate your person from your career. When we feed a desire to constantly stay busy with work, we blur the line between our values and creating value, and it is a dangerous one to tread. If you can find fulfilment through things outside of work, you’ll be a better business leader for it.

It is also crucial to surround yourself with great people who will push you to reach your full potential, especially when things get tough – and they do for every entrepreneur. Whether those people are other co-founders, team members, mentors, peers, or investors, entrepreneurship thrives among a strong network. That network looks different for each individual, but the important thing to remember here is to have support because no entrepreneur is capable of doing it all in a silo.

With additional reporting by Lisa Ardill

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic