Stephan Dietrich is a co-founder and the president of North America for Neolane, a provider of conversational marketing technology. He has 15 years’ experience in enterprise software and marketing expertise in the high-tech field. Previously he was president of Cubicsoft and co-founder of AGDS, which was sold to Peregrine Systems. He holds a master of science from the Ecole Centrale Paris and earned his MBA from the Collège des Ingénieurs.
Sramana Mitra: Stephan, let’s start with the beginning of your story. Give us some context about where your story begins.
Stephan Dietrich: I am half-German, half-French. I grew up on the German border in a multicultural environment, a very rich region where the unemployment rate was the lowest in France and the GDP was the highest in the country. I did my studies and went to the best engineering school in France, which is the Ecole Centrale Paris. I moved from the German border to Paris, which was a change. Growing up where I did, I spoke four languages. My mother tongue is a dialect in the region, and I spoke German, French, and English as well.
There are three main co-founders, and we all met at the Ecole Centrale Paris. During our last year of school, we had to select a major. I selected entrepreneurship. I was young and already selling stuff. I was passionate about electronics but not a geek. I got to meet two of the other co-founders of Neolane at that school.
One of the projects we were able to do in our entrepreneurship major was to build a company. The school had an incubator and they gave us offices, phone lines and everything we needed. We started selling our first products. We were building data acquisition card hardware along with the required software. That was when the very first version of Windows came out, and it competed against IBM. People looked at our product and felt our hardware was OK but not great, but that our software was kick-ass. They wanted more software, so that was our first real experience there.
From there we grew. The first company was called AGDS. It was a software development company that we quickly sold to a software vendor. It was eventually sold to Peregrine Systems. This all happened around 1992 and 1993. It was all pre-Internet.
Sramana Mitra: You and your co-founders started your business together in school and then turned that into AGDS. Is that the same group of co-founders for Neolane?
Stephan Dietrich: Yes. I have been with my peers and co-founders for 20 years now. We all met in 1989.
Sramana Mitra: What is the relationship between the three of you? You all met at one of the best schools in France. What is it about the three of you that brought you together?
Stephan Dietrich: We all complement each other very well. I am more focused on the business side. I like sales and operations. Our CTO is a great visionary and is a professor at the school as well. That allows us to have access to the best talent you can imagine. The other co-founder is great at finding talent for the company and has brought a lot of extras. Frankly, it is all about execution, and we complement each other very well. We have spent more time together than we have spent with our wives, which of course they don’t like to hear!