A Raw, Personal Interview with Indie Hackers

interview-indie-hackers-francoislanthiernadeau

Teela: Cool. All right, so I think we're ready to dive in.

Franck: Yeah, let's get into it since we don't have a lot of time.

Teela: Right. This will be about like 30 minutes from now. So, let's see what happens in that amount of time.

Franck: Okay, I'm cool with that.

Teela: Cool. Okay, so the first question that I usually like to ask people is just, how has your life turned out differently than you expected?

Franck: All right, that's a big one to start. Okay, let's see. I was a guy studying business management, and more traditional copy and publicity, the advertising world, if you will. I thought I would end up being the kind of creative copywriter in the traditional ad industry, and I thought that most of my work in life would be focused throughout my writing, and, like, this creative side of me. You know, when I was studying at Uni, we had to get some paid internships, like three of them for four months each. It gives you a whole year of work experience before getting on the market. I was kind of disappointed with the Uni’s placement system and the list of places where we could go. I thought, "You know what? Let me try to find some internships in my own network." I turned around and approached some guys that were launching a small graphic and web design agency.

Franck: And they were like, "Oh, yeah, sure. You can write decently; just come on in - we're going to see where you fit in." So by accident or sheer luck, I found myself in the web realm, and less in the traditional old school marketing realm. I realized that it was just this great channel to express yourself and to drive business results also. I was doing social media, and a bit of AdWords, and copywriting on some websites and stuff. That also brought me closer to developers, and I don't know, I always enjoyed the fact that the developers around me knew more technical stuff than me. Being close to them was always a source of curiosity, or just cool discussion, and me trying to figure out technical concepts and paradigms. It was like this freshness.

Franck: I got hooked into the idea that I wanted my career to be focused on the web. So I did two internships there. It was a small startup agency and doing WordPress work, nothing very sexy. The developers were okay, but they weren't “great developers striving to make the best work of their careers,” more like young guns fooling around and stuff. I was like, "You know what? If I'm going to step up my technical game as a marketer, I need to change the environment I'm in." I scouted some companies in Quebec City, and there's this one that was making a lot of noise called Spektrum Media. At that time, Spektrum had just released one of their first in-house products, which is Snipcart. I pitched myself to the founders and was like, "You know what? You guys rock when it comes to developing web apps, websites. Your designs rock, but your copy sucks. I'm a young gun, I don't know much about online marketing, but I'm learning. And I'm looking forward to becoming a better person, a more effective person in that domain."

Franck: They took a bet on me, and brought me onboard. To my surprise, they told me, "You're not going to work with clients much. We want you to focus on Snipcart." And Snipcart is a developer first, quick technical e-commerce solution. I was afraid, I was terrified, I was like, "I don't understand jack shit about this stuff." They were asking me to read the documentation, and all I could do was correct a typo here and there. It's funny because, at that time when they accepted my offer to get on board, I received a very interesting internship offer at one of the biggest and largest ad companies in the province of Quebec. The guy that was working there is kind of a legend in the advertising realm. He's won some Cannes Lions and all these big prizes. The first idea of mine? "Go and do it." So, you couple that with me being scared of this new technical project I was embarking on, and this old, more comfortable thought of being an ad guy. I was at this weird crossroad, and I almost answered the advertising company and said, "Okay, let's do it." And then say, "Yeah, sorry, Spektrum and Snipcart, this isn't for me."

Franck: I don't know exactly why, I think it's the fact that I committed to the guys prior to receiving that other email, that drove me to stay with them. It was like, "If I don't get out of my comfort zone now, at this early stage in my career, I probably won't ever do it and stay in my old patterns, and industries and whatnot."

Franck: Yeah, that's a big intro. I'm sorry if I'm saying too much.

Teela: No, that's good. I'll stop you if I feel like you're saying too much.

Franck: If you fast forward to today, I'm now a partner at Snipcart. I'm leading marketing. We created a team that works just on marketing, and we have more developers too. We have this whole business that's thriving, and that's bootstrapped and independent. Now, I can hold conversations with experienced developers and not make a fool out of myself. And I love technology. I love startups, especially web-based and SaaS startups. I never thought I'd end up here in this kind of tech startup world.

Teela: Yeah, that's really interesting. It's interesting that you had a choice between going into something that was more comfortable, or like doing something that required more bravery.

Franck: Bravery is a strong word, but it definitely took a bit of guts.

Teela: Yeah. Before this interview, I read through an interview that you have already on Indie Hackers.

Franck: Yeah, that was nice.

Teela: Yeah, it was really interesting. When I was looking for the human element, I saw in there that you mentioned a struggle with the imposter syndrome?

Franck: Oh, big time.

Teela: I was wondering if there was any example that you could give of that? Or if there's anything that comes up for you when I mention that?

Franck: Oh, yeah. I don't even know where to start. It's something that I still struggle with to this day.

Teela: Why do you think it is that you struggle with it?

Franck: I talked about this with my therapist - she's just amazing. This is the kind of stuff that I'd like to go in the interview, is the fact that I'm super open about my mental health, and I think more people should.

Teela: Totally.

Franck: I regularly see a therapist, I've struggled with anxiety, depression, burnout, all that stuff. But it made me such a better person and such a better listener. My empathy isn't at the same level it was before that. It's better. I talked about imposter syndrome with my therapist; I also talked about it with some of my good friends in the industry. I think most people that are doing great, or let's say just good work, are driven by a desire of shipping awesome, A1, 100% valuable stuff. That's great, but there's this hint of, or just full blown perfectionism in there. So it's always a balance of "How can I use this desire that I have to create quality stuff, and be recognized by my peers as someone who knows his stuff, and isn't a fool or an imposter?" - using this just enough so you ship good stuff, but you don't torture yourself afterwards if it's not perfect. You can extrapolate that balance and philosophy to everything in your life.

Franck: Contentment and satisfaction will always be better than ecstasy and perfection; you know what I mean?

Teela: Yeah.

Franck: You have to learn how to be satisfied with what is, and that's a big part of meditation. A mix of meditation and therapy is speaking here, you know? I think that's because I want to do good stuff because I want myself to be proud of myself, but in all transparency, I also want my peers, especially the ones I respect and love, to be proud of me. That's why I think the imposter syndrome always is there. Since you're striving to do “good work,” you’re always looking up to “good workers” - people who ship good work. And it's this sad reality that there's always going to be someone that's better than you at what you do, or some of the stuff you do. If you have knowledge that these people exist, you always know that your stuff is not that good. I don't know if I'm making sense?

Teela: Yeah.

Franck: Because you know that people are shipping stuff that you consider A1 or better than what you can do. It's that omnipresence of people more experienced, or more talented than you, that might drive the imposter syndrome. But it fades away as you get wins under your belt. The first posts and articles I was writing for Snipcart, just hitting that publish button was a disaster; it was a nightmare. It was like, "Ah, geez. Developers are going to read this, and they're going to know that I don't know shit about web development and that I'm a fraud and whatnot." But, then you fast forward through many of these articles, and you realize that you've gained a better understanding of what it is you're talking about, and your writing has gotten better. And then, there was this whole SEO component to my work, so my writing and the articles I was producing started to rank on Google, and I was learning how to optimize for that. And some traffic was coming in, and that traffic, you know, some of it converted and became users.

Franck: And then you start getting that feedback loop: "Oh, yeah. I found you guys on Google." And, "Oh, yeah. I found you guys on Twitter. You do great content." I think it's just crunching through some operational and technical difficulties in the beginning. But, once that feedback loop starts kicking in, it thins the imposter syndrome effect.

Teela: That's nice. That's really interesting.

Franck: Am I making sense?

Teela: No, that totally makes sense. It definitely makes sense; it's super interesting. It just came to mind, so when you mentioned seeing a therapist, and anxiety, depression, burnout?

Franck: Yeah.

Teela: Was there a time where you... did you have an anxiety attack when you burned out? You're a storyteller, so I imagine that your mind probably works similarly to the way mine does in some ways, where - can you like see yourself somewhere, you know? Was there a scene where something happened?

Franck: Yeah, this is a great question. It's a deep one, though. When I look back at the person I was, who was suffering a lot in these periods, the behavior and the pain that was present in these periods... When I look back from today, and the present’s vantage point, it always fills me with sadness because I see this past version of myself and I know how much he was suffering. It hurts just remembering how past me suffered. To give you a quick personal rundown, I think I was always an anxious child, I had this baseline of anxiety that was there, whether it's genetic or whatever. But, it was like exacerbated, enhanced with the loss of my father when I was 11 and a half years old. It was two weeks after September 11th, and it was a suicide. It was just this crossroad of, you're starting to become a bit more mature, and you're starting to understand what's going on in the world, and you're starting to see flaws, and a different relationship with your parents.

Franck: My dad clearly suffered from some undiagnosed mental illnesses. At one point he had an affair (again), and he broke up with my Mom and killed himself. That just fucked me up for at least a whole decade of, I don't know, philosophical explorations. Like is someone allowed to kill themselves, to commit suicide? Why would someone do that? It brought me so close to the idea of death when I was so young, that this baseline of anxiety I was telling you about wrapped itself around the idea of death, and it became the biggest source of anxiety in my life, and it kicked in when I became an adult, around 18, 20. For me, that was the beginning of pathological anxiety. Like, anxiety that fucks you up, and messes with your life quality, and messes with your relationships, and your self-esteem and whatnot. The core of it always was death; it was this idea of not understanding, not being able to control it. I had no power over it. I think I was predisposed, but the thing with my dad just kicked things up a notch, you know?

Franck: It took me at least a decade before starting to accept that I was messed up, that I needed some help, and that it was okay to be that way. It was okay to need help, that there was this possibility of health, and balance, and not perfection, but to be content and satisfied with your life. Even though there are these hardships, and trauma, or just some negative patterns you have in your head, you can work on this.

But to understand that, it took me literally going to the hospital with full-blown panic attacks, and seeing a therapist, and trying medication and shit. At one point, I got so low that I had to stop working - that's when I was coming back from months in Southeast Asia. I was traveling and working remotely, and trying to convince myself that I was this lone wolf, bad boy, baller who didn't care about being a citizen of the world with no roots and whatnot. And I tried to embody that character, and I was disregarding my anxiety and my tendency towards depression - I was trying to live that life.

Franck: And it didn't work. There was this dissonance, and this clash between the two things, it was huge. I came down with this big depression. I went back to Québec, thinking just going back home would solve everything. But it didn't, and I got deeper into that depression. And, at one point, I wasn't functional anymore. I was swinging between these depressive, very dark thoughts, and full-blown panic attacks. It was draining all the life energy I had. I just came to my partners at Snipcart and said, "You know, guys, I'm not well." I was crying. "I'm sorry I'm letting you down. I don't know how to deal with this shit, but I need help." That was one of the most moving moments in my time with these guys. It was at this point they said, "You know what, Franck? You gave enough of yourself in the past years for Snipcart, for the business. Many of your efforts brought it to where it's at today. So, why don't you just chill the fuck out? Take a month, two, three, six months, all the time you need to get some help and get your health and your mind back together. The business and all of us will all be there when you come back." One of the partners helped me through the paperwork and the red tape so the government could cover a part of my salary, and I could take off. I went to seven weeks of therapy, and places I never thought I'd go in my life.

Teela: Like, inside your head, you mean?

Franck: Inside my head, but also in terms of situations where you're getting help. Like in a seven weeks program of group therapy, and then regular meetings with a psychiatrist, and a psychotherapist. I never thought I'd get there, but there I was.

Teela: Wow, good for you. Holy shit.

Franck: Yeah. I mean, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, to break down this way and go so low that you go, "Okay, you know what? I'll try whatever can help at this point. I'm going to put aside all of these preconceptions and judgements about cheesy therapy, and group therapy, and try to get every day at least one thought or idea that can help me get my mind back together." There was this whole group therapy that helped, but there was also medication and meditation. It really, really helps. It showed me and proved that you can willfully create distance between your emotions and yourself, your conscience. When you learn to do that, you understand that there's power in your breathing and that positive power is always in you. You can always start breathing more mindfully and accept thoughts for what they are. This whole way of thinking really, really helped.

Franck: One of the big missing pieces there was in my mental healing was including the others in my equation.There's this mantra I'm repeating when I meditate, "I'm doing this to be a calmer, happier presence for myself, but also for others, especially the ones I love." And when you loop that in, when you're at your best, or a stable version of yourself, you can be a better person: a better friend, a better lover, a better son, for all these people you love. I don't know; it brought me new motivation to try to get the help and the healing I needed.

Teela: Wow, that's incredible. That story is so incredible. Thank you so much for sharing that. Man, I really feel for you as an 11-year-old kid going through that. Sorry that happened to you.

Franck: No, that's all right. I might have been a less whole person without it, or a totally different one.

Teela: So, I've got a couple of questions here.

Franck: Yeah, go ahead.

Teela: We don't have a ton of time left. I saw in your interview on Indie Hackers that I read through. I believe that you said something about, that you had a hard time depending on other people, but you were learning to do it more. Probably all that stuff kind of loops back around from your childhood. You've probably explored all of this I'm sure in therapy?

Franck: Yeah, really. You want me to expand a bit on that?

Teela: I feel like we have the story already. But, as a storyteller, and as a person who just loves human beings, I get very interested in all the different threads. I guess if you want to say just a brief thing about that?

Franck: Yeah, sure. When you're a kid, you have this unchallenged belief that your parents are going to be there forever, and that your parents are always going to be there for you no matter what. It's not even explicit in your mind; it's just something that you've internalized over the years. So when one of your parents decides on his own, like willfully, to abandon you, whatever the reasons were, the hurt, and the shock that it creates is really big, you know?

Teela: Yeah.

Franck: That's something I explored with my therapist, and my Mom also. She was saying, "You know, I feel like when your Dad died it kind of dropped a rock into a pond. And then you've got these waves that keep going. Even though they're further from the impact point, they're still going for a while. These waves catch up to you." I think, looking back, this has been a thread. My therapist doesn't like it when I say it, but I sabotaged myself countless times, in relationships, before committing, or when I feared that the person would leave me, and cheat on me. I would pull out, or I would do these things first. I think some part of me, that kid that was hurt was like, "No, shit. I'm not going through that suffering again. I'm not going to be left behind again." Committing to not only personal relationships but to work, like committing to just a job to me was really hard. And that's some personal stuff I had the chance to work out through Snipcart, you know?

Franck: I had the chance to have good partners, and people who loved me and respected me. The whole human part of me was always on the table. It was never just, "Franck is that content marketing SEO guy, and he provides value, and we give him this." No, it was a more complex and nuanced equation. And, because of that, I had the opportunity to be vocal about my thoughts and my fears, and my desire to quit, or go somewhere else, or do this, or whatever. As I said, it was kind of a playing ground where I could work out some of these issues.

Teela: Yeah, cool. I have two more questions. I'm wondering, one thing about kids, because everything kind of revolves around them, that's the nature of being a child, that's not self-centered, it's actually how it should be, and that's amazing. But when something happens in their lives, they often think it was because of them. Their parents get divorced; they feel like it's because of them, or whatever. And so, you losing your dad at 11. I wonder how much that had played into your perfectionism, and not wanting to let anyone down?

Franck: That's a good question. Honestly, I never explored that aspect, because I could've developed guilt or something like that, but it wasn't the thread that was more vocal in my suffering, pain, or process. I'd be bullshitting you if I was telling you this, so I prefer setting the record straight on that front.

Teela: Yeah, totally.

Franck: Most of the guilt I felt growing up, and even today, was really towards myself. In the teenage and early adulthood years, I had this reckless attitude towards life where I was like, "Nobody understands the pain I went through. Nobody is going to get that level of pain. So even if I mess up things, and inject some chaos in people's lives, and suffering in people's lives, it's nothing compared to what I lived." I used this as an excuse to be an asshole too many times.

Teela: Ooh, that's super poignant. That's really interesting.

Franck: Yeah, and when you grow you, eventually with all that therapy, and different relationships, and discussions, and life experience - I kind of got my head out of my ass at one point. It was like, "Oh, shit. Yeah, man, this isn't just about you at all. Of course, it sucks, of course, it's hard, of course, there's work to do around that. But, dude, there's suffering everywhere." There's meaning in your suffering that you can use to help others, and there's this whole new vision of your pain. It's when you manage to incorporate that pain and that trauma into your narrative and turn it into something positive - this is the best thing in the world.

Teela: That's amazing. This interview is incredible. I'm really inspired by this. Whoa. Whoa.

Franck: This is stuff I think about, and talk about with my close friends, and therapist. That's why it comes easy, you know?

Teela: Yeah.

Franck: This is stuff that has been important to me. It's been important to understand and improve upon. Every time I get the occasion to talk about it I'm more than pleased. It's become part of my life "mission" to be more transparent about pain, mental health, and suffering - so people can identify themselves in some ways in your story, and can accept and feel better about themselves, and be okay with getting that help.

Teela: That's amazing.

Franck: You know, on the surface I look like a slightly cold guy, and I always dress in black, with tattoos. I look confident. But, if you dig below like we just did, you and I, you realize that there are all these insecurities, and pains, and traumas, and mental illness and shit. I do not want the two images to be apart, one from another, I want them to be together so it can create this model.

Teela: That's amazing. I think you have a super inspiring story, and honestly, the way that you're able to communicate it. I feel like the more often that you can tell this story the better. It's a good one. And also-

Franck: You know what's funny, Teela?

Teela: What?

Franck: Today in Canada it's Bell Let's Talk Day. Let's Talk is just this initiative about being more transparent and open around mental illness. I was seeing this on my social feed, and I was like, "Geez, last year I had written this post." Like I had contributed in some way. This year, I'm like knee deep in the startup, and I'm not giving it any part of my bandwidth.” And now, I'm just realizing that that's exactly what I'm doing with you. So I'm stoked.

Teela: Yeah, good job. You managed to do it anyway. Yeah, for sure. I have just one other question, and it's more just about details.

Franck: Yeah.

Teela: When you were traveling in Southeast Asia you were working at that time as well? Or no?

Franck: Yes.

Teela: You were? So, that whole time you were working?

Franck: Yes.

Teela: You were working, and then you came back. And then that's when ... okay.

Franck: The big low point and burn out was a few months after the return.

Teela: Okay. Wow, what a story. And how incredible it is that you are able to communicate these things in this way. I mean, I do a lot of interviews with men, and I ask some of these same questions, and it's really difficult for them to have ... well, they've never thought about some of these things before. So, to try to find words for it is almost impossible for them. I think it's a huge talent and a gift that you offer to the world, that you're able to communicate these things.

Franck: That's very kind. Thank you.

Teela: You're welcome.

Franck: I don't want to take credit. At one point, when you feel so shitty, and you suffer so much, either you give up, or you go the other way. I was forced to go the other way and think about these things, and digest them, and include them in the narrative. And being a storyteller and communicator it becomes easy for me to tell them. Maybe that's a mixture of variables that some of these other guys don't have.

Teela: Yeah, totally. Amazing. This has been really nice. Is there anything else that you want to say before we wrap up the call?

Franck: No, I'm emotional! When I talk about this stuff, I get really into it and try to give it my best. But I didn't think we'd go this deep. I'm so glad. It reminds me of when I was traveling in Europe, and I met this stranger from Australia, a nurse, very kind woman, and we ended up speaking about my whole life for hours. And I get echoes from that experience talking with you, who are in some way a stranger still.

Teela: Yeah. It's funny that you say that, because the last interview I had a guy said something similar, that he felt like I was talking to someone that he had met during his travels. I was like, "Interesting."

Franck: Oh, yeah.

Teela: Maybe there's something there with that? It's like someone you just meet. They're a stranger, but you're both open, because of the circumstances.

Franck: Exactly, yeah. I think that's a good way of stating it.

Teela: Yeah. Well, man, if you have any concerns or anything after this call, definitely shoot me an email. I'll get the recording, and I'll listen to it, and I'll create something. I have no doubt that I'll be able to create something that's really nice out of this. But, then I'll send it to you, and you have total control over that. Anything that I say, if you don't like or whatever, just let me know. Not going to hurt my feelings one bit, because this is your story, so I want you to feel that you can do whatever you want with it.

Franck: Well, okay. Like I told you, I want to be as raw and honest in my life as possible, so don't hesitate to do the same. And if something comes up, I'll let you know.

Teela: Amazing. Man, thank you so much. I really appreciate this call. And I appreciate you being here on this planet right now with me. It feels nice.

Franck: That's so kind. I've got one last question, Teela. Do you think it would be possible to have that recording for myself?

Teela: I do. I think that is totally possible. Let me run that by. I don't think we have any rules or restrictions around that. Let me run that by Channing, and see if there's any reason why we wouldn't. But, I think that-

Franck: Because there's this goal that I have to start writing more about mental health at one point, and maybe some of that content I could reuse. Not the audio, but just the thoughts, and ideas, how I formulated them.

Teela: Completely. Yeah, I think that would be awesome. If we could use this for more than this, I think that would be great. Yeah, I'll check in about that. And I don't see why we wouldn't be able to. 'll let you know.

Franck: Well, that was short but intense, and I really appreciated it.

Teela: I really appreciated it, too. Okay, well have a nice rest of your day.

Franck: Yeah, you too, Teela. Bye-bye.

Teela: Goodbye.


Special thanks to Indie Hackers for interviewing me in the first place and letting me publish this transcript. 🙇‍♂️