MEET Mathilde

Mathilde Collin is co-founder and CEO of Front, the first shared inbox for teams. Growing up near Paris, she noticed many of the adults in her family didn’t like their jobs, which later inspired her to create Front as a means to two ends: happy customers and happy employees.

What is something you’ve learned that you lean on daily?

Radical candor, and the importance of committing to it even and especially when it’s difficult. It’s easy to be radically candid about most things, but the very topics that are hardest to talk about are the only ones that truly matter. Being transparent and direct about those things is the only way to make a real difference.

If you want your employees to be genuinely happy, I believe you have to surround them with people who care about them and their development—and part of caring is to be willing to give direct feedback. It can be hard; it can even feel unnatural. You might worry that someone will react poorly, or be tempted to just ignore the issue and hope things work out on their own. It’s one thing to understand the value of being open and transparent on an intellectual level, but emotionally, it’s still very difficult. It takes practice.

I try to lead by example—by giving constructive feedback, I help my team get comfortable receiving it. And when I receive it, I say “thank you.” That didn’t come naturally to me at first, but especially as the CEO, I think it’s super important.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?

Stay focused. Especially when a company is new, you should generally concentrate on moving a single metric. If that’s the only thing you’re looking at and it’s not improving, you’re failing—and it’s difficult to accept that reality. It’s much easier to make excuses or shift your focus to another area. But you have to resist that urge.

Since we started Front, I’ve sent an email every single week to everyone in the company, to make sure we’re all aligned on our key area of focus and we all know whether we’re improving. I’ve been involved with several companies over the past few years, and I think that simple practice of regular communication is the single best predictor of who will do well and who won’t. The companies that send updates every week or month and can tell you exactly what they’re focused on and how that metric is doing—they succeed. The ones that don’t usually won’t make it.

What small change has made a big difference in your life?

I disable notifications on my email and Slack apps, and turn them off every weekend. It’s been amazing—it helps me unwind and come back fresh on Monday. When the apps are on my phone, it’s so tempting to open them and check, and I get sucked in to work. But the truth is, most weekends, I don’t need to do that. If something really bad is happening, I’ll get a call or text.

I also meditate for 10 minutes every morning, and it’s changed my life. I started about a year ago, during a difficult time when I had too much on my plate. I downloaded the Headspace app and was skeptical at first. I tried it once and immediately got bored. But eventually, I realized meditation is like exercise. The mind is a muscle that you have to train. You won’t notice a difference in the moment; it’s not really about those 10 minutes. But after a few weeks, things that used to upset me weren’t upsetting me anymore. I’m more resilient now, and more present. It feels like I have a new superpower.

What don't you know that you wish you knew?

How much time I have left with the people I love—especially my parents and grandparents. Spending time with your family is so important, but it never feels urgent. It’s easy to let other things take priority. I’m pretty good at balancing my work and personal life as part of my daily routine, but the non-routine things like booking a trip home, I don’t do as well.

I read a blog post recently from Tim Urban, where he did the math of how much time he had left with his parents based on average life expectancy. As sad as it sounds, I think being aware of that is incredibly powerful. I live in San Francisco and my family is in France, so if I go home three times a year and my parents live for another 20 years, that means I only have 60 more visits with them. That feels more urgent. It helps me remember to not only spend more time with them, but also to truly appreciate the time we have together.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

The one I’m reading next is called Genius Foods, by Max Lugavere and Paul Grewal. It’s about the link between the food you eat and the way your brain works, which I find fascinating. Your diet has such a huge impact on your emotions and mental health. I’ve read other books on this topic—the first one was A Mind of Your Own, by Kelly Brogan and Kristin Loberg—so I already know it’s important to eat healthy. But I’m sure this one will change my diet, too.

The book I just finished is The Secret Piano, which is an autobiography by the pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei. It’s set during the Mao revolution in China, which was a crazy period. When we look back on those types of historical events, we always think, “If it were me, I never would have supported that.” But when you read her thoughts and feelings about why she endorsed Mao, and you’re in the head of this smart, reasonable, wise person, you realize it’s not as easy as it sounds. I think that’s important to understand, because it applies to many other periods in the past, present and future.

When did you realize you were wrong about something?

Today, yesterday and all the days before. Yesterday is a good example, actually—I did a demo of Front on a sales call, and afterward I asked our new head of Sales for feedback. I thought I had done a great job, but he was tough on me. I was wrong!

When I realize I’m wrong, I try to admit it as quickly as possible. Self-awareness is always important, but I think it’s critical as a CEO. My job today is different than my job six months ago, and from my job six months from now. I need to constantly improve and learn new things. That means constantly assessing what I’m getting right and wrong.

What unit of time matters the most and why?

I’ll say minutes, for two reasons. One, I’m obsessed with efficiency. I can’t stand wasting even a few minutes, because there is so much I like about my life and so much I want to do. I love my job, my friends, my husband, my family. I love being outdoors and playing sports. But if I wasn’t extremely efficient, I’d run Front and do nothing else.

The other reason is that I’ve learned over the past few years to appreciate the moment and not look too far forward or backward, which has made it easier to create meaningful relationships at work and in the rest of my life. I’m always happier and more grateful when I’m in the moment.

Hard-won advice