Portrait Published on 2 March 2018


Company : Dictanova

Job : CEO

Year of creation : 2011

Atlanpole : Tell us about your company Fabien POULARD :

Dictanova is a software company created in December 2011. We help our clients optimise the experience that they provide for their own customers. We help them to understand what makes their customers happy and why they come back … or not. The aim is to find an alternative way to stand out from the competition other than through pricing, and to deliver an exceptional experience based on the Amazon blockbuster-type model. We analyse their customer’s complete experience, each step on the entire retail journey (website, shops, delivery, etc.).

Our teams rely on satisfaction surveys, and they obtain a complete overview via information collected from the customers themselves (notes, free text, CRM data, etc.).

The secret is to get outside the company and into the field! In the field is where true learning begins!
A. : What success have you had to date? F. P. :

Dictanova is a team of 20 people. We have one product and possess recognised expertise in the market.

We have some 30 clients and excellent references. Our clients in retail include FNAC, Cdiscount, Darty, L’Oréal Luxe, and L’Occitane International. But we also have customers in banking/insurance (e.g. Crédit Agricole, Banque Populaire, Sogeca), energy (Enedis), and transport (SNCF, TAN).

A. : How did you start? F. P. :

I completed my PhD thesis on language-processing tools at the Numerical Sciences Laboratory in Nantes (formerly LINA) but I had no intention of becoming a researcher. Since I couldn’t find any work corresponding to my expertise, I decided to set up my own company. I brought two other doctors along with me on the adventure but they only stayed for a year.

My associates and I didn’t immediately start out with a winning idea in mind: I was fresh out of a laboratory background and knew nothing about companies. Then we entered the Entrepreneuriales, which was extremely interesting, and this is how we came across Atlanpole. Atlanpole acted as incubator prior to the company creation, and during this period one important thing we did was to create a dossier for the iLab competition (at that time, this was a national competition organised by the French Research Ministry to provide assistance in creating innovative technology companies). We won the 2012 prize, which really helped kickstart our business. It took us three months to prepare the dossier, and this forced us to focus on what we wanted to do, serving as a guiding beacon from the outset and enabling us to hire 3 people.

After an initial experience in the e-reputation sector that was lacklustre in business terms, we managed to bounce back thanks to one of the first staff members we recruited. We hadn’t taken on someone with the technical profile, but rather someone from the survey arena who brought with them a certain expertise.

We then launched a market study service, which placed us in competition with established market study institutes such as IPSOS for example. Dictanova delivered its studies within a week. Based on what web users were saying, we worked on the data and reported our findings (rather than using traditional methods such as questionnaires, telephone calls, etc.), and we became a subcontractor of Opinion Way.

A. : Was there a decisive moment? F. P. :

Our change of positioning in 2015!

Rather than conducting surveys, which requires time and expertise, we decided to abandon online data in favour of our clients’ own in-house data, particularly the comments left in satisfaction surveys. Dictanova provides clients with a semantic analysis tool that they can use themselves and whose value is crystal clear: explaining customer satisfaction ratings via their own verbatim reports. We provide access to the software as well as assigning an expert through whom we can advise our clients and encourage good practices that enable web-users to express themselves freely without constraint.

This development had far-reaching consequences since we were starting from zero… particularly in terms of turnover. We had to go out and find 1.2 million euros through venture capital, BPI (the French Public Investment Bank) and our own banks to invest in this new product.

Another key moment was the decision by FNAC to go with our idea in late 2015: this gigantic company, with a true vision, became the first firm to use our software.

The real commercial take-off followed in September 2016. Dictanova is in fact one year old!


A. : What are your plans? F. P. :

In the short term, consolidation. We aim to become a durable player on the French market and we are looking to become the market leader in France within 2 years.

Our teams are currently working on version V2 and on developing a software suite comprising both an “Analysis” component (our initial added value service) to explain customer satisfaction, for use by survey and customer satisfaction managers, and a new component to be released in September designed to make customers’ voices heard throughout the company since today, at best, customer feedback is simply forwarded by email in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, or at worst, it remains buried in the survey manager’s draw.

We also offer a means of ensuring the circulation of useful customer information so as to stimulate initiative among operatives in the field enabling us to better serve our customers. This comprises a Facebook Wall containing interesting feedback that can be accessed by mobile phone. We go the extra mile for those who are not necessarily connected to the net: in a few clicks, team leaders can produce posters of what customers are saying and display them in break areas. In this way, everyone becomes imbued with a customer-based culture. In management terms, this means messages can be passed on along the lines of: “Here’s what our customers have to say about us!”

A. : What factors sped up your success? F. P. :


  • The Entrepreneuriales: this triggered a shift from “Possibly” mode to “Absolutely” mode!!
  • Atlanpole: this gave us the ambition to become a “nugget” and to examine how we might fare throughout the various accompaniment phases over a 5-year period.
  • Our initial customers: the confidence placed in us by FNAC was an enormous boost from the outset. You need references of this calibre for a good start in B2B. Then L’Occitane chose us: we will be rolling out our software in all their shops, both in France and worldwide.
  • The Entreprendre network: Dictanova was the 2012 prize-winner
  • The iLab competition


There is no point trying to smash down walls: you have to bounce right off them and go and try out other approaches!
A. : Were there obstacles? F. P. :

Yes, with each change, splitting from my associates, the failure of our first product, fundraising, and so on. I’m always coming up against obstacles, but I try to turn them into opportunities.

This is the advantage of a mathematical approach: maths is full constraints, but they are there to help you. You need to accept them and then seek other ways to reach the answers. There is no point trying to smash down walls: you have to bounce right off them and go and try out other approaches!

A. : What do you consider vital for company heads? F. P. :

Get out into the field! You need to get out and talk to people … go and see your customers, take part in the exchange circles at Atlanpole Entreprises for instance!

Involve your teams, be outward-looking: I tell my colleagues to go out and teach at schools and universities. This forces them to express themselves better and to dominate their subjects fully. It also helps them to build or maintain links with these establishments and set up possible innovative projects, as well as enabling them to identify any potentially interesting recruits.

What is less easy is to move out of the digital start-up ecosystem… to freely exchange ideas with other more established companies, with the real players. I am 200% in favour of the Selfie operation during the Blue Party (a networking evening organised by Atlanpole Entreprises); a random draw led to meetings with other companies from the Atlanpole network that are very far outside my normal operating sphere.

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