Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Manhattan last year, Emmanuel Schalit made a promise to his employees. The day his company's user count crosses 1 million, he would get his first tattoo.
With staff egging Schalit on, the announcement was a crowd-pleaser. His company Dashlane, which develops software to manage online passwords and payment information, had a few thousand users when the bet was made in the summer of 2012. In the uncertain world of tech startups, the prospect of having to follow through on his pledge seemed remote at the time.
This week, the 50-year-old Frenchman rolled up the sleeve of his teal Dashlane-branded T-shirt and sank into his chair at a tattoo parlor in Brooklyn, New York. A half-circle of giddy employees crowded around their boss as he braced to go under the needle for the first time.
Schalit, a computer scientist who soaked up some marketing skills at Harvard University, turned the bizarre circumstance into a publicity stunt, inviting a camera crew and reporter to document it. While the whole tattoo thing is new to him, Schalit is experienced in getting attention for his companies. He has helped start and run gaming and media businesses, and he had been an executive at CBS in France.
Schalit has done crazy things before, like kayaking on a Greenland iceberg and deep-diving into caves. But Dashlane deserves to be his first tattoo, he said, because it's "the kick of my life." He started the company in 2009 in Paris, where the majority of his 35 employees are based. Most Dashlane users are in the U.S., so that's where Schalit is now. The company has raised $8 million from venture capitalists.
"Fundamentally, it's about getting passwords out of your life," Schalit said at the tattoo parlor. "It's a problem that everyone has. So if we fail, it's our fault. We hold our fate in our hands."
Schalit chose to get "1m" etched into his skin to commemorate the milestone. He rejected other, more painful suggestions for designs, like getting a million dots. "That idea wouldn't be scalable," he explained. By the end of the year, the company will have more than 2 million users, Schalit predicted. If Dashlane reaches 10 million, he might not be able to fit that many dots on his arm.
The body artist came back from a smoke break and started putting together the instrument he was going to use. The tech CEO looked at the needle and then at the 19th-century-looking contraption it was attached to. "There's no digital equivalent?" he asked. Not really, the artist replied.
Schalit laughed. The tattoo may be forever, but if the company isn't, it'll have at least introduced the entrepreneur to another industry that could use an Internet-age overhaul.