Toku World is a cloud B2B communication platform founded in 2018. After 5 quarters of nice growth, they’re raising funds for a Series A. After a final at Echelon 2019 and semi final at the French Founders Startup Tour, hopefully they’re on a good trajectory. Interview with Thomas Laboulle, CEO.
Hi Thomas, what’s your background?
Actually I have a military background. I went to the Royal Military Academy in Belgium, the equivalent of St-Cyr in France. I know it sounds unusual! At the same time I continued my studies in business and corporate finance. I felt the military degree was very general but without any specialty.
I did several missions in the field and when I came back from Afghanistan I needed a break. I took a year off and was accepted in a management traineeship program in a consulting company. This has been eye-opening for me: I loved meeting a lot of people in many different industries and creating bridges between them.
What’s interesting is that my generalist diploma has been very useful for this. In the army you are put in real situations quickly and that teaches you a very special way to think.
It’s all about quick and pragmatic decision making and it was incredibly useful in my first projects. I believe many larger companies are actually scared of making choices and deciding. The military approach precisely enables this.
Anyway I worked on large, multinational IT projects for about 4 years and then I built my own consulting company to have more flexibility.
End of 2014 I had an opportunity for an ERP implementation project in Singapore in a Fintech so I moved here. Through this project I met a billionaire who then hired me to do due-diligence for his team before investing.
He introduced me to somebody who was a board member of a Singaporean SMB. The company was 15 years old and missed its IPO end of 2015 so he was looking for someone to replace the CEO. I decided to take on the challenge.
I arrived at GlobalRoam in june 2016 and I discovered the world of telecoms, For 18 months I completely restructured the company and did a management buyout. In April 2018 we started operating as Toku World after a quick round of seed funding.
So tell us more about Toku?
Sure. Today all companies must communicate and engage with their customers and prospects. Communication must be frequent, personalized and on all channels. Obviously it includes social media, but also the more traditional channels like SMS, voice or video calls. These are the only truly universal channels.
A study showed in the US showed that people use at least 2 different communication channels when they face an issue -and they need a one-to-one channel. This is the problem we address and we add a context to the communication by integrating their CRM, ERP or Customer Care platforms. Surprisingly many companies are still lagging behind!
We do this in 2 ways:
For tech companies, we provide the APIs so that they can integrate classic voice, voice over IP, video or SMS.
Some companies aren’t techy and don’t know how to use an API. The bulk of the economy today is brick-and-mortar. So we also provide a complete interface to make it easier for them. It’s the case of Redwood, a manufacturer of interior fittings for luxury stores, who have built the Louis Vuitton store at Marina Bay Sands.
Other customers include GOJEK’s customer care department, UnaBiz who uses our messaging API for their IoT business, and Waitrr to generate their OTPs.
How do you bring novelty in this traditional market?
Our market is interesting because what we do has actually been around for years
When we replace the on-premise PBX of a company -it basically provides the same kind of services, but our APIs make it much more flexible and fast to integrate with other systems.
Quite frankly this is still revolutionary, and we have to do a lot of market evangelization. We spend a lot of time explaining customers what APIs are, how to use them and integrate them. These discussions are important because it is about business model, not technology. This is where my past as a consultant helps.
How do you think Asia is different from other regions?
In our industry Europe is very developed and mature so there’s a legacy. Equipments have been in place for decades so when you want to replace them, there is a form of cannibalisation which creates a lot of friction. The added value is simply not always sufficient to justify change.
In Asia on the other hand, many countries have leapfrogged or are leapfrogging. They skip the older systems and this is good for us. The demography is also favorable for us because younger people are always on their mobile phone.
So we focus on Asia and we are really well positioned here. More precisely we target countries who launched global digitization programs of society or the economy. In Singapore for instance there has been a real push from the government on the gov tech, smart nation and digitization in general. Indonesia has launched a similar program, which is a good sign for us.
Regulation is important as well -when a country impose new regulations this requires a level of expertise that differentiates us. A good example is Indonesia and the Personal Data Protection Bill that prevents phone numbers from being shared.
Overall Asia is just much more dynamic, we have an incredible traction here, period!