Nicolas Martin and I founded IWD in 2000. Originally we were a web agency but we specialized in functional websites. At the time it was not common so it made us different: think Intranet, web tools or useful sites in general.
Our first clients were for instance travel agencies offering online booking sites, or retailers who wanted to build their packaging databases.
In 2002 Shiseido approached us to build their planograms. For those who don’t know 🙄, these are visual representations of a store’s products on display. The timing was perfect because at that time we wanted to become a software vendor, not just an agency. So we offered to build it for free and they would buy licences instead.
They agreed and this is how we got started in our current positioning. It took us 2 years before the business really took off, when we signed Estee Lauder. One of the reason we have been successful is that our competitors sold their software on CD -we’ve always been a Saas company- and our UX was just simple and modern.
Where are you today?
IWD’s strength really is that we combine an expertise in retail and in software. Our mission is to help customers deploy their brand and their image in the point of sale and be more efficient.
We have more than 300 brands in our portfolio, for instance Timberland, The North Face, Uniqlo, Chanel, Dior, Havaianas, etc.
We are about 80 people, with the biggest presence in Paris where most of our developers are. We also have offices in Los Angeles, New-York and recently in Singapore. In terms of business, it is very important for us to be present in these locations because all of our clients are big international brands.
In each office we have one developer, and mainly account managers and business developers. 80% of our work is software edition and the remaining 20% support on our products.
We decided to set-up a new office here in Singapore about 3 years ago to accompany our customers. Actually Charles & Keith told us they would like us to be based in Singapore. We took a chance and it proved successful!
I came here personally to kick it off. My job was simply to deliver on the first projects, recruit the right team and grow our pipeline to have sufficient runway to operate smoothly.
Our market is very dynamic, we’re on a great trajectory and we’re hiring. I will go back in France in July and we’ve hired Ghislain Moret, the former Country Manager of Devialet, to oversee our APAC operations. He’s a great fit because has a unique combination of luxury, retail, tech and innovation.
What’s different in the Asian market?
This market is fascinating. I learned a lot in my time here. You can’t really understand what’s going on in Asia without being based here.
First, the cost of manpower is a critical factor. Since it is cheap, software vendors have a hard time because many companies prefer to hire 5 people to do something instead of buying a software to automate it. For us it means we must focus on selling them the parts that they really can’t do internally.
You also need to think differently about the Asian customers themselves vs. the customers travelling in Asia. For example, Korea is a very interesting market. The Travel Retail industry is growing rapidly and the Seoul airport is the biggest in the world. About $22Mds are being spent there every year. This is huge: the 2nd biggest is the Emirates one but it’s only about $12Mds. But the thing is that a very large part of these $22Mds are actually Chinese people buying in Korea and reselling elsewhere. So you need to understand the dynamics!
Lastly, Asia is very, very diverse. We focus on high-end markets in Asia, like Japan, Korea, Hong-Kong or Australia. But these countries are as different as continents. So yes, the business opportunity in Asia is real but it is really complicated.
What’s the next step for IWD?
We raised funds recently, for the first time. Originally we grew up slowly but nicely. We only raised love money in the beginning and last year we raised funds with Ardian. We have known them for 5 or 6 years and they never pushed us -which we liked! We have a great relationship with them.
Our goal is to scale-up and we needed to have the means of our ambitions. So far it’s looking great. Having such an investor forces us as entrepreneurs to really go above and beyond expectations, to be very focused and rigorous. They provide a very strong support and we can now envision things we never thought of, like growing with acquisitions.