Entrepreneurs like to juggle many balls, they say. Well Powata is the 3rd venture of Jean-Christophe Bouglé and Sophie Normand so it certainly true for them! Let’s hear their views on the challenge in the retail industry and the huge opportunity in front of them.
What’s your background and how did you come to Singapore?
Well my first job was in Indonesia – I spent 3 years there working for a bank and it was a great experience. I came back in Europe for various experiences in this industry and I also created my first venture back in 1999, which was a fund that I sold shortly after.
I spent some years in the banking industry but I reached a level where it is inherently bureaucratic so in 2010 I decided to come back to Singapore, with the idea to create my business. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone the INSEAD MBA has been a trigger for me.
I started a business and a few months after I met Sophie Normand, who became my partner in crime in several startups since then:
- We first created a digital agency, fewStones, in 2011. The company is still in operation and is now headed by Romain Lazarrotto, formerly from Criteo.
- In 2014 we created VeeRoll, a video ads SaaS platform -think video ads made efficient and easy.
- Finally in 2017 we launched Powata to address the retail industry. We didn’t know anything about this industry but when we met Noe Saglio we realize there are huge opportunities in this space, so we founded the company with him.
What is Powata?
It’s very simple: we build B2B mobile apps for the retail industry. As unbelievable as it may seem, store employees of big brands or retailers still use paper, or in the best case Whatsapp -but this is largely inefficient.
The staff don’t have the tools they need (offering features like geolocalized pictures, code scanning, e-signature, surveys, dashboard, etc) and brands simply don’t know what’s going on in the field. Very few reports, no dashboards -they have only a very rough picture of what’s happening in store. This is especially true for brands who sell through stores they don’t own, like Unilever which is a customer of ours.
We have three tiers of our apps:
- An entry version that we sell worldwide, without any integration. We have big success in the middle east with this one.
- Another version can be integrated with the customer’s environment through APIs
- Last but not least we also sell a fully customized and branded product.
What’s your view on the retail market?
Retail is a fascinating industry, every country is very different. For us, Indonesia and the Philippines are two big market. In the Philippines people largely use paper, you can imagine the opportunity.
Everyday in the news you can read about data-driven companies, big data or artificial intelligence. But the reality of the market for most retailers is that they don’t have much data to start with! We help them take the very first step and actually capture it digitally.
We really have a window of opportunity: in 5 years time everybody will probably think it’s just the norm but today it’s just the beginning. Whatsapp shows the need but doesn’t fill it.
This is what we provide with our apps. They can work offline, we can handle huge volumes of data and our solution is yper secure and GDPR compliant. We are very careful with our Customers’ data. We isolate them and we don’t sell any of it: our business is simple, we sell software.
Where do you stand as a business?
We have a good traction, and we would like to accelerate. We are thinking to raise funds, and taking the time to do it properly is a challenge. We have two objectives:
- Accelerate on the technology side especially on machine-learning based image processing.
- From a sales perspective we spend a lot of time to expand in new markets through partners. Singapore is our headquarters and we work with local partners in each of our markets, but there’s a lot of relationship building. Much more than in Europe or the US. We must find the right partners in each country and it takes a lot of time. It’s a hurdle but at the same time given our cost structure and our pricing it makes us very hard to remove when we’re in!
Perfect. Last question, what do think it takes to be an entrepreneur?
- Being an entrepreneur is so much more extreme and intense! It demands a lot of resilience and perseverance.
- There are also a lot of ups and down so you must have a thick skin. It can be a new juicy contract that comes at an almost miraculous time, or vice-versa!
- As entrepreneurs the human aspect is critical, especially when it comes to hiring. We have been lucky on that front but we also made the right choices and we have invested a lot of time. Today I spend about 20% of my time meeting people to find the right talents. Networking also bring new business opportunies.
- Speed and timing is also hugely important. We are on a great timing because the technology is here and we feel that customers are getting ready for our kind of services. We’re clearly at an inflexion point.