Today we spend time with Adrien Pierson, from XSpon. Great conversation about wine, golf, and well…entrepreneurship! Let’s get started, shall we?
Adrien, tell us more about yourself
I arrived in Singapore in 2012. I was working in an small company back in France and I wanted to develop the business here. They were the leader for corporate events in wine and gastronomy.
One of the Founder’s mentor was Guy Savoye, the famous chef. He owned a restaurant at Marina Bay Sands so we used it to hold the first “Singapour fête le champagne” and “Singapour fête le Bordeaux” events.
These events still exist today, the concept is simple. It is a large wine tasting session with the owner of a domain or the cellar manager, followed by a dinner in small groups to encourage networking.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out as planned. First, we didn’t realize that wine distributors here in Asia and Singapore are extremely strong -and we simply couldn’t compete on the margins. Second, it’s not in the culture here to sit and have dinner for hours with 6 or 7 courses.
So not tech at all at that time?
No, not yet. After 2 years we threw the towel and in 2014 I went on to work for a wine distributor. They wanted to leverage digital technologies and I consulted for them for about a year. This was a transition for me, really. I was among very wealthy people and a lot of them played golf, which is a sport I love. This is how i decided to start a company in this area.
It was a web platform serving as a high-end concierge service for golf players in Singapore to organize sessions in the region. We just made it super easy to play golf in Southeast Asia, rent a villa nearby, and have dinners and parties in the evenings. I started this by myself using Shopify, with the help of a great developer from Australia.
It was just the 2 of us and we worked for almost 3 years on the project and we had a lot of fun. In the end it didn’t work, for 2 reasons.
- First we faced a huge competition: there’s very few, very powerful companies that trust everything in this sport and we were too small.
- Also our whole idea was to use technology, but in the end it really was a concierge service. We would have calls at midnight because a group of customers in Bali wanted to change the nightclub originally planned, for instance. It was a nightmare!
So I decided to do an executive MBA at INSEAD on change management. It is very focused on psychology, group dynamics, how to manage conflicts, etc. I am currently doing my thesis on the relationship between business angels and entrepreneurs in seed and pre-seed stages.
In parallel to that I have started a new venture. It’s a company called XSpon, an online sponsoring platform for startups and SMBs.
What is XSPON exactly?
Basically XSpon is a brand activation platform that put startups and SMBs in touch with events organizers.
I have a deep events background and I really believe they are critical for any business today. We are not in the product era anymore, neither the service era: today it’s all about the experience, and events are a great way to provide a great experience.
Xspon relies on two ideas.
- First, sponsoring events today is mostly for large companies. Big events sponsored by big multinational corporations. But if you are a smaller events organizer, or a smaller company, you just don’t have access to the traditional sponsoring schemes. If you want to either find a small event to sponsor it becomes an extremely painful, long, boring and manual process no one wants to do.
- The second problem we see is that many startups focus on digital -which is great. But while they have put in a lot of effort on their product, they sometimes overlook the sales and go-to-market aspects. They focus only on a pure digital relationship with their customers, which is a huge mistake. You have to get in front of your audience physically, this is the only way to know them in and out.
Sponsoring the right events, at the right price, is a really valuable way to put your brand in front of your customers and interact with them directly.
So for startups XSpon makes sponsoring easy, accessible and affordable. We build a bridge to help start secure their product/market fit.
Very interesting to put events almost as an acquisition channel
Exactly. Events are the best way to know your audience. Today with Facebook Manager can run an ad campaign targeting the Singaporean women living in the North, who are in their mid 30s and who have a dog. But that doesn’t mean you know them at all! An event for the same audience will be the easiest way to go and meet them.
We are using analytics to ensure we match the need of a startup in term of audience with the right events. We have 50 customers and 100 events for now, all in Singapore. We will open new cities in the future obviously.
Today we’re doing the soft launch of our platform, so please join! Don’t wait, it is free for now but it won’t last.
We have also planned to help events organizer better use technology. On most large events you can use wireless tech to queue, buy food, checkin, pay your drinks etc. But many events don’t use tech at all, and we want to help them do that.
The benefits for them is that they can improve the quality of the experience at the event, but this will enable us to gather precious data and analytics during the event to better understand and qualify the audience for startups.
Can you tell us more about your thesis?
Sure. The relationship between entrepreneurs and investors in very early stage is really fascinating.
On the one hand the entrepreneur is fully focused on his idea, his product. Day and night he thinks about it, every neuron so constantly working on his project that there’s even a mental load that is hard to deal with.
But on the other hand, what early stage investors are focused on is not at all the idea or the product. It’s only the founding team, the entrepreneurs themselves. And usually they fund an early stage startup precisely because they believe the founder could work on any problem, not just this one.
This creates a very unique dynamics, and this is what my thesis is diving into.
There is so much work to do the team aspects in early stage startups! A founder is really like Hannibal in the A-Team TV series. His strength is simply to federate and gather the right people, but he can help anybody whatever their issues!