#StartupOfTheWeek – XSpon

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!

Thanks Adrien, we can’t wait to read it, let us know when it’s out!

#StartupOfTheWeek 💎- IWD

Hi Gabriel, so who is IWD?

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.

Why Singapore?

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.

For more info: www.iwd.io

#StartupOfTheWeek – Jumpster

Southeast Asia can be a wealth of opportunities for Startups -but it’s no easy market. This week we sat down with Sebastien de Peretti, Founder of Jumpster, a company that helps French Startups expand there.

Hi Sebastien, how did you arrive in Singapore?

We arrived in Asia by choice, my wife and I simply decided to move here. We spent some time looking at different places but Singapore just looked like the best compromise between professional opportunities and quality of life. We didn’t really have any particular connections there but it seemed like the perfect choice.

Back in France I held various general management positions in small MNCs, and I started working in a similar role in Singapore. But I was really trying to find my sweet spot, where I could bring most value. This is how I realized I could help startups expand here in Singapore and in the Region and this is how I decided to found Jumpster.

What is Jumpster?

It’s very simple. We basically work with startups who want to expand in Southeast Asia. There’s two ways we do this:

  • As a first step we do business development for them.
  • Ultimately we want to invest with them. We build joint ventures with them to help them accelerate

We differentiate on two things:

  • We build long-term relationships with our Customers. Many companies here say they help with business development but they basically work on a couple of weeks assignments. We think 3 to 6 month, because that’s what it really takes to do it.
  • Second, we focus on B2B tech startups in several areas: Internet Of Things, Big data and Artificial Intelligence and Cybersecurity.

We see good commercial traction since our beginning so it shows we deliver value.

How did you create it?

We are three associates: Sylvain Lejeune, Jean-Luc Bernard and myself. Sylvain is VP Sales of WatchGuard and he has been in Asia for 20 years. He has an extensive network in cybersecurity. Jean-Luc is an entrepreneur in the tech industry for more than 30 years, he has seen the evolution in the past decades and brings a huge knowledge as well.

When I decided to create Jumpster I started by speaking to a lot of people. I deeply believe that an idea can only be good if you share it. Sometimes founders are reluctant to do it to protect their ideas, but it’s just not how I work. So I talked to many people and it helped me structure my thoughts, strengthen the value proposition and more generally I got extremely valuable feedback. Most importantly this is how I met my co-founders.

We share strong values and this is what enabled us to find employees, partners, customers and extended resources. These resources are critical for every startup. They are people who believe in our idea and business and want to help us in the early stages.

Singapore is a great place to start a business. When I moved here I had no idea I was going to do this. By talking to a lot of people i realized I could bring value, and the market here is very fast and fluid. This is how I started.

I believe Singapore will become an important technology hub. It is still very small compared to Europe or the US , but it is reaching the critical mass that’s required to grow.

Why do you focus on a few verticals?

Well first we all come from this background so it is our expertise.

But most importantly these industries are a huge opportunity in the region because they aren’t so much the focus here. There are a lot of B2C startups that focus on retail, on consumer trends, on marketing or advertising technologies. This is an opportunity for us to differentiate and bring our expertise in an underserved market like Financial Services, Mission-critical infrastructure (energy, water and telecoms), transportation and logistics and manufacturing.

We focus on really high-tech B2B startups, between A and B series, who want to expand in Southeast Asia.

What is the next step for Jumpster?

We are still at the beginning. We started beginning of this year and we’re already working with several clients. This is great, and it’s the first phase of our development.

Obviously we’re full speed looking for new customers and this will keep us busy for the coming months.

The next phase for us, probably end of this year or beginning of next, will be co-investment. We’re not in a hurry because we really want to have mutual trust between us and our Customers before we create a Joint Venture. We want to ensure we both believe we’re the best partners, that we agree on the go-to-market and sales strategy and most importantly that we can execute on this strategy.

We have a very collaborative approach, meaning that the more successful startups we have in Southeast Asia the more opportunity we will have. So we are very inclusive and try to help startups even if they don’t work with us in the end. The success of some will bring success for others!

To know more you can visit www.jumpster.sg or contact us at contact@jumpster.sg

#StartupOfTheWeek – Stark Group and My Insurer

After the blockchain last week, today we’re diving in the Insurtech industry. Matthias de Ferrières, founder and CEO of the Stark group tell sus how he started his companies and what it means for him to be an entrepreneur.

Matthias, tell us more about yourself?

I founded my first company when I was 16. It was a community of Lego fans and we were organizing events on weekends. It was really fun and I learned a lot! But I sold it after a year to go back to my studies.

After that I worked for Arthur Andersen for about a year and then I wanted to learn english so I decided to move to Australia. I did several jobs there and I finally got a lawyer degree.

I then moved to Singapore to work for Axa. I started as a intern, and I ended-up as their CMO when I left.

What are you doing now?

So in 2013, digital was starting to boom and we had a product to acquire customers online. I decided to take it and built a company around it, this is how Stark Group started. Today the group has 3 businesses:

  • Insurance republic

The company is mandated by banks or insurers to design their products, from the customer journey to the pricing, etc.). Most insurers today are focused on compliance, legal and risk, not really the product design itself sor we’re filling this gap.

  • MotorDBS

In partnerships with DBS we’ve built the first price comparison engine for motor insurance

  • MyInsurer

This one works extremely well and takes most of my focus at the moment.
It is a marketing platform for insurance intermediaries.

What does it mean for you to be an entrepreneur?

The challenge is that the insurance business is not interesting or sexy for anybody. To me this is a great opportunity as an entrepreneur.

I’m convinced that you need experience anyways, whatever the business you’re in. Entrepreneurship is really about knowing your industry inside out and understanding its needs and risks. Today my company works because I spent 15 years working like crazy in a company in this domain. You need 3 things:

  • Know the industry
  • Understand and evaluate the gaps
  • Know how to potentially fill them.

By the way, it is probably the next challenge of the entrepreneurs ecosystem in Singapore. The whole environment here is still young. It’s dynamic but it lacks experience and structure.

What are you objectives in the coming months?

Today I’m very focused on MyInsurer.  I have always bootstrapped my businesses and Stark Group has invested SGD400K in MyInsurer, but now is the time for us to raise more funds and hire different types of profiles.

I am very pragmatic: I know I am very good at knowing which products to build and how to sell them, but I need the right profiles to help use on other aspects. Our plan is to raise funds in September to be ready to deploy later in the year.

#StartupOfTheWeek – Chainstack

This week we talked to Laurent Dedenis, Founder and CEO of Chainstack. Blockchain is such a hot topic globally and even more so in Singapore, it is about time we dive into it!

Laurent, tell us more about yourself?

I first arrived in Singapore in 1997, a long time ago! I lived here several times and I have always shared my time between Singapore and the US.
Two of my three children were born in Singapore!

I came back in Singapore five years ago, for the third time.

I had diverse experiences. I worked for various funds where I took several companies from 0 to 100 millions. It was great but I always wanted to really start my own company from scratch. I was in San Francisco in the 2000s but I was too young to do it there. So finally I founded Chainstack last year and thought Singapore was a great place to do it.

You’ve known Singapore for a long time now, how do you see the evolution?

It has changed a lot. In the past it really wasn’t a place to build something. It was complicated, expensive and there were very few talents especially in technology.

There’s been a real change four to five years ago, when the government decided to make things easier, attract more entrepreneurs, provide grants and build a stronger environment for tech companies. They’ve been able to attract the tech giants here, a lot of talents, and create strong universities.

Today there is a small but true fintech ecosystem that works rather well.

So what is Chainstack about?

Chainstack is a platform that acts as a control panel for blockchains. It’s a multi-cloud and multi-protocol environment. Whether you’re an enterprise or a developer you can use our platform as a service to quickly build, deploy, and manage decentralized networks and services.

My co-founder is Eugene Aseev, a former director of Kaspersky Labs specialized in cryptography. Early 2016 we were working to create a big R&D center for Acronis, to think about how people would protect their data and privacy in the next 15 years. We focused on security, blockchain and artificial intelligence.

The basic question we were trying to answer was: “How could blockchain replace today’s very centralized world?”.

From there we actually decided to do a spin-off from Acronis. We founded the company a year ago, we raised several millions dollars and hired people. We are now 17 staff strong and we’ve released our first product a month ago, which we’ve developed in just 11 months.

It’s been a real adventure because the market is fascinating. Everybody talks about blockchain but in practice there aren’t many players and it is not very mature yet. The technology is still new, and obviously the recent press is not really in favour of the blockchain.

A lot is being said about Blockchain, what’s your view?

Everything and anything has been written about blockchain. We are very focused on a few use-cases that bring value to our customers to ensure whatever we do delivers results.

There were similar discussions on cloud a few years ago. There was a debate between public vs. private clouds, and today we see that the main trend is actually the hybrid cloud, with many companies having a mix of both.

I think it will be the same about blockchain. There will be public and private blockchains with different uses. We see well-defined use-cases in finance, supply chain, pharma and transport. Blockchain becomes a tool among others to optimize costs and flows to do business with customers and partners.

Our customers are traditional companies trying to improve existing systems. Let me take an example: many of them are existing SAP customers. Blockchain will never replace your ERP, but it can enable new decentralized use-cases on top of it. Technically you could do it with SAP, but it would be very manual, extremely costly and it wouldn’t scale.

Again, we deeply believe the winning model in the future will combine existing systems and blockchain, in a hybrid way just like cloud.

What are the main use-cases you’re addressing?

We focus on 3 use-cases

  • Limit the costs of inter-company reconciliation.

There’s an important costs to reconcile data and reports when several enterprises do business together. It is a huge cost for the global economy: for instance it represents 5 to 6% of the cost structure for banks. This is often referred to as the single version of the truth.

  • Limit the intermediaries

Today any business involves many intermediaries which add some value but also create a lot of friction. The blockchain, with smart contracts, can transform these processes and reduce the number of parties and make them a lot leaner.

  • Traceability

Many industries need to trace everything they produce. Think food or pharma industry, but also luxury. What is interesting here is that it works both ways: using our platform a pharma company can control how they put a new drug on the market, but it also enables them to withdraw a product when there is a problem.

What’s your last word?

I think something is really happening in Singapore at the moment especially in the fintech and blockchain industry. For the first time in the history of technology, these are not exclusive to the US. It comes mostly from Russia and China, and it’s really exciting to be in the first generation of non-american tech! Today the heart of fintech is not only NYC, it is also London, Paris, Singapore and Hong-Kong.

For us at Chainstack, we just released our product and we’re running full steam to make it the most universal blockchain platform to help our customers. By the way, we’ll hold our official launch on April 23rd at the Google office so join us there!