In this episode of China paradigm, Matthieu David, CEO of Daxue Consulting, interviews Aurélien Rigart, Co-founder of IT Consultis a Shanghai-based digital Agency. Rigart shares with us practical-based tips for starting a web agency in China.
IT Consultis has done 450 projects with clients ranging from startups to large companies like Budweiser and Decathlon and has 70 full-time employees in three offices in Asia.
Rigart explains why entrepreneurs in China have to be especially resilient and tells his story of going from the first $500, 20-day long project to 3 million USD. We learn how to hire the right tech people, how to manage the constantly changing tech scene in China, what are the challenges of opening in new locations like Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore. He gives suggestions like how to localize in China, with tips on programming and user experience.
China paradigm is a podcast is sponsored by Daxue consulting where we interview successful entrepreneurs about their businesses in China. You can access all available episodes from the China paradigm Youtube page.
Matthieu David: Today I am welcoming Aurélien. It’s hard to pronounce your name in English. I don’t know how you pronounce Aurélien in English.
Aurélien Rigart: I think you’re doing pretty well, Matthieu. People definitely say Aurélien. Definitely a lot of unique things, but we’ll stick with Aurélien for today.
Matthieu: Good. Aurélien is a co-founder and vice president of IT Consultis. IT Consultis is a web agency developing websites, apps, mini programs and they write actually out in spectrum of services. You also introduced brands, companies on Tmall, the marketplaces. I was trying to understand your designs of the shop. That’s why I understood from your presentation online and you have a team of 70 people with offices in China, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh, Singapore and I will be interested to know why those locations and how you manage them. It will be very interesting to understand better. So, you founded the company 2011 in March more precisely. You are a co-founder with a two to three or total of four co-founders. I’m not totally sure the number and I will have questions on it.
You have worked on 450 products so far. They are a wide variety of clients as well from the startup to big companies, like Swatch, like Leica and many as you are going to talk about, If you are going to talk about what you did for them. Thank you very much for being here.
Aurélien: Thank you Matthieu. Real pleasure to be here in the morning.
Matthieu: Yeah, we shoot early in the morning.
Aurélien: Yeah, that’s a good thing.
Matthieu: First question. Well, it’s about the size of the company. I read online. I read your presentation, corporate presentation, 70 people more, very impressive. You’re self-funded or you’re not self-funded? Are you self-funded, or you’re Gov. funded?
Aurélien: Yeah, we are 100% self-funded. We started the adventure seven years ago, three partners. So we’re a family company. So initially with my brother and I, together with the family and get the idea to kick-start this, this company, and then like we invited our third co-founder to come and join us. So that was seven years ago and now we have a team of 70 people. So 100% self-funded. We’re not backed up by any banks, any fund or any other agency. We’re 100% independent.
Matthieu: I see. Very impressive to grow from zero to 70 people. So about the size of the company, you talk about 70 people, what about revenues? What about number of projects? 450 number of clients.
Aurélien: So, I mean the size of the company overall, like roughly we’re growing 40 to 50% year on year and the last couple of years, we are at the $3 million plus company. Our goal is to continue in the next year, growing 50%. As you mentioned, being self-funded and growing 50% is always a little bit a challenge and sometimes for cash flow perspective. Like all the companies being here in China, established by foreign entrepreneurs, but that’s the goal. So, we have a lot of ambitions and we have ambitions to grow different regions, different services.
Matthieu: Yeah, for the listeners who are not managing business here or do not touch with the finances in China; It’s very hard to get financing for any bank. You don’t get a loan, you don’t get work to keep a loan in China. So when you start a business, you need to get clients quickly, to pay your bills and you need to be resilient. What I’m actually impressed by the size you have reached is that we see a lot of web agencies in China, many web agencies. I think I feel the market is very competitive and I like to have your opinion on it, but you have few companies, will reach the level of 40 plus.
They reach 30 but going to 40 plus, you’re becoming a very sizable agency in China. What’s your take on it? What’s your feedback on it? How did you grow to be above average in terms of agencies in China?
Aurélien: Well, I think one of the secrets is to always remain grounded, to always keep your feet on the floor and to always build a company in order to scale it up. Always drawing for your senior managements to delegate as much as possible a lot of mission in order to achieve that growth and keep this mentality. So it’s really like a matter of mentality if you on a scale a scale company. So of course it is an industry where there’s a lot of challenges, there’s a lot of competition and I think if
you want to keep growing, of course, you need to keep your best people. In order to get to keep your best people, you need their level of seniority to evolve with the company.
You need to make sure that they’re going to delegate. You need to make sure that you’re going to be able to pay them more. This is the mentality, the scaling mentality that we’ve been applying to our team. So I think that’s one of our secret to growing and as well, like as you mentioned earlier, you need to be like extremely resilient. It’s very hard work. Very hard work. Very hard work is like pushing the limits all the times and I’m very happy as an owner of the company, is like the person, the manager I am right now. I’m a totally different animal than I was like a year ago and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be like, it’s a little different one day a year from now.
So, it’s constantly learning and surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs or of business people that have been facing the same problems. This is the way I see scaling up and this is why I’m very confident we’re going to scale up an extra 50% next year.
Matthieu: So it’s about management for you. The scale is going from management.
Aurélien: Yeah, I mean, management mindsets and effort. You need to manage everything and since being in China you need to be cash flow positive. You need to make wise investments and you need to be healthy, basically. Like if you want to grow like this, it means you’re a healthy company because there’s a lot of companies that have loans from banks here and there and you never know if they’re healthy. We need to grow therefore we need to be healthy.
Matthieu: I see. You said you are a family company. Did it rotate in France initially, or you started from China? Is it linked with your parents or grandparents or family? Because you studied with your brother.
Aurélien: It’s a family company because I studied with my brother here. He came here 10 years ago and he started a consultancy doing sourcing and trading, and then afterwards we came here, we study another product which failed, which was an e-commerce platform. After this failure, we decided to launch IT Consultis and we also own Two Thai restaurants, actually three Thai restaurants in Shanghai. So it’s been always like it’s my brother and I and now we have two other, I mean a third co-founder and another French partner.
So we have four partners, but you know, like the mentality, the way we work, the way we lead is really like a big family. That’s, I think, one of the reasons why people are staying in the long run because of us as well.
Matthieu: Interesting. So, the family mentality is not only because you’re starting with your brother. So you started in 2011 and when I look at your background, you’re not a programmer. I look at your background on LinkedIn. I will read it for the audience. Structural engineer, social design, 45 story complex results are what was the product when you were a student and you studied reinforced concrete structures, eight oil cakes, product management, two construction, very far away from the digital industry. How did you, how did you catch up to be an addition landscape in 2011, just after graduation?
Aurélien: So that’s an interesting mindset. When you’re young you think that you’re a little bit invincible. So my background is that I’m actually, as you mentioned, like a civil engineer. I graduated from one of the top engineering school in France. I did my first master’s degree in France, then I went to the US and I did a second master’s degree. I was also a researcher. I did a lot of amazing things over there, and then it was the recession in the US so it was a little bit difficult to get a visa there in 2009, 2010. So, I decided to join my brother to come to China and to become an entrepreneur and at that time we were like, hey, let’s give it a try and there are opportunities.
So, one of the ways we’d been able to do it is like always surround ourselves with people that will have the knowledge, and I think coming back to your earlier question, why we’ve been able to scale the business this well. I’ve seen a lot of companies that study that exactly the same time as us. The only difference is that the main person, the main driver of the company was usually a programmer and these people were involving himself 100% into the project. So that means like creating value but within the company. What we’ve been having is like really working on in and out of the company.
So structuring the company, I’ve been working on delivering the value but also growing an ecosystem around it. So I think this has been very helpful and afterwards why and why not. There’s a lot of entrepreneurs that have been starting different businesses where they have no background and no experience in that field. So, I think we’re trained as engineers or as business people doing the schools that we’re doing in France. We are raised and the education that we are structuring us to solve problems.
Like when I get into that industry and now seven, eight years ago, I saw this as like having these challenges here and these challenges here and this is the direction we wanted to take, and how are we going to assemble and how are we going to work with everything. So if tomorrow you say, hey, Aurélien, I really need to start a company in that ecosystem. I will not be scared. I would approach it in a very specific way.
Matthieu: But still recruiting a programmer requires tests, requires to know if you can really do it. Can
you do it well? Can you do it averagely? Can you do it poorly? How did you assess if you could do it poorly, averagely, or in an outstanding way? What is your first experience, an e-commerce product that you learned, which gave you the directions or tools, the ideas on how to assess the ability of this?
Aurélien: So, I mean, first of all, the key for us to start the company was really recruiting our third co-founder, which was Thomas Guillemaud, who is still part of the company and he’s like one of the director and he more than my brother and I is more geeky. He’s like even though he has graduated from a business school, he has a programmer and a geek mindset. So I’ve been on board, it was already the opportunity to ensure that this area of the business will be 100% covered. Then afterwards it’s always recruiting the right person that you can trust, and when we started at that time, we started with less than $10,000. That’s like one of the things that also you need to realize.
So we had $10,000 and we had like a couple of people to pay including myself, including Thomas, including the first programmer that will be hired, including the office. So, remaining cash flow positive has been quite a challenge, especially at the beginning. So that was the major challenge and then you need to bet on people because at the time we couldn’t hire senior people. We definitely could not hire senior people. So he was like, for us, it’s always been betting on very smart young people that we know we can trust and that will grow step by step within the growth of the company. That will help us grow the company.
Matthieu: When did you join? Just at the start or?
Aurélien: I joined, yeah, sort of the start. That was a funny story because we were doing this e-commerce platform and we were at a point where it was difficult for us to maintain it and continue it. I talked to my intern at that time and my brother and I, we shared this idea that we wanted to start a digital agency. She came back to us and said, hey guys, you know how to do this. I have the perfect guy for you. You need to meet Thomas. I mean he’s in France right now but he’s going to graduate soon, and the next thing you know, so I got him on the phone and I told him, hey, Thomas we want to do this. We have no money but real ambition and we think that China is a great market.
Of course, I was a little bit more convincing but I don’t know how, but he said, hey, yes. The next day he was li
ke, two days later he was taking a flight ticket. So yeah, that call was pretty convincing, pretty proud of myself. That was the first break. So, coming back to your question is like how do you influence people for them to in the end join your company? Like, join your path and you have like a big hairy, ambitious goal. How can you share it with other people and how they will follow you at some points. I think this is the biggest strengths of some entrepreneurs, is the ability for them to, for people to join them on their path at some point.
Matthieu: I see. Talking about a the big ambitious goal, which is a wedding used by EOS. How EOS, I know you’ve been involved in EOS in China, Shanghai. How Eagle has influenced your way of management and change your way of management and since when?
Aurélien: I think EOS has tremendously changed my life in many ways. First of all from a perspective, so when joining EO about two and a half years ago, we were just reaching the million dollar revenue, annual revenue. At that time I was thinking that, well, we’re a pretty decent accompany. We’re doing well and getting in an organization where there was so many businesses that were like $500 million business. I was looking at it like wow, I have a long way to go. So first of all, I was thinking that wherever I was, maybe I was thinking that I was a decent size. I realized that I was a very small size.
So, from that moment I decided I need to continue working very hard in order to grow to a sustainable size in and to be respected in the community, in the entrepreneur community. So that’s the first thing about Eo and then surrounding yourself with like-minded people, people that you can share your challenges, and you can brainstorm about how you can improve your methodology, the way you manage things, the way you scale your business. This has helped me in these things like a great learning tool. What I like to do is you identify, you have a couple of mentors in the organization and you have a couple of mentees. I like both aspects of it because I have a lot of accelerators, a lot of other EO members that are coming to me and asking me questions about how do I do this?
How do I do that? I do the same thing we was out of people. So I think it’s a great learning community and of course as you know, I put a lot of time into it. I’m part of the board of directors for two years. I was an accelerator coach as well and I like it. Of course, this can be time-consuming and taking your time a little bit away from your business or your personal life at some point. But you know, I have to say that it’s like it’s worth doing it. So I highly recommend any entrepreneur to get into the organization.
Matthieu: Talking about your thoughts, what was your first client? What was your first client and how did you get it?
Aurélien: All right, so first clients was very small. I mean very small. It’s actually like that smaller of a restaurant, a French restaurant called Le Salio. I think everybody in Shanghai knows it. So the mindset that we adopted at that time was if we want to grow, we have no portfolio, we have no experience and we have no reason for people to trust us. That’s it. We’re coming like way up those companies that are doing like 20, 30 projects. So, the only way people are going to select this is that first of all we can … They feel that they can have the trust in us and of course, I think we’ve got to be cheaper than the competition. So getting on the market, our first project was a $500 pro
ject, which probably most of the company.-
Aurélien: Yeah, and at that time we thought we were crazy rich, the beginning of us becoming super rich. In the end that was like a 20 day project. So, I’ll let you calculate. So what was the hourly rate we get paid for that project? So it was … Yeah, we didn’t make much money on that one but it was the idea. When we started the company, you think those young entrepreneurs, they have no experience. They don’t have a portfolio is just like, yeah, they seem to be nice and with a smile on their face and why should I choose them? So, you need to start, you need to show your motivation, you need to show your commitment and show that whatever is going to happen, you never going to quit on it. You’re going to deliver.
Whatever it takes you’re going to deliver and you’re got to deliver with the highest level of quality and expect at that particular time. So people decided to trust us of course, because we were in the entrepreneur community already for quite a bit of time and we were showing that we will not quit. That was the beginning. This $500 million project, what we did at that time is that even though we could have to get paid like two or $3,000 for the same job we ensured at that time that this looked like a $2,000 project, for one simple reason is that even if we know we’re going to lose money on that project, but when the company that had $20,000 would come to see us, we will look good enough to take, legitimate enough to take that $2,000 project.
Once we get that $2,000 project we made it look like a $4,000 project. Therefore, when this $4,000 company will come then, and this has been our approach since the beginning. Of course, I cannot do this for seven years. Now we are focusing more on profitability. But this is how you scale up from doing companies like small restaurants to Fortune 500 companies. Because the SME, they were looking at us to how you can only do websites for restaurants, and then, yeah, you show that you can do it, that you’re aggressive. Then step by step you get here and thenthe second stage you get here, then. We didn’t start with a Fortune 500. We started really at the bottom of the line. So very little cash, very little experience on the Chinese markets, and then like step by steps, we worked very hard to get here, very hard to get here, very hard. Then this is where we’re going.
Matthieu: The difficulty of managing an agency and I was trying to understand also people in the agencies, say dream about having a product because of product makes life much easier. It’s retainer. It’s paid monthly or yearly. How have you … What has been the service that helped you to grow? How
you manage the growth of the agency where you need to adapt constantly to the market, to the client because there’s a new technology? How will you manage this? I feel it’s rare that you can reach a size of 70 people because of this, because you taught to manage the growth of an agency.
Aurélien: So first of all, talking about employee retention, because that’s the first thing, as you say. A lot of people like to go in startups where there’s a product where they’re going work on something very specific. I have to say that a couple of years ago it was really hard because we were training really talented developers and they were very often attracted as well by those kind of startups that raise very fast capital and the developers with a really crazy amount of money. That’s something that we could not compete with.
So, I think retention was one of the key challenge, and then as a company, we tried a few times to say, hey, we’re going to develop the products instead of doing only the agency work. What we realized is that it is really not the same word. It’s really different and we have basically like two or three opportunities.
Matthieu: What products?
Aurélien: I think, everybody I’ve seen … Okay, so our first opportunity was like an HR system. We worked in the past for IRA, Index, Stella Luna and a couple of like the capital as well. Specific product which was like an O2O product where you can scan it at your code, those sharp little leaflets in the shopping bag when people will leave. They’ll scan a code and then like having the opportunity to apply online directly for a job in the company. You’re just thinking about Zara, like the client can actually, one of the staff, one of the in store staff. So at that time companies wanted to leverage their in-store traffic to convert them into potential employees because for them recruitment was like those companies are growing like thousands and thousands of stores every year or more.
So, they were leveraging these. So, at that time we got a lot of requests for a similar product by different brands. So we were like wow, there’s a great opportunity and the problem is that if you have an agency on one side and you’re trying to develop a product from the other side, you always are going for the thing th
at makes you eat. Sort of thing that was making us eat was the money that our clients were giving us. If you want to develop a product, that’s a really different structure in terms of investment because you need to be accompanied. You cannot charge a product like $10,000 to each of the clients because if it is a product they want to pay maybe a thousand dollar a month or they want to be built on a retainer.
So at that time we didn’t have the structure or capability or maybe just the mindset to make it happen. So, that was the first product, and then really the second product is a little bit like everybody has done at some point. Some agencies have pivoted to duties which is like the social CRM, either charge bird or social CRM. So I know one agency that is, I mean, like one social CRM that is doing extremely good. That was actually an agency in the past and of course we’re working with them. They have an awesome product, but at some point we couldn’t continue doing the agency and the product. So like that to say hey, we’re only going into product direction.
There’s one agency that is doing a little bit of both still, which I think is very courageous of them. So like for us, I think that we understood that IT will be very difficult to be the best at it and that there was already two and three excellent player on the market and to catch up with them, we would have had to raise funds and would have had to really change the strategy. When you want to grow a company like what we’re doing, at 50% year on year you need to put your full attention. This is like a 70 hours a week work and if you want to develop a product on the side, this is probably the same mindset and same amount of work. So, we only have one life and you need to sleep at some point. So, that’s one of the reasons why we didn’t go that way.
Matthieu: The other thing, you said at the beginning that you had other businesses. You had Thai restaurants and you mentioned also other businesses. So, you are actually managing different businesses, or you’re involved in different businesses.
Aurélien: So, we’re involved. At the time, a couple of years ago I was spending e maybe like 20 or 30% of my time in the restaurant business and then 70% on the agency. Now I’m doing 99% on the agency or like 120 on the agency and maybe 1% on the restaurant. My brother is taking ca
re of the restaurant business, so he is spending like 50, 60% of his time on the agency and 40% on the restaurants. It’s like making a decision on where you want to invest your time, but that’s what it is at the moment.
Matthieu: Why did you suddenly open restaurants? Was it because you are not sure about your business and you wanted to diversify? Was it because you find opportunity? Was it because you had other partners to partner with?
Aurélien: Yeah, I mean, it was really an opportunity at that time. It was like five years ago. One of our friend was actually selling her Thai restaurants and she wanted to do something different other than a restaurant. My brother and I in the family we’ve always dreamed about having restaurants. So, she came along with a … She was seeking for investors, buyers, and she told us, yeah, I’m willing to sell it for that price, and we were like. So we made a couple of calculation and we said, all right, we’ll do it. That was just based on an opportunity. It could have been another business then like say, hey, let’s see this opportunity, let’s give it a try.
So then we had the first one, then we opened a second one, which is a much bigger one and now we have as well lounge, a little kind of like corner, fast food restaurant called Urban Tuk Tuk, which is something that is using more like the new retail, new technologies and a lot of delivery, shopping mall or co-working space. This is not like the big restaurant where you can sit down. This is more like a delivery corner and this is something that is much more scalable than just a typical restaurant which requires tremendous investment if you want to start one location.
Matthieu: I see. What’s the name of the first restaurant?
Aurélien: Urban Thai, so it’s Thai food. Sorry, it’s not French food
Matthieu: Okay, going back to IT Consultis. You have developed the first website was basically a website for restaurants, even website. Now we are developing a much more sophisticated project. What is the main project that you are asked to work for in China? Is it to go to Tmall and open a Tma
ll shop and design the Tmall shop? Is it to have an independent website? Is it HTML five? Is it a mini program? What’s new? What’s trendy for 2018?
Aurélien: Okay, so just to correct on this. So we don’t do Tmall. I know it’s something that is written on our website, but that’s something that we should have changed already years ago. So we don’t do the Tmall work. We have excellent partners doing this and so we do mainly things that will require somebody working on the strategy. Then we have a UI, UX designer, then we’ll have programmers working on it. So I will say the big, so we have been working with a brand like Swatch, like Decathlon, Porsche, Budweiser.
What strikes me in 2018 is really the only channel approach is that you’re not doing a websites just to do a website anymore. You’re doing a website to display your contents, not only on the website, but you’re creating a content management system to display the information in a mini program on the website, in the in-store display. So now when brands are coming to see us it’s like really the Omni channel approach where you have two targets, different users at a different time. We, of course, like a piece of content that is going to be displayed in a very specific way for them. So, right now one of the things that I’m the most proud of is the ability for the IT Consultis team to really take and that call though those program where right now we’re working with a brand from the concept to delivery.
We’re helping them with selecting their ERP partners. We’re helping them with selecting the CRM partners. We are helping them with digital touch points in the store. We are helping them to develop their e-commerce mini program, their websites and linking everything with an order management system. So, that’s how deep we are able to go from doing these small website to having really like a strategy Omni channel approach where we’re going to target, of course, everything is around We Chat nowadays.
So you need to interface interacts and make sure that it’s going to be perfectly integrated within the ecosystem, the Chinese digital ecosystem, or if we’re doing a project for Singapore or at a region in Asia being integrated in those systems as well.
Matthieu: I see. So positioning yourself as the one stop agency which is going to partner with an ERP, which concerns ERP, for the end client and you’re going to organize all this work because I guess you cannot take care of everything. So, what are the different aspects to look at when you talk about an Omni channel strategy? You’re talking about We Chat, clearly to be ready to work on We Chat, linked to QR code, a link to the ERP or the CRM or the company? What other aspects should be looked at?
Aurélien: Well, I mean, I think you’ve already listed quite a few of them. I mean, it depends afterwards, if you’re talking about an international brand or if you’re talking about a brand that is localized. There’s a lot of challenge with data storing in China. Privacy is always a little bit of deregulation, so you need to pay a lot of attention to this and afterwards it’s really helping brands and customers or other entrepreneurs, to make the best educated decisions. Our mindset is like that for the brands that we’re serving is to bring them the best return on investment.
So, it’s really helping them to make choices that are going to create like real revenue for them and that is going to be, first of all, scalable and that they’re going to be able to keep using for the long run that is going to be easy for them to maintain, and where are they going to have most freedom to interact with their ecosystem.
Matthieu: You’re putting Ho Chi Minh, you’re putting Singapore. I find Hi Chi Minh will be partly for development. It also falls in market of Vietnam, and what about Singapore? How did you develop those three locations? Do you have partners over there? Did you send one of your partner over there, one of the co-founders? How did you develop this? I feel opening a new location is always a very big challenge.
Aurélien: Yeah, opening a location is always a challenge and you always have more challenge than what you expected earlier. So right now, so two years, a little bit more than two years ago, we made a decision to open Ho Chi Mihn. So, main reason for this is that we always had A pack in ambitions. So not only China ambition and at that time it was actually super-duper hard. Two or three years ago there was a crazy scarcity in order to find technical talents in Shanghai. At that time we were debating whether just opening like a production center in a little bit further than Shanghai.
It can be Hangzhou, it can be Suzhou, but it can be all the way up to Chong Chior to Chung Lu. We were not really sure wher
e to go, but we also knew that we had a back ambition. So being a back ambition, like doing something in Suzhou, Hangzhou, when you want to target Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand or Japan or Korea at some points, didn’t really make sense. So we studied a little bit Asia Pacific. Of course, we had to look at India because India is very famous for its development. We had to look at the Philippines and we had to look at Vietnam. One of our good friend, they already had a production center over there and he was telling us only good things about it.
So, we decided just to go there for trip and we kind of fell in love with the country and the city. We started to interview people and then after 10 days over there, we decided to open a company. So that was interesting. So my brother and I went there. Then Thomas went there, we stayed there one week. Thomas stayed there one week and after two weeks we met with the lawyer and we started the company straight away. So, I think that was a wise choice. Afterwards as you as you mentioned, opening a company and having two location is something that is, of course, very challenging. What we thought that, like we just clap and the company will open and everything will be easy. Teams will work together very easily.
No, that’s not as easy as it looks because whenever you’re working on new sites, the easy communication, that’s when you have a problem or when you have like a task to do, you just scan and go to the person and say hey, whatever I wrote on that ticket, I was expecting it to be like this and not like this. Now, you have people, of course like it’s almost the same time so there’s only one hour time difference but that means you need to document much better what you’re doing. Then at the same time we’re talking about different culture, different language. So it’s like creating added barriers and anticipated ways to work. Then like India, it kind of forced us to become more and more professional.
So in a way, that was not expected but I have to say that this would add some words in terms of quality control and in terms of project management. So if before you would spend like 20% of project management of quality control on the project, then all of a sudden you’ll need to spend like five or 10% more on the same project because you need to add communication. You need to add documentation. That was one of the thing. But for us, we always work. So we have the two teams and right now, most of the work that we’re doing is actually targeting China. So for most of the project we still have like 50%, 50%. We always have the same amount of people working here in China, which had Chinese developer most of the time working on a project along developers from Vietnam.
Matthieu: How big is the team in Vietnam?
Aurélien: So right now we have 40 people in Shanghai. We have a little bit less than 30 in Vietnam, and
we have two people in Singapore.
Matthieu: What was your first high? You have the manager?
Aurélien: Yeah, our first hire was a lady called Ming. She’s our HR and admin manager over there. So, that was my first hire. I spend like eight hours in the store retail, in the meeting room of store retail, one of the first, I mean, the first time I went there because we had already pre-screened a lot of CV. I met people back to back and after this it was clear that we were going to hire her and then a couple of days later she was starting with us. So that was like starting and straightaway launching something. For Singapore, Singapore was a different story. So Adrian, who was our BD manager in Shanghai, his girlfriend, um, who was like a very important position within a pharmaceutical organization, was moved to Singapore as a director for APAC Region.
For Adrian it was a little bit hard to stay here and he told us, hey guys, I love the company and I definitely see that they could be a potential opportunity in Singapore. So, I think that will be great if I go there and I opened the office. I think the decision was made same thing in just a couple of hours. Say hey, let’s give it a try and see how it works, so.
Matthieu: I see. You’re developing partly from Vietnam, only from Vietnam. We know that China is very specific in terms of development programming. There is China and the rest of the world, basically as Facebook and then Facebook and Google and then Google. How do you … What would you suggest any client to do in order to localize in China, their digital presence? What are the best practices to follow in China? Do you have a list in mind to look at when you look at the website and you look at the situation of a company of what you will have to adapt?
Aurélien: I used to manage most of the design and the design localization when the company was a little bit smaller. I mean like not doing it. That is not massive, but interacting a lot with our design team to work on this job, but it’s been quite a long time. So, I don’t think I have the best skills up to dates, at least, when it comes to this, but overall of course user experience. So you have to look at different things. You need to first look at it from a programming perspective because as you know, there’s the great firewall in China. The way you’re working globally with CDN, like a specific script specific functionality, this doesn’t apply in China because we were going to come back to it.
But there’s the programming part, symptoms of localization, that’s the first thing. The second part is the user experience. So, user experience, we’re going to start by this. Of course, each and every single country has their own specific ways to have their own user experience, their own user interface. But I think China is at another level. Everybody knows about the Chinese great firewall and that the fact that the ecosystem is very different here. So having a different ecosystem means that Chinese users have bee
n used to really use different apps such as We Chat, Alipay and it has changed as well the way that users are, sorry, experience creator are working within the system. So, a lot of people now will open a website or e-commerce platform.
We’ve seen We Chats, so they will have to use all the social logging aspect. They will ask to move maybe coupon of We Chat or they will need you create a mini program instead of just doing an application. So localization on that part is very crucial. The Chinese users, they have a different mindsets. They have a different way to interact with a digital screen, with the digital world and I think it’s something that needs to be taken into consideration. For example, when you’re doing shopping on Amazon, on an app or like in France or in the US, the user experience is going to be very different than the user experience you’re going to have on Tmall, you’re going to have on JD.
So, when you’re building something for an ecommerce perspective, you need to think about instant how the users are going to interact with your experience. So, that’s the first thing and there’s a good list of like five, 10, 20 things that you need to check upon. But the most important thing is like the mindset and getting the inspiration from those experiences in order to make sure that the learning curve of the users coming on the experiences that you have created is going to be the smallest possible. So, that’s the first thing, the user experiences. The second thing that you can really have is from a technology perspective.
I think that’s one of the reason why as well, there’s not a lot of massive players coming to China and that we are competing with. Not a lot of agency will have this knowledge about how to do digital in China. So, you have the great firewall so that means you need to host your website in China, most of the time and all the time. So you need to have your content delivery network in China. You need to have everything registered in China. So, that’s one of the big challenge and you need to use all the ecosystems. So, including all the API’s of Alipay, of We Chat pay, like studying up here your media program or interconnecting with your order management system, your CRM system.
Of course everything needs to be storing data or anonymize if you send outside of China. So, those are the other things to consider because a company that will go to like Vietnam or Indonesia or a French company that will try to do e-commerce, in Germany things will be quite easy, maybe the only thing that you will need to change is the language, but the infrastructure is easy. Like if you have a website that is hosted in France, it’s easy to do it in Germany. In China, it’s either merge different levels. The localization is a real challenge for every brand, and then I always say one of the biggest challenge as well is that a lot of the global solution such as sales force commerce or eco-commerce are not yet authorized in China. So, that means-
Matthieu: They’re authorized in Hong Kong, right?
Matthieu: So, there’s Salesforce in Hong Kong.
Aurélien: So there’s still a lot of companies using sales force that will probably require a lawyer to discuss more about the new regulations, but if we just talk about sales force commerce, which is the ecommerce platform, then this is like a solution that do not have that eye center. So if you want to use it first in terms of legal aspects it’s a little bit shaky. The second thing is that it’s not in China. The time that you will have in order to just do a transaction or add something to your checkout is going to take maybe like one, two, sometimes three seconds. So therefore it’s going to kill your user experience. So, those solutions are not in China, so there’s a lot of companies that are using those big solutions probably, when it comes China you can abuse it.
So they need to use another solution such as Magento or in that order, management system, or they might use Adobe content management system globally, or Side Co, and then you come to China and they need to use something different.
Matthieu: I see. You were talking about you actually. Do use the scrum methodology to adapt to every iteration?
Aurélien: Yeah, I mean from a job, there’s always a little bit of a challenge too because doing scrubbing and agencies, that is always a little bit of a challenge, but-
Matthieu: Why do you think it’s challenging?
Aurélien: Because we are … Our workloads really depends on our clients’ feedback sometimes. Like when you’re working on a product, it’s very easy to know that you’re going to do this and then you’re going to do that and then you’re going to do that. Working with a client sometimes is you’re expecting feedback. So, let’s say you start on a design, you do your wireframe and then all of a sudden you’re stuck for one week because you’re waiting for feedback. At that time you need to work on another project. So let’s say that you need to very often realign what are the priorities and how, of course you need to make sure that you don’t do context changes too often.
But that’s of course, how are you going to optimize the resource management we’ve seen within the company? So of we’re using it, but we’re adopting in the best way possible.
Matthieu: So when you work with a client, do you say, we have tools for iteration? How do you communicate on that?
Aurélien: So that’s always a challenge because a number of iteration is, it’s always great to define a framework but what I love and why I love the mindset of our people is to be like until it’s going to be perfect, then we have to make it happen. So, of course usually what we see is that usually will take three or four iteration depending on what area you’re looking at. So for example, if you’re like talking about wireframe, if you’re doing UX part, then like two or three iteration will be necessary. But afterwards, when you’re doing the homepage as well, when you’re working on the user interface of the homepage, sometimes like two, three, even four iterations might be needed but you cannot start working on the rest of the project if a client is not happy with his homepage.
So, for us it’s you need to frame it legally, but overall, I have to say that until we find something that is perfect from our standard and that is going to appeal to the clients, we’re going to make it happen.
Matthieu: Last question. We can continue, I guess with always other topics, interesting topics. The last question is about the future. We talk about AI, we talk about VR, we talk about AR, we talk about voice recognition. My question is, two questions. First, is it happening? VR, AR, AI, voice recognition. Secondly, how do you stay up to date? How do you know it’s time to develop the competencies and talents internally in order to be able to answer to the request of the clients?
Aurélien: So we have a team of senior manager that are … What I like a lot about our team is that we are not specialized into a solution. We’re not here … Our teams are like real engineers. So if they need to be on top of the trend all the time, they will be on top of the trend. So let’s say there’s a new version of Google or a solution that comes out, we will be very early adopter. Why? Is because the people that we have, they have the mindset to learn and learn and learn to be engineers, to be oriented. So that’s the first thing and I think that’s important to have a team of problem solvers.
The second thing is that the way we manage the company actually we arranged a little bit internally the processes and how team will wor
k together. I really think that we as the new organization that we have what we call squads now. So different leaders, different people are going to operate their own small team within the company and this is going to enable us to, first of all, become excellent in each of those fields because we got to be a little bit more specialized. I have the feeling that if tomorrow we need to kick start other projects, like doing maybe voice us or doing maybe UX or work for cars in the future or doing a little bit of AI or doing something different. We’re going to be able to do it.
So our scope of work, as mentioned earlier, we went from doing a website for a small restaurant and to do really an Omni channel approach. So, I can see that we’re going to grow, we’re going to keep growing, but within our scope, within our competencies. So right now for instance, like we don’t do content creation. I don’t think we’re going to go there. So we do a little bit of CRM, social CRM, which is something which is strategy related for the things that we’re doing when we’re building an Omni channel approach. But yeah, I would say that’s really a step by step and yes, we see it happening.
We see the systems that we’re building are, all of them communicating together from like a ticketing system to order management system. The fact that with a new technology, everything is becoming headless. You’re going to have a user interface that is going to pull content from the e-commerce OMS platform to the logistic platform here to do content management system and then you can pull up all the information here on an app or a mini program or an in store digital experience. So I think this is where the technology is really moving forward and the industry is becoming so interesting.
The future with a self-driven car is going to be like another break through with, of course voice, with all the voice appliances that we’re going to have, with Alexa and all the Chinese competition that is arriving strong on the market. But you’re going to be in a digital world where you’re going to be able to order or to interact with a screen almost anywhere. I think this is where were we going to focus our future.
Matthieu: Thanks for your time Aurélien. How did you like the interview?
Aurélien: Well, so I have to say I was the first time for me, so I get a little bit of a cold in the last weeks and it was a little bit early in the morning, but I loved it. Thank you. I think you’re great host Matthieu. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Aurélien: Thanks all. Thanks for joining. It was very instructive. It will be published in a week.