Building an Industrial IoT venture: Thinxtra talks to Techboard

Benjamin Arsicault from our friends The Polyglot Group recently spoke with Renald Gallis, Co-founder and VP Marketing at Thinxtra.  Benjamin asked Renald about arguably one of the most interesting and revolutionary movements in the digital space: the Internet of Things (IoT).  Thinxtra is currently paving the way when it comes to facilitating an efficient platform for the Internet of Things.  In this interview, Renald discusses their story, team, leadership, company culture and capital raising methodologies.

Renald: If you have Telstra for telephones, you have Thinxtra for things! Thinxtra is building a national network for the Internet of Things (IoT) in order to improve business processes and people’s lives. Our second priority is to construct an ecosystem of partners such as device makers, platform suppliers, system integrators and consultants. These partners will provide end-to-end solutions to customers. At the moment we’ve signed 275 partners which who represent our ecosystem and can connect on and use our network.

Benjamin: Can you tell us more about the story behind Thinxtra? How did it start?

Renald: It started in June 2015. Loic Barancourt, had this idea of being a LPWAN operator. We met through a french connection at a Start-up meet up event in Sydney. Loic is now the CEO of Thinxtra.

Originally, we shared similar ideas and interests, such as the need for industrial IoT to bring more efficiencies. We both felt that Sigfox (a technology for IoT connectivity) beared revolutionary potential for connecting things in mass.

From then on, the business was really launched. Loic was already quite involved in M2M solutions, and had some strong connections in the industry to build a strong team.

Loic already identified suitable team members for the project who had very complimentary skills to us. At the end of the day, we had six highly-knowledgeable co-founders. Their expertise was either in finance, network deployment, IoT project management, or marketing and sales.

So, in terms of talent, we recruited our team from our own network and ecosystem connections. I see this as a necessary approach, because when you start a business, you want to feel very comfortable with the people you’re going to be working with! Plus, working with people outside of your network comes with a risk of being slowed-down. So, we made sure that the 6 co-founders knew each other or had been working together in one way or another. As such, our team was built on trust, which was fundamental in this early stage.

Benjamin: In your opinion, how will Sigfox and Thinxtra influence Australia, New Zealand and beyond?

Renald: That’s a good question which could be answered in regard to either consumer IoT or industrial IoT. Consumer IoT is not our forte at this stage. Our focus is the industrial IoT.

Within industrial IoT, there are different types of solutions. Some solutions like fleet management, which require a large amount of data to be transferred. Usually, they would use 3G or 4G.

We focus on what we call the Internet of Simple Things, which don’t really require as much data (which is the core of IoT). For example, it could be smoke alarm data, a pallet that you want to track, or an air conditioning unit you want to do predictive maintenance on.

It’s these kinds of simple things which are not yet connected, and Sigfox is ideal for connecting them. And so, we see Sigfox as a dominant player, not only in terms of connectivity, but also as a significant player on the IoT market in terms of mass deployment. We work on solutions with very large volume at a very low price where previously there were no tangible proof of value.

In that market, we are the de-facto player, so clearly, we can have a massive influence.

Benjamin: Can you tell us about your current stage in the evolution of the company and how would you describe the leadership style within Thinxtra? How does it impact the company culture?

Renald: Well, in the space of two years, Thinxtra grew from six people to a team of forty!

Initially, each of the six team members had their own unique responsibilities. We would liaise and report to each other once per week in order to align ourselves on our common objective.

In the world of the startup ecosystem, it is essential to have a team of independent, reliable and responsible members, who are ready to develop the business and contribute with their own innovative ideas. In addition, I would recommend building up a diverse and well-rounded workforce by recruiting a team that goes beyond your own knowledge.

In the early days, you may be unable to attract such talent with a competitive salary. However, you can still incentivise by providing the team with shares in the company (for example, through employee vesting equity). This can also be a fantastic way to increase employee engagement and accountability.

So, overall, I’d say Thinxtra’s management style is “make it happen”!

Whilst the team supportive of one another’s goals, there’s a strong emphasis on self-initiative and enthusiasm.

This kind of workplace culture often proves to be highly exciting for the right employees. They feel highly empowered by the early level of responsibility and independence. For example, their ideas are set into motion and test within the team. If it’s approved, the go-ahead will happen quickly. That means that good ideas are acted upon (without relying on other people for its execution).

Benjamin: As a successful startup, do you have any specific processes on maintaining your unique company culture?

Renald: At the start (when we were up to twelve people) we would enjoy casual after-work team socialising, which actually enhanced our workplace culture.

This chance to connect with one another (outside of the typical work environment), stimulated talk about all different matters. This brought our attention to new ideas and creative ambitions which were not typically mentioned in our working day. So, our strong team culture enforced the free-flow of discussion and the exchanging of new ideas.

Now that Thinxtra has six offices across three different countries, communicating in this way is more complicated. However, with digital connectivity at our fingertips, we make use of new ways to extend our company culture to remote teams. For example, we use WhatsApp for the “watercooler” chat where everybody can get involved. WhatsApp is useful for everything from catching up on the team’s new ideas, to hearing about a birthday in the office, or knowing if a parking spot is available! This kind of team connectedness and “family spirit” is very important to Thinxtra, and we are thankful for digital channels which allow us to extend this culture worldwide.

 

Benjamin: In terms of the short term future, what are your business priorities and the goals?

Renald: Every business goal in every company is to make more revenue, but it’s even truer in a startup (because you’re starting from scratch).

In a startup, you don’t have that recurring revenue, so every new revenue is a challenge. Every time it’s new process to put in place before you can attain a recurring revenue with every customer.

So, we’re at the stage where we’ve established the processes, and we are starting to implement solutions that can bring recurring revenue. In this period, it is necessary to significantly increase the revenue each year to reassure investors, and turn the business profitable so you can continue investing & recruiting.

So, our goal for the the next twelve to eighteen months is to break even by the end of the year, and start having a recurring revenue from few of the solutions we’ve put in place.

In terms of the long-term goals, we aspire to have more solutions in place to generate more recurring revenue locally (as well as growing those solutions on a global scale). So, overall, the plan is to establish the business, break even, and replicate overseas.

Benjamin: In terms of attaining funding, do you have any advice for founders seeking to raise capital?

Renald: When you don’t have revenue and just an idea, I think it comes down to the team to deliver on that idea. In our case, investors could sense that the team was strong, with the right skills to make it happen. So, when it comes to funding,  the value of having a solid team should not be underestimated.

In fact, I would advise anyone starting their own business to consider the three Ts rule when looking for investment:

  • First, you have a good idea or ‘Technology’, something which makes sense and is feasible.
  • But very early on, you need to have a ‘Team’. Usually, it consists of few people who possess complementary skills and backgrounds to reassure the early investors.
  • Then, after that, you need to show the practicality of your business model and who are the potential customers. Perhaps you’ve already acquired quite a few references (what investors would call ‘Traction’, the third “T”). If you can display traction, you may not have the investors signed up yet, but at least they’re convinced that your project makes sense from a customer’s perspective.

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Benjamin Arsicault is Senior High-Tech Manager at The Polyglot Group and is dedicated to exploring the latest development and global trends in this industry.

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