We met last week Laurent Renard, French entrepreneur currently running TORO Ltd., successful software company specialized in mobile developments, smartcards and Near Field Communication (NFC). Laurent arrived as an expat 9 years ago, working for FIME, a French company selling telecommunication focused business services consulting.
Laurent was also the first organizer of the Mobile Monday monthly gathering in Taipei, and has also been appointed in 2012 as Advisor at the National Committee for France’s Foreign Trade.
TORO International Development Ltd.
TORO Ltd. designs, develops and distributes akami suite™, a Mobile Wallet platform for secure/non-secure mobile contactless applications (NFC).
Today TORO is headquartered in Hong Kong, with R&D and operations center in Taipei, Taiwan. In order to serve the European market, TORO has offices in Paris, France, and is opening an operation and R&D office with Mobile World Capital in Barcelona, Spain.
TORO won the RED HERRING 100 ASIA, recognized as the most promising company driving the future of technology, and the Sesames Innovation Awards in 2012.
A busy entrepreneur
Laurent is busy. Flying 3 to 4 times per month in Europe, round-trips to Singapore or Hong-Kong, things are moving fast, so does he. He receives me in the future ex-office of TORO in Taipei, as the company is set to move next month to newer, bigger, in a word, better offices, “to attract even more developers”, Laurent says.
So what about him? Master degree from a French Business School (Strasbourg School of Management), then Advanced Master in Technology and Management in an engineering school (Ecole Centrale Paris), started as a consultant in business development for a business services consulting company, then moved to Taiwan 9 years ago to be a consultant at FIME (Orange Business Services), and started TORO in 2007. A straight-through course for the French entrepreneur, but as he quickly warn, “When you start a business you see everything easy and fantastic but then you face the reality and it’s not easy and it’s not fantastic”.
After a 4-year investment in R&D based on mobile and NFC applications, TORO started to expand its sales, and its geographical presence, with offices in Barcelona and Paris. Together with Gregory Puente-Castan, co-founder and CTO of TORO Ltd., they now run a global business.
Why set up the operations and R&D center in Taiwan?
Laurent first worked as a consultant to help Visa, Mastercard, Transport of Taipei and Transport of Singapore to launch contactless payment technology. These companies chose Taiwan as pilots for their contactless payments features for 3 main reasons:
• – The income level was important
• – The country was densely populated
• – The rate of adoption of new technology is one of the world’s highest.
When they first saw the huge opportunity of linking contactless technology and the rise of the mobile phone, Gregory and Laurent started to think about were to start their business. Europe, as both of them are French, or Asia, as they spent the last few years there? The answer was Asia, because of the potential of growth, the financial resources available for new technologies, and the fast paced adoption to new technologies. Then what about Singapore or Mainland China? “No, we should stay in Taiwan, because it is where the infrastructure has been laid, and where there is usage. Taiwan might be the first country to migrate to mobile payment.” So Taiwan there they stayed.
Was it the right choice? Actually, “We got it all wrong”, as mobile payment first arose in Europe, but still, as Laurent further explains, “we will see in the next 12 to 18 months that Taiwan was the right bid” he forecasts. Moreover, according to Laurent, “Taiwan is the best place to address the Chinese market, and you can find people you can trust here to help you reach the Chinese market.”
To dig up his involvement in the Mobile industry, Laurent imported 6 years ago the concept of Mobile Monday in Taipei, created first by Nokia people in Finland. Mobile Monday is a monthly gathering on every first Monday for people involved with the Mobile industry.
“One of the really good things with Taiwan, is that when you come up with new ideas you can really gain some momentum” he believes. The disruptive frame of the event, more casual and networking-friendly, was a perfect match to attract a lot of people.
Importing Mobile Monday was “a very good idea -he judges-, as it gave me a good understanding of the Mobile industry environment, I could get to know who are the players, and it also gave me very good business contacts, recognition from potential customers, and that was eventually also a good way to hire people.”
Taiwan, a hardware culture
The toughest part of Laurent’s business, in a booming sector, is to recruit and keep talented software developers. As Laurent interestingly highlights, “the culture around here is everything but hardware, people here build hardware”. The explanation he gives is that creativity is a hard-to-find resource here in Taiwan. This hardware culture helped Taiwan establish its brand image on high technology devices over the past decades, but now, as Laurent explains, as the bureau Invest In Taiwan told him, Taiwan has a political will to turn its economy into a knowledge economy, and then foster the creation of software companies rather than hardware. Yet, it is an ongoing process, and there is still a long way to go.
Laurent, as Toro was facing major difficulties to hire good Taiwanese developers, started to hire foreigners, but then there is a major issue for recruiting foreigners: You can only hire two of them. Therefore he talked to the government directly, through the bureau Invest in Taiwan, and they proved reactivity and good understanding of TORO’s situation. Eventually Invest in Taiwan helps today TORO by providing work permits for foreigners, but this is treated “case-by-case, so go and talk to the bureau”, as Laurent concludes. This example is worth mentioning, as Taiwan’s government is actually flexible and eager to help foreign businesses, as long as they show their will to stay in Taiwan.
What’s next for TORO?
The next steps for Toro will then be keep going with their two huge projects in Norway (Telenor) and Poland (T-Mobile), investing in platforms to deploy Mobile Wallets, and continue to hire people.
We wish them a very successful future, as the mobile industry and contactless payments will create amazing opportunities in the next decade.