Expert Insights: Tristan Rousselle on his Experiences Expanding Startups

In this Expert Insights series, we will be covering some of the insights and learnings from the program by sitting down with the different speakers to hear their thoughts on the topics they specialise in.

In today’s post, we invited Tristan Rousselle, Founder & deputy CEO at Aryballe Technologies to share his experiences of the South Korean market, and some of his learnings he has gained from growing and expanding his own companies.

Pleasure to have you join us Tristan, to start with, would you be able to introduce yourself to our audience?

Tristan: Hello, my name is Tristan Rousselle. I am a serial entrepreneur with a background in biology. I created my first company right after obtaining my PhD around 22 years ago. It was a biotech company, which I developed for 12 years before selling it to a pharmaceutical company in France. And then I got the chance, because I was involved in this entrepreneur scientists network surrounding large research institutions in France, to launch a new project which deals with the development of an odour sensor to record smell. This is actually not a very original idea, but it is not very well known up to now it has been a big technical challenge.

Over the last eight years, we have had the chance to confirm that there is a big and potentially very huge market for smell sensors. When you think about it, ideas will pop up quite easily for the applications, such as in perfume or food. We see interest from the food industry, cosmetic industry, as well as applications for home appliances, such as fridges related to food freshness, and some applications around malodour, bad odour detection. I’m not going to get too much into all the potential examples but there is quite a lot of applications and this has motivated us to push this project based on quite original biosensor-based technology, and the company has been going quite well. We have more than 60 employees right now, and are mainly in France. But we also have commercial activities, labs and factory facilities in the US, as well as in South Korea.

Thank you for the introduction. Through your previous companies, you’ve done quite a bit of entering into new markets, what are some of the biggest mistakes other startups should look out for?

Tristan: So, from my experience, there are two types things to watch out for:

1. Be aware of superficial commercial contacts

When engaging in business development, a lot of companies go abroad trying to generate sales, partnerships, investment, etc. During your trip, you may find a lot of companies who seem interested and see this as a big pipeline of opportunities. However, it is actually very difficult to make these contacts transform into concrete deals and actual dollars.

This, of course, applies in your own country as well, but I would say that it is even more important with international expansion, because there is so much motivation and attraction for startups to expand abroad.

2. Don’t just go once, go three times

As a startup there are a lot of opportunities to be accompanied and get some help when you go abroad for an initial introduction
(See our Programs for more information). Programs or delegations that focus on generating a lot of contacts, sometimes for the sake of their own internal KPIs, could lead to superficial contacts, without commercial outcomes as I mentioned before. As your startup would be focused on finding a long-term strategic partner, it is important to align with someone who can assist with these introductions with the same goal in mind. I used to work on a pro bono basis as a member of the board of an organisation whose objective was to help economic development in the field of innovation, focusing on biotech. As a result, we learnt that if you were going to a new country for business development, don’t plan to only go once, but at least three times with the objective to sign a deal. We found that meeting three times over three visits helps narrow down your sales talks. By having a concrete pipeline and focusing on signing a deal, you will avoid wasting your time with superficial contacts. I personally experienced this when expanding my first company into the US, and my second company into South Korea.

That’s really insightful, and I completely agree on making sure to visit your target country and potential partners multiple times. When looking to build connections within a new market, what advice do you have to startups?

Tristan: As I mentioned already, expansion through business development should focus on generating valuable connections, and focusing on visiting those connections in their country at least three times. But I also want to introduce that your business connections can come from other areas too.

In our case, we had two major companies interested to engage with our company (Samsung & Hyundai) and they came to us through different routes. They found us directly through their scouts. Most large companies have a huge international network to search for new specific technologies

For Samsung, their European entity found us, but for Hyundai, it was someone based in South Korea, looking for European startups.

These scouts are usually looking for something specific and are heavily searching based on specific keywords, my advice would be to make sure that your website is well put together, with nice keywords and is easily searchable. This way, these scouts can find you more easily.

Do be open minded if you are approached by these scouts, as some are looking for business opportunities, while others are only looking to invest. I’ve personally experienced both instances, and after a business investment from one of them, this led us to creating a subsidiary in South Korea. In the future, this may also allow us to explore new funding or subsidies around R&D and other opportunities from the local government or related entities.

Thank you Tristan for your insights!

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Written by
Meghan Bridges
August 16, 2022
Marketing Director, Rainmaking Expand