Christophe Dacre-Wright, Sales & Marketing Director – BIRDZ by Nova Veolia

- Posted on May 9, 2019

Birdz is a major player in the IoT and Smart Utility space in France. Can you describe the company background, expertise and major projects?

Birdz was created through the merger of two companies fully owned by Veolia Environment, Homerider Systems, which specialized in the development of IoT devices, mainly radio modules for water meters and M2ocity a joint venture between Veolia Environment and Orange which ensured at that time the deployment of all these IoT devices in France, mostly in Veolia Water projects. Today Birdz covers the entire IoT technology value chain including the sensors, the wireless network, the data management platform and the vertical application software. We have supplied, deployed and currently operate more than three million connected devices in France and Europe including nearly 600 000 end points in Paris Region and 400 000 in the city of Lyon.

Smart water is one of the main smart city and utility verticals, how do you see this market evolution in the next 5 years?

Smart water, including remote metering and distribution and water quality monitoring, is a major Smart City vertical which is projected in 5 years to account for a little more than 50% of the global Smart City market. France, which was at the forefront in terms of bi-directional remote metering, or AMI (vs AMR or Drive by), is a major market for smart water. Today, just in terms of IoT solution, it is a market pool worth close to 70 million euros, and will grow to 140 million euros in 2024 in a world market that is evolving towards AMI and is expected to reach 1.7 billion euros by 2024.

Beyond smart water, and obviously electricity meters, where do you see the biggest market potential for smart city and utility markets in terms of geographies and verticals?

Smart streetlight has a lot of potential and we are very active at Birdz in building efficiency and smart waste; which we have been working on for the last 10 years. Given the nature of our parent company- Veolia Environment, we are also focusing a lot on environmental monitoring applications, like noise and outdoor air quality monitoring and everything that is related to cities’ environmental data. We hear a lot about smart Parking but we believe it will remain a very limited market in the next 5 years. In terms of countries’ coverage, we tend to exclude China as it is a very unique market hardly accessible to western IoT companies like Birdz. Therefore, excluding China we view Europe as the first smart city geography by 2024, with more than 40% of the market. North America comes next with approximately 35%, and then the last 25% is spread over the rest of the world.

Can you tell us a little about your role at Birdz?

I am in charge for Sales and Marketing. The most exciting but also challenging part of my role in certainly strategy and strategic marketing. With my team we try to identify new opportunities for Birdz, evaluate the market potential and then try to define a strategy that will enable us to meet that potential and accelerate the company’s growth. I am also in charge for corporate communication which includes managing the company branding, exposure, image and reputation and publicity. Finally, I lead the sales team, which is divided into three sub-teams. The first one is dedicated to the water industry in France, which is the largest part of our business and for which Veolia Water is of course our biggest client. Then we have a sales team focusing in France on the other verticals, mainly building efficiency, smart waste, but also connected solutions for oil & gas. And last but not least we have the international sales team that covers all the verticals I mentioned above but on foreign markets.

How would you describe Birdz’s corporate and working culture?

One particularity of Birdz is that it is a relatively small set up across three different offices in France: Paris, Lyon-which is our biggest office, and Bordeaux. We are therefore used to work remotely with each other’s. It’s in our working culture. We are also a tech company, mostly engineers who are constantly looking at being disruptive and creating new solutions to remain the market leader in terms of technology and expertise. Innovation is really in Birdz’s DNA. At the same time, we are also very geared towards growth. We are aware of the fact that we have major business opportunities ahead and that beyond technology and innovation we have a key role in building a market leader in Environmental IoT. In this respect there is today a real challenge of culture evolution at Birdz. The most important for us is to clearly define and share our project and ambition so that everyone in the team understand it and can be fully part of the journey.

What key skillset are you looking for when hiring a new member of your sales & marketing team?

I think that we need, like in most companies, people who are really enthusiastic, believe in the future, and want to take an active part in the company’s growth. So, for me, behavioral capabilities and character as well as a strong desire to join the project are high on my priorities and comes before skills and experience. It is certainly one of the most difficult things to measure and gauge when one is recruiting; to get to see if the candidate, over time, will have the enthusiasm that enables to move mountains and go beyond what is expected of a standard job description. Its actually all about leadership.

Before Birdz, you spent most of your career in totally different industries, can you tell us a little more about your background?

I don’t know if it is that unusual, but yes, I have changed industries in my career. I’m curious and I like trying different things. So, I think that I would have found it really hard to spend all my life in one industry. I spent the first 15 years of my career working in the software Industry for financial markets. I was an executive at a French company in Europe and then in the USA, where I was brought in to manage the acquisition of companies and their integration in the group. After that I started a digital recruitment platform in which I am still a shareholder and that ranks now in the top three Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) in France. Finally, I have also worked in the payment industry.

What challenges did you face when joining Birdz after being an entrepreneur for many years?

When you start in a new industry that you don’t know much about, you have everything to learn. So, when I started at Birdz I had to learn everything. Also, as for any industry or market in which you start for the first time, the biggest challenge is in its specifics, in particular in the context of Veolia Environment which is by its size and history a little complex. It is a continuous learning curve and discovery and understanding of the ecosystem, the players, etc. I learned a lot by meeting people who shared their expertise in their particular sector of activity as well as the difficulties and challenges they face. Reading a lot about the technologies and the market helps too. But I still have a lot to learn.

Did you experience any difficulty understanding the IoT and Smart Utility business? Technologies?

In fact, what was very new for me is that I came from a world that was 100% software based while, in the IoT, we also deal with hardware like connected sensors. Compared to my previous software experience, there is a lot of design and services challenges and constraints related to sensors field installation, maintenance and performance commitments that I wasn’t at all familiar with. I wouldn’t call these difficulties but it has been a new thing for me to take into account as hardware is complex but offers low margins.

Do you see any technological or business model similarities in the smart city and utility industry with what you have experienced in the enterprise and Fintech world?

Yes, there are similarities, not so much with fintech, but mostly with software activity in general. Because in the end, whether we make software for fintech or for any other industry, we are still dealing with a software model. I would say that it becomes similar in IoT when you are selling an end to end solution as a service and not just selling hardware. In this case, we are in a business model that is similar to software services, meaning that it’s recurring revenue. Essentially, this is what clients really wants, a subscription model with everything in it, including hardware warranty. We are technically able to offer this model on most of our verticals, it’s just a question of business culture. We have to finish with the traditional business practice where “we design, manufacture and sell hardware” and transition to a new model where “we manufacture hardware but we put it together in such a way that it becomes a service that we can ultimately sell within a subscription model”. Then we can achieve interesting margins.

You came from the enterprise and fintech world to IoT and Smart City/Utility, do you think that the opposite path is possible?

Yes, I think it is possible. Ultimately, we are still talking about software applied to different industries. The biggest challenge is to understand the industry. But I don’t see a problem with that.

You have worked in France and the US, in which of these two countries do you believe a tech professional should absolutely gain experience?

It is undoubtedly worthwhile going to work overseas for several years, notably to the US. Can one say is it absolutely essential? No. I don’t think so. In France we are really strong in the technology and we have excellent skillsets. So it is not essential but nonetheless worth it, especially to discover a different way of doing business. In the US, people have their minds really set on doing business. So, somehow, it is a little easier there than in France, despite the strong competition, because there is less initial mistrust in business relations.

Are there any lessons learned from your different job experiences so far that you would like to share with the members of the Talent Club?

I believe that to have a real impact on a company growth that you can demonstrate you need to have the right attitude and mind-set. This is mainly putting yourself in you client’s and your management’s ‘shoes’. It is of course easier to only focus on your own job scope and to think to yourself that “If things are going wrong it’s because of others”. But in fact, the right attitude would be to ask yourself: “what would I do if I was the client?” or “what would I do if I was the manager?” From the moment you have this mind-set and you are able to take a step back; you will be able to solve problems and have a positive impact within your company. Having the right mind-set can change everything for your career and for the companies you work for.

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