The Bottom Line.
When he arrived in Hong Kong in 2011, Antoine d’Haussy had an entrepreneurial journey in mind. A previous salesman, he became a solo-entrepreneur and developed Side by Side, an online business model for selling very tangible traveler-type of pouches now adopted by digital nomads around the world. In this interview, he elaborates on his adventure between Europe and China, and gives unique insights on how to launch and run a human size and nomad-friendly business.
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Entrepreneurial Journeys – Interview of Antoine d’Haussy, Founder of Side by Side.
Antoine d’Haussy, how did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Antoine d’Haussy: Becoming an entrepreneur was a long process for me. I am a salesperson by training and trade and this is how things really began for me. I started my career in Paris, in a computer bags company for which I managed large retail accounts.
Over time, some people in the company realized that my talents would be best used in the products and marketing department, so my life took a U-turn to focus on product designers and product development. One thing leading to another, I ended up spending seven years between France and China where I managed the company’s suppliers.
That gave you the basis of your Side by Side adventure?
It might sound silly, but when you travel a lot for work purposes, your power bank tends to become one of those indispensable things you simply can’t afford to forget. Yet these things are easy to forget and lose, so I came to the conclusion that I needed a specific pouch designed to make sure that I would never forget my important equipment. Since I was doing a lot of support work for the designers around me, I decided to build my own “power packer”. Do you need to switch from a bag to another one? Easy, just transfer the pouch and all your things follow in the blink of an eye.
What is your philosophy when it comes to developing your business?
My philosophy is to build products for people and to develop Side by Side in a very direct manner. I work closely with my clients, from the design of a product to the financial development phase (which I try to do via online crowdfunding platforms) and to the selling phase (increasingly through Amazon).
The online channels are important for me because beyond the money they provide, they also help to see what people want and they provide access to tons of feedback that retail doesn’t give access to. Everything ought to turn around the buyer.
So the Side by Side business model is fully online-focused?
Antoine d’Haussy: Side by Side is mostly based on an online business model, yes. The reason for that is twofold. First, selling online gives me a way to control my sales and to know precisely what works and what doesn’t in a very flexible and reactive way.
Second, selling online is a way for me to offer reasonable prices to my clients. Typically, retail prices tend to be five times higher than wholesale prices, because a variety of intermediaries needs to take their share before the product arrives on the retail shelves. However, by being mostly online I have an opportunity to reduce that ratio significantly.
Ultimately, the choice increases the value I provide to the clients. This model helps me to invest in higher quality materials and to sharpen my designs while making my prices reasonable so it’s a win-win situation. Apart from that, I also invest in pushing my products in physical shops – about twenty-five in Hong Kong so far – but so far this is mostly is a visibility operation and my presence is mostly Amazon-related.
Are your typical clients online-focused too?
Absolutely, yes. Side by Side was created on the idea that I wanted to “get traveling right”, which is a matter of being prepared at all times. Interestingly, nowadays business is made mostly with digital nomads. People who want freedom in their daily routines and for whom smart travel equipment is a good match.
This is a niche clientele, really, but it means that I know what to focus on and what to forget. As time goes, my bet is that people will want more modularity so their things will need to be multi-usage oriented and adapt to them, not the other way around. For instance, my products are inspired by toiletry bags and can be used as such, but they are also typically used as fly bags to store a book and an iPad in planes or to store a drone and the related equipment. I call that a Travel Packer and I leave it to people to do the best of it. Less is more, right?
>> Read also: A Call for Modular Durability in Design, by Alexandre Besson.
You worked for others, now for yourself. Have you improved the methods you used to follow?
Absolutely. I was saying earlier that my philosophy is to build products for people, and by that, I mean that I do invest in building the best products ever – which is not the usual approach in business.
In the field, the reality is very different. Typically, designers would design a great product, however product managers would then spend all their energy degrading the product to get to the correct price point. On paper the design is great, but progressively some features and details are taken off so the price tag can be lowered as much as possible. I don’t work like that, and my business model helps me make a difference.
What did you learn from doing business on Amazon?
Antoine d’Haussy: Interestingly, Amazon taught me to think in terms of bundles. This is counter-intuitive for me because I would rather spend my time working on one product and on making it perfect. Online, however, I realized that Amazon does not limit the number of product you can offer and I found myself forced to rethink my model. This makes sense because in contrast with a physical shop there is no stock management constraint, but this is a challenge because it forces me to re-design my offering. Either invest in building more products or break a very complete product into a bundle to give people an opportunity to mix and match as they please.
You have managed Chinese providers for a decade, can you share a tip or two?
Doing business with Chinese manufacturers is complex because their approach to doing business is different. They typically use the last mover advantage to their own advantage and that means you need to be two or three steps ahead all the time. Supply chains need to be split, so forth and so on…
A lot of business is moving to Vietnam and other countries in South-East Asia, and the way Chinese businesses operate is one of the reasons. Doing business in the region requires flexibility, modularity but also trust.
What are your challenges as a ‘solopreneur’?
Working on my own has major advantages in terms of flexibility and adaptability, but it also creates significant challenges because there are only so many hours in a day. Social media presence is a challenge (how to get your products seen in the middle of cute cats and pups is complex) but so is stock management. Online, stocks can go very fast so managing is a skill.
Another challenge would typically be organization-related. Designing is fun and it can take a lot of time, but the time spent on fun is not time spent on business development so there is an arbitrage to be made here. As my business grows, I am however learning to work with others, mostly freelancers, which also creates another type of HR-related challenge.
Antoine d’Haussy | Entrepreneur & Founder at Side by Side.
Antoine d’Haussy is an entrepreneur and founder of Side by Side. A French native based in Hong Kong, Antoine has worked in the luggage and computer bag industry for over a decade.
As a first-hand witness to the ever-changing needs of carrying modern tech, Antoine launched his own brand, Side by Side™, in 2017 to create travel accessories that can streamline any journey. With an eye for detail and a passion for design meets function, Antoine d’Haussy is creating a new standard for travel gear that caters to the needs of the digital nomad today.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of their author(s) only and do not reflect those of The Asia-Pacific Circle or of its editors unless otherwise stated.
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