First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: Thanks for asking! We are all good, and fortunately, no one has been found positive with the virus so far! It has not been easy with homeschooling, but overall, we can’t complain.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded iNCUBEE|LCCS
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: Well, I define myself as an artisan entrepreneur. I come from a family of winemakers and farmers, and I believe I inherited the sense of pragmatism and realism that comes with such vocations.
Another characterizing aspect about me is that I always wanted to set up my own company, to be free to be anywhere I want, any time I want. But first, I needed to learn a little. So, I worked for 14 years in a big corporation where I quickly gained responsibilities and experience in different environments. I started in Spain first, where I worked for 5 years; then, I worked for a few months in the company’s head office in France. I was later sent to New York to restructure our subsidiary, where I stayed for 3 years. After finishing the job, I wanted to move to a new territory, and this is how I ended up in Hong Kong, where I was appointed to set up our business in Asia.
After five years and having opened subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Bangkok, I finally decided to leave the company and set up my first venture. I did it with the approval and support of my employer at the time, as we had a gentleman’s agreement leading me to stay on a little longer than I expected. I was okay to stay longer, on the condition that they would help me the day I would actually leave, and they did. It is a lovely story, and today still, I am thankful for my management at the time.
In 2007, I set up my first consulting firm, based on my experience and skills, guiding European companies willing to expand business in Asia. At the same time, I also wanted to do different things in the field of new technologies. I had a taste for innovation and risks! So, a few years later, in 2010, I developed and launched a SaaS for corporate service providers in Hong Kong with the financial help of a business angel.
To make a long story short, I found out that the idea was far too innovative for a market that may seem innovation-driven but is, in fact, quite old fashioned and extremely conservative. So, another few years later, in 2015, after raising funds for the second time, I was asked by my investors to reinvent myself. I decided to launch my own end-user platform fully connected to my SaaS. This was the launch of what is today iNCUBEE|LCCS, the first fully online corporate services provider in Hong Kong, which has continued to grow since then, despite circumstances!
How does iNCUBEE|LCCS innovate?
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: I can’t reveal everything as the vision we have in terms of innovation is what makes us a little bit advanced compared to our competitors. They may have more money, but I believe we have more ideas! In a few words, I can say that we are digital, cloud-based, and connect entrepreneurs with online tools while guiding them using AI.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: In Hong Kong, we have been suffering two crises’ in a row. First were the political demonstrations since May 2019, which deeply affected the attractiveness of Hong Kong among investors. Then, a few months later came COVID-19, further lowering the attractiveness of the region and causing the number of investment projects to be much reduced! We were definitely affected, just like most Hong Kong companies but fortunately, not so much. A significant advantage we had: we work entirely remotely! Thus, we were not only perfectly organized to handle our business even in a period of lockdown worldwide, but on top, it became an advantage in comparison with most of our competitors. It is not yet the end of the story, but so far, we have continued to grow on a depressed market (while for sure others must be losing market shares), and we continue to prepare for international expansion in new jurisdictions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: Not really, but for sure, the pandemic has delayed things as growth has not been as fast as before. That said, it has been a time of reflection, and a time we decided to boost our marketing to show our customers and potential users that we are not only alive but are getting ready for the after! The only lesson that could be considered as such is that we must expand internationally to diversify jurisdictions and not only depend on Hong Kong. Said that we did already know this before. So somehow, at our level, while COVID-19 has been slowing down our growth, it has accelerated developments to compensate for the slowdown.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and iNCUBEE|LCCS in the future?
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: Well, despite circumstances, I have always been anxious and stressed, but with years, I have learned to control that… a little. Entrepreneurship creates anxiety and stress. So COVID or no COVID, I don’t know any entrepreneur who’s not suffering the consequences of his or her madness. Because for sure, to be an entrepreneur, you need to be a little mad. It is only after the years that you wonder if you would have still done it if you had known how much work, stress, disappointments, anxiety, and frustrations it would create. But fortunately, rewarding feelings are proportional to the efforts and negativities faced. Regarding the future, I keep projecting the same: growth and success. 😊
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: Our main competitors are online corporate service providers working in the same vein as us, but any conventional corporate service provider can also be considered as competitors. Overall, there are too many operators in a market which is just starting to experiment with disruption.
Now regarding your second question, we are not only planning to stay in the game but to win the game! We plan to do so by making the best use of new technologies to provide our services at the highest level of quality and affordability our customers can dream of, to a broader audience as we expand internationally.
Your final thoughts
Vincent de Saint-Exupery: Patience, determination, and flexibility: experience shows that things never go exactly the way you expected or wished. COVID or no COVID, demonstrations, or no demonstrations, there are always things that make the path more challenging than we could hope for. I remember when we first developed our SaaS in 2010-12, the Hong Kong Companies Registry suddenly came out with new regulations, which forced us to redevelop all the forms and a few procedures we had literally just set up. Such a change of regulation may happen once every 50 years, but it had to happen a few months after we first launched our SaaS! Sometimes, you feel like giving up when it feels like events are going against you. Rule number one is: never give up! Adapt yourself, keep determined, and patient!
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