Austin's French Connection - Part 2: Qowisio's Expansion to Austin

This is the second in a series of posts about the growing business network between sister cities Angers and Austin (and between France and Austin, more generally). In the first post, we spoke to Liz Wiley of the French American Business Council-Austin about the broader relationship. Today, we’re sharing an interview with Guillaume Houssay of Qowisio, a French IoT devices firm that opened its first US subsidiary in Austin last year.

SA: How did you decide to relocate Qowisio to Austin?

GH: We first visited Austin in 2015, as part of a delegation sent by the mayor of Angers. Qowisio was part of the IoT acceleration activity going on in Angers that I know you’ve written about on your blog. Qowisio was founded in 2009 in France and we were selling internationally, but the US was an obviously attractive expansion market for us and this office is our first international subsidiary. Interestingly, though, we came here without having first secured any US customers, but we’ve had some good success over the past year.

I’ll also add that our contacts at the Capital Factory were quite helpful, since they have someone dedicated to a ‘soft landing’  program, for international firms. That helped us make the decision to move here. And, yes, the broader ‘sister city’ relationship was encouraging, including, for instance, the partnership between St. Edward’s and Angers University.

SA: Tell us a bit more about your history with Qowisio, and its business.

GH: As I said, the company was founded in 2009. We have 50 people working in 30 countries, with two major offices. I was one of the five founders of the company. Two of us had worked together, previously, on building and selling a software company.

But Qowisio is hardware-focused. We aim to provide turnkey solutions for companies to collect data from any type of asset for core IoT applications, such as the microlocation of pallets, temperature recording, equipment status reporting, and so on. We use low-frequency communications, at 900 MHz, like your garage door. This allows for cost efficiency, though there can be some bandwidth constraints and can complement WiFi and M2M communications. All in all, we produce about 40 devices.

We are trying to find ‘blue’ or ‘grey’ oceans. That is, we look for implementations that are underexplored. Interestingly, the opportunities, across the many verticals we sell to, are quite similar in the US and Europe. So, the learning curve there has not been as steep as we might have thought.

SA: What are some of most notable differences about doing business in the US?

GH: So, I used to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a US company, and we had an open floor plan, and so on. But still, the differences in business culture here have taken some getting used to. In France, there is no at-will employment, and remote work is not really effective or widely implemented. Also, I’ve noticed that people manage their time differently and that the way to do business is really far different. For example, HR is much easier or more flexible in the US. On the other hand, the image that US is a 'low' tax country is completely false, once you consider both individual and corporate taxes, together.

SA: What do you see as the next step for the Austin-Angers relationship?

GH: The next step, is to have more companies from Angers, coming to Austin. It’s much more likel that firms will move in that direction, given the interest in accessing the large US market.  Angers would like to have more US companies coming to France and would be very welcoming, but it’s just a less common scenario.

For sure, I would say that Austin is very business-friendly and a great point of entry to start with. Companies ultimately have to take care of themselves but the first level of support here, from the French-American Business Council of Austin and the Capital Factory, is really, really important. Those first few contacts go a long way.