Celebrating 10 years of Aquafadas – exciting journey influenced by tech, visionary personalities and clients

Celebrating 10 years of Aquafadas – exciting journey influenced by tech, visionary personalities and clients


The secret of startups growth ? Individuals with vision. That’s the most important fuel of Aquafadas: meaningful encounters, supportive innovators and enthusiastic employees. This is how Claudia Zimmer and Matthieu Kopp, co-founders of a mobile publishing company Aquafadas, summarize their adventure. But the story of their company is more than that. They witnessed digital revolution brought by mobile devices, enterprise mobility trend and the ever-growing tech influence on our daily lives

What made you decide to set up Aquafadas?

Claudia Zimmer: Living in London was a great adventure and a lesson. We spent there over 6 years, Matthieu has been working for a start up and I was running my own architecture practice. But we simply missed and craved the sun! As many other foreigners in the UK we were fed up with a gloomy weather and dreamt about, not really a massive company, but simply a swimming pool!

Matthieu Kopp: Yes, that’s exactly how it all started. We imagined lounging by a dreamy pool with our shiny Macs and coding and running our shareware project whilst enjoying the sunshine.

Did you manage to fulfil your dream?

CZ and MK: {laughing} Yes and no! We did arrive back to the sunny south of France but very quickly realised that the old fashioned screens, as they were in early 2000, were not made for working outside and had no sunlight-readable display! So a so many other startups, we ended up running Aquafadas in a dark garage. These were our early days!

Is the name of Aquafadas also linked with swimming and water?

MK: Actually, the name comes from our first passion and inspiration – Mac. I’ve always wanted to code for Mac as I really enjoyed its features and innovative display. And Aqua was Apple’s Mac OS X graphical user interface.

CZ: And fada stands for ‘inspired by’ or ‘crazy about’. So together Aquafadas means ‘Inspired by Mac’. You might have noticed that in our logo we have a small fish with a crazy eye.

MK: Also, the same way as all small design details of the early macOC were based around the Aqua oblique features, all our product logos follow the same idea: round, soft, resembling a water drop.

How did you come up with your first tools, iDive or BannerZest, and how did you promote them?

MK: As many other startup founders, we simply realised that there was a real need. In many houses there were boxes full of old family photos and videos. And I really mean boxes, as some of you, perhaps not today’s digital natives generation, might still remember mini discs or CD-roms taking space and dust. So we decided to create a bit of an order : iDive tagline was “create and organize digital video catalog”. And people loved it! Our second tool: BannerZest was designed to help users create “animated slideshows”- so simple but so useful.

CZ: I was in charge of spreading the word. We were a small team then: Matthieu was dealing with coding and I was doing everything else including bloggers outreach as it is proudly called today. I was contacting fellow tech lovers, geeks and anybody into digital content – again – as nowadays we name it. And I was encouraging our future clients to try our tools and talk about us. And they still do today

MK: We had a great moment when we were contacted by a current president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull who found our own tool iDive. It was amazing for a small start up of 2 to be discovered by a huge, well known giant! And that’s how our relationship with them started. Even years after we are still in touch with people like Michael B. Johnson from Pixar who was initially giving us valuable insights on the new comics project.

CZ: Every small business waits for a moment like this – you never forget it!

Did you have a lot of support from well-know people?

MK: We met a few celebs who influenced Aquafadas. I have a good example and music fans will no doubt appreciate it. Any of you heard of Elliott Landy? He’s an iconic photographer of rock musicians and he was an official photographer of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. He was one of the loyal users of our own iDive tool video catalog tool. He’s been in touch with us for years.

CZ: We also ended up in touch with a big player such as Apple. Michel Sutter is a senior worldwide developer manager and has been working at Apple for over 25 years. He’s had enormous input in creating links between young entrepreneurs and corporates, sharing insights, challenging developers in their vision and the quality of their delivery.

And Bertrand Serlet ex VP Apple was a massive support and help when we were launching digitally the well known comic Luke Luke.

And not to forget about about the input and encouragement of John Geleynse, Director of Technology Evangelism & User Experience Evangelist from Apple.

CZ: It’s also a meeting with the Angouleme festival team that made us diversify moving away from software only to the world of digital comic books.  This festival is a well known international comics fans and professionals gathering. This year it is celebrating its 43rd year. It’s a big deal in France and across the world. Our story with them started with one of our passionate interns who in 2008 approached the organisers through emails and cold calls and with perseverance we ended up creating the first ever in the world iPhone digital library of comic books! And as a cherry on the cake we achieved more than 120 000 downloads – and let me tell you this was an amazing result at such early stages of smartphones! And our relationship with them lasted for years bringing us closer to comic publishers.

Exactly Aquafadas played an important role in extending comics life from print to mobile screens.

CZ and MK: Yes, comics are close to our hearts and we’re proud to have had a huge impact in bringing them to smartphones. Soon after the first iPhone was launched – who would believe it will soon be 10 years ago! – we’ve been approached by MediaToon (a part of the Media Participations group) the publisher of one of the best-known and best-selling comics series in Europe – Lucky Luke. We were asked to convert a paper version of their latest book ‘The man from Washington’ into digital content, a smartphone version. We were so excited to be a part of digitisation of this iconic comic book! Some of the press coverage mentioned about digital revolution in the comics world driven by a small company from the sunny south of France – us!                                           

 

Aquafadas also greatly influenced another big shift – from paper to digital press publishing.

MK : It was a  challenge. Publishers were drowning in paper, they didn’t have digital talent in house and most importantly mobile content monetisation model wasn’t defined as smartphones where completely new.

CZ: This is why we worked with our clients from the publishing sector on features and tools that enabled them to use existing documents such PDFs. We also made sure that our solutions could be used by a graphic designer without any need for coding. And finally, we’ve added marketing tools such as push notifications and promo codes to increase sales profit for publishers.

CZ: And all of this wouldn’t have been possible without influential people we met, CEOs with a vision, excited about innovation. For example Alain Weill from NextRadioTV and Alain Augé from Bayard.

MK: And Bruno Bonnell (co-fondateur of Infogrames and ex-président of Atari) – he’s been a wonderful support offering us endless suggestions and ideas throughout the bumpy tech startup journey.

 

Currently you’re focusing on working with businesses. How can Aquafadas help?

CZ: We’ve entered new exciting digital transformation times and are partnering with businesses on their journey to enterprise mobility. We use our learnings and experience we gained from the world of comics and digital publishers. Businesses come to us with their digital challenges and we try to co-shape their strategy. It’s a challenging time for marketing, IT, comms and even HR managers. To be able to introduce new mobile resources, they need to evolve, bring new skills to their teams but what’s key and most challenging is the mentality shift.

MK: We have developed our Next Gen App to give the power to marketing teams enabling them making new designs and any other changes in real time in their apps.

 

Aquafadas is based in an international business incubator in Montpellier (MIBI). Does it bring you closer to startups? Do you try to share your experience?

MK: Yes, we will never forget our early days, excitement but also challenges. Being an entrepreneur is like a rollercoaster ride! We often reminisce about the beginnings when we were very close to the community of tech enthusiasts and we knew how much each new release was highly anticipated and awaited. As a start up you never sit still. You always evolve, try new things, work with no real process and teams. You try and test, succeed and fail.

CZ: For any new company it is important to continue being very creative and agile. To continue bringing up creative juices and new ‘hungry’ talent. And to stay close to market demands. This also applies to us today. In 2016 we are a middle sized, well-established and recognised company but we try to ensure that we are still innovative, creative and ahead of the curve.

CZ: And yes we try to help and share knowledge. Matthieu and I are both involved in advisory groups such as French Foreign Advisory Panel and IDPF (l’Agence Régionale de l’Innovation du Languedoc-Roussillon) and Transfert LR.

 

What makes you feel proud about Aquafadas today?

CZ: We’re very pleased to see creativity and most importantly results and efficiency generated by our tools. I graduated and practised as an architect, and I feel that the same principle applies in software development as on a building site. At Aquafadas with our tools we simply create foundations for businesses. So with our help (foundation) companies are able to shine and grow bigger with newly achieved efficiency and processes.

MK: Yes, it is fantastic to see opportunities and possibilities created by our software and ways of using it we never even thought of.

 

You are a part of the Rakuten group and work with partners on every continent. Are there different technological challenges across the world?

CZ: We are present internationally through our partners’ network consisting of 35 companies. We are also a part of the Rakuten group – a leading global Internet services company. On daily basis we talk to small, medium and large businesses on different continents and we discover challenges in terms of varied business models, different mentality etc. But also simply connectivity or bandwidth issues.

MK: For example, in Europe and North America we’re so used to our beloved: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. But we forget that the landscape changes significantly as soon as you enter China – where WeChat is a key player or Line in Japan. And therefore functionality of digital publishing tools needs to be adapted too.

CZ: The same applies to revenue model in publishing. When mobile content created a potential profit slump for publishers on our side of the world, it actually opened so many new possibilities and cash flow streams for the emerging world. Think about Indonesia, Thailand etc. where due to distribution issues and simply slower development, the paper magazines never really took off. But contrarily tools like digital publishing solutions from Aquafadas really opened doors and increased reach.

 

Could you try to sum up last 10 years in 10 words?

  • innovation
  • power of mobile and digital content
  • digital elegance
  • geek community
  • endless need for new features in a fast evolving tech world
  • power numbers: 20 millions readers and 35 partners across the world
  • being a partner with visionary individuals not afraid of tech
  • future: chatbots and watchOS
  • entrepreneurial spirit
  • Apple and Mac – at the end of the day they inspired us to start