I met the founder of Largowind, Mathilde Argaud, on a beautiful summer afternoon at the harbor master’s office in Schwebsange – the only marina in Luxembourg – situated on the banks of the Moselle river. It was the ideal place to find out more about the connected object she is helping design, which has already attracted the attention of more than a few sailors.
(Featured Image: Mathilde Argaud, Founder and CEO of Largowind / Image Credit: Olivier Minaire)
Can we say that Largowind is a family story?
Oh yes! I have been immersed in the world of sailing since childhood. My father ran a business making boat keels. Two years ago, when we were scanning startups and new technologies, we noticed that connected objects were becoming more and more present. We then began to think of ideas that could solve a problem or provide a service in the world of sailing.
In the spring of 2015 we decided to pitch our idea at the Startup Weekend in Luxembourg. Everything went really well and we won a prize. The following week we were on the Cote d’Azur asking the ports to test our idea in order to get as much feedback as possible.
We participated in the Fit4Start program a few months later, allowing us to take the first step in setting up a company.
This was followed by the creation of a team that is now made up of Maxime Guichard, who takes care of the business side of things and supports me daily in company management, and Christian Nöst, the team technician who helped develop the prototypes.
On the engineering side, we collaborate with a car company based in France called EFI Automotive via its industrial accelerator Axandus. We benefit from their network in the automotive sector and beyond. There are a surprising number of technical and technological synergies within our project.
I spoke about my father at the beginning of this interview, and it is true that I set out on this adventure with him. Unfortunately, he died last year and I am proud to continue in honor of his memory.
I am a native of Saint-Etienne, France, and, despite the distance from the sea, my father had a boat and even sponsored sailing races. By the age of 16 I had two boating licenses, something they had never seen before in Saint-Etienne! I have finally combined my two passions – boating and entrepreneurship – and followed in my father’s footsteps.
Can you describe your product?
Connected Rope is the first step in realizing our vision of ensuring that sailors can use new technologies to more deeply fulfill their passion for sailing.
In a nutshell, Connected Rope delivers control, security and passion.
This first device is clipped onto any size mooring line to measure tension and movement. Taking into account the location of the boat, it uses an algorithm to immediately detect when a problem arises (theft, weak or broken moorings, intrusions, etc.) and thus warns the owners, wherever they are in the world. The owners will receive an alert via our application, enabling them to resolve the problems from afar rather than discovering the damage after several weeks of absence!
The objective is twofold: to reassure owners who live far from their boats – anxiety runs high during storm season, for example – but also, and above all, to create a permanent link between boat and owner, one that did not exist until now. A boat represents a financial investment, but above all it is a passionate commitment.
How did you go from the idea, to the prototype, to the final product?
We are in the process of finalizing the product in order to have 15 to 20 prototypes by the end of August, which will allow us to carry out long-term tests, ensure the viability of the product and collect data. We will distribute them all over Europe to observe different conditions, including in oceans, lakes and rivers. These will be the last tests before switching to industrial manufacturing.
We are facing energy and communication challenges because the product will be international and completely autonomous. The tests will allow us to collect enough data to refine our product and services.
Getting back to the genesis of the project, we started in this industry because we already had a network and expertise in the field of boating. I was living in Austria and worked evenings and weekends, which made it hard to be an entrepreneur.
My former boss reminded me that he was always looking for people to join the Avery Dennison team Luxembourg, a company for which I had already worked for three years. It was a great opportunity. I knew I would also have a schedule that would allow me to make time for entrepreneurship and act on my ideas.
The Startup Weekend and the Fit4Start program were two tremendous springboards. Can you tell us why?
Everything was set up very quickly in Luxembourg. I took part in my first meetup at Technoport and met Wesley Deglise, who said to me, “If you do not pitch, I’ll do it for you.” That helped convince me to present my idea during the Startup Weekend. I drove to Lyonto pick up my father and we practiced the pitch on the way back to Luxembourg. It was a magical experience full of good memories. By the end of the weekend we had won first prize.
A few months later we began Fit4Start, an intense four-month program that was very difficult for me personally because I had just lost my father, had left my job and had decided to start my company, all at the same time. Looking back, I realize that I was very lucky because people who had followed the adventure from the beginning were eager to jump on board. In just four months, we made prototypes using 3D printers, tested the product, visited ports, met boat owners, and attended trade shows.
How can someone experience the product even though it is not on sale yet?
Thanks to the €50,000 from the Fit4Start program, we were able to work on a prototype and overcome initial challenges.
We really wanted to have a reliable and well-designed prototype. After the Fit4Start program we exhibited at METSTRADE in Amsterdam, the only B2B boating show in the world.
Our aim was to show our solutions to professionals, from distributors to captains. One after the other, they passed by our stand and voiced interest: “We saw your project, we might be interested, tell us more.”
We established more than 50 strategic contacts. We then took part in boot Düsseldorf 2017 – Europe’s largest B2C boating show. Our objective was to share our solution with the end customer. If we’d had a physical product, we would have sold it there and then without any problems, reaffirming the level of interest we already suspected.
We were also given wise advice and recommendations from boat owners. For example, we are testing an idea for harbors (on a mooring buoy), with the possibility of making the product available at anchor as well. The results so far are extremely positive!
What are your plans for the near future?
Our search for funds has slowed down a bit. We raised €50,000 via a private investor, enabling us to obtain an additional €100,000 grant from the Luxembourg government under the Fit4Start program. We are now transitioning from the prototype to pre-production and then we’ll move on to the manufacturing phase. We are also in the process of redesigning our website to launch presales this summer. On top of that, we plan to publish articles in all specialized journals to boost interest.
Our goal is to have 500 presales by the end of 2017 for Q1 2018 delivery. Boaters will have to hurry to be among the first to be equipped with this system! The price is €479.99 with a subscription of €9.99/month for the communication and management of alerts. The first 500 customers will receive a one-year subscription for free.
- May – June: Participation in Startup Weekend Luxembourg
- June – December: Testing the idea
- February – March: Selection for the Fit4Start program & €50,000 prize
- April: Official launch of Largowind
- May: First test on a boat
- September: First version of the product
- November: Participation in the METSTRADE fair in Amsterdam
- January: Participation in boot Düsseldorf
- March: First investor; access to an additional €100,000 from the Fit4Start program
- June: Winner of the CYEL Awards; WBMY finalist; Pre-manufacturing phase
- August: First pre-production for tests & beta testers; official opening of pre-sales
- September – December: Participation in trade shows & initial negotiations
- October: Second pre-production before production & final certification
- Q1 & Q2: Marketing of presold products
This article was first published in the Summer 2017 issue of SILICON magazine. Be the first to read SILICON articles on paper before they’re posted online, plus read exclusive features and interviews that only appear in the print edition, by subscribing online.