3 February 2020 1067 words, 5 min. read

[Podcast] How to Disrupt a Market: The Pipplet Example

By Pierre-Nicolas Schwab PhD in marketing, director of IntoTheMinds
Radical innovation, disruption as we say in English, is the absolute Holy Grail for all entrepreneurs. It is the promise (or at least the hope) of a breakthrough entry into the market and the capture of maximum value. The phenomenon […]

Radical innovation, disruption as we say in English, is the absolute Holy Grail for all entrepreneurs. It is the promise (or at least the hope) of a breakthrough entry into the market and the capture of maximum value. The phenomenon of disruptive innovation has been studied by Clayton Christensen (Harvard University), who showed that companies that came up with such products won the day and made the dinosaurs disappear from the market. That’s what we wish for Pipplet; a start-up co-founded by Baptiste Derongs, which is the subject of this podcast. Pipplet offers a foreign language level assessment system that breaks the codes that have been in place until now and brings real added value to corporate clients. It is also a project which, despite a particular technological component, is nonetheless based on human skills. In this podcast, we won’t be talking about artificial intelligence.

Pipplet’s idea is based on a simple observation made by 3 French expatriates in London: the knowledge of a foreign language is often insufficient to evolve correctly in the professional environment. Current certifications (TOEIC, TOEFL) are therefore not reliable indicators.

Below is an analysis of the main ideas you should keep in mind from this podcast (which should not prevent you from listening to the whole podcast, of course).

Table of contents

Highlights of this podcast

  • the technological component is not necessarily a sine qua non condition for success
    The human factors (in Pipplet’s case, the building of a network of collaborators) can constitute a competitive advantage (in the form of a barrier to entry according to Porter’s five forces analysis).
  • Informal testing of your idea with experts and potential clients is a simple first step in your market research.
  • In this interview, Baptiste Derongs talks with Pierre-Nicolas Schwab about the genesis of the idea, the marketing and entrepreneurial challenges he and his team had to go through, and the prospects for Pipplet.

The genesis of the idea

The idea for the product comes from field observation, as is often the case in the world of start-ups. We start by identifying a “customer pain” (in this case, language levels that are insufficient to be effective in a company despite the standard certifications such as TOEFL or TOEIC). Then you think about a solution and let it mature (for several years in Pipplet’s case).

Testing the idea

Testing the idea is the time to implement market research techniques. And in the case of Pipplet, it is an informal test with experts in the sector. This corresponds to step 2 of our market research method. As Baptiste Derongs explains:

“As the idea matured gradually, we started to go out and interview people who work in HR, in the field of vocational training. […] Is this a subject? Are you happy with the means you have to assess [language levels]?”


A solution that took a long time to construct

What is remarkable about Pipplet’s story is that it took a long time for the solution to emerge. The maturing phase of the idea was unusually long (probably because of the respective professional occupations of the various co-founders and their backgrounds outside the sector in which they were projecting themselves). It took almost two years from the creation of the company to the launch of their platform on the market.

“We created the company in 2015, commercial activity started to take off in 2017 and finally, it is also a context where the legitimacy and interest of our certification come with time and the fact that for five years now, we have been providing certifications to more and more companies. Our certification is becoming more and more valuable and more and more legitimate. It’s a little bit like this process; we had to follow with the companies and with our clients.”


The market’s approval of the solution

It cannot be repeated often enough that a very pragmatic way to do market research is to go and “sell” your idea (as if it already existed) to your future clients. It is a simple way to detect “traction” in the market and assess its chances of success.

The Pipplet co-founders were able to feel this market traction, these expectations of companies, by going out into the field. And because prospects often didn’t immediately recognise their needs. Here is how Baptiste Derongs relates this prospecting process in the podcast:

“We’ve had several cases. We have had companies that were indeed very conscious from the outset of their concern and of the heterogeneity of their recruitment in terms of language level, and companies that were directly looking for an objective and standardised tool. We had companies that answered us at the outset +No; there are no concerns. We know how to evaluate, and there’s no problem+; and who, finally, as these companies have become more international or have structured their recruitment process, have come to think that language level evaluation is something that is done in a rather traditional way and needs to be professionalised.

Can we succeed without artificial intelligence?

At a time when many of the projects presented to us or in the headlines include artificial intelligence, we can legitimately ask ourselves the question. An even more relevant subject from a marketing and strategic point of view is the following: does the technological component serve the valorisation of my company?

Let’s face it; many start-ups try to put “artificial intelligence” in their rhetoric without it covering a tangible reality. Putting an ounce of Speech-to-Text, connecting to an API or, even worse, writing a few lines of code, is not enough to claim this label. Sometimes it’s better to have a healthy foundation, free of trendy technological tricks, to grow and prosper. This is precisely what I like about Pipplet’s business model. The company’s strength is its network of expert certifiers and the relevance of its language tests. That’s where the real added value and competitive advantage lies. By conducting a study of Porter’s five strengths (see our course below), we can immediately identify that the tests and the network (in short, the method) is THE barrier to entry for potential competitors.

If you want to learn more about innovation, please check out this page and the video it contains.

Illustration images: Baptiste Derongs, shutterstock 



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