On 18th March 2020 Cerise Phiv, Sales Director APAC, was on Radio Taiwan International and spoke in-depth about Symaps.io. In the programme she discusses the type of data we use, the clients we work with, how the platform works and adapts to different international contexts, and business in Taipei.
Find below the English transcript of the interview conducted in French, originally posted here.
Symaps: smart data platform and business geolocation
Clément Tricot: Hello listeners, you’re in the company of Clément Tricot and you’re listening to ‘The City In Practice’. Today we’re going to address several themes which we haven’t yet looked into on the programme. I went to meet Cerise Phiv on the Taiwan Tech Arena premises in Taipei. Cerise works for the start-up Symaps.io, a French start-up represented in France, South Korea and Taiwan, in Paris and Seoul respectively. By merging public or private geolocated data with digital technology, Symaps.io offers decision support services, geolocation services in particular, for businesses when they are choosing a location or launching products. It’s a tool which is simple to use but not simple in its design, as it allows a first market observation. So in this part of the programme, we have the opportunity to address several themes which also concern cities, namely economic and business logic, but also the digital and virtual aspect which, although invisible, is an important part of the management of contemporary cities. To get to the heart of the matter, I shall first of all let Cerise introduce herself and the start-up, Symaps.io.
Cerise Phiv: Hello, I’m Cerise Phiv, I represent the start-up Symaps.io which is a French start-up and hence based in Paris with offices in Seoul and Taipei – we’re developing a smart geolocation tool, that is to say a platform which helps one makes strategic decisions for the opening of a new shop for example, or the launching of products.
C. T.: The principle is thus simple for the clients at first – they access a map which enables them to think about the rationale behind their implementation.
C. P.: So we make an interactive map available to our clients, our users, which therefore enables them to view lots and all kinds of data in a nice way, which can be both population data and business data too, for example facilities and buildings to which we can add data from our clients.
Clément Tricot: The data used by Symaps is both public data, when made available, or private data, and the two are intersected. Access to public data is provided in Taipei as open data in particular (open data is data accessible to all and searchable and usable by all). For those interested in concrete examples of application or usage thanks to open data, you can refer to our show carried out yesterday for Radio Taiwan International about Taiwanese Civic Tech and their role in the management of COVID-19.
Cerise, explain why this data is so interesting for start-ups like Symaps.
Cerise Phiv: Yes we rely a lot on open data, so for example in Taiwan we’re well served because the open data is very developed, advanced and rich, so this part of population and statistical data is a big part of the data we use.
Clément Tricot: Concerning private data, the start-up uses its clients data and adapts it according to their needs and profile. Moreover, Cerise was giving me some further details on the current profiles of their clients.
Cerise Phiv: So at the moment we work primarily with retailers – people who are opening department stores, retail chains on an international scale in particular, for example international brands who want to open up in new countries and don’t have much visibility.
Clément Tricot: To give you an example of what the retailers for the French version are, one can mention examples such as Ikea, Amazon and Promod. But Cerise was stressing that the idea of the tool, Symaps.io, is to be accessible to more people, if you like.
Cerise Phiv: We’re a start-up, we’re a team of 8 people – the majority of the team is in France, it’s a little team with low costs and so on. We’re developing a business tool at the moment which is primarily used by retailers; international brands who are opening lots of shops or retail chains for example. In fact at the start this tool was created by my business partner Mickael who is now based in Paris but who used to live in South Korea in Seoul (at that time he had a sort of mini quarter-life crisis (!)). He’s a data engineer and while he was based in Seoul he started to develop this tool. So initially we said we were going to create this tool for people who wanted to open business abroad. We live in a time of great mobility, especially in Europe too, even in Asia. It’s easy to be in Taipei and say to yourself ‘well, could I see what’s going on in China or can I expand and go elsewhere’? So anyway that would be the final goal, ideally – it would be to perhaps create a tool which is accessible to everyone and subscription based for example. We’re developing a software service which is subscription based: you pay on a monthly basis to use it. But the current economic reality means that, for the moment, our main clients are leading brands in international markets, in particular brands which want to open up new markets and don’t have much visibility. What these brands do is find consultants, but at very high costs. So what we propose is a tool which is both ready-to-access and also interactive, dynamic and user-friendly, with user-friendly visuals, to give a first introduction – a preliminary overview – of the market.
Clément Tricot: As well as listing data, the Symaps.io platform uses AI technology, particularly machine learning.
Cerise Phiv: So the advantage of the platform is that it’s capable of amassing and analysing a huge amount of data – that’s the advantage. Our platform indeed uses machine learning, a type of AI, to precisely analyse, classify and provide results based on a huge amount of data.
Clément Tricot: In contrast to a geographical information system, GIS, which is usually fed with static data for specific time periods, the use of AI, whatever its level of complexity, seems to be enabling a data representation revolution.
Cerise Phiv: So we’re providing a tool which is also dynamic and updated in real time on certain data sites, according to the data of course. Our clients even have the possibility, the capacity, if they so wish (depending on their needs) to also update/have their data updated in real time on this platform.
Clément Tricot: While speaking about artificial intelligence, I was asking myself how the platform learns.
Cerise Phiv: There are economic or urban development patterns which are of course local, specific to countries, or at least cities within countries; but there are nevertheless patterns which are general, global. Our platform is already capable of comparing a city to another or a country to another and finding out if there are any patterns which are similar or different according to criteria which we apply like for example the type of vertical on which we’re working. What separates us from the rest is that we actually work with any kind of vertical. I’ve spoken about retailers but we also work for distributors of medical products, for example.
Clément Tricot: For info, a vertical is similar to a business field, but another major thing is that data from social media is also analysed by the start-up. If our private lives have taken on a digital dimension then our cities have too, particularly in Taiwan. Platforms like Symaps.io intervene in these new spatial and digital spheres.
Clément Tricot: The start-up is present in Paris, Seoul, Taipei, but also in London, and a question on this international aspect seemed obvious: how does the platform adapt to different local contexts?
C. P.: We also stand out by thinking about the tool comprehensively, internationally. This type of tool isn’t totally new, in fact. It already exists, as we’ve discussed – it’s traditionally a lot more static, looking more like market studies in visualization and cartography. But what we have also tried to provide, coming from our customers’ requests, is an international dimension. For example the tool, by default, gives you access to the whole world. Then, depending on your subscription (you don’t have access to all the data in the whole world) you can access data for a country or a town etc, if it’s very targeted. The idea is to focus on areas where there are borders for example. There you typically have a case where you have a brand which has shops on the border (like that between France and Switzerland).
With the majority of businesses, it’s divided by country. But two countries don’t necessarily share all the information and we enable, for example, our clients in France to have access to data in Switzerland in a faster and more immediate way without maybe having to do all of the research in Switzerland etc. Because it happens that some of the store’s customers in France are people living near the border, in Switzerland.
Clément Tricot: Returning to this spatial aspect, I ask Cerise: why the choice of establishment in Taiwan?
Cerise Phiv: Coincidences, encounters – that’s how life works. When the concept of Symaps was born, I was already working with Mickael, we were partners, we are still partners. I worked with him on consulting projects – me in Taipei, him in Seoul – and when he started his start-up, he asked me to join, and I offered to carry out business development here in Taiwan. There is really good data in Taiwan – really good public, open data. It was also a good testing ground.
Clément Tricot: On the subject of Taipei, it seemed to me that in the Taiwanese capital, unlike Paris where they are also located, business changes more regularly. Due to a lack of time we can not delve further into this issue during this episode, but Cerise Phiv addressed the topic of business’ turnovers in Taipei.
C. P.: It’s a very very dynamic city, even if here the rent is high, even commercial rents, commercial leases. But there’s just a real commercial dynamism, especially in the retail world, which is nevertheless suffering globally and enduring the competition between online shopping and physical trade. It’s true that for a few years now physical business has been having to deal with the growth of e-commerce. But in Taiwan, at last, physical business is doing pretty well – there’s still a big turnover here in fact, and shops open and close fast. It’s both a flexibility and maybe a way for people to take more risks. People do more things without taking data into account; they use their gut instinct or just very basic information concerning footfall, for example, or whether it’s a commercial area or not. And so it’s a very dynamic city.
Clément Tricot: To find information on Symaps.io, you can consult the link of their website, which is available on this show’s page. I’ve been Clément Rico and this has been the show ‘The City In Practice.’ I look forward to joining you again next week. I hope you enjoy listening to the rest of the program.