Meeting with Thomas Lemaitre, CTO at Squirrel

This week we interviewed Thomas Lemaitre, CTO and General Manager at Squirrel, a digital studio specializing in the design and development of mobile applications. Based in Paris and Reunion, the company has created many applications for large groups such as the Compte Nickel application.

Thomas, can you present your professional background and your role within Squirrel?

I am Thomas LEMAITRE, I am 30 years old and I am currently the Technical Director and partner of Squirrel. Originally from Le Mans, I arrived in Reunion at the age of 14. After obtaining a BAC S, I went to the University of Saint-Denis where I did a year of Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. As the courses were too theoretical in computer science, I entered Supinfo Réunion directly in the second year. Once my second year was over, I flew to Bordeaux with my partner (of Reunionese origin) whom I had met at the University and who would later become my wife. So I finished my Supinfo course in Bordeaux while coming back to the island every year to spend my holidays and do my internships. In my last year of studies, I became a self-employed contractor to create websites. Once I graduated, I stayed one year and a half as a freelancer and then I was hired in a web agency in Bordeaux where I learned mobile application development (I still kept my self-employed status, because I wanted to create a company). I always wanted to come back to live in Reunion, but not without having a satisfying professional experience.
After 7 years in Bordeaux, I resigned from the company where I had spent 3 years. My wife and I decided to pack up and return to Reunion. When I arrived, I was lucky enough to find a job in mobile development with a company in Sainte-Marie. Nevertheless, the drop in salary and the too vague prospects of evolution got the better of me and so I decided to partner with Frédérik Istace who founded the company Squirrel in 2014 in Paris. Being in Reunion Island, we decided to create a secondary company in Sainte-Clotilde and hire a first developer in June 2016.

The Squirrel team.

As Technical Director at Squirrel, I am in charge of managing projects, ensuring the smooth running of developments and training newcomers. I am also in charge of technological choices related to the development of mobile applications. With my partner Frédérik Istace, President of Squirrel, I am also present in the pre-sales of projects and the realization of estimates. I still take care of the development of some complex projects, but I have less and less time to devote to development, so I delegate more and more this part to my team to focus on the good development of Squirrel and the internal organization.

What services does your company offer?

Squirrel is organized into three units to cover the entire life of an application:

  • Squirrel studio develops specific applications, back-offices and APIs for SMEs, startups and large accounts.
  • Squirrel Squad is looking for consultants for its clients to be placed in their offices for short or long term missions.
  • Squirrel Labs provides training on Web and mobile technologies, in professional training, at Supinfo or for the Inseec group.

What is Squirrel’s competitive advantage over other mobile app development agencies in the region?

In Reunion Island, we are the first development studio 100% dedicated to the creation of mobile applications. Unlike 360 agencies that do web, print and some mobile applications, we have chosen to focus on mobile and make it our core business, to think mobile first!

We use several technologies to create our applications: native (Java / Swift), cross-platform native (Axway Appcelerator, ReactNative) and WebApp (iONIC). 70% of our applications are built with the Axway Appcelerator cross-platform framework, which we have partnered with. This allows us to produce native applications with a single source code (cross-platform application). Only one developer is needed and this reduces the costs, delivery times and maintenance costs associated with the development of the application, so this is a real advantage.

The second advantage we have is that Squirrel is managed by a team of passionate people. Frédérik and I are developers before we are salesmen, which allows us to give our customers confidence and to be sure of what we are offering them. We don’t sell them a dream, but we help them make their projects a reality.

What are the most popular applications your team has worked on?

We were able to develop the mobile banking application Compte Nickel, they open more than 26K accounts per month, it has since been bought by the BNP.

Our team is also working on the Monetico-Resto application. Monetico Resto proposes to dematerialize meal tickets.

We also created the applications for the StarOfService platform: they are the French leader in the market for connecting individuals and professional services.

We also work as consultants in the innovation unit of ENEDIS, the EDF subsidiary responsible for managing and developing the electricity distribution network in France. We advise them on the development of mobile applications.

Finally, we often work as subcontractors with web or marketing agencies, which has led us to work on projects for well-known clients such as L’Oréal, La Roche Posay, the VINDEMIA group, etc.

Squirrel Studio is currently based in Reunion and Paris, do you work on many international projects?

Our clients are mainly located in France, Reunion and Europe.

The main international project was the StarOfService platform. After raising $10 million in funding, StarOfService presents itself as the marketplace for professional services.

What are the opportunities for mobile application development in the Indian Ocean region?

The demand for mobile application development in the Indian Ocean is still low compared to Metropolitan France. 80% of our projects come from outside the country, but our ambition is to become the reference in this field in the Indian Ocean. For the moment, we don’t have much competition, as no one is specialized in this field (given the low demand, it’s understandable). In order to multiply the opportunities, we are constantly looking for partnerships with local web and marketing agencies that have more and more requests from their clients, but do not have the skills in mobile development. We offer them to use our portfolio for our references and to subcontract the mobile part with us.

Your final word?

Our growth rate tends to confirm that our choice to specialize in mobile development is the right one. In June 2016, we were only 2 partners and now we are 10!

My dream has always been to be an entrepreneur and to create a company. After spending hours, nights and weekends coding all sorts of websites and mobile applications, I finally made my dream come true by joining Squirrel and partnering with Frédérik. In the computer field, there is no unemployment for the moment, so I advise all young people who are passionate to persevere, to train themselves, to develop personal projects or in teams, because one day it will pay off.

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