Tech startups in Taiwan have arrived. When most people think tech they think Silicon Valley, but startup firms in Taiwan are making a splash; perhaps none more so than Roam and Wander. R&W was founded in 2012 by American and veteran HTC executive Jason Warren. The company channels the Valley’s level of talent and dynamism but still is very much part of the Taiwan scene.
“If you have a difficult problem, we’re the people to call.”
“The design and programming talent is equal to that found in Silicon Valley.”
Mr. Warren has been in Taiwan for five years. He originally came as a general manager for HTC and founded the mobile giant’s cloud business unit. Before then, Warren spent years in Silicon Valley and has lived all over the United States, as well as internationally. His background means he has a wealth of tech and business experience that made founding his own company a natural step.
Roam and Wander attracted international attention with interactive toys funded originally by a Kickstarter campaign, but marketing costs made that project ultimately unsustainable. For years Roam and Wander worked to create its own brand, but has recently pivoted to an agency strategy developing for other companies. They specialize in cloud technology, machine learning, advanced networking solutions, and also act as an incubator for spin off companies – a tactic they’ve employed multiple times. Warren takes pride in the fact that Roam and Wander doesn’t just take any project thrown their way; “if you have a difficult problem, we’re the people to call,” he says with just a hint of swagger.
Roam and Wander’s confidence is well founded. Warren started things off with his own capital, but ended up securing his first major investment from TMI, with whom they still share work space. Now R&W has an investment team made of up of seven major shareholders, including leading Taiwanese VC firms WI Harper and 500 Startups. They also have a number of angel investors backing them, and Warren’s network in the tech community of Taiwan keeps the firm secure.
Warren finds Taiwan to be an excellent fit for his organization for a few reasons. First the design and programing talent found in Taiwan is equal to that found in Northern California, but at a discount. He also hails Taiwan’s environment for entrepreneurial development, and like most visitors and expats, he notes Taiwan’s friendly, open culture and people.
One interesting aspect of Roam and Wander is its blending of American and Taiwanese work cultures. We noticed an egalitarian nature to R&W’s office – desks are set up like cafeteria tables with work stations spread about, and Warren sits with the rest of his staff. Warren has loosely based his management and organizational style on Valve’s system, the gaming company behind Steam. Roam and Wander works to foster independence and creativity among its staff, Taiwanese and foreign alike. Their organizational style is novel in Taiwan, but it clearly works well and allows the firm more freedom to do projects everyone is passionate about.
“We have doubled revenue every quarter for three quarters,” Warren beams, “and we are on track to double again.” Roam and Wander does a lot of things right, not the least of which is being situated in Taipei.
R&W has big plans in coming months; most significantly they are opening offices in San Francisco and New York. Furthermore, Roam and Wander is currently backlogged til 2016, meaning they can’t even begin to work on some clients’ projects until next year. Engagement with the rest of Asia is also high on R&W’s list of priorities. They have an eye on expanding to Hong Kong and eventually tapping the Chinese market, where they already have some contract work. Still, Roam and Wander’s two biggest markets are the US and Taiwan, with business from the States poised to take on a larger share of the company’s efforts.
It’s easy to see why Roam and Wander would be so appealing to firms in need of tech development. As a Taiwanese company they are able to handle the same caliber work as anyone in Silicon Valley, but at a discount compared to most American developers.
Roam and Wander is a bold project and they certainly face many challenges. Still, Taiwan offers real benefits. As its tech industry matures and startup culture develops, Roam and Wander will be the kind of company newer firms aspire to emulate. With access to real funding and a tech oriented talent pool, developers and entrepreneurs would be wise to set up shop in Taiwan.