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Peter-Frans Pauwels on the changing face of 25-year-old TomTom

Peter-Frans Pauwels was one of the original founders of TomTom back in 1991, when the company started importing Psion computers into the Netherlands. Under his watch the company has changed from dealing with B2B software into a satnav giant, and cornered the mapping market after the millenium. And now it's changing again.


At IFA 2015 it unveiled the TomTom Spark sports watch. With the ability to play music straight from the wrist, the company believes that it's found a new niche – and the benefit of leaving the smartphone at home will resonate with consumers.


"We always thought hard about what problem we were going to solve, and we learned quickly to make things easy to use," Pauwels told Wareable.


"It wasn't until late 90s when we thought to go to the consumer space, targeting owners of Psion products. That was not opportunistic, we saw a need from the people buying these things."


Most people know TomTom as a satnav company, but until 2000 it made everything from bookmaking applications to digital bibles for Palm PDAs:


"In 2001 we broke through with our satnav app and our revenue went from €2 million to €9 million in one year. So after that we just made ourselves a satnav company and stopped everything else," said Pauwels.


But it hasn't stayed that way. In 2011 TomTom launched its first running watch, and since than has moved into golf GPS watches and action cameras as well. It's realised that its key markets won't be around forever, and that in-car navigation is bound to end up built right into the car.


"In the minds of most people today, we are a satnav brand. But in the longer term, satnav is going to be built into the car: think about automated and self driving cars, maps belong in the cars," Pauwels said. "I think what is happening is that we are becoming a sports brand.


"We are clearly investing in fitness and in action cameras, so we are indeed broadening our brand to cover that. TomTom used to bring you from A to B now TomTom brings you from A to where you want to be. That's marketing" he laughed.