Hugo Volpei, known for being the one who reinvented the toilet experience, is on the 30 “30 Under 2021” list unveiled by Forbes magazine.
Driven from a very young age by a desire to create, he founded Trone, which is now enjoying great growth.
Interview with this young self-made man to get to know this rising star of the French entrepreneurial ecosystem better.
- Where did this crazy idea of reinventing the toilet come from?
Hugo Volpei: It all started when I discovered the Sketch toilets: an exceptional place in London, composed of the exuberant and extremely seductive restaurant by India Mahdavi, a starred restaurant run by the French chef Pierre Gagnaire, and three bars with decorations as different as they are breathtaking. But the highlight of the show remains the toilets. A huge room, a multicolored ceiling, sound effects, distorting mirrors… and those big eggs. Two-meter-high egg-booths. Inside, however, disappointment: white toilets, boring, impersonal. However, I see everyone taking pictures. When I got home, I came across dozens of articles mentioning Sketch's washrooms, and tens of thousands of selfies posted on Instagram. It is at this moment that I see the potential of the idea that begins to germinate in my mind. How to finally make this taboo object sexy? The initial vision has been refined over time, but it has remained the same: to reinvent the intimate. The toilets, which have not changed for decades, are a very tempting invitation to disruption.
- Who are you, Hugo? What was your life like before Trone?
When I was 12, I bought white T-shirts and fabric paint to sell. Around 15 years old, I wanted to be an architect, with this desire to create and enhance everyone's daily life. When I was 20, I wanted to open restaurants, which for me rhyme with places of life, sharing, conviviality. Trone was born in his last year of HEC. Otherwise, I am of Corsican origin, and I grew up in Nice before arriving in Paris at the age of 18!
- Reinventing toilets… This is not the classic route after leaving HEC.
The desire to create precedes HEC, which is, moreover, the meaning of its motto: “Learn to dare”. I was the first to take an interest in the bathroom. Few of us want to make very traditional businesses sexy. Most of the time, the usual post-HEC path starts in finance, consulting, marketing in large structures, or in a tech startup. At Trone, we are reinventing the bathroom experience. Like Victor and Tigrane, the founders of Big Mamma, who had the ambition 7 years ago to reinvent catering: nothing new, but everything to rethink. Moreover, it was when we saw one of their sites through the window of Station F that our collaboration began: curious, we went to see them. Victor Lugger and Tigrane Seydoux were the first to trust us.
- How do you become a toilet specialist without knowing it first?
The key is to surround yourself. Alone, we do nothing. I started by searching on Google for “toilet manufacturing process”. I called the first two numbers I found. And it was on. Since then, I have made extraordinary encounters. If I had to name just one, I would say Victor Lugger, founder of Big Mamma. He gave us his agreement to equip La Felicità, the largest restaurant in Europe, when we only had a 3D model to show them. The company was not even registered yet. It was then time to build a team. I called on Romain, a childhood friend, to model the first model. When we signed our first client, Big Mamma, and it was necessary to deliver 7 toilets in 6 months, we had to urgently recruit an engineer, able to make a drawing functional. This is how Camille joined the adventure. By meeting experts in the subject, we gradually acquired the knowledge sufficient for the development of Trone. Then, we carried out a fundraising. We wanted to accelerate to see much bigger, and therefore needed the financial means to face it. The toilet market is David versus Goliath. David's main weapon, ie Trone, is our team. That was the number one goal of our fundraising event: building the best possible team. Then, release budgets to increase our notoriety and our pace of innovation.
- Are toilets really taboo?
In France and in Europe, we do not generally talk about it. And when we talk about it, we laugh about it. It is therefore a very great ambition to make this moment “cool”. To arouse the desire on this object never coveted. This is our main challenge: to make sexy what is not, to convince investors, to arouse the interest of architects, individuals ... Hence our philosophy: "When the intimate becomes sublime".
- What does the weather horizon say about Trone?
Trone is enjoying a good growth phase. A growing notoriety among architects, restaurateurs, hoteliers, the general public… We are equipping superb references, such as Season, Paris Society, or even the tables of great chefs such as Mauro Colagreco or Stéphanie Le Quellec. Already present in 15 countries, our objective is to achieve 50% of our turnover abroad by 2022. In terms of innovation, we stick to our common thread: water. Today we are reinventing the toilets. Maybe tomorrow we will reinvent the water jug or even the swimming pool. In my wildest dreams, within 20 years we will have made everyone's daily life more beautiful, more fun, more comfortable. And above all, we will have made the toilets cool!
Trone is a French company whose mission is to reinvent the toilet experience. This essential, neglected for 250 years, is thus revolutionized and transformed into colorful design pieces, born from the collaboration between designers, engineers and craftsmen experts in their field. Trone goes even further, and creates bespoke immersive spaces in major hotels and restaurants. “Making the intimate sublime” is the slogan of the brand founded by Hugo Volpei, which breaks taboos and transforms toilets into symbols of refinement, jewels of technology and aesthetics.
To learn more, visit the Trone site.