• Tue. Oct 26th, 2021

The crazy story of Williwaw, the most expensive “French” fan in the world – Les Numériques


Oct 14, 2021


Digital met Stéphane Thirouin, the creator of Williwaw. This 850 € fan – twice as expensive as a Dyson – has a somewhat crazy history, and its ambassador is not for nothing. Story.

Stéphane Thirouin surrounded by his creations. (© Arnaud Childéric)

It is not uncommon to come across Géo Trouvetou in the tech world and Stéphane Thirouin is definitely one of them. For several years, this farmer’s son turned industrial designer has been working hard on Williwaw, a silent fan that has recently been talked about, especially because of its price: 850 €. The mid-length gray hair, in sneakers and white shirt with orange jeans to recall the color code of Williwaw of course, Stéphane Thirouin arrives from Grenoble, the step alert and the voluntary approach, to Digital with its product (to be built) under the arm and a Dyson fan (already mounted) for the demo.

While showing us that Williwaw’s editing session is a piece of fun, even with a simple coin as a tool, the one who cut his teeth at Legrand, Facom then Seb, likes to talk about him, his job and his job. his fan. And the many pitfalls that got stuck in its path.

I want to create a useful, durable and desirable product

S. Thirouin

The Williwaw adventure (taken from an Amerindian term for a cold wind) begins after a difference of opinion with his penultimate employer, the Seb group. For 10 years, he was paid to make beautiful objects by drawing buttons and electrical outlets, then tools for Facom and finally, household appliances for Seb. But despite his MBA in his pocket, we do not recognize him other useful than that of making beauty and, what is more, at a lower cost. However, for him, being a designer is also being an architect of objects… and a little more. “It’s not just drawing an object. You have to be a conductor. But in France, only CEOs are entitled to be conductors. ” So he keeps his sensitivity to himself, and swallows without flinching the marketing logic – often ubiquitous – of his various employers.

Believe it against all odds

Then by mutual agreement, in 2016 he left the appliance manufacturer Seb, taking with him the rights to a project called Bamboo Fan, “A fan that we had started to develop to compete with Dyson by emphasizing the silent and desirable, decorative aspect of the machine. It did not fit into the specifications of the company ”. This project is, according to him, shot by marketing considerations. Nevertheless, he manages to recover the mold of the propeller – an industrial tool which still costs a trifle of $ 10,000 – and launches a Kickstarter to the tune of one million euros to finance the manufacture of the fan: the subscription is 350 € per model for a production of 3000 pieces. He collects 99 pre-orders and € 47,000. “It’s the total flop.”

A Williwaw fan in our meeting room.

But he firmly believes in his fan. “I want to create a useful, durable and desirable product.” And for that, he doesn’t skimp on materials. First requirement, no ABS plastic that ages badly, but quality polycarbonate. The specifications – and de facto the bill – gets heavier: no non-removable plastic clips, but 115 screws, wooden feet, a nine-bladed propeller (there are three on an entry-level fan) and a motor brushless which allows you to turn at very low speed. For the grid, “Williwaw uses a spiral (twisted by hand) to minimize turbulence and create a steady flow of air. What does not help, it takes two different; one in the front, one in the back. ” The aerodynamics of the parts follow the codes of aeronautics. “This is the case, for example, with the shrouds which support the engine. The aim is to limit the creation of audible turbulence. ” The 40 to 270 ° oscillation of the fan requires a part that has been a real “Gaz factory”. But above all, it otherwise has temperature sensors to make it smart. “It’s the only fan that turns on when it’s hot and turns off when it’s cold.”

Its advantage: allows you to heat a room in winter

So inevitably, the Williwaw bill goes up. You have to fight everywhere, rely on friends, make ends meet. A Lépine competition here, a design competition there… Stéphane Thirouin claims to have received no support, not even from Bpifrance (public investment bank). He is fighting hard for his machine. He ends up producing it thanks to a friend who runs a factory in Shenzhen. Everything is made in China because Williwaw would cost even more if it were made in France; remember that Williwaw ships more than 100 screws. But Stéphane Thirouin wants to offer a durable object that can replace a classic air conditioning system.“The gain in terms of energy is colossal. Air conditioning in a medium-sized room costs € 9,000 over 10 years; purchase of the device, installation, maintenance and electricity consumption, thousands of watts are wasted. ”

But where Williwaw wants to make a difference is during the winter, since he also promises to warm a room. “It’s a simple story of observation. I have a mezzanine at my house in winter and I have noticed that in winter it is hot upstairs and cold downstairs. I said to myself, if I run my fan, I will be able to push the hot air towards the ceiling and create a convection phenomenon. My intuition turns out to be correct. I was 29 ° C at the top, 19 ° C at the bottom; when I launched my idea, the temperature was homogenized at the top and bottom of the mezzanine to reach 21 ° C everywhere. We are talking about delamination of heat. ” The designer did a study to measure energy savings. This represents 30% heating savings per room. All this is managed from an application.

The special propeller and the angle of action selection system increase the cost of Williwaw.

Stéphane Thirouin hopes to convince his clients with these arguments. For the moment, he has sold 1200 copies of his Williwaw, 70% are sold by his site, 30% by Fnac Darty. “You have to like beautiful objects, have the means, not like the air conditioning”, he declares in defense of his high-end product which has nothing to do with the Dyson bladeless fan and on which he does not mince words (see sidebar).

So our Geo Trouvetou is developing a limited version of Williwaw with brass parts so that it can work on the beaches of the Carlton hotel, in Cannes, and thus prevent the rimmel from running on the faces of the rich clients who would have too much. hot in the sun. And he is, like a sales representative, the ardent defender of his solution. It has no employees but projects. “I don’t want to be the king of the fan, but the king of useful items.” He creates his brand and wants to install it in a landscape where household appliances often represent ready-to-eat products that we end up throwing around. This eternal dissatisfied no longer wants “Get bored with low-end products”. “My dream is that my product does not end up in the recycling center. There are no Porsches being scrapped. ”