Co-Founder & CEO
Co-Founder and CEO
Andi, Bernd & Felix
Bits & Pretzels,
Pascal Ecker & Nils Kornder
Christian Teichert & Oliver Wimmeroth
Your message. Delivered.
Mobile Marketing Director
CEO and Founder
co-founder & Managing Director
Building on successful monetization and Google’s Best App award, we’ll keep developing Familonet
Familonet, a company that has been part of our portfolio since 2012, has finished a very successful year: They were awarded as one of the best apps for Android by Google, and they also started successfully monetizing the users of their mobile application. Reason enough to let their founding partner Hauke Windmüller share a few thoughts here at Venista Voices.
It’s always great to see an idea turn into reality – and then see reality turn this idea into a success. And of course it’s great to experience this with your own idea, which is what has been happening for us at Familonet over recent months. Our application for iOS and Android helps small, real social networks such as families and friends update each other on their current location, status, and initiate private chats – and makes sure everyone knows that their dear ones are safe. We first launched this solution in the fall of 2013, we’ve been updating and growing internationally to more than 1.7 million users in 16 languages, and now we believe that it’s fair to say: We have done a good job!
It wasn’t ourselves who said it, but Google, who recently handed out their coveted Best Apps awards for 2016. We were actually surprised: With so many great programs out there, we hadn’t necessarily hoped we were going to win. But win we did. To us this shows that if you pursue your mission to answer your users’ needs and stay your course you will be successful – and people will recognize your work. Such an award by Google is not only nice to advertise your product, but it is also a real asset for our colleagues working on the software. It is also great when it comes to developing a relationship with Google.
Speaking of development, it’s interesting to see how your project evolves over time. For instance, we did plan to launch hardware to extend our offer when we first started, but this is not really part of our roadmap anymore. Instead, we have been looking much more at ways to grow and monetize growth based on the actual strengths of our software – without spending money on online marketing. 2016 was also a big success because we started not only experimenting, but successfully establishing a monetization model for the app. Last July we started monetizing the audience when it wants to use premium features, such as defining certain locations for the family, or the emergency alert to be sent out to the network, or the network location history and other features. Five per cent of the new users of our app did start a paid membership later on, mostly signing up for annual subscriptions. It’s good to see that launching a monetization has not led to a negative effect on other KPIs.
While we will continue to work on the monetization, we are also going to work hard to add quality to the user experience. One big thing is that we will add context to data. This means that knowing about the last location of a member of your family is nice, but it may be even more meaningful when you combine it with other information. As an example, if you know that daddy is on the way home and you know there’s a traffic jam, this is context that can help make better use of data. We can then tell the rest of the family automatically that the father may be home a few minutes later than expected. In such a way adding context can add to the meaningfulness.
At the end of 2017, our company will be five years old. We were convinced that there’s not only a desire for mobile family security solutions with high data protection standards, but also a market to monetize them. Looking at the developments along the way, we’re very positive that this assumption was correct. We’ll continue to work hard to achieve what’s most important: Deliver safety and comfort to our members.
We had a very strong belief in audio and synthetic voices from the very start
We recently talked to Espen Systad, Co-Founder and CEO of Capsule.fm, about the app's history, SBC memories and its future.
For audio, video or even text, streaming has become the standard to transport content. What makes Capsule.fm special in this area?
Foreseeing that streaming will come, we had a very strong belief in audio and synthetic voices from the very start. And one thing that really sets us apart is our focus on the laid-back consumption of audio.
What does that mean?
Other players in synthetic voices, like Amazon’s Alexa, Siri or Google Home, are reaction or pull-based. The user has to ask precisely to get something. With Capsule.fm, it is different. You don’t need to ask, you just start the app and we “push” tailor-made audio content based on your interests and usage. When you interact with the audio stream, it’ll learn.
Do you see any more USPs when it comes to the streaming competition?
Yes, another thing that makes us stand out is that we are social. If you like some music or any other content and amplify it, it can trickle down to other peoples’ stream and you have the ability to connect. This makes it even more fun because you become part of this great community.
You mentioned the laid-back consumption, which sounds like traditional electronic media, TV or radio. How is Capsule.fm distinct from it?
In a way, Capsule.fm takes the best from radio, which is that there is something in the background that you don’t need to think about but at the same time enables you to discover new things. That is exactly the experience we want to create. However, if you look at radio nowadays, you will see that it doesn’t know anything about you. So for advertisers and publishers, this format is gradually dying. We present an alternative that is much more in line with the current technology.
How do you learn about the interests and preferences of people?
After having downloaded the app, the first thing to do is the set-up. You choose your music streaming service, news sources, podcasts and connect your social media channels. Then you start to play. There you can skip and amplify content and based on your behavior, Capsule.fm predicts what you might like and chooses what you get next.
Which features do users like the most and why?
User preferences are actually very different all around the world. People in Japan are extremely into news. In the US we have a high interest in funny content. In Germany people seem to value music the most. Apparently, there aren’t that many people having premium streaming accounts but the ones that do, they really use it for music.
Let’s take a look back at the past. Tell us, what led you to starting this whole project?
I was employed by a big media company in Norway, working on helping to save the newspapers. It was then that I realized audio would be the next big thing in the future. But it was also apparent that the traditional print news media weren’t ready and willing to invest in this field, which was a shame. I realized that I needed to proceed on the outside, and I moved to Berlin, created a team sharing one vision and together we joined Startupbootcamp with our idea of Capsule.fm.
You were part of the 2012 Startupbootcamp. How would you rate that experience?
Well, it’s interesting, it was a very good team-building project – but maybe, objectively, we shouldn’t have done that in 2012 because we were pre-product…
That is interesting. Why do you say “maybe we shouldn’t have done that”?
I’m saying it from four years on. The exposure, network and opportunities we got during Startupbootcamp was excellent. But we were pre-product, and that meant that all the opportunities we got for partnerships couldn’t be executed well. On Startupbootcamp Demoday, we got a lot of attention, and many investors wanted to talk to us. Unfortunately, the only thing we were able to present was this vision and a simple prototype. We certainly knew we had the knowledge and ability to make it, but for the majority of investors our idea alone involved too much risk. If we had been in this program a year later, it would have most likely helped us achieve more commitments and partnerships, based on the real product to show.
So you regret that you were in the program in 2012?
No, certainly not, because we really learned a lot and built our team there. Based on Startupbootcamp we got that huge network, managed to establish us in Berlin and became part of its startup scene within just three months. It was a great experience and we definitely had a fun time – something that we can build on even today, four years later.
And four years later, where do you see Capsule.fm?
We have a very strong platform. We’ve recently switched to a freemium model and also had a lot of traffic in Germany the last month.
Does this mean you’re starting to monetize your service? How?
We have had a paid version of the app for a while, we are now switching to a model where users can test the premium version of Capsule.fm for a few days and then decide if they want to keep having that, or continue with a free but stripped down version.
Are you still independent?
Yes we are. We own 92 % of the company and that has given us the opportunity to build something for the future and something we are really proud of. We just ended a 1M€ TV marketing campaign on the ProSieben-network in Germany, given by Seven Ventures [for no equity, editor’s note]. Also, we think this is an ideal time for fundraising, so that is going to be our next step.
Do you have specific goals for this?
We would ideally try to remain in Europe, and we are looking for investors that share our view that there will be a major disruption in the audio market. We are convinced that our technology and approach offers such a great potential, and we’re sure that we’ll find the investors that share our vision.
Cologne's cosmos of startups is developing quickly
A few days ahead of Startupcon 2016, we sat down with initiator Christian Weis to discuss Cologne's startup potential and highlights of the upcoming event.
Give us a short elevator pitch: Why is Startupcon a must for startups?
That’s because we turn Germany’s largest indoor arena into a startup hotspot. Our event condenses 150 top speakers, 50 workshops, lots of networking, a startup expo and up to 500 pitches with the chance to win a prize on-stage.
Maybe this is unfair, but tell us: What are your three highlights in this year’s program?
I’m excited to see Marcell Jansen who ended his career as a pro soccer player to start founding startups. Also, I’m looking forward to hearing Arun Pudur deliver his insights. He’s coming from Malaysia for this speech. Another clear highlight will be Bibop Gresta’s talk on the Hyperloop. Looking at our grid of speakers I’m absolutely sure there’s something thrilling for everyone.
How do you see Cologne’s position as a startup city?
Cologne is catching up. Our cosmos of startups is developing quickly. The city is offering support wherever it can. Also, universities are putting in a lot of commitment. This has led to Cologne having a lot of cool founder locations that deliver value. Things are moving ahead in Cologne.
You don’t just feature big shots and new teams, but also the good old Mittelstand. How does it fit in?
It’s our opinion that startups are lacking good connections with the strong small-and-medium-sized business driving our economy. At the same time, these often traditional players can learn a lot from startups. Based on this it makes sense to start connecting both sides and help establish partnerships.
Startupcon took place at the Gürzenich event location last year, grew to Lanxess Arena this year – where can we expect you to lead us in the future?
Well, in terms of location, we will remain and grow in that very large framework during the next few years in order to prove our position in the startup events sphere. The arena offers a great many opportunities to establish a diverse and meaningful program. Not every venue could cater to our demands as we mix a conference, an expo and a pitching event. So to answer it: Lanxess Arena is the ideal spot for us.
Thousands of founders, beer, Oktoberfest – what else is left to say?
While Bits & Pretzels 2016 is coming up soon, we took the time to sit down with the three hosts Andreas "Andi" Bruckschlögl, Dr. Bernd Storm vans Gravesande and Felix Haas.
How many Maß [1 liter glass mugs] are necessary to prompt productive conversations about startup topics?
Andi: That depends on the participants’ drinking ability. In my opinion, most of them usually need one, trained participants need two. But since we want to play safe, everyone receives a voucher for two Maß beer.
Why is Oktoberfest time suitable for your event?
Andi: The last day of the Oktoberfest represents a USP no other city in the world can imitate. By now, there are thousands of startup events throughout the world. We did not want to establish just another run-of-the-mill event. With the last day of the Wiesn we offer something most participants haven’t experienced before. Adding to that, there is no better place to network than in an Oktoberfest tent with sociable music, delicious food and probably the best beer.
What sparked your conviction that this event is needed?
Bernd: 3 ½ years ago, Andi and I initially brought the Gründer-Weißwurstfrühstück into being. We thought there was – compared to Berlin – no real startup scene in Munich, despite many successful young companies. We wanted to draw attention to them and create a platform where founders, investors and journalists could meet up. On the first event we were barely able to convince 50 founders to take the time and join the Gründer-Weißwurstfrühstück. BP then took place two times as a one-day event with more than 1,400 founders in the Löwenbräukeller. We already received a lot of positive feedback back then. In January 2015 Felix joined us as a third host. Together we decided to develop a bigger, international event format. The Bits & Pretzels founders festival was born: In September 2015 we had more than 3,600 founders over three days, amongst other things during the Oktoberfest – a world premiere – in Munich.
This is the fourth event. What have you learned throughout the years and why is Bits & Pretzels 2016 better than 2015?
Andi: We’ve learned a lot. This is mostly due to the fact that we did not have much experience in organizing events of this size at the first Bits & Pretzels in September 2014. It was a one-day event at the Löwenbräukeller with 1,400 participants. The atmosphere was great and the networking in full progress from the first minute. However, this resulted in a lack of interest for the speakers in the beer hall. The second time, we tried to solve this with a better technique. Unfortunately without success. This is why we decided to expand Bits & Pretzels to a three-day event: The first two days take place during the day in the International Congress Center in Munich, which is the best location for speeches from a technical point of view. In the evenings there are parties in different clubs and bars. On the last day, all participants go to the Oktoberfest for extensive networking without speeches. We asked our participants after the event and received a lot of praise. But also things we could improve. This year, it is precisely the division of the speeches and booths into six clusters, a separate pitch stage, our Startup-Academy and the networking app which enables you to contact participants in anticipation and schedule appointments.
The international conference market is full of prominent events. Where do you see yourselves?
Felix: We want to host the most amazing founders conference in the world and don’t compare ourselves to others [smiles].
Are there any special features this year? Which notable speakers can you announce?
Felix: As already stated, we’ve invested a lot of effort in the curation and in the division into clusters. It’s always really hard to choose the speakers since we sadly have to reject too many great people. This year we are looking forward to a great line-up: Amongst other things, the founders of AirBnB, Kayak, King.com and as an absolute highlight speaker Richard Branson will be present. More than 70 speakers are going to talk about their experiences. For the first time we also have a separate Academy Stage this year, where founders can learn from experts and get specific tips how to found and lead a startup.
Why should investors come to Munich for this event?
Felix: Thousands of founders, beer, Oktoberfest – what else is left to say?
Are there any business ideas which were invented during or significantly promoted by a coaching at your event?
Bernd: Our event is particularly helpful for and interesting to founders. We are really glad to provide the opportunity for startups to find new investors and even new employees at times. An example for a success story is the Slovenian startup Eurosender which runs a Europe-wide parcel delivery service. Not only did they find their first seed investor at Bits & Pretzels but their further development was also fueled by investors they met at B&P. In the same way, the founders of the Berlin startup Candis, a tool for automated accounting, found an investor and established contacts with more than 200 investors and partners they still profit from today. Those are stories we are really pleased to hear because, as founders, we know ourselves how important it is to be connected in the scene.
How much room is there for Bits & Pretzels to grow? Could the Oktoberfest possibly turn into a startup-only event?
Bernd: Despite growing again this year, our greatest focus lies rather on quality than quantity. We’ve invested a lot of time in the quality optimization during the past months. Our future goal is to turn Bits & Pretzels into the most popular and best founders conference in the world. We want it to be the place where the smartest people meet, the most innovative ideas are born, the best teams get together and finally, the most successful startups become even more successful. The Oktoberfest is a unique possibility to connect young entrepreneurs. There is no other place where founders, investors, journalists and people fond of starting new stuff can exchange ideas in such a relaxed atmosphere. We use our Table Captain concept to run the networking in a professional manner and to strategically connect the participants according to their interests. This year again, there are a lot of skilled people as Table Captains who guarantee exciting conversations at their tables. We are really glad to have the Oktoberfest as an amazing opportunity here in Munich!
An amazing journey
We met Ramon of Vigour to talk about their progress after Startupbootcamp, a major deal and their future.
Four years ago you participated in Startupbootcamp Berlin. How has Vigour’s business evolved since then?
Vigour’s business went on really well from that point forward. First of all, we have grown from just a couple of people to a team of 25 people. Fortunately, we were able to attract the appropriate funding in order to build the right team. That in turn has allowed us to fully focus on building the best product possible and to commercialize the technology that we had developed: a platform that is now used by large brands in different places in the world. Altogether that has been an absolutely exciting journey.
So you’ve talked about the team. Is it still the same feeling or atmosphere even after expanding the staff size?
In a way it is. On the one hand, all of the core characteristics which defined our team right from the beginning are still in place today. Values like extreme focus and dedication, hard work or working together as a group of friends, rather than an overly hierarchical structure, have remained to a certain extend. On the other hand, however, we did have to go through a lot of learning which was exciting, but also very challenging. Remember we grew from originally three founders to a team of five during Startupbootcamp, and four years later it is five times that size. That requires a tremendous amount of personal growth for everybody involved. Some of the processes that work when you’re just five people don’t work when you’re working with 25 people.
Coming back to Startupbootcamp, are you still in contact with some of the persons you met there?
Yes, especially the program’s Co-founder Alex Farcet has always been a great mentor, friend, somebody who my co-founders and myself fully trust. He was there right at the start of Startupbootcamp and remained on our board as a shareholder. Even though we are obviously in a very different stage of our business right now and I am not talking to Alex on daily basis, I still find an incredible support in his shareholder ship. Especially when it comes to decisions that we need to make within the company. We talk regularly and I definitely appreciate his engagement towards Vigour.
One important activity last year must have been the launch of MTV Play together with Viacom. What is MTV Play all about?
MTV Play is the content platform for MTV in Europe. Currently, the platform is live in nine European countries. It was an amazing journey as it was our first live product. Viacom was also the first company that really believed in us as a young business and in our technology of connecting different screens in one household. To me, it was an incredibly courageous step for them to take. We are working with more corporate customers now, but MTV and Viacom were extremely important for the development of our company.
How did the idea for a partnership with Viacom arise?
After we raised our first funding round in Startupbootcamp, we had a lot of press coverage. And somebody who had previously worked at Viacom read about us and liked our idea. So this person approached us, we met for a coffee and eventually he made an introduction to the people that were running MTV. I went there one afternoon and had a very good conversation with their product team. Of course, the sales process with a large customer like MTV is nothing you finish in one afternoon. For us this was a really interesting process, because we sold a really big platform which is usually not what small upcoming companies do. We had to figure out the whole distribution process on the go and at that time we were just a bunch of guys who had built a prototype. We had some very different challenges to manage but we were also so enthusiastic about it that in the end they decided to go live with it in Europe.
Are there any plans for further cooperation with Viacom?
I can’t comment on that. Obviously we are continuously improving the product together and seeing how we can grow. So there are plenty of opportunities and potentials to increase that partnership.
You were rewarded with the "Connected TV Award 2015" and the People's Lovie Award for "best Media Streaming Service". This must be really motivating for the future. Can you tell us about Vigour’s plans for the next years?
Basically, we are currently working on different roll-outs with leading media companies. To be a successful player in our market, you need to be successful on a global scale. Right now, I am spending almost half of my time in the US, which is a very important place for us. We have a couple of important R&D partners there, and we are also working towards opening an office in the US in the upcoming months. Eventually, we are hoping that our unique technology will allow us to become the leading company for multiplatform video applications globally.
You talked about the possibility of going to the US and also expanding to other markets. Does that mean that you are still looking for another funding round or investments?
Currently we are working on putting together an A-round. And for multiple reasons there is a big incentive to place more focus on the US. Therefore, we are in discussions with US investors that are interested in backing our company. However, the US is not our only focus, we are also active in the Middle East, and potential investors are not circumscribed regionally. We are looking for a global team of partners that can help us reach our company goal; becoming the visual layer for media consumption.
mealmates’ goal is to provide fresh food at the push of a button
Last week, Venista's Thomas Hintzen sat down with Pascal Ecker and Nils Kornder founders of mealmates to discuss their online restaurant, future plans and the perfect menu for a summer party.
Pascal, Nils, how often do you both still cook?
PE: Not really that often. Actually, I’m just cooking on weekends. Cooking is more like an event type of thing for me, like when I cook together with my girlfriend. Whenever we do cook, however, we won’t do ordinary things like scrambled eggs or pasta.
NK: Same for me. To be honest, I never cook for myself, and even on the weekends I’m happy to let my family do the cooking.So you rely solely on mealmates during the weekdays?
PE: Approximately 95% of the time. Most of our team members in fact do so literally every single day. I personally also enjoy exploring new places from time to time. I really appreciate good food and love to collect new inspiration. Even while I was still a University student I always went out to eat a lot although I had to pay one or two additional Euros to get something really good.
What is mealmates about?
PE: In simple words: Nils, me and the rest of the team have the mission to provide good food, easy delivery and reasonable prices on a daily basis. We try to give our customers a chance to have a tasty meal every day at an adequate price. Even when there is no time for cooking or for going out to eat, they now have an alternative to fast food. Currently we deliver more than 150 meals a day in Cologne’s inner city and in the neighboring quarters Ehrenfeld, Nippes and Deutz.
Has this mission, as you call it, also been the driving force for setting up mealmates or how did you come up with the idea?
PE: Well, it actually was a mix of our passion for food but also our desire to become entrepreneurs. Of course there was an initial period when we solidified our business model. There wasn’t one single specific moment of inspiration that led to a concrete business plan. The concept, vision and mission just fitted extremely well with our personalities but we’d also lie to you if we were saying that there was not a certain business interest behind it.
mealmates was founded in 2015. How long was the preparatory phase until you were ready to take off?
NK: It started really fast. The first time we ever talked about it was at the end of 2014. So right at the beginning of 2015, we started to create our business plan and then actually founded the company early in February. Just one month later, we got our business going and since then have been delivering our dishes around town.
You are a team of three founders. How did you meet?
NK: Pascal, Shahin and myself all studied in the Netherlands in Maastricht. Pascal was one year below Shahin and myself, but we somehow got to know each other through mutual friends.
PE: As you might have forgotten, I first met Shahin because he was my tutor for statistics and mathematics.
Okay, so you teamed up in Maastricht. Why did you choose Cologne for your headquarters and also to start your service here?
NK: Although we met in Maastricht, originally we are all from Cologne or the near surroundings. It’s as easy as it may sound: This is why we came back to Cologne and started our business here.
EatFirst, a similar project from Berlin, had to shut down its business recently. What makes you think that you will do better?
PE: EatFirst really focused on short delivery times instead of building their business on great food. We don’t want to say that they offered bad meals. But for us the delivery time is not the most important thing. We focus more on the food quality of our business but are still able to deliver our meals within 20 minutes. Of course in rare cases it can take a bit longer, but we accept that as long as our taste of dishes is superb.
Would you say you are more like a food service instead of a delivery company?
NK: Yes, and the reason is simple: we have an own kitchen and cook in our company. Together with the kitchen team and several top chefs we contemplate regularly about what the perfect delivery food looks like. mealmates’ goal is to provide fresh food at the push of a button. And in our time that includes to deliver the food to customers. Therefore, the delivery service is a means to an end. We speak of a high-quality online restaurant.
When is a meal tasty enough to include it in your menu?
PE: That’s an easy question to answer. We organize test meals. Each Wednesday a team of our chef, several external chefs, Shahin and myself meets. During that meeting the chefs propose different recipes and we try everything. As we recognized early on that we sometimes are a bit too biased towards our own recipe suggestions, we have also installed a group oftest consumers. If both groups of people consider a dish to be good, it will make it to our menu.
Who are the members of the test group?
NK: We would love to just randomly ask some of our customers if they want to test our food for a new menu. Unfortunately it would be too big of an effort at the moment. Nevertheless we also do not just want to ask our family and friends. So in the test group there are a lot of start-ups living next door with us at the Startplatz, a local co-working space and also incubator. These guys tell us their honest opinions towards our ideas and won’t keep their criticism just because they like us as friends.
Okay, we’ve focused on the culinary part quite a lot. Let’s swing over to the technical part of your company. So far you are available via a website. Are there any plans for a mobile app?
PE: Absolutely. mealmates stands for fresh food at the push of a button. Therefore, an application is absolutely useful. I think there are only a few business models in the B2C field which are as suitable for an application as mealmates. However we have started with a website because the development effort was significantly smaller. Remember, we started to deliver our food just two months after we had the idea.
You say you are open to an application. How often and through which channels do you get feedback from your customers?
PE: We receive our feedback in other ways than a normal restaurant, where you can just tell the waiter if you were satisfied with your order or if anything was wrong with your meal. Although we don’t have the personal interaction, our advantage is that we know a lot more about our customers than a normal restaurant or local shop ever will. We can track easily and fast if customers come back or not, how often they come back or how long they stay. This is tracked through our website. And we get also suggestions via our social media channels.
NK: Furthermore, our customer can give us a feedback via a template directly after ordering something from mealmates. And sometimes, when we have new meals, we also send out a feedback email to the people who ordered on that particular day. All these feedbacks are of course part of our culinary meetings. So for instance, when I get an email from a customer and he writes something like: ”Usually everything is good, but today it was not that good. Please have a look at this”, then this feedback will be considered in the next meeting and provides great value to our company.
We from Venista got in contact with you because you work together with one of our portfolio companies, GTX. Can you explain how GTX helps mealmates in the delivery process?
PE: For our logistics it is really important that there is a reliable and good communication between mealmates and our customers. The customer needs to know when the delivery man will arrive so that they can meet on time. Our concept is that we do not ring at the house and bring the food upstairs. Our customers have to catch up their order at the front door. In order to time this meeting perfectly, the delivery man always sends a SMS. It is crucial that the SMS is delivered on time and not after 2 or 3 minutes, because otherwise that would be a waste of time and experience. In order to have a guarantee that the messaging works, we spoke to the GTX team, which specializes in business SMS solutions. They are also our neighbours as our offices are based right next to each other so we have a direct and personal link to their team.
Since we at Venista are always looking at business ideas from an investor’s point of view, we need to ask how you’ll be able to scale your business and what your future plans are all about?
PE: Of course and as you might expect, our goal is to grow and turn mealmates into a big company. Even in Cologne there is still vast potential. At the moment we really just cover the inner city and also have not reached the penetration rate a city with more than a million citizens presents.
NK: Besides of that, we will also have a look at other cities in the future, because we think mealmates will flourish in all urban regions. Based on our first seed round in October 2015 we want to inspire more investors to support our future plans.
Pascal, Nils, thank you very much for the interview. One last question. I need a tip for our next summer party. What do you think would the perfect three-course-menu consist of?
PE: As a light summery starter, I would recommend a Gazpacho. It’s kind of a cold vegetable soup which is tasty, but not too heavy to begin with. I would continue with something from the barbeque for the main course, like a grilled fish and fresh vegetables. For dessert I’d also suggest a simple dish. What I like to eat is a kind of a fruit curd consisting of low-fat curd, milk and red fruits; berries, cherries, whatever you like.
Venista has been and always will be family for me
We thought it would be a good start to the year to speak with our two founders Oliver Wimmeroth and Christian Teichert about what has happened in the past 15 years, especially last year – as Oliver st
OW: Well, first of all, I still hold 50 per cent of Venista, so I haven’t left Venista completely. I mean, Venista has been and always will be family for me. That’s for sure. In terms of operational business, I first started to feel that I would love to get involved more with KissMyAds when I took over as their interim CEO last summer. Christian and I had always been close with Florian, KissMyAds’ founder, and we also were involved into all major decisions of KissMyAds, but we never had to get involved in their day-to-day business. So, I started to do a deep dive into mobile performance marketing and realized that I got pretty excited over my new job. When the offer from Ströer to acquire our startup came up to Christian, Florian and me, I needed to take a clear decision.
OW: I already had cut back my involvement in Venista’s business and Christian did a great job giving me the room to do the KissMyAds part. But you can’t be the CEO of a venture capitalist while you try to manage a startup merging into the biggest advertising company in Germany. It was clear that I had to choose between the two jobs. And yes, that was not an easy decision I did over two beers after work.
CT: Sounds a bit strange, because basically that is how we did our best decisions, right? Like when we decided to go with the name of KissMyAds. That was definitely a decision driven by a couple of beers.
Christian, what did you think when Oliver came up with his plan to leave Venista?
OW: Don’t tell them. No, you’re right. But this time I really had to think about all the ramifications of my decision and I found myself to be a bit shilly-shally. In the end, I decided to pursue something new and turned down my CEO position at Venista. And as far I can tell you by now, I’m happy with my decision, because I know Venista is in good hands with Christian and also with Frank Maschmeier as our new COO, and it is also a very exciting time for me right now. I’m really happy to take on my very challenging role under the new circumstances.
You both mentioned your longtime partnership in terms of building businesses together. How about giving us a short throwback to how you first met and what your first business was about?
CT: As Oliver has already pointed out, he will remain as an equal shareholder of our company, so nothing of overarching meaning will be done against his will. So, yeah, I thought, thanks old pal, you leave with the honor and I keep doing the work… No, no, of course, I’m just joking. I knew that this KissMyAds opportunity was what he wanted to do and I enjoyed our so-called last ride during the negotiations with Ströer. It was kind of full-circle. And: It’s sure that we will continue to be close personal friends even if he’s not in our office. So I told him that I would support his decision in every way. I also felt pretty comfortable because I had the chance to see if I could handle it on my own the months before. Together with Frank I felt confident that we could steer the ship.
OW: We met a long time ago, back in the early 2000’s. That is when I left from a management position at Deutsche Telekom to co-start a messaging company that sold SMS at discount rates, and I met Christian through mutual contacts.
Well, enough about the past. Now, we’d like to know about the future plans for both companies. We’ll let Oliver start. Attention: It is one last time that we’ll give you and KissMyAds a free opportunity to promote your business on our website. So tell us, what does the future hold for KissMyAds as a part of Ströer?
CT: It was clear from the beginning that we would work well together, with Oliver as a kind of visionary and motivator, and myself as a guy with a very good idea of planning, executing and keeping track of details. This has been a really great combination for all these years, after we sold our first company and started Venista more than 10 years ago it has always proven to be a strength.
What do you mean by ‘still on the rise’?
OW: Obviously, we are now part of the biggest player in Germany who has recorded a significant growth in the online marketing segment over the last couple of years. Especially 2015 was a big year for Ströer. Besides of us they acquired other assets like the internet platform t-online and marketers like OMS. Now, what I think what we can provide with KissMyAds to their business is in-depth knowledge of the mobile performance segment, which is still on the rise.
So you are essentially dealing with new, richer campaign formats as part of CPA business?
OW: Mobile performance marketing has been around for quite a few years and we’ve seen a tremendous number of new competitors. Something like a maturation of the market has taken place in 2015, with a clear tendency to consolidation, I’ll give you that. But there are still many big brands which do not realize the potential that lies in the CPA-business for their brand apps or mobile products. Think about a big car company which wants to get people involved with their new model. Why wouldn’t they want their users to download an app that lets them use a car configurator and test all new features of the car? Because that is where you can get your customers involved with your products.
OW: Yes, mobile interaction and apps offer this potential, and CPA campaigns are the perfect launch pad. These are huge potentials for these big companies, because their mobile marketing budgets are growing and also shifting from old-fashioned banner-ads to more engaging ad formats. That is where KissMyAds as a part of Ströer will try to come into play. Coming from their above-the-line ad history, Ströer has access to clients who do need mobile marketing, but have not yet gathered experience with the marketing measures that we are specializing in. We as KissMyAds bring in the know-how, technical expertise and our well-trained mobile experts that we’ve found and developed over the years. Furthermore, with Ströer we have become part of a company that not only has the experience and the funds - we became part of a highly professional organization that also has a clear strategy and is determined to execute its vision.
Now we know what KissMyAds will do in the future, but where is Venista heading, Christian?
CT: Yes, I would agree with that. And as far as I’m aware and if I could add one thing to Oliver’s answer, the KissMyAds team is not just highly skilled in terms of mobile advertising, but they’re also very motivated and likeable people you would love to work with. I know that because we shared offices for a long time and we also had joined summer and Christmas celebrations the past years.
OW: I have to admit, it sounds a bit strange that you directed this question only to Christian, but I guess that’s what it is now, right?
But you do have some quite successful external investments running…
CT: Also seems odd to me, but to answer the question, you might have noticed, we haven’t been overly active in terms of external investments into new startups in recent months. We’ve put in a lot of attention of course into the KissMyAds deal, and we’re managing our existing portfolio. What’s more, we are actually sharpening our focus to work on our own incubating projects and companies where we hold the majority of the stakes like GTX Messaging or Spyke Media, and to develop new startups that come out of this setting. And I think the KissMyAds story proves us right to do so.
What profile will Venista Ventures have in the future?
CT: Yes, sure, and we are happy that these other portfolio companies are doing well. For example Familo is growing rapidly and we’re thrilled to see them with their new version, providing great new features and also expanding their target groups. Look at datapine, for instance, another great team with a very strong development. And we also have stakes in three sets of graduates from the Startupbootcamp program in Berlin, where we see a pretty impressive development for many teams. I can also give you a small hint that we are in the beginning of forming a new company out of our existing team, but I cannot get specific on it yet. Stay tuned!
Okay, what’s your message to people who’d like to share a business idea with Venista? Is this still something you pursue or does your focus on internal projects make it hard to go through business plans?
CT: We will still stay an active player in the central European venture capital scene, in the startup and tech scene, but we will be very focused on mobile, on boutique-style investments. Expect us to be around all the major startup and tech events, and of course Mobile World Congress. We will always keep our eyes and ears open if someone has ideas about mobile businesses.
Christian and Oliver, thanks for your time.
CT: Yes, we will focus on own project, but we also say: ‘Keep the business plans coming’! If we are really convinced of an idea, we will surely look into our options and support mobile business cases. That’s what we are passionate about and what we’ve build on over the last years.
CT & OW: Thanks as well.
"On the business side there is no alternative to SMS."
Business, sales and mobile expert Frank Tüting joins GTX founder Oliver Zabel and his team in order to prepare for a strong future development in the SMS industry. Tüting has been appointed as managin
Frank, is the on-going development of the GTX the reason for you to join the SMS specialist company?
OZ: Let me answer by not answering your question. We do in fact work on additional features each day, but the most important fact is that we offer customers the easiest, most affordable and reliable access to SMS for their business. Our new approach allows virtually any business to implement SMS. We make it as simple as needed, but we are also more than ready to provide high-level support to pinpoint SMS needs and develop individual solutions.
So, what is your job now at GTX?
FT: Yes. I have been working in the SMS industry for more than ten years, but the use cases we promoted back then needed years to become reality. Today, we see SMS plug-ins, add-ons and, for various different tools, applications and software solutions. And: I still think there are many more to come. Next to the already existing business with high volumes, GTX wanted to offer new turnkey solutions to a wide range of potential new customers. That is why they brought me here.
Oliver, what would be your answer to people who say that the SMS is dead?
FT: My job at GTX is to support the market entry of GTX’s new features and make sure our technology is ready when we hit the market. I’m also responsible for identifying promising solutions as well as the acquisition of strategic partners in order to develop our company even further. Our goal was and will be to help people and their businesses to use SMS as an easy-to-integrate communication tool. We don’t want to proselytize them to ban messaging apps from their phones. We just think the SMS is still the best way to reach out to customers or business partners in a wide range of use cases, especially in a business-to-consumer context or where reliability has a special value.
But that can’t be your whole message, right?
OZ: Well, they may be partially right when you’re looking at person-to-person communication. Especially in countries where mobile operators offer data flat rates, users are using more and more OTT messaging services like WhatsApp, Viber or the Facebook messenger. Due to the fact that they can share information, pictures or videos not only with one person but with their friends in group chats at no costs, the personal two-way communication via SMS will fade even more within the next years.
Can you exemplify in which cases the new APIs could help your customers with their SMS messages?
OZ: On the business side, we do know that there is no alternative to the SMS when it comes to application-to-person, or as we say A2P, messaging. GTX Customers know that the SMS will be delivered to the client's phone without the need to rely on other factors such as an installed app enabling push messages. The delivery is always guaranteed with SMS, secure and even possible if a client has bad or no internet coverage at his location. That is why banks are using SMS to send PINs or TANs to their customers, doctors are reminding their patients about appointments they have, online shops are converting open shopping carts by sending individual coupons, and fleet management services are sending orders or order changes to their drivers while they are on their way. You see, there are still so many business areas where the SMS could help to overcome organizational difficulties.
To wrapping this up, Oliver, please give us a short ‘Ode to SMS’. Why is SMS still your favorite medium to use?
FT: For example, more than 5.000 users of a certain point-of-sale system will be able to send individual reminders, vouchers or special offers to their customers after registering for a GTX SMS account online. Without the need for any technical integration even customers with small monthly volumes can use our 160 character messages easily and benefit from our new program without any monthly or setup fees. Pay as you go.
OZ: In more than 20 years, the SMS has gained such a prominent role as the number one communication tool every mobile phone user knows and trusts in. Yes, there are new web-based messaging apps, which provide more functions, but they still can’t match the safety and the sure-handedness the SMS offers. Adding to it, the SMS still makes me think in a 160 character frame while I’m not limited anymore. I think that’s a blessing. We sometimes have forgotten to focus on the important things when we are chatting the whole day. Personally, I like messages to be simple like ‘We’ll meet at 7 at the bar next to my place. See you there’. No need for any additional chatting around this. We’ll see each other later. But that might sound very old-fashioned in a world where everything gets texted, snapchatted or instagramed in a heartbeat. All in all, I still use SMS on a daily basis and won’t stop it any time soon.
Oliver Zabel is CEO and founder of GTX Messaging. Frank Tüting was recently appointed as managing director to join Oliver in leading the company.
"Virtual reality is finally here with mobile being the driving force."
Thomas Hintzen, Communications Manager, Venista Ventures, recently went to the Websummit 2015 in Dublin. He saw that virtual reality is becoming reality so he shares some thoughts on new possibilities
It’s been a while since Edwin Link invented a machine called ‘Blue Box’ creating somehow the first experience of a virtual reality for soldier trainings during World War 2. At almost the same time his namesake Edwin Land came up with the first polarizing technology, inventing goggles that made it possible to see an image consisting of two different polarized images and matching them through his filter technique. You might ask yourself why I start my article on this year’s Websummit in Dublin, which I recently had the chance to attend, with such a sophisticated look into science history.
The reason is that, finally, after more than 80 years of development and endless articles throughout all the decades on this particular subject, virtual reality is now a REAL thing. Virtual reality is coming to customer’s homes and the most important thing in my view is: mobile is the driving force.
Even though everyone has heard of virtual reality and has seen some over-engineered documentaries about the potential of it, only a few people tend to know that virtual reality is already available for all of us. It was the talk of the town during the Websummit conference and dominated panels touching on different subjects like sports, content or marketing. As Miles Perkins, VP Marketing Communications of Jaunt, which is one of the players driving virtual reality, pointed out during his speech, virtual reality will have no problem getting its users because distribution will come via mobile phones. What he means is that several manufacturers have built their sets around smartphones and therefore the barriers of entry to virtual reality seem to be very low for all of us. But what is virtual reality exactly? What is the benefit of Google’s cardboard or other new products?
Using these new gadgets you’ll be able to enjoy cinematic experiences even more. You can sit at home watching a U2 concert with your goggles getting the full concert experience as if you were standing in the front row eye to eye with Bono. During another winning presentation Mary Spio, CEO and founder of Next Galaxy and Akim Millington, Head of VR Sports & Entertainment of Next Galaxy, showed some cases in which virtual reality can improve the experience of live sports events. Former NFL lineman Millington pointed out that quarterbacks could even use their product to train specific situations and see play calls over and over again. Okay, that won’t have an impact on the television viewers, but wouldn’t it be cool to see Tom Brady wearing some futuristic glasses on the sideline during his next Superbowl?
Aside from potential uses for the players of various sports, the new technology will surely make it way more entertaining to watch games at home. That leads to another interesting aspect. Whereas we will probably only use virtual reality for distraction and entertainment purposes, the VR technologies even offer an interesting new channel for marketers.
Imagine you are watching a UEFA Champions League game of your favorite team from your couch. You’ll feel like being in the stadium, gathering the beautiful atmosphere and at some point you might start cheering with the other fans in your fan section. That is where advertisers could capitalize on your experience. A beer company might pop up one of the perimeter ads right into your eye to enhance your desire for a cold beer. But also the teams themselves could feature some ads for their new jersey or any other merchandising item.
One last use case that I, the media-addicted person that I am, like specifically among all these new possibilities is the new forms of journalism which are enabled by virtual reality. The New York Times has recently shipped Google cardboards to all of its print subscribers. At the same time the famous newspaper will roll out its first virtual reality app which already contains two virtual reality video stories. One which will enable the recipient to walk through New York City as well as a 11-minute documentary about refugee children from Ukraine, Lebanon, and South Sudan which is backed by the United Nations.
You see that virtual reality opens up some interesting possibilities for the mobile industry which is why I had such a great time in Dublin; and we’re all sure to have fun in the future trying out different things with virtual reality. I think even the two Edwins would love to see what has become of their groundbreaking ideas. Now we have to wait if virtual reality will achieve its breakthrough. I will ask the aforementioned guys next year in Lisbon during Websummit 2016.
At TOA, it's often the small, unknown speakers who get the best reviews
Nikolas Woischnik is the founder of Berlin’s Tech Open Air which celebrates its 4th edition in 2015. He explains why TOA is always worth a visit.
Is there a specific focus?
With more than 140 satellite events and 4,000+ attendees, TOA15 certainly is the biggest edition. Whether it will be the best one only time will tell. But we have inspiring speakers, three full days of events and lots of interactive formats for the community to participate in, so I am hopeful!
Which speakers are you especially proud to have on board?
Our mission is to connect, grow and inspire the human spirit through interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and collaboration. Building a platform for dialogue and collaboration around technology between different disciplines such as entrepreneurship, music, art or science is a very long-term mission and one that does not need yearly themes in my opinion.
Which role does mobile play for TOA?
Next to the big multibillion dollar guys such as the founder/CxOs of Shazam, SoundCloud, Zalando, Rocket Internet, Delivery Hero, Adyen, Eventbrite or Twilio we also have new kids on the block such as the founders of Dubsmash or NavVis, lots of fascinating hardware guys, the founder of Hyperloop or the first accelerator in Gaza as well as leading artists and scientists. It's often the small, unknown speakers who get best reviews in our surveys.
Advice for your guests, maybe just not talking business: What are the key ingredients to getting most out of your three-day-event?
Together with Twilio we will have a mobile notification service for last-minute program points or changes. Other than that we actually would love to keep mobiles out of our conference (maybe a metal detector at the entrance?). We want to create an environment where people talk to each other for three days in serendipitous ways which is why we also do not have badges. But hey, we do tolerate mobile phones!
Be open-minded and curious. Don’t just talk to people who you think will be most "useful" to you.
A cool product or a great idea doesn't automatically make a good business.
Oliver Bronner, co-founder of stylemarks and now working as a Creative Director for Home 24 talks about the challenges and difficulties of stylemarks.
Can you provide a little more detail as to the specifics of this cooperation?
We basically merged with Junique in April 2014, where JUNIQE acquired the majority of stylemarks' assets. We provided a loyal costumer base that proved to be very active in social media channels and a state of the art #1 ranked apple store app.
Back in 2013, you told us in an interview that customer retention over a longer period of time will be the biggest challenge for stylemarks. Now, Stylemarks is part of another company. Did you fail in achieving your main goal?
In the process of founding and operating Stylemarks, we gained a lot of expertise in m-commerce, which we could then apply to drive Juniqe's business growth. Furthermore, we have built an active community with over 20,000 users that have a high interest in art, design and fashion. A perfect fit for Juniqe's product offering.
Did we get that right: You changed your business too early?
I think there were a couple of reasons that came into play why stylemarks didn't turn out to be the success we originally aimed for. But looking back at it now I regret that we didn't work longer on our initial idea before we pivoted to a new model. I would have loved to see stylemarks focus on a niche and develop internationally, and as a result see the community thrive and grow.
Tell us something about the consequences.
Yes. And in hindsight, this decision was rushed and unwise. Instead of evaluating all of our options and further potential opportunities, we made the hasty decision to pivot to a model without analyzing its weaknesses and strengths in detail. The best thing we could have done would have been to release all employees and give ourselves enough time to analyze our product and reevaluate its value proposition. Furthermore we perceived our technology as an investment rather than sunk costs at that point which turned out to be a burden for further product development and business decisions.
Consequently, failing was not caused by missing customer retention?
From a customer perspective, stylemarks was perceived as an e-commerce shop rather than a marketplace. This leads to high customer expectations in terms of delivery times and customer service. Unfortunately we had hardly any control over the supply chain and encountered problems with our suppliers from day one. This led to a high customer touch point to purchase ratio, which in combination with the low margin commissions was not sustainable financially speaking. And this despite a GMV- (gross merchandise value) cost ratio above market standards.
If we look into the future, what can we expect from JUNIQE?
We actually had a pretty healthy retention rate on iOS mainly because of the product discovery feature which we could not recreate in a similar engaging way on the web. Furthermore, the problems above mentioned did not help to build long-term customer relationships.
Would you personally found another startup in the fashion segment?
JUNIQE is on its way to becoming Germany's leading print-on-demand shop for affordable art, positioning itself as an affordable alternative to the many hip expensive art galleries. The trend is also positive in Europe, where JUNIQE is now driving its international expansion with the goal of becoming Europe's leading affordable art shop.
Now let's give you the chance to provide some tips advice for other startup founders: What are the things that you have learned the most in the course of your Stylemarks time?
I am not sure I would focus on fashion again, but I do like the aspect of creating online brand identities and i love mobile. We are just at the beginning of the mobile (re-)evolution. Just imagine that there are more than 4,3 billion people on this planet who are still using feature phones – what an opportunity. Currently I am consulting Home24 as a creative director to establish the Home24 brand and to adapt their brand identity across all channels. I am happy to work with a data-driven team to help build the Home24 brand as the go-to home and living destination in Europe. I am sure there will be some great opportunities in the near future to build a new business but for now I do enjoy my new job.
What about the product side of a new business?
I would never again found a company with three co-founders. With so many people involved the decision making process: a.) is unnecessarily long for a startup at that stage; and b.) too many opinions lead to compromises in the product vision and a mediocre product. "Too many cooks spoil the broth". Best setup: One product guy/manager and one techie.
A cool product or a great idea doesn't automatically make a good business. We frequently received great feedback on our design, got covered by the mainstream media and were featured in the Apple app store, yet we still were unable to build a sustainable business. My advice: If you do not solve a customer problem or create a new market with a customer need, you DO NOT have a business.
"Our program is really international, both in terms of the participants and in terms of future markets."
Tanja Kufner, Co-Managing Director of Startupbootcamp, talks about her new job and the upcoming Demo Days of Startupbootcamp 2014 in Berlin.
Now that you are on board, how do you share the power? Is Alex more of a foreign minister with you as the head of the organization?
I've known the SBC team and the program for quite some time because I have attended their demo days as an investor in the past. Last summer, I spoke to them about the London program, they told me about what's going on here in Berlin. I met with Alex in late June and he said: "We're looking for someone like you to help us. We'll need you by the first of August." So I took a detailed look at the Berlin program, got involved in the selection interviews – and I loved the work and the team. So I decided to join despite the challenge of moving from Munich to Berlin on such short notice.
Why are you the right person for this job?
Currently, we're working together very closely. Until the end of the year, Alex will remain the Managing Director, while I'm his co-MD. The plan is for Alex to formally hand over the reigns on Demo Day [11th November, Berlin] symbolically to show the audience that I will be in charge of the program for the next three years. Alex will still be supporting us actively as Chairman, freeing him up to set up other programs like San Francisco etc.
How do you go about achieving that?
I have a strong background on the investment side, being active since 1999. I started out with a few large M&A transactions and then focused on early-stage and seed venture capital. Then I became a founder and created a startup which was not originally my idea but flourished nonetheless. Over the past two years I led the Wayra accelerator in Munich. Combining both experiences, I know what it takes to reach investor-readiness, which is what these programs need to aim at for each team.
A lot of work left to do?
It's intensive work. At this point, in the weeks leading up to investor demo day, we need to make sure all teams know their pitch and to tell their story compellingly. I'm working hard with each one of them to prepare them for their on-stage appearance. But it doesn't stop there. It's extremely important to support them in getting ready for investor negotiations in the three months following DemoDay. I'm ready to do just that.
Why is this so important?
Oh yes. As ever in the accelerator setting, it's a very limited time to work with people and 3 months go by very quickly. Some of the teams enter the program with business ideas that are far from readily developed. Others are already generating revenues. Over the first few weeks we match them with as many mentors as possible, so they can connect with the right people to help them drive their business. Then we make them focus on customer discovery. We believe that, early in the program, our teams should be doing little else aside from speaking to potential customers.
What happens if the feedback is positive?
They need to see for themselves if their idea has market potential. This analysis must be their own.
Yet this is what startups need to keep going…
Remember again that we're speaking about a three-month-program. The next step will be defining the exact product or service and thinking about marketing and distribution strategies. If you put a lot of time to this effort, it will be difficult to find free time to contemplate investor readiness.
Can we say: You're a midwife for the teams on their way to giving birth to their products?
Exactly. So what we focus on in the month before the big day is pitching, presentations, the storyline. We don't want to see business plans when they are in the spotlight, but compelling stories.
If you look at Startupbootcamp Berlin in the accelerator market. How do you wish to develop its position over the next three years?
It sounds funny but, yes, essentially that is my job.
Let's look at this year's program in Berlin. It's a tough question, but do you see any teams that merit a close look at this point?
We will stick to the program's focus on Smart Transportation and Energy. With such strong partners as Bosch, Cisco, Daimler, Siemens, EnBW, Nokia Here and others coming in, we have a very good base to work with. Some teams run pilots with these companies, an opportunity they wouldn't have had outside of this setup or in other accelerators. Working to expand the base of sponsors, to raise funds and support from companies with know-how pertaining to our program focus, will also be one of the key parts of my job here.
So they are pretty far in the making?
Oh yes, I see very interesting stuff coming out of this program. For instance we have Einfach-machen-lassen, who offer installation services as part of the online shopping checkout process. They are already working with industry giants like Amazon, Sony and OTTO.
Any other highlights?
Or take a look at myBus, who offer cloud-based fleet management and enhanced passenger information for Public Transportation. They have installed their flat screens in buses and trams throughout Spain and are currently preparing their market entry in Brazil. Yet at the same time, we also see teams that are still pivoting and shifting in verticals.
Interesting: Though the program is in Berlin, the future markets don't need to contain Germany?
To me they are all highlights and it's difficult to pick just a few to talk about. There's one that I think will be interesting internationally, they're called Counterest and they offer a data analytics solution for the offline world, by counting people traffic. This is interesting for retailers, public transportation providers, museums, airports and any public venue. While they are currently preparing pilots here in Germany as well, their sales process has to take into account the German mindset regarding privacy and data protection standards.
With teams from diverse backgrounds, how easy is it for them to cooperate and give feedback to each other?
No, that is not a condition. Counterest is a Spanish team and its solution draws interest in beyond Germany such as in Spain and the UK. Our program is really international, both in terms of the participants and in terms of future markets.
You said investor readiness is the aim. Do you have a target rate that you have set for yourself to measure your success?
This is not a problem at all. We're working in such a small place every day that we all know pretty much everything about everyone else. I think it would be possible for each of the startups' CEOs to pitch for any of the other teams.
What do you enjoy about this job?
The big goal that I share with Alex is that all teams will receive some sort of funding in the next 6 months. Of course we all know that this is a challenge. Yet let me point out that the stats look pretty good. 72.4 per cent of Startupbootcamp alumni globally achieve the next level of funding. We should keep working to help those startups that are out of the program but still need support to connect. At this point I'm supporting four teams from last year's program to connect with investors. They shouldn't be lost when they're out of the door.
Everything. You must be a bit crazy to enjoy this, however. It's a little bit chaotic every day. You are running from meeting to meeting all day long. You're controlled 100 per cent by other people's demands. I enjoy being so deeply involved in all the teams' work. I sit down with each of the eleven teams for 45 minutes each week – and then, every three minutes someone will walk up to me to ask me about feedback or discuss something. It's really a great job knowing that the SBC team and I can be so helpful to the teams. If I compare this to the old VC days, when I used to spend my days in spreadsheets and sit in board monthly meetings – this is a completely different world. The money involved is microscopic in comparison, but my influence and involvement is all the bigger.
"As always "mobile" was the first focal point of our plans."
Heike Burr, Mobile Marketing Director, talks about the development of Spyke Media as a Venista venture and the plans for the future.
What were the main challenges in the whole founding process? Any unexpected obstacles?
It all began when I came back to Venista after touring the world for almost a year. During that time I somehow found a way to think about new ideas regarding mobile marketing operations. I briefly talked to Frank Maschmeier, who at that time was responsible for the marketing business within the Venista Group, and outlined some of my ideas to him. As always "mobile" was the first focal point of our plans. We quickly decided to bring together our knowledge of digital marketing with the emerging mobile market. Me and Frank than pitched the idea of a mobile marketing agency to the Venista Board, namely Christian Teichert and Oliver Wimmeroth and Kai Schmude. They liked the idea and we agreed that Spyke would first work as an internal agency for other Venista Ventures. Fast forward. After some successful months, Christian, Oliver and Kai saw the numbers and decided to test if we could work for some external customers as well. And what should I say? We got great feedback, hired three new employees and increased our revenue permanently. It worked out perfectly, so we actually set up Spyke Media as independent company.
Okay, so what is the story behind the name Spyke Media?
Fortunately, we could rely on the experience of Venista in the whole founding process. Well, I mean this is what Venista Ventures does: Incubate and invest into startups and grow them to succesfull companies. So they helped us a lot in terms of formalities, marketing and communications. Some things that we didn't have to manage when we were just a business unit of Venista do cost a lot of attention. We had to build an own website, create a whole new corporate identity and even find a name for the company. Perhaps, the finding of name was one of our hardest challenges. But after coming up with our name Spyke Media everything fell into place quickly. That sounds a bit strange, but that's how it was.
What is Spyke Media doing differently from other mobile marketing companies?
The tale of our name is very easily told and does not offer any fairy tales. We had a meeting in our old office during the late evening hours. When we worked a bit longer than the actual working hours, the caretaker of the building ran into our meetings with a regularity of 100 per cent. He always asked what we were doing in the office at such an ungodly hour. So once we replied to him that we were in search of a name for our new company. "If I were you, I would name my company after my dog because I can always rely on him in difficult situations and he does not ask stupid questions", he said jokingly. His dog's name is Spyke.
A constantly growing part of mobile is the app economy. Is app promotion an important topic and is Spyke moving in this direction?
First of all, we at Venista have a strong background in the mobile industry and experience in the market for more than 10 years. Our most important USP is that we can offer our customers more services than the actual commercialization of their mobile products. Still, our first approach and our core competency is to drive our customer's mobile business by finding the best ways to market their products in a fitting environment. That means: We do promote the offers of our partners and act as full-service media-buying agency for our advertisers. Our goal is to deliver the best suitable audiences to mobile products based on the individual demands. Therefore we target users by the device, carrier, country and many other defined categories. Furthermore, we are able to consult them on other parts along the entire value chain of an app or another mobile product such as logo design, description texts as well as product names.
Last question: What are your goals for the future?
Yes, sure. App promotion already is a big topic in the mobile industry and will even get bigger the more operating systems will open up to individual app developers. That is something we strongly believe in. We want to help these so called "small" app developers to market their app in the best way and without having to rely on a big marketing budget. Our vision is that an app developer can concentrate on programming and building the best product whereas our job is to increase his audience and find users that like the product. But to put my statement into perspective, we still see ourselves to be a mobile marketing agency and not just an app marketing agency.
I would say that we are still at an early stage with Spyke Media in terms of company branding and reputation building. We have yet to invest into raising the profile of the brand. On the business side we want to strengthen our relations to international clients and, as I mentioned before, emerge as an agency that helps app developers promoting their apps individually and efficient. Coming right from the Affiliate Summit East in New York we will attend dmexco and have our own small stand at the Medienland NRW booth on 10 and 11 September. That is somehow the first step into the spotlight for Spyke Media and I'm already a bit nervous and excited.
"A chance to fundamentally change the way men shop."
Matt Alexander, Founder and CEO of Need, opens up about the beginnings of Need and how he teamed up with Venista Ventures.
On a dreary afternoon in December 2012, I found myself running through rainy London streets to meet with Venista co-founder, Oliver Wimmeroth.
Oliver and I had met several months prior, discussing both of our future plans and our similar beliefs regarding the future of business, as informed by our mobile devices. And, based on those similar beliefs, had stayed in touch in the ensuing months to chat about our respective businesses. So, as I was returning to London for several weeks to visit family from Texas, we had decided to take the opportunity to catch-up casually for lunch. (Long story short, I was born and raised in London, but moved to Dallas, Texas for university. I intended to return, but ended up launching a business here.)
I was in the early throes of planning my next venture, whilst Oliver was - as ever - planning the next big moves for himself and the Venista team.
As we ate - Gaucho in South Kensington, as I recall - we somehow found ourselves discussing the world of e-commerce.
I had just completed a project for American Express which, in the aftermath, had led to work with a variety of men's fashion-related startups in the U.S. As someone interested in fashion and commerce, I had walked away with the feeling that there might be a better way - so to speak - of approaching the men's fashion space.
With those experiences in mind, as we chatted, I inadvertently articulated the foundational belief for Need: that there is a poor signal to noise ratio in the world of fashion and commerce.
The conversation was framed by Apple's App Store and the baffling lack of discoverability for independent developers. Both Oliver and I felt that the App Store would benefit from some semblance of curation, rather than an overwhelming volume of choice.
Turning that to the men's fashion space, I explained that I felt there was a huge opportunity for change. Bringing curation, exclusivity, and editorial narrative to a space with overwhelming choice and an obvious lack of education, I explained that I felt there was a chance to fundamentally change the way men shop.
Most of all, I explained, there was a way to build an e-commerce platform that was *sustainable*, *relevant*, and *dignified* - a platform which might reflect the dignity of its products more than its means for marketing itself.
I went from the meeting to a nearby shop, bought a notebook, and quickly wrote thirteen pages of notes. On the first line of the first page, I titled the concept, "Need."
Within a month of that meeting, Need was funded - including support from Venista, Carl Sparks had joined our board, and development had kicked off in Virginia with Mobelux.
Need launched in November 2013 with the precise mission Oliver and I had discussed. It was designed and destined to be a reliable, dignified, and useful resource for men. Need would sell only eight-to-twelve products each month, whilst also supporting independent creative communities, localizing to particular cities, and presenting itself as something closer to a men's magazine rather than a traditional digital storefront.
In addition, rather than sending dozens of marketing emails per week, Need would send only one email per month. Instead of working with hundreds and hundreds of products at any given time - each with multiple colors and variants - Need would find the very best *single* product. In lieu of a convoluted site with thousands of pages, uninformed copy, and confusing policies, Need would offer a single page, well-written, and clear-cut site.
And, so, we built it.
Today, Need is eight months old with a quickly-growing membership, currently numbering just over 65,000.
We've sold-out of every product ever sold, we've won design awards, we've been covered in a great many major publications, and we've grown from a team of one to a team of six.
Although we're only just beginning to scrape the surface of our full vision for Need, it has been an unbelievably positive experience so far - one made possible by the generosity and support of people like Oliver and Venista.
We've just moved into our first dedicated office and are beginning to focus on the future. Looking to the likes of London, Paris, and Berlin for localized growth, whilst also exploring the development of our own product-lines, Need is poised for expansion to realize the full spectrum of its goal of being a local, reliable, and dignified resource for men.
We cannot wait to share more over the coming months. In the meantime, follow along with Need by visiting neededition.com and signing-up.
"We'll be known as pioneers for smart transportation and energy startups in Europe"
Alex Farcet, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Startupbootcamp, talks about the Berlin accelerator's new focus on Smart Transportation and Energy
And how about your personal preferences?
There are a number of reasons. Firstly, we think the timing is right, the space is heating up. We're inspired by Elon Musk and the massive funding rounds for Uber and Lyft as well as the Amazon drones, Matternet and the explosion of peer to peer and crowdsourced solutions for urban mobility and energy challenges.. The second reason is more opportunistic. Last year's partners,Mercedes Benz andBosch, are now joined by Cisco, HERE, EnBW and Castrol, all of whom have a keen interest in smart transportation and energy.
You mentioned your new sponsors. How did you manage to get these on board?
Of course my personal background is also a factor: I used to work for DHL. So I know about the huge potential that technology has for smart transportation. And I am fascinated by the ways we can combine the real world of mobility and data, who the connection of IT with the physical world is enabling solutions to problems we thought were intractable. There are also a lot of low hanging fruit, for example few people know that 40% of gas consumed by cars in cities is spent looking for parking. That's essentially a data problem.
Traditionally, you have very young teams in your programs that are early in their development. Will it be easy for them to be taken seriously by global players?
The reality is that when you have a couple of global brands backing you, like we had with Mercedes Benz and Bosch, then they become great endorsers of the program and it becomes easier to convince other brands to join.. What we also heard explicitly is that these companies are looking to work with one another, not just with Startupbootcamp's team and that they're super interested in the smart transportation and energy theme, they want to see where the edge of innovation is in this field.
How do hotels react to yet another service that focuses on special deals?
That is never a problem. The issue is more if the big companies are equipped to deal with these small startups. If corporates don't have their own venture fund or their organization to deal with startups, they are often unable to handle the input. They would meet the startups and say: 'Nice to meet you. Let us know when you're big.' But what I see is that the larger companies know that if they don't engage early, they miss out. So that's why they work with us, because we know how to work with startups and how to create optimal conditions for them to engage with each other..
So your role is to connect startups and corporates?
They love it. We bring them extra attention, new customer groups. We have seen it already on JustBook: 9 out of 10 people hadn't actually planned to book the specific hotel. So it is a great way for hotels to get to new audiences. Secret Escapes is inspiring people to travel. What should hotels not like about that?.
How does this change customer relationships?
Well, we're more than just a matchmaker. We have a format, a process and an environment which facilitatesfor the two sides to engage with each other, and I think that's attractive.
How easy is it to find the teams that are specializing on Smart Transportation and Energy?
You initially have to ask yourself: What does the customer want? And how can I make a differentiated, helpful offer? If I know this, how do I present specific offers? This calls for intelligent communication when presenting the specific offers and setting up customer service. New technologies allow for this completely new approach to tourism.
So the focus will remain for more than a year?
We're definitely having to work harder than with a generic program. Given the narrowed focus we know we're going to have fewer applicants. Our approach is much more proactive. I've put together what I call a SWAT team of startup hunters who have done a lot of research on databases, events, tech trends, schools and all sorts of different sources. And so we now have a list of 500 potential participants whom we're contacting. We're not waiting for people to randomly apply. We see that there are a lot more teams in the US than in Europe working in this area. But I'm sure it's good for us to start this focused program in Europe, certainly in the long run because we'll be known as pioneers for startups touching these topics that shape the future of our societies.
You announced this Smart Transportation and Energy program to be held in Berlin, but also San Francisco, bridging the two continents. How will it work?
Yes, definitely, that is the plan. The impact of Smart Transportation and Energy is so important that we want to play an active part here in the long term.
Transportation and Energy touch public interests. Are you in touch with administrations and public stakeholders?
The programs will operate at alternating times. Berlin will run in the fall, and San Francisco will be in the spring. The idea is to shift from one to the other. I'm guessing that some of the European teams will be very keen to hit the US market. So instead of organizing a week visit In the Valley, we can say: "We have desks for you; We have a mentor network; You can benefit from this, even if your program is over." And vice versa from the US side there are some startups that want to be global from day one and maybe have their development team in Berlin, where it's more affordable. And Europe is more advanced in some areas, look at electrical vehicles or Berlin as a car-sharing hotspot. And, finally, the mentors are very excited about the connection across these two booming ecosystems.
We understand that this going to be important. A lot of these topics are regulated. Interestingly, I have better response on the US side, where we're already in touch with the City of San Francisco, the Ford Foundation, the Vice Mayor of Chicago responsible for transportation. But it will happen here, too. Look at Hamburg, that wants to be a green city by 2020. So I definitely want to connect to the people behind that project.
"There's been a lot of buzz about the apparent demise of SMS."
Thomas Hintzen, Communications Manager, Venista Ventures, opens up about how the SMS remains important even while messaging apps take over.
There's been a lot of buzz about the apparent demise of SMS. It's all too easy to diagnose: Alternative, IP-based messaging and price competition leads to reduced SMS income for operators. Most analysts agree: 21 years after its arrival, the days of the Short Message Service are counted. But looking a little closer at what's going on in the Mobile and App industries, we need to add a major caveat to this argument: For consistent, affordable, fast and crucial communications, SMS is alive and well. Let's mention that each German, on statistical average, sends 750 SMS per year. Have you heard of Riepl's Law? It states that new media can never completely replace old media. We agree.
Here's an example of how SMS keeps its importance even in a WhatsApp world: It involves two two of our Portfolio companies, Familo (from Hamburg) and GTX Messaging (from Cologne), so we're not impartial. But based on what we hear from around digital companies big and small, it's guaranteed to be relevant.
Let's look at how the acclaimed startup Familo has incorporated SMS in a latest-generation app for Android and iOS. Familo is a social network application that offers families the option to enhance security and interact more comfortably based on mobile technology. It's designed to simplify family communications and offers functions such as check-ins and alerts to family members. The Familo example shows how, even in a Mobile-Web and App-Based world, SMS keeps its role in crucial positions: 1) for user generation, 2) for conversion optimization; 3) for technical maintenance and critical IT communication, and 4) to support alerts in critical peer-to-peer communication.
Familo uses the service of GTX Messaging, a specialist from Cologne (and also a Venista Ventures investment). GTX allows to easily integrate SMS in all sorts of applications and get the SMS at a attractive prices. It's key that technical integration is possible without complicated interfaces or expensive software applications needed.
For user generation and conversion optimization, here are some of the merits of SMS: Users that access the Familo website and wish to download the app don't have to go through a complicated signup. They can simply type in their MSISDN in a field and click to receive a download link to their phone. This drives conversion in customer acquisition, which is a huge factor to increase marketing efficiency. Why? Because it's much simpler than picking up a phone and typing in the name of the app, looking for the right entry on your app store and then downloading. Reducing the media break is a key factor of including SMS, argues David Nellessen, who's CTO at Familo.
Since David Nellessen and the Familo tech team were so convinced by SMS integration, they wrote their own software that they now distribute as open source code, allowing other companies to implement it in their services and thus send SMS through GTX without much programming needed. This software is available for free at Github.
Another aspect of SMS's productive role in user acquisition is that Familo is currently upgrading its registration process to enhance the role of SMS, e.g. users can recommend the app to other family members by sending out an automated text message. In registration, even the most IP-based services, such as WhatsApp and Snapchat, still trust only SMS.
This of course also has to do with the secure and guaranteed nature of SMS broadcasts. And that is why in many cases partners of GTX Messaging include SMS in the internal IT communications. For instance, SMS is helpful when systems send out alert messages automatically to IT staff if critical processes fail. In the case of Familo, the IT team also uses SMS to stay informed if urgent events appear. It's still true: No other communications technology is as failure-proof when it comes to guaranteed transmission.
This is also the reason why in peer-to-peer communication just as in internal communication, SMS will keep playing a part. Familo have decided that SMS needs to be an option whenever a user needs to point his network to a problem. For example, if a child needs help and calls for it through Familo, sending an alert will trigger an SMS to the whole family in the future. This makes sure that everyone gets informed at the soonest possible point without any obstacles to sendout or reception.
These few examples show that, contrary to common perception, SMS still is very much a part of crucial business communication. It's another fair point for Wolfgang Riepl.
"On mobile, it's a plus to limit choices to the essentials"
Managing Director Stefan Menden talks about Secret Escapes'acquisition of JustBook and the larger digital trends in the tourism industry
Is the focus international?
JustBook was a service for last minute hotel bookings. Secret Escapes has successfully established itself as a hotel flash sales product in the UK, with more than 100 million pounds in revenues in just three years. So the difference is that Secret Escapes focuses on very special deals on luxury hotels that can be booked ahead of the actual itinerary.
In mid-March, you said you were at almost 500,000 users in Germany. Your offer is pretty exclusive – how many more people can be targeted?
Yes. But the role of the JustBook team is to strengthen the presence and the offers for Germany and German-speaking countries. We have already tripled the number of hotels for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. This is becoming a very relevant offer for deal-seekers in these countries.
Looking at the various travel deal services, we have the impression that there's heavy competition. How do you experience this market?
There's no limit. It's right that we have exclusive offers, but they are still within the reach of a large fragment of the population. We don't just feature the Adlon, we have a lot of selected 4- and 5-star hotels and boutique hotels at very attractive rates.
How do hotels react to yet another service that focuses on special deals?
I'm relaxed. The beauty about Secret Escapes is that we feature unique offers. Many other deal services run hard discounts and don't put so much attention to the quality, the details. Most are just about the price. Secret Escapes has very high hurdles to admitting hotels. We manually test the offers and demand uniqueness. And then we always offer links out to comparison sites where users can verify that the offered rate is the best one. We also feature direct bookings on our platform. We don't believe in voucher sales where people need to call the hotel five times to finalize their booking.
What do you see as the big trends in the tech-meets-travel market?
They love it. We bring them extra attention, new customer groups. We have seen it already on JustBook: 9 out of 10 people hadn't actually planned to book the specific hotel. So it is a great way for hotels to get to new audiences. Secret Escapes is inspiring people to travel. What should hotels not like about that?
How does this change customer relationships?
We see that "one-size-fits-all" is a past model. The variety of offers keeps growing. A lot more attention goes to the customers and their lifestyle and preferences, while the traditional platforms just sold hotel rooms with a focus only on the supply side. We're seeing a shift from online hotel supermarkets to offers that focus on specific needs and tastes of individual users. It's not about a wide spectrum, but a suiting experience.
How do you understand what customers want?
You initially have to ask yourself: What does the customer want? And how can I make a differentiated, helpful offer? If I know this, how do I present specific offers? This calls for intelligent communication when presenting the specific offers and setting up customer service. New technologies allow for this completely new approach to tourism.
Do you think it would still be possible today to walk into a travel agency and get a better value hotel deal than when booking through Secret Escapes?
New technologies help us gather a lot of information. One example is the use of Social Media at Secret Escapes. The engagement is strong and this helps us analyze what customers demand and expect. Facebook is a very important and strong channel for Secret Escapes. The company understands that it can reach potential customers with high-quality emotional content and attract them to a hotel booking service. The editorial part, the description and the pictures, are very important.
Among your customers, who is responsible for selecting and booking a destination, men or women?
I haven't been at a travel agency in at least 10 years. But I talked to a representative of a tourism company at Berlin's trade show ITB, and he told me that the old concept of travel agents as experts in the field of traveling is simply outdated. The agent may be a completely different personality than the client and therefore put his attention on offers that don't really suit the customer. Today's target groups will look for deals that suit them individually.
You have gathered experience in the German market with JustBook, now you're part of Secret Escapes that have executed their own strategy in the UK. Can you simply roll out the UK model here in Germany?
In Secret Escapes, average customers are couples. Women tend to book a bit more than men. The inspiration and impulse to book is rather seen on the female side.
What are the targets for the new Secret Escapes in Germany?
There's a lot of things in Secret Escapes that need to be adapted to the German market. This is what's challenging for us and fun at the same time. It starts with landing page optimization after testing user behavior in Germany. There are also differences where regulation and law is concerned, for instance marketing opt-in and the offering of complete travel packages. And there's a huge difference in payment models that customers accept. The sum of it is that Secret Escapes is a sexy international product delivered with a specific version managed by a team of people that understand customers in Germany.
What are the lessons learned from the JustBook startup?
The first step was tripling the number of hotels for Germany, which our former JustBook team has done already. We have also transferred our know-how of mobile commerce and applications into the Secret Escapes group, the results of which will be seen when the app comes out. Looking at the longer term, Germany will have the potential to become at least as important a market for Secret Escapes as the United Kingdom.
You had your own startup, now you're part of another company's plan. How has this changed your work?
The most important thing is to be as close to the market and its shifts as possible. Be ready to evolve your concepts, move according to market trends. There's a lot of competition, so differentiating is an ongoing task. It calls for flexibility and speed. This will continue to be an important quality.
Not a lot has changed. There are a lot of advantages. We used to be involved in a lot of research of all aspects of the product – and now Secret Escapes delivers proven solutions that we can work with. We don't need to justify us all the time before our investors, because there's only one stakeholder. But we're still hugely independent here in Germany and not just a sales office. My impression is that Secret Escapes have understood that we are a team of entrepreneurs that are dedicated to establishing and succeeding with Secret Escapes in Germany.