Tanja Kufner, Co-Managing Director of Startupbootcamp, talks about her new job and the upcoming Demo Days of Startupbootcamp 2014 in Berlin.
Tanja, you’re the new managing director for Startupbootcamp Berlin. Please tell us how this came about.
“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.”
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?
“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.”
Why are you the right person for this job?
“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.”
How do you go about achieving that?
“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.”
A lot of work left to do?
“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.”
Why is this so important?
“They need to see for themselves if their idea has market potential. This analysis must be their own.”
What happens if the feedback is positive?
Yet this is what startups need to keep going…
“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.”
Can we say: You’re a midwife for the teams on their way to giving birth to their products?
“It sounds funny but, yes, essentially that is my job.”
If you look at Startupbootcamp Berlin in the accelerator market. How do you wish to develop its position over the next three years?
“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.”
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?
“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.”
So they are pretty far in the making?
“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.”
Any other highlights?
“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.”
Interesting: Though the program is in Berlin, the future markets don’t need to contain Germany?
“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.”
With teams from diverse backgrounds, how easy is it for them to cooperate and give feedback to each other?
“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.”
You said investor readiness is the aim. Do you have a target rate that you have set for yourself to measure your success?
“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.”
What do you enjoy about this job?
“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.”