Bernhard Heusler ist Mitgründer und Partner der Heusler Werthmüller Heitz AG, mit Hauptsitz in Basel und spezialisiert auf die Erbringung von Dienstleistungen im Bereich der Wirtschaftsberatung, des Sports und der Kultur.
Der in Basel promovierte Jurist war von 2000 bis 2014 Partner der Kanzlei Wenger Plattner, anschliessend bis Oktober 2017 Konsulent bei Walder Wyss AG. Im Sommer 2003 nahm er seine Tätigkeiten für den FC Basel 1893 auf, ab 2006 amtete er als dessen Vizepräsident und ab 2009 übernahm er die operative Leitung, um schliesslich dem Club von 2012 bis 2017 als Präsident vorzustehen.
In Erweiterung seiner Verantwortung für den Verein hat Bernhard Heusler in diversen Exekutiv- und Entscheidungsgremien des internationalen (FIFA, UEFA, ECA) und nationalen (SFV und SFL) Fussballs Einsitz genommen. Zudem amtet er seit 2012 als Richter am Internationalen Sportgerichtshof (TAS/CAS) in Lausanne. Seit einigen Jahren tritt Bernhard Heusler zunehmend als Referent an Anlässen und Seminaren, namentlich zu Themen der Unternehmens- und Teamführung, auf. Seit rund zwanzig Jahren bekleidet er diverse Verwaltungsratsmandate.
"Eine Führungsaufgabe beginnt immer bei einem selbst. Man muss authentisch und echt sein."
“Als ich nicht mehr die gleiche Freude spürte, merkt ich, dass es an der Zeit war meine Führungsaufgabe abzugeben.”
“Anerkennung, Wertschätzung und positives Feedback sind wirksame gratis Tools für Führungskräfte.”
Levent Künzi is the co-founder and CEO at Properti, a technology-driven real estate company modernizing residential real estate. He holds a BSc in Business Administration, Marketing and Business Communications from Kalaidos Fachhochschule Schweiz and previously worked at Betterhomes Real GmbH, where he quickly rose through the ranks and became COO at just 25 years old. His success, however, was not without its drawbacks: after a total of 10 years there, he quit due to severe burnout. Levent then had to take some time to rest, recover and discover who he was outside of work.
His journey of self-discovery resulted in him starting a business with his brother, Adrian Künzi, in 2019: Properti, which combines cutting-edge technologies such as robotics, virtual reality and artificial intelligence with years of experience, expert knowledge and digital marketing. They’re simultaneously a real estate company and also a software company, offering a 360º view of all real estate related transactions (buying, renting, moving, cleaning..), in which 80% of all processes are automatized. Properti real estate agents are thus able to handle several more listings than regular agents.
Levent and Adrian bootstrapped Properti for the first 2 years, and just recently raised a $6.5M seed round.
"When I quit my job, it was very hard for me to find out who I am. Burnout turned into a real crisis."
Aurelio Perucca is the co-founder and CEO at Splint Invest, an alternative investment platform. He holds a MS in Business Administration from the University of Bern and previously worked at Stryker and PwC.
Aurelio’s entrepreneurial journey all began in 2020, when he and some of his PwC co-workers started investing in rare whiskey. Prior to that, Aurelio had only invested in ETFs and stocks, but he soon realized that the high correlation between traditional assets and economic downturns meant that he had to diversify his investment portfolio. Further research led him to discovering that alternative asset classes such as cars, watches and whiskey had a much lower correlation with economic fluctuation. Specifically assets like whiskey or wine have the added advantage of their price being driven by their intrinsic value, which only increases with time (the older the whiskey, the better, the more expensive) – they’re not dependent on some hype. They are also, so to speak, “recession-resistant”.
So in 2021 Aurelio and his co-founders created Splint Invest, an app with the mission to enable all private investors to invest in alternative assets, starting at just CHF 50. You can trade your “splints” with other investors or hold them until the asset is sold and you get to collect your profits. When an asset is sold, you’re charged a flat fee of 2% of the sales price on a pro-rata basis, which covers Splint Invest’s sales process expenses. There are no running costs when you invest in Splints: the variable costs for storage and insurance are already included in the splint price of CHF 50.
However, it is true that stocks have a higher yield on average (despite also being a riskier investment) – but Aurelio makes it clear that alternative assets should only make up 5-15% of your investment portfolio (the rest consisting of stocks, real estate, etc…), and that they’re not something for beginners to dabble with. If you’re just starting out on your investment journey, you’re better off with low-effort investments, like ETFs. But if you want to take your investment game to the next level, sign up today at Splint Invest.
"At some point, you can’t just add more milestones, more proofs of concept, more validation… You actually need to trust the idea and go for it."
Robert Piconi is the co-founder and CEO at Energy Vault, a global energy storage company based in Ticino and publicly listed at NYSE. He previously worked at companies like BP, Alcatel and Spirent Communications.
Despite his past in the oil business, Robert is currently dedicated to taking an active role in the transition to renewals. That’s why he co-founded Energy Vault in 2017, after having validated the idea at Idealab, the longest running technology incubator in the US, with a very impressive track record: almost half of its companies have either gone public or been acquired.
Energy Vault aims to tackle the complicated issue of energy storage, i.e. electron storage. This storage is made difficult by the electrons’ limited “shelf-life”, by the costliness of the infrastructure, and by the fact that it is rather hard to find sustainable ways of doing it. Energy Vault combines innovative design, advanced materials science, and proprietary machine-vision software to orchestrate the storage and dispatch of electrical power by lifting and lowering composite bricks, made from eco-friendly materials. Energy Vault’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in a unique approach to the circular economy which utilizes local industrial and energy waste, including remediated coal ash and recycled wind blades converted to recyclable materials, to build the system’s composite bricks.
They run their infrastructure and acquire their raw materials locally, so as to avoid greenhouse gas emissions and reinvest in the communities where they’re located. One major customer segment of theirs are utilities companies that distribute to a grid infrastructure, and which are currently in the process of shutting down their fossil fuel plants and making the switch to renewables.
Energy Vault went public on the NYSE in 2022, through a merger with Novus Capital Corporation II (NYSE: NXU). The transaction raised approximately $235 million in gross proceeds, additive to its recently announced Series C of $107M and the $50M license fee from Atlas Renewable, to fund the execution of its growth strategy. Reflecting on the going public process, Robert advises founders to not go public before they’ve reached a scale which allows them to reliably predict the company’s future, or before they’ve hired enough people to maintain operational excellence during the IPO process.
"I felt like my potential could reach greater heights if it weren’t held back by corporate constraints."
"Countries have no walls: greenhouse gasses go all over the world. It is imperative that we cooperate."
"An IPO process takes months. I would caution founders to structure their business in a way that makes sure things run on time even if they’re away."
Vincenzo Neidhardt is the Managing Partner at Helga, a hyper-focused digital manager that specializes in the use of data in the music world. He holds a BSc in Business Administration from HWZ and previously co-founded the booking agency Garasch Musig.
Helga tackles an issue very relevant to our current music industry: unlike in the past, when music artists worked with a single label for a long stretch of time, today’s musicians work with several music labels simultaneously, and therefore have multiple pay sources – their main concern is, therefore, keeping track of whether or not they’re actually getting paid, and, if they weren’t adequately compensated, having the analytics software necessary to approach the defaulting party with the data to back it up. It’s estimated that there are $2.5b missing in the music market due to this type of occurrence.
Helga has yet to properly launch, and most of their employees are also students on the side. They are currently raising CHF 600K and have chosen to tokenize their shares with daura. Learn more about the advantages of this unconventional financing route by visiting https://daura.ch .
"As a musician who studied business administration, I see every artist as a small company."
Luca Michas is the co-founder and CMO at Yamo, a B2C company revolutionizing the kid's food market with nutritious and organic options for kids of all ages. Luca holds an MA in Media & Communication / Marketing from the UZH and previously worked for companies like SodaStream International and the Campari Group.
In 2015, while working at the Campari Group with his future co-founder, Tobias Gunzenhauser, Luca watched a documentary about veganism and decided to go vegan for a month, and Tobias joined him in this adventure. They soon discovered that healthy, plant-based products were very hard to come by in a Swiss supermarket, and – as a joke – decided to check out the baby food aisle, only to find out the baby food available on the market was tasteless and of dubious nutritional value.
This was because the traditional process for creating shelf-stable baby food was heat-based sterilization, which, considering many vitamins are heat-sensitive, necessitated later re-adding the vitamins which the process destroyed. But friend and food scientist José Amado-Blanco soon clued them into a better way of making baby food: High-pressure pasteurization, which combines homemade flavor with proper nutrition, and lasts several weeks in a refrigerated environment. This was how Yamo was able to combine nutritional quality with convenience, and win the trust of Swiss parents all around.
So as not to have their customers age out of Yamo products, the team has now also begun making kids’ food, like joghurts and snack bars. With their office in Zug, they currently sell in the DACH region, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. A Series B round is also underway.
"Branding makes a huge difference in whether your product succeeds or not. It’s not just pricing, it’s not just availability. You need to tell a story."
"Nowadays sustainability is no longer something that sets your brand apart, but on the other hand, if you’re not sustainable, your brand is gonna have a problem."
"Contrary to popular belief, we were not drunk when we came up with the Yamo product names."
Raphael Schaad is the founder and CEO at Cron, a next-generation calendar software. Raphael holds an masters from MIT and a bachelors from the University of Applied Sciences Bern. He previously was a designer and engineer at Flipboard and a researcher at the MIT Media Lab.
He started working for Flipboard back in 2011, which meant moving to Palo Alto. Raphael remembers that back then, Apple was still a much smaller player than Microsoft, Steve Jobs lived on the same street as Raphael, and the Facebook team still operated from next to the Stanford campus. The tech scene, in general, was a whole lot smaller.
Early on in his professional life, Raphael noticed that all the high-achievers around him were very intentional about their calendars, but never fully satisfied with the calendar software they used, and tried to compensate for this by adding extensions from third party apps. Apple, Microsoft, Google … They all fell short, and companies like Calendly seemed more like a calendar feature than a calendar itself. So, Raphael got to hacking together calendar extensions to turn his calendar into pro-mode, and nowadays Cron includes features like availability sharing, team overlays, time zones, multiple accounts, a menu bar calendar, multi-select flows, dark mode, and lots of keyboard shortcuts.
Cron was part of the Y Combinator Winter 2020 batch, and though the experience was cut short by COVID (canceling their demo day), Raphael still benefited from it by laser focusing for 10 weeks straight with like-minded individuals. Cron was then launched in early access mode, both because they wanted to optimize for learning and because they had already gathered a very long waiting list from initial word of mouth success.
Cron raised $3.5M in a seed round in April 2020 and was acquired by Notion in June 2022. Head over to to cron.com for early access.
"Knowing that Steve Jobs lived on the same block as me definitely infused me with an adventurous energy that was very special, back then."
"All the high-achievers were religious about their calendars, but they all complained about their calendar software."
"Participating in Y Combinator means, in all likelihood, sitting in the same room as 5 unicorns and the next Mark Zuckerberg."
Hanna and Johan Åkerström are the co-founders of Soeder, a natural and ethical personal care product manufacturer based in Zurich, Switzerland. Hanna is a trained architect, and Johan studied International Working Science at the University of Gothenburg. They both originally hail from Sweden.
They created Soeder back in 2013, when the clean beauty trend hadn’t really happened yet. The “soap” available on the market was 99% synthetic detergents, and there was a big lack of transparency regarding raw materials. So Hanna and Johan decided to start making “real soap” in a small garage, and sold their first batch of liquid Soeder soap at a Zurich Christmas market. People reacted positively, and so the pair began scaling the business bit by bit. In hindsight, Johan and Hanna think that if they’d had a huge demand right at the beginning, this would've killed them, because with no outside investment they would not have been able to keep up. They don’t regret being bootstrapped, however, as it allowed them to make all the mistakes they needed to make at the beginning. Besides, slow, organic growth has proven just as effective.
Nowadays they sell soap bars as well, alongside shampoo, conditioner, sanitizers, etc. They use glass packaging which they encourage customers to refill – this practice might seem standard in 2022, but back when Soeder began, Hanna and Johan had to take the time to educate the market on why both these things were important and safe. This transparency has paid off: Soeder currently has a very large share of recurring customers who trust the brand and do word of mouth marketing for them.
Hanna and Johan continue to feel confident that the only way for a bootstrapped company to compete with the big fish is to take the time to do things differently, and focus on quality and the customer relationship.
"Building a company with your romantic partner brings you much closer together."
"If you make a good product, the person who buys it will sell the next one for you."
Sebastien Tondeur is the CEO at MCI group, a global next-gen platform for marketing which was founded as a conference organizer in 1987 by Sebastien’s dad, Roger Tondeur. Sebastien studied Finance and International Business at Northeastern University in Boston and joined the family business immediately after his studies, doing all sorts of tasks.
In 2010, Sebastien took over from his dad as CEO of the company, and Roger remained as Chairman. Sebastien soon drafted a new business plan that would allow the group to adapt to the current market and expand their business offers: besides organizing live and virtual events, MCI nowadays also offers strategic and digital communications, and consulting and community solutions. Events organizing have historically been their biggest revenue stream.
Sebastien scaled MCI to a global company, with operations in Europe, the US and China (and managed to do so by investing early on in client relations with big multinationals, as well as in hiring great teams), so the team really saw the COVID wave make its path from East to West and reacted very quickly in restructuring the business: they analyzed which areas of the business would be the most resilient and therefore worth investing time, effort and money into. They scaled back their events operations and invested in hiring creative teams to work as consultants with their customers, who were equally shaken by the COVID crisis and in need of new ideas.
They have recently participated in the SIX Sparks IPO Academy. MCI is interested in going public because this would mean greater shareholder trust and greater access to large amounts of capital, which may help them weather the next crisis.
"COVID made us realize what our key assets were, that we had other businesses not directly linked to events which we could build on. "
Silvan Krähenbühl is the host and managing director at Swisspreneur and current CEO at Rentouch, a Swiss enterprise software company developing products geared towards e-collaboration, and best known for the PIplanning app. He holds a BA in Business Administration from the University of St Gallen.
Silvan grew up in the Emmental valley with parents who ran a veterinary clinic, but he soon realized that looking after animals wasn’t really his thing, and that he was more interested in gadgets and business. During highschool, he participated in Young Enterprise Switzerland, and “founded” a company (not legally, but just as a project) which imported a cell phone holder from China and sold it in Switzerland.
After his bachelors at HSG, Silvan created Gymhopper, a B2B SaaS startup which gives individual gyms the network of a big chain, together with his co-founder Louis, whom he had met at HSG’s Young Entrepreneurs Club. This partnership turned out to be an unfortunate one, since Louis and Silvan did not have shared values. But this realization would come later – in the meantime, Gymhopper hired its CTO, João Sobral, in Lisbon, and grew within the span of 6 months to be the biggest gym network in Switzerland.
Investors then wanted them to expand and become the biggest network in all of Europe, but the Gymhopper team soon realized that their business model was Swiss-specific and would not work in other countries, because abroad there is often a legal preference for monthly gym memberships (in contrast to the Swiss annual membership model). Their expansion to Denmark and Austria was therefore not very fruitful. They tried to counteract this through a corporate fitness model, which not only brought in more revenue but also attracted the attention of the Austrian company myclubs, who wished to expand their corporate fitness offering in Switzerland. Gymhopper was acquired by myclubs in 2018 and Silvan stepped down from the CEO role, switching to a part-time Head Of Business Development position at myclubs.
It was also in 2018 that Silvan joined Swisspreneur. One of the startup coaches that he’d met while building Gymhopper was Christian Hirsig, a serial entrepreneur and former Swisspreneur host, who invited Silvan to take over from him as host. Silvan was at first quite hesitant about being on camera and taking on such a large role, but was eventually convinced by Chris and nowadays feels very thankful for having made this decision. From 2018 to 2022, Silvan and his team grew Swisspreneur from a show with 16 published episodes to the biggest Apple Podcasts business podcast in Switzerland, with its own coaching service, masterclasses and syndicate. Silvan credits the success of Swisspreneur to his amazing team.
Throughout 250+ episodes, 2 lessons stand out to Silvan:
In Silvan’s opinion, a founder should be able to:
In 2020 Silvan started working at Rentouch as Enterprise Account Director. In 2021 he left his position at myclubs and started working full time for Rentouch, and in 2022 he became the new Rentouch CEO. Ansuya Ahwalia, founder of Anamii and host of this episode, will be joining Silvan in the host team, occasionally interviewing guests.
"Most founders are actually unhappy. As companies grow, they can get bogged down by the workload and feel like they’re being stretched too thin."
"There’s a big momentum developing in the Swiss ecosystem right now. The big US VCs are starting to invest here."
Manuel Aschwanden is the co-founder and CEO at Optotune, a company which develops optical components that allow customers around the globe to innovate. Prior to Optotune, Manuel has gained experience in engineering at Avalon and ABB, and he holds an MSc in Electrical Engineering and a PhD in Nanotechnology from ETH Zurich.
Founded in 2008, Optotune started out with their core technology of focus tunable lenses, which was inspired by the working principle of the human eye. Laser speckle reducers, 2D mirrors, tunable prisms and beam shifters have been more recent additions to their product lines. The fact that they created their company right at the height of the 2008 financial crisis turned out to be an advantage rather than a disadvantage, because a fair number of talented people at the time found themselves out of a job.
Nowadays Optotune serves several industries, from space tech all the way to consumer applications. They recently participated in the SIX Sparks IPO training program and are planning on going public sometime soon. In Manuel’s view, going public means profitability becomes all the more imperative, and also that creativity is sometimes sacrificed due to pressure from public opinion. Nonetheless, an IPO would bring enough advantages to outweigh these downsides.
"I believe that to be successful in Europe, you need to have unique engineering."
Adela Wiener is the co-founder & CEO at Aurachain, a simple and intuitive low-code platform that allows rapid creation of digital applications. She previously worked as a business development manager at the Romanian software company AGYS AG, and holds a PhD in Theory of Systems from Universitatea Politehnica din București.
Aurachain was created back in 2009 and has since switched from a customer solutions provider to a B2B SaaS company, which naturally means that nowadays most of the team’s time and knowledge goes into the product, and not client projects.
Currently, Aurachain is an horizontal low-code platform suitable for all sorts of industries, but which focuses on financial services companies as a go-to-market strategy. Low code gives companies quick time to value by allowing them to rapidly deploy apps without the need for code, which reduces technical depth and therefore also the company’s dependency on the developer talent pool. Shorter implementation cycles also mean increased agility.
Usually low code platforms are either extremely user-friendly, but not very customizable, so that they are only suitable for simple apps, or not user-friendly but very customizable, so that they can be used to build complex apps but only by people with previous low code knowledge or people willing to invest the time needed to learn. Aurachain prides itself on being “the best of both worlds”: both user-friendly and capable of building highly complex apps.
"Low-code development means a team can create something like 11 apps in less than 3 months."
Michele Bomio is a serial entrepreneur and active at Securecell, a high tech life sciences company focusing on biotech & medtech. After having built his first venture, SAM, in the 90s (an ETH spin-off delivering predictive modeling to the food industry), Michele was an external CEO at companies like Navyboot and Orell Füssli Thalia. He holds a degree in Food Science and Biotechnology from ETH Zurich.
At Securecell, he helps the team in their mission of developing innovative solutions in bioprocess technology for Biotech and BioPharma development digitalization and automation. Securecell is developing Seraccess, an innovative technology for the fully automated, high-frequency automatic on-line collection, processing, and analysis of minute quantities of blood for the monitoring and control of critical blood parameters. This is aimed at diabetes type 1 and 2 patients. They are close to having their first interactions with the FDA and beginning clinical trials.
Securecell recently participated in the SIX IPO Academy, aimed at preparing high-potential scale-ups for going public. Michele says going public has the advantage of forcing you to be disciplined and think about your organizational structure at every level, though it also has the downside that every risk taken must be accounted for, since everyone will have an opinion on the direction your company is taking.
"If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be a salesperson first."
Sandra Tobler is the co-founder and CEO at Futurae Technologies, a startup providing future-proof, end user-centric authentication. She previously worked at IBM and the Switzerland Global Enterprise and holds an MA in International Affairs from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
Futurae solutions enable seamless 2FA with fallbacks, compliant transaction confirmations, secure helpdesk authentication, and anything in between. They also help companies meet risk and compliance requirements, fraud monitoring, security analytics, and much more.
The company was created in 2016, back in the early days of cloud options, when the cloud was still regarded as “evil”. Their product was actually the first that the majority of their customers deployed in the cloud. This meant Futurae had to become an expert in building trust, and they did so not only by having an extremely talented team overall, but specifically a really strong support team (and not just a killer sales team).
"Over 93% of all information technology startups are still around after 5 years. That’s a super high number."
Jan Luescher is the CEO at ASMALLWORLD, an exclusive travel & lifestyle community. He previously worked as a Principal at Bain & Company and holds a MA in Strategy and International Management from HSG.
ASMALLWORLD was founded in 2004 by a wealthy Swedish couple, and started out as an invitation-only club for their friends. Changes in ownership over the years altered some aspects of the product, but in spite of this, and despite the product’s success, the team could not find a successful way of monetizing it, so investment began to wane. Jan Luescher stepped in as an external CEO back in 2016 and has been steering the ship ever since.
It isn’t ideal for ASMALLWORLD to grow a lot in terms of membership numbers, since exclusivity is part of the package deal (for which users annually pay CHF 100), so they’ve chosen to do so through creating a booking service on their website, in partnership with a number of luxury hotels.
Their goal is to ultimately be able to offer a fremium model (especially also considering that, even among those with disposable income, willingness to pay for a social media service is quite low), but for that they need to offer services to their users, so that the revenue coming from this will help support the non-paying users.
They’re also aiming to improve the technical aspects of their social media functionality and their booking service. ASMALLWORLD has bought a 10% stake in Global Hotel Alliance, a loyalty program for independent hotels, which has in turn bought 3% of ASMALLWORLD. The goal is to offer Global Hotel Alliance members a free ASMALLWORLD membership as part of the status benefits.
"The risk of entrepreneurship always seemed scary to me. It took me a while to take on the ASMALLWORLD project."
"When ASMALLWORLD was publicly listed, the financial press in Switzerland thought the world was going to end."
Ash Maurya is the founder and CEO at Leanstack, a leading provider of Lean Startup and Lean Business Modeling tools, content, and coaching resources. He is also the author of the book Running Lean. Prior to Leanstack, he worked at companies like telecom technologies and Sonus Networks and founded the startup Wired Reach in 2002, which enabled the creation of simple peer to web applications that blurred the boundaries between the desktop and web. He holds a BSc in Electrical Engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The Lean Canvas came about as a way to combat the preconceived notion of business ideas as overnight successes. It helps aspiring founders take their idea and deconstruct it to learn what needs to be tackled first and how to chronicle the process. It helps you get specific (because if you try to build a product for everyone, you end up building a product for no one) and helps you find out whether the problem you’re looking to solve is big enough.
The Lean Startup Methodology can also help you figure out things like pricing. Founders tend to want to price their product in terms of solution (meaning, based on how much it costs to produce the product/solution) instead of pricing it according to the problem (figuring out how big of a pain the problem is, and how much people are willing to pay to fix it).
It can also help founders find paths to customers, whether that be through paid advertising or through posting original content, or through being featured on other people’s original content, like Ash just did with Swisspreneur.
"Being too early to market is almost as bad as being too late."
"When we try to build a product for everyone, we end up building a product for no one."
Chris Bach is the CSO/CCO at Netlify, a platform for building highly-performant and dynamic websites, e-commerce stores and apps. He studied film and media science at the University of Copenhagen but then pivoted to the business world, and created Netlify in 2015 together with co-founders Mathias Biilmann. By uniting an extensive ecosystem of technologies, services and APIs into one workflow, Netlify unlocks new levels of team productivity, while saving time, money and the planet.
Their idea was to change the architecture of the web and provide a viable workflow for developers, since nowadays it’s known that the biggest overall challenge companies face is reducing time to market, and that the number 1 way of doing so is to invest in developer tools and workflow.
They knew that Netlify would have to be venture-backed in order to have the right time-to-market and create the desired impact. Europe was much too risk averse in terms of capital, so they decided to raise funds in the US. To date they’ve taken on $212M in investment from investors such as A16Z, Kleiner Perkins, Bessemer, EQT, BOND and Menlo Ventures, and angels such as the founders of Github, Heroku, Rackspace Cloud, Slack, Yelp, Figma, and many more.
"Venture capital was much too risk-averse in Europe. What we needed was the Silicon Valley approach."
"The mission is not money. The mission is building a better web."
This episode was produced in cooperation with the ETH Entrepreneur Club.
Samuel Mueller is the co-founder and CEO at Scandit, the leading technology platform for mobile computer vision and augmented reality (AR) solutions for enterprises. He holds a PhD in Computer Science and Temporal Logics from ETH Zurich. Together with Christian Floerkermeier and Christof Roduner, he created Scandit in 2009.
Their goal with Scandit was to create a bridge between real world objects and the digital information available about them. Barcodes were then the natural entry points, especially at a time when phone cameras were just starting to become ubiquitous.
Nowadays they work with 4 key verticals:
Scandit runs a subscription-based model which allows customers to “go as they grow”, meaning the bigger they get, the more Scandit services they can accrue. It's also a very high margin business, because a lot of the heavy lifting, the computer vision magic, is happening on the user devices, so there’s no distinct cloud need.
"As an entrepreneur, if you don’t get really good at saying ‘no’, you’re gonna get terribly distracted."
"Today’s customers are really smart. If you don’t have an answer ready for them, they’re already on their way to check out the product somewhere else."
Elian Kool is the co-founder and former CEO at Netcentric, a Zurich based company that develops CX marketing solutions. He previously worked at companies like Acommit AG, Namics and Logica Deutschland.
Elian co-founded Netcentric in 2012, right around the time that Adobe Experience Cloud (the focus of their business) was first emerging. They were quite precocious, in the sense that they always competed at eye level with big consultants like Deloitte and Accenture, and very early on set up an office in Barcelona. They were also quick to take on a holacratic organizational method, in order to create a work environment that was both extremely efficient and attractive to its employees.
In 2017 they were acquired by cognizant in order to grow more quickly at an international level.
"In my view it’s much better to stay focused and know what you’re good at than trying to mitigate every potential risk."
Dennis Just is the current CEO at Smallpdf, a company offering a suite of clever document management tools for everyone. He holds a BSc in Economics and Engineering from Technische Universität Berlin and previously founded companies like Numbrs and Knip.
Mathis Büchi is co-founder and chairman at Smallpdf and Taxfix, a digital tax accountant. He studied International Business and Global Management at the University of Hong Kong and previously founded Encounter Korea, a company organizing tours to North Korea.
Dennis and Mathis recommend that you only scale once the following conditions are met:
Do you always need to raise funds in order to scale up? Not always, no, but if you’re solving a problem that is too big or too complicated to make money from right away, then you need to raise funds. Or if, for instance, you need to beat your competition in a winner-takes-all market by outspending everyone, then you need to raise funds.
"Even if a problem seems boring, like PDFs or taxes, it’s still engaging to solve it, and you still get to help a lot of people’s lives." (Mathis)
"You need to define your entrepreneurial identity: why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s your goal?" (Dennis)
Kevin Smith is the co-founder and CEO at Snipd, an AI-powered podcast player built to unlock the knowledge in the podcasts you listen to. Originally from England and Germany, Kevin came to Zurich to get his MA from ETH in Quantitative Finance. After a time working for banks like Julius Baier and UBS, Kevin decided to join the startup Contovista, where he worked up to becoming head of analytics and AI.
In 2020, he decided to put his love for machine learning to good use and participated in Hackzurich together with his ETH friend Ferdinand Langnickel, at a time when a breakthrough in self-supervised learning had just happened. Having originally planned to create a prototype around the topic of meeting notes, they eventually pivoted to podcasts, and ended up winning that year’s Hackzurich. In 2021, Kevin, Ferdinand and third co-founder Mikel Corcuera Lejarreta created Snipd.
The problem Snipd solves is pretty intuitive: the audio medium is great for both consuming and producing content, but not so much for interacting with it, i.e., for storing it and consulting it. It’s pretty hard to skim through a 2h podcast episode to find what you’re looking for. Through its AI algorithm, Snipd allows you to do just that: when you’re using their podcast player, whenever you listen to something which particularly interests you, you press a button in the app or you triple click your headphones, and then AI will analyze the content you just selected to determine the appropriate start and end point, provide a transcript, a summary and a title. Snipd also provides you with automatic chapters (with titles and summaries) for each podcast episode.
By providing this service, Snipd is able to collect data about which podcast moments are interesting to each user, and this data will soon allow them to make predictions on what each specific user may be interested in listening to.
"I’ve come to the realization that creating things is something which fundamentally makes humans happy."
"Something you should ask yourself before you start a startup is: Can you see yourself working on this for 10 years?"
Roy Raanani is the co-founder, former CEO and current president of Chorus.ai, a B2B SaaS platform that helps sales teams improve the quality of their conversations and sales processes by analyzing how top performers engage with customers in calls and video meetings. He holds a BA in Engineering Science from UoT and an MBA from Stanford, and previously worked for companies like Bain & Company and Innovation Endeavors.
After quitting his consultancy job and spending a sabbatical in Rheinfeld thinking about business ideas, Roy developed an interest in undervalued data sets in business, specifically conversations – he wanted to use machine learning to discover what makes a conversation end badly and what makes it end well. He founded Chorus.ai in 2015 and has since grown it to millions in revenue and over 100 employees, and raised over $65M in capital from Emergence Capital, Redpoint and Georgian Partners.
But the sailing wasn’t always this smooth. Thinking back to when they were first building the product, Roy recounts an interesting cycle he observed:
In conclusion, so long as you don’t run out of hope or cash, perseverance will get you to product-market fit.
In Chorus.ai’s case, it also got them to a tradesale. They were acquired by Zoom Info in 2021 for $575M and have since seen their yearly growth rate double from 100% to 200%.
"A lot of investors are too comfortable giving entrepreneurs advice having never been in their shoes."
"We’re always focused on older, experienced people, but I think it’s just as important to get to know the amazing people that are maybe a couple years behind you."
Kai Eberhardt is the co-founder and CEO at Oviva, an app which provides personalized advice and individual support for targeted dietary changes. He holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry from ETH and previously worked for McKinsey and Groupon.
Kai left McKinsey to get a taste of the startup life at the rapidly growing Group, but ended up having a mixed experience. Due to its IPO goal, Groupon cultivated unsustainable company growth, which often came at the expense of employees and customers, and was, in Kai’s experience, a “ruthless” environment – which explains the crash they suffered right after going public. Kai nonetheless considers his time there a valuable personal growth opportunity.
In 2014 he founded Oviva together with co-founders Manuel and Mark, and the inspiration actually came from his past: during his time as a student, Kai suffered from cancer (which fortunately was treatable), and this motivated him to help people live healthier and happier lives. Kai and his co-founders saw that dieticians weren’t meeting often enough with their patients, and hypothesized that a much better way to reach these patients would be through their phone, which they already used for copious amounts of time anyway.
Oviva offers not only one-to-one nutritional assessment, advice and continual support, but also nutritional tracking, through pictures that patients take of their meals with their phones, and which dieticians review. Oviva employs these dieticians and tries their best to have users be reimbursed by their health insurance providers. They mainly acquire users through their doctors, and to both doctors and health insurers Oviva shows metrics like program completion, weight loss (when relevant), a calculation of the hospital visit reduction, and also how many patients were able to go off (expensive) medications by following their dietary protocol. This proves to doctors and insurers that Oviva saves hospitals their resources and insurers their money.
"I didn’t want to stay at McKinsey forever because there you never get to own anything you work on."
"Nowadays integrated medicine only happens in specialist clinics, despite the fact that obesity and type 2 diabetes are absolute epidemics."
Christof Tremp is the co-founder and CEO at Rebels 0.0%, a startup producing alcohol-free spirits. He holds an MA in Business Administration from HSG and has previously worked at Kraft Foods Group, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Lindt & Sprüngli.
Rebels 0.0% currently produces alternatives to gin, rum and aperitif, aiming to capitalize on the current trend of declining alcohol consumption, especially prevalent among younger generations. However, they take good care not to position themselves as anti-alcohol: they are merely providing an alternative.
These concoctions, which taste incredibly like the real thing, are the result of double distillation using organic botanicals. Their production site is Switzerland, since the company cares deeply about sustainability. Since their production process is more complicated than regular alcohol and obeys a series of ethical standards, the finished product is not cheaper than its alcoholic counterpart.
Rebels 0.0% recently met a crowdfunding goal in just 11h, which gave them an extraordinary proof of concept. Despite having gone the bootstrapped way early on, they have now also begun to raise funds in equity rounds (recently 1M ) in order to really accelerate their marketing.
"I never really looked at entrepreneurship as a risk. If I failed, I could just go back to my old life."
"Switzerland will always be our home, but it’s too small a market."
Patrik Deuss is the co-founder and CEO at LEDCity, a cleantech startup specializing in smart lighting solutions. Patrik holds a BS in Energy and Environmental Engineering from ZHAW and previously worked at m-way agm and blitzzcar GmbH.
With LEDCity’s solution, AI-trained algorithms control the light autonomously and dynamically. This means that rooms are only lit when it actually makes sense to do so. The duration and intensity of light can thus be adapted to actual lighting needs, and energy spending is cut by about 90%. This is an incredible win considering that lighting makes up 12% of Swiss energy consumption.
LEDCity initially relied only on research grants money and otherwise bootstrapped their operations, which turned them into a very efficient team. They later raised an equity round (CHF 2M), and this capital combined with their efficiency has given them a great growth rate.
"In the beginning our sales person was calling people way too much. It’s never good to come across as desperate."
"If your startup doesn’t have an impactful mission, your motivation will suffer."
Alexander Schueller is the founder and CEO at cellvie, a seed-stage venture developing mitochondria-based therapies. Tobias Reichmuth is a founding partner at maximoon, a venture studio company builder which has already built 2 longevity startups, with 3 more to follow this year.
Nowadays we know that there are 9 reasons for human aging, all cell-based:
- Genomic instability;
- Telomere attrition;
- Epigenetic alterations;
- Loss of proteostasis;
- Deregulated nutrient sensing;
- Mitochondrial dysfunction;
- Cellular senescence;
- Stem cell exhaustion;
- Altered inter-cellular comms.
Nowadays average life expectancy is at 83. Alexander’s and Tobias’ companies aim not to extend life indefinitely, but significantly, and insure quality of life right up until the very end. Longevity companies typically have a hard time raising money because their research results require several decades; funds looking to focus on health topics usually go for companies whose products treat diseases, and which can therefore return the investment max. 14 years after it was made. However nowadays the World Health Organization already recognizes aging as a sickness – it’s therefore time for venture funds, research granters and healthcare insurers to start doing so as well.
Alexander’s & Tobias’ general tips to improve longevity:
- Eat less and do intermittent fasting;
- Do HIIT training or some other form of exercise;
- Quit bad habits like smoking or drinking;
- Cultivate a good social life;
- Take both hot and cold showers;
- Take certain supplements (this will depend on each individual’s case).
Greater longevity will naturally result in societal changes such as:
- People putting up with poor labor conditions for much shorter, since their working life will be longer;
- Co-living solutions for active seniors;
- Changes to the pension system: if labor conditions are good, people will not want to retire so early, even if they no longer continue to work 100%. A good life requires purpose, and a good job can serve as that;
- Employers may begin to offer benefits such as a sabbatical semester every 10 years, plus an educational stipend, so that every 10 years you may reinvent your career if you so choose.
"The ideal human future is one in which you are free from disease and have a strong purpose up until the very end of your life."
"Our goal is for people to die as late as possible, with a body as young as possible."
Severin Hacker is the co-founder and CTO of Duolingo, the world’s most popular language learning app. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University and previously worked as a research intern at Microsoft.
It was during his time at Carnegie Mellon that he met his co-founder, Luis von Ahn, with whom he soon began to work on a research project which would later become Duolingo. The project aimed to identify what the hardest part of language learning was and how to make it easier — they soon discovered the power of gamification in this respect and ran hundreds of A/B tests in order to make the Duolingo experience as fun as possible, resulting in a much higher retention rate than other language learning apps. In fact, Severin identifies A/B testing as Duolingo’s “secret sauce”, and says these tests focus on assessing 3 things: how well the new feature teaches, how engaging the new feature is (i.e., retention) and how it contributes to monetization.
Duolingo’s mission is to make great education universally accessible, which is why it uses a freemium model that allows free users to access all of the content under certain conditions, and paying users to access this same content with much less restriction. In order to maintain their independence and keep working towards their mission, Duolingo did not aim for a trade sale but instead went public on NASDAQ in 2021, with a market capitalization of $3.5B. Their IPO behind them, they hope to expand the Duolingo offer to first language acquisition and math learning.
"You should only pursue a PhD if you want to become a professor. It’s not necessary for entrepreneurship."
"By this point, Duolingo is too expensive to be acquired."
Mikhail Kokorich is the founder and CEO of Destinus, an aerospace company building hyperplanes to provide the fastest transportation on earth. He studied business administration back in Russia and also went on to complete executive programs at Stanford, and co-founded several companies such as Astro Digital, Exact Farming and Momentus.
Founded in 2021, Destinus is developing an extremely fast aircraft capable of moving cargo between continents in 1-2 hours. This vehicle will be a hybrid between an airplane and a rocket— they call it a hyperplane. It runs on hydrogen, which allows you not only to build incredibly powerful engines but also to cool them, so that overheating does not become an issue at that type of speed. Hydrogen-fueled hyperplanes are also carbon neutral.
Hydrogen is not yet affordable, but from his talks with hydrogen producers Mikhail estimates that within 3-5 years, some selected airports will have it available at a reasonably low price; in 5-10 years, almost any airport will have it; and after 10 years it will hopefully become one of the primary fuels for aviation.
After having built their first prototype in just 4 months, Destinus estimates that within 3 years a hyperplane MVP will be available for testing, but not yet for commercial use — for that they require certification. In the meantime their MVP will allow them to start generating some revenue and prove customer interest.
"With Hyperplanes, you will be able to fly to Tokyo to have dinner with your friends, fly back afterwards and sleep in your own bed."
"In ten years’ time hydrogen will hopefully become one of the main fuels for aviation."
Bassil Eid is a co-founder of Earny, a startup providing simple automated payroll in 10 mins or less for startups & SMEs. Bassil’s family moved from Lebanon to Canada when he was young, and it was in Canada that he studied Business Administration and Economics and began working as a project manager in the freight industry. He then moved to Denmark after his masters to work at eMagCreator, a startup selling online magazines — this was his first entrepreneurial experience. When it came time for him and his wife to settle down, and his wife got a job at UBS, they chose to settle in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, Bassil noticed that despite there being some momentum in the cap table space, for instance, no one was tackling payroll yet. By talking to accountants he discovered that Swiss SME payroll got done in one of 3 ways:
People do it themselves using one of the available softwares. This requires some previous payroll experience, and even then, you’re bound to make your fair share of errors. People hire an accountant at a rate of 30-60 francs per employee per month, on average. This still means you have to gather all the documentation yourself to email to the accountant. People hire internally, if they can afford it, which they often can’t. And often the person they hire ends up having to speak to an accountant anyway.
With Earny, anyone can run payroll with no experience needed, since most of the process is automated. It is also still possible to work with an accountant. In fact, earny has 3 interfaces: one for companies, one for employees, and one for accountants. Charging 10 francs per employee per month, Earny comes at about a third of the price of regular accountants.
"A lot of successful entrepreneurs are immigrants. They have a strong drive to surpass the status quo."
"In the startup world you don’t wanna assume anything too fast. But you also want to be agile enough to fill the demand once it comes in."
Christof Roduner is the co-founder and CIO at Scandit, the leading technology platform for mobile computer vision and augmented reality (AR) solutions for enterprises. He holds a MSc in Business Administration and Computer Science from the University of Zurich. It was during his time as a researcher at ETH that he met one of his future co-founders, Christian; together with Samuel, whom Christof knew from UZH, they created Scandit in 2009.
Their goal with Scandit was to create a bridge between real world objects and the digital information available about them. Barcodes were then the natural entry points, especially at a time when phone cameras were just starting to become ubiquitous. It was when they began getting some coverage from the press that they realized the true commercial potential of their product.
Their scanning app was rather shaky at first though: it only worked on a certain type of phone, the barcode had to be in perfect condition, there had to be perfect lighting, and it was tricky to deploy the app itself regardless of how perfect the rest of the setup was. Another challenge that they faced at an early stage was finding real world applications and knowing which one to focus on, from price comparison, to ethical shopping, to vegan/vegetarian shopping, etc.
Nowadays their main two verticals are retail and logistics. Scandit helps its customers at several points, from self checkout, to inventory counts, etc. They currently have over 1M users worldwide and have offices in 6 countries. Scandit has also recently achieved Unicorn status.
"As an entrepreneur you need to accept that you can’t control everything, and sometimes that means that you can’t deliver perfect results."
Alexandre Laybros is the co-founder and deputy CEO and CMO at WattAnyWhere, a startup offering off-grid renewable electricity for BEV fast-charging. He holds a masters in Electrical Engineering from ENSEA and previously worked for companies like Thales and Honeywell.
EV owners now require ultra-fast chargers of renewable energy, anywhere, but the deployment is currently slow and costly, mainly due to lengthy studies (up to 2 years), and high cost to connect to the grid. Together with EPFL, Helbio and Elcogen, WattAnyWhere provides a long-term solution with Solid Oxide Fuel Cell-based mobile generators that consume ethanol, are ultra-silent, and deployable anywhere within 1 month.
WattAnyWhere recently successfully closed a pre-seed round and are currently enjoying market traction provided by trusted partners, such as charge point operators and utility companies in Switzerland and France.
"There is no single solution to the electrification of all our equipment and industries."
Philippe Bubb and Martin Altorfer are the co-founders of session.vc, a fund investing in early stage companies in the software and consumer space. Philippe has an MBA in Business Administration and Finance from HSG and previously worked as a financial analyst. He also co-founded several companies, namely the wealth management boutique IFS, BCAP AG and Focus Capital. Martin is a serial entrepreneur, with companies like Celeris AG, replica GmbH, BCAP AG and Active-Net under his belt.
Philippe and Martin have been angel investors for over two decades. Back in the 00s, there was hardly a structured approach to finding and securing deals: you just had to keep your eyes open, speak with lots of people, and take opportunities as they came. In the case of the ON founders, whom they invested in, there existed already a previous friendship. As for the money they invested, Martin made use of the money he made when selling his first company Active-Net at 29, whereas Philippe took out a loan from his parents (this is a setup he definitely does not recommend).
Philippe and Martin pride themselves on being active investors, but they also make a point of showing that an active investor does not equal a founder. In the past, they made the mistake of accruing too much responsibility on the operational side, which shielded the actual founders from the true hardship of entrepreneurship. Nowadays Martin and Philippe make an effort to preserve some distance.
In 2019 they founded Session VC. Their fund focuses on the software and consumer space because these are the industries that Martin and Philippe understand best, and it focuses on early stage companies because this is the phase they find most fascinating and in which they believe they can contribute the most. Together they’ve also created Session Lab, where they discuss interesting topics and later either find a founder who will pick that project up or a founder who is already doing something similar, whom they can invest in.
When investing, Martin and Philippe look for a good team and the right timing. They don’t think the idea is crucial — just look at ON, a running shoe company. They consider it a red flag if the founders have day jobs or if their cap tables look a mess (50 angels, 7 convertibles, etc…).
"If I have to read the manual, it's a bad product." (Martin Altorfer)
Deborah Learoyd is the co-founder and managing director of Freesuns, a company designing beautifully integrated solar roof tiles for residential, commercial and heritage buildings. She worked at the technology company Honeywell for 20 years before going all-in on her startup in 2022. Originally from Sidney, Australia, she and her husband have resided in Switzerland for several years.
Freesuns came to be when Deborah and her husband decided to purchase a house in Switzerland which needed a new roof. Since they were environmentally committed and even already owned an electric car, they decided they’d like to generate their own electrical power, but solar panels were not a viable option for them, because they did not match the look nor the shape of the house. The couple put their engineering background to good use and designed a solar tile which combined functionality with flexibility and aesthetic appeal. They soon contacted a manufacturer and had prototypes made. After due testing they applied the solar tiles to their house and nowadays produce more than enough power for the entire habitation and their electrical car as well.
Freesuns does not seek to compete with solar panels. They address the market of people who would like to make an environmental contribution but cannot/will not use solar panels, either because they don’t like the look, their commune doesn’t allow it, or their roof is unusually shaped. When getting started, Freesuns sold directly to end users, but nowadays they work closely with partners (roofers and other solar installers) so as to scale up their business.
"Switzerland is a great market to test out buyer interest. It’s quite diverse. If we succeed in Switzerland, we’ll have already understood many of the challenges we’d face globally."
Séverine Gisin is the co-founder and CCO at IDUN Technologies, a neurotech startup with a vision of creating a more connected and empathetic world using brain-sensing headphones. She has a background in Health Science and Technologies from ETH.
Together with her co-founder Simon Bachmann, Séverine began the IDUN project at ETH by pitching to startup-friendly professors. Together they developed sensors which turn brain signals into actionable insights and can be worn discreetly: they come in the form of headphones. There are two main use cases: sleep health and hearing health. Sleep-wise, their product helps track the sleeping patterns of narcoleptics, which helps physicians make decisions about dosages. Hearing-wise, IDUN Technologies has partnered up with an app that provides hearing fitness: they train your ear to spot different frequencies, some of which you may have forgotten how to detect.
They recently enrolled in a SONY accelerator program in Sweden and were selected for investment.
"Engineering is the safest way to be creative."
"In other countries, entrepreneurship is a means of survival. In Switzerland, entrepreneurship is a privilege."
Andreas Lenzhofer is a co-founder & chairman at Dagsmejan, a company that develops innovative clothing for better sleep. After a UK MBA and an impressive corporate career, Andreas and his romantic partner decided to become entrepreneurs, and identified self-care as one of the lasting mega trends of the future. Within the self-care space, they decided to zero in on sleep, and joined Andreas’ operational/supply chain experience with his partner’s marketing background and the University of Stockholm’s research on sleep.
The basic premise of Dagsmejan is this: your circadian rhythms depend on your melatonin levels and your body temperature — if something is amiss with either of these, your sleep quality will be poor. If the problem is temperature, then naturally it is important to regulate room temperature, but what you wear to bed is also crucial.
Andreas and his partner choose to produce the Dagsmejan pajamas out of botanic fibers made in Europe, since cotton requires very high water consumption and recycled fibers still ultimately come from oil. They’re also testing out a more sustainable packaging material this year.
Andreas recommends 3 strategic thrusts for going to market:
- P.R.: get coverage on your product. If no one ever knows about it, how could they buy it? Here it might be a good idea to engage some agencies.
- Partnerships: trusted stores on the ground in every market which offer customers the opportunity to touch the product physically.
- Digital marketing: there’s no reach like digital reach. Invest in scaling up your company through killer digital marketing campaigns.
"One of the benefits of starting your own company when you’re older is that you’ve already handled quite a few complex challenges by then."
"As long as we continue to believe that we’re the best people for the job, we’re not gonna sell the company."
Mitchell Duffy is the CEO and co-founder at Cambrium, a next-generation materials company utilizing the molecular programmability of proteins to re-imagine the products you use everyday. Originally hailing from the US, he majored in Biology and Computer Science at Tufts University, did his masters in Synthetic Biology in London and his PhD in Molecular Imaging in Germany.
Shortly after finishing his PhD he became an Entrepreneur in Residence at Merantix, the ML incubator created by Adam Locher. It was here that he developed his idea for Cambrium, which he founded in 2020.
Cambrium’s crede is that biology is the most advanced tech on Earth: from robots, to swarm intelligence, to carbon removal, nature has already perfected what we are still struggling to achieve. The problem that Cambrium tackles is that materials make up 23% of greenhouse gas emissions, the vast majority of them having been gouged from the Earth, pumped from the ground or sliced from the bodies of animals. Man-made materials have, in fact, already surpassed all the biomass on Earth. Cambrium wishes to go from an extractive to a generative way of producing materials, and they plan to do so through the programming of proteins.
How do you program proteins? Well, proteins are made of 20 amino acids — you put these amino acids in different orders and you get completely different properties, different materials. Ever since the protein folding problem was solved in 2020, people have been able to program and test protein designs in their labs. Cambrium has done this with collagen, and created a completely vegan and sustainable version of it for cosmetic products.
"Materials represent 23% of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2020, the weight of man-made materials came to outweigh every biomass on Earth."
Loïc Schülé is the co-founder and CEO at denteo, a software provider for dentist offices. He studied computer science at EPFL and worked in consulting before pivoting his career and landing at Impact Hub in 2015.
He co-founded denteo in 2017 with 3 other co-founders. Loïc picked dentistry because it was an underserved niche market to which he had no prior connection, which would make failure feel less upsetting. Denteo’s cloud technology offers easy online booking for patients, a well laid-out calendar, seamless medical history, a quick way to record positions, tidy billing management and reliable recalls.
The delay in digitization within the dentistry space creates a generational divide between older dentists, who think their current systems work totally fine, and younger dentists, who are frustrated and yearning for something better. Part of denteo’s challenge is therefore to educate the market and breach this generational gap.
"Being naïve is dangerous but it’s also super exciting."
Gerhard Andrey is a Grüne Schweiz member and national councillor on the Swiss Parliament. He also co-founded the Swiss digital agency Liip, is a board member at Alternative Bank Schweiz, and has a background in engineering.
Gerhard felt drawn to politics because he strongly believes political decisions should be made democratically by individuals, and not by corporations. However, being an entrepreneur himself, he thinks politics and entrepreneurship can act in a mutually beneficial way, and he’s especially passionate about SME’s potential to drive real positive societal impact. He’s a fan of the Verantwortungseigentum movement and thinks companies should be “owned by” their purpose and not their capital — he would like to see the development of a new legal structure in Switzerland to represent this kind of company.
At Liip he’s had to say no to a long list of opportunities because of his commitment to not harm planet Earth. Recently, Liip has also begun to strive to live up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Gerhard is also adamant about maintaining a healthy work-life balance, both for his own sake and for the sake of his children.
He’s currently working on creating a Swiss green bank which would finance cleantech projects.
"I don’t believe in a Unicorn economy."
"SMEs are the most important companies for generating positive contributions to society."
"To make Switzerland more startup we shouldn’t try to replicate Silicon Valley’s unicorn economy. We need to grow sustainably and look beyond pure financials. We have the brains, we have the universities. So let’s do it."
Robert Lauko is the co-founder and CEO at Liquity, a decentralized protocol that enables interest-free borrowing on the blockchain. He studied Microengineering at EPFL but then switched to Law at UZH. Robert worked for several years as a lawyer before pivoting to blockchain research. He worked as a researcher at DFNITY for 2 years before creating his own venture.
To understand what Liquity allows you to do, let’s compare two lending scenarios:
1. You take out a loan from a bank to buy something like a house or a car. Whatever you have bought will then serve as collateral for the bank, meaning that if you default on your loan (= fail to pay it back), the thing you bought gets taken away and is sold by the bank, so that the bank can cover its costs.
2. You buy Ether and place it in the Liquity platform (or simply use the Ether you already owned), and then you take out a loan against it, meaning the Ether is your loan’s collateral. The loan you take out is in LUSD, a fully backed stablecoin pegged to the US Dollar that's maintained by an algorithmic monetary policy. The value of the Ether has to be 110% of the loan, otherwise you can get liquidated. You pay no interest and there is no repayment schedule.
"It’s yet to be seen how sustainable the NFT craze is, but I don’t think it makes DeFi redundant. There are good ways for combining the two, and either way there’s enough space for the both of them."
Roland Siegwart is a professor of Autonomous Systems at ETH Zurich and board member for Sevensense Robotics, NZZ, Komax and Evatec. He has been a visiting scientist at both EPFL and Stanford, and holds a PhD in Mechatronics from ETH Zurich.
Roland’s original ambition was to become an entrepreneur; however, he does not regret having become a professor instead, since teaching at ETH Zurich has allowed him to help and watch grow a vast number of startups.
Roland attributes ETH Zurich’s prominent role in the Swiss startup scene to the very clever students that it successfully attracts, and he suggests that if we want to further motivate students to become entrepreneurs, we should first and foremost offer them role models. He also would like to see ETH Zurich collaborate more with business-focused schools like HSG, so that the expertise of tech and business leads can be brought together.
Roland is not of the opinion that every Swiss startup needs to scale massively. However, if scaling massively is the goal, then two things are needed:
Founders must change their Swiss mentality and relinquish the desire of staying in control. Switzerland shouldn’t necessarily mimic Silicon Valley, but it needs to be faster to get bigger, and there is a lot of outstanding tech for us to do this. More financial support is naturally required.
"If you want to build a perfect product, you’ll never be on the market."
"In order to motivate students to become entrepreneurs, we need to give them role models. And we have to create a stronger link between established companies and startups."
Oliver Ganz is the co-founder and CTO at Testing Time, a UX test and market research recruiter founded in 2015. Oliver has a Masters in Computer Science and previously worked at Amazee Labs and Doodle, at the latter of which he met Reto Lämmler. Testing Time was acquired by the Norstat Group in 2021.
Reto and Oliver’s goal was to create the “uber” of UX testing. Market research is a rather old business which has, in many ways, missed the digitization wave: many companies still keep an excel sheet of test users whom they have to manually call and screen — Reto found this to be a huge pain at Doodle.
Testing Time, on the other hand, allows UX departments to get a direct contact with their target audience and test their products and services in an early stage, saving them not only time but also money. Testing Time’s target customers are UX teams and project managers across several industries, from banks to B2Cs.
They have several ways of finding test users:
- Organically: test users google how to create an additional income stream and find Testing time.
- Through campaigns: LinkedIn ads, Facebook ads, and sometimes even paper flyers.
- Through referrals: good test users can refer their friends and have them join the platform.
Testing Time pays users in real cash (through Paypal or eBank transactions) and the pricing for companies is based on the target group (how difficult the profiles are to find). For more info on their pricing, check out our episode with Reto Lämmler.
In order to prevent future technical challenges, Oliver recommends:
- To pick well-known programming languages and frameworks. The tech you pick should outlive your startup, otherwise you risk having to migrate stuff and incur huge costs.
- Not to fall into the trap of trying to do everything yourself. Don’t build your own CRM software or your own call center — use cloud services for all they’re worth. They may be pricey at times, but it’ll pay off in the end.
"Building a startup means proving your idea at every level. First you solve your own problem, then you find the first paying customers, and then you start scaling."
Lars Mangelsdorf is co-founder and CCO at Yokoy, the all-in-one spending management solution automating the expenses, invoice & credit card processes of medium and large firms. He previously worked as a Senior Account Executive at Beekeeper.
After successfully raising over $100M in less than a year, Yokoy is now focusing on expanding its team, and has grown from 40 to 200 employees in the past few months. Lars is no longer down in the sales trenches nowadays but more so focusing on Yokoy’s international expansion and scaling up the team.
In order to scale up their team, Yokoy works with both an internal recruiting team and external recruiters (for foreign markets). They’ve also begun having monthly company-wide updates, where things like strategy and funding updates are discussed. A new communication strategy has been put in place to make sure processes go through the right people and not everyone is stuck in meetings all day long.
"Sometimes when a company grows very fast, you try to include everyone in every meeting, and end up with your whole team in meetings all day long. That’s not good."
Peter Schnürer is the CEO at daura, a digital equity platform which helps companies keep a digital share registry. Peter has a background in Business Administration and has worked for several banks and IT companies.
60% of Swiss companies aren’t sure their share register is correct — with daura, not only can you avoid this issue, but you can in fact manage the whole company lifecycle, from founding, to fundraising (which necessitates printing shares to sell them to people), to shareholder assemblies (which are significantly facilitated by having shares printed as tokens) to an exit scenario (where shares will of course be sold).
Listeners should note, however, that daura is not like a stock exchange: a stock exchange is a secondary market, where shares that have already been printed may be traded; daura, on the other hand, focuses on printing the shares and distributing them to shareholders, who may then decide to sell these in a secondary market or transfer them to another person.
daura’s business model consists of charging issuing companies a yearly fee for their share register, an additional fee for running a capital increase, and an additional fee for doing a general assembly.
"The blockchain empowers people to be responsible for their own assets and not rely on 3rd parties."
Olivier Laplace has been a partner at the VC fund VI Partners since early 2022. He previously worked as head of corporate VC at Swiss Post and founded a company called Balumpa, which provided users a geo-localized social network. Throughout the years, his investor portfolio has included companies like TestingTime, Beekeeper and guuruu.
At VI partners Olivier mostly invests in B2B SaaS. His typical day as a VC includes:
- 2-3 phone calls with new potential companies
- 2-3 calls with potential co-investors
- A few random calls, like helping portfolio companies with day-to-day issues
A common complaint within the Swiss ecosystem is that there isn’t enough gross capital. Olivier thinks this should be solved in two ways:
- Swiss pension funds need to start investing in VC. There’s 1 trillion CHF in the Swiss pension fund system. Nowadays 1% of that (10B) goes into private equity, but very international private equity, and mostly into the buyouts.
- Building innovation in-house might not be the best way to do it anymore, so Swiss corporations need to buy out more startups. Despite popular perception, IPOs are very rare ends to the startup journey — it’s mostly tradesales.
"In 15 years of work experience, I changed careers about 5 times — these changes were always based on opportunities."
Patrizia Laeri is a business journalist and the co-founder and CEO of elleXX, an independent money media platform for women. She studied business administration and then went on to start her journalism career in 2003 at SRF. During her time in Swiss television she reported on a number of subjects, like the World Economic Forum, Nobel Prize winners, and countries like Iran and North Korea. In 2020 she joined CNN Switzerland as editor in chief, only to see it declare bankruptcy soon after.
In that same year, she decided to launch her own company, elleXX. Being well aware of the dire financial situation of Swiss women (56% of which are not able to support themselves independently), Patrizia was tired of simply raising alarm on the issue and wanted instead to become a part of the solution.
Besides the financial independence issue, it is also a fact that Swiss women invest much less money than men, are very rarely targeted by wealth management companies (with 86% of them addressing men), and receive less than 1% of Swiss venture capital. During the pandemic, Swiss women also quit their jobs in larger numbers than men.
elleXX has a few ideas on how to foster female financial independence:
Offering financial literacy courses: to fix a problem, you first must understand it. elleXX regularly offers “money hacks” courses. Raising awareness about the importance of the 3a pillar: lots of Swiss women don’t have 3a insurance. Together with Vontobel, elleXX offers you a 3a pension solution to help you make sensible provisions. Offering legal protection against gender-based work discrimination: if you’re a Swiss woman in the workplace, chances are you’ll need a lawyer at some point throughout your career. Together with CAP, elleXX offers you legal advice and representation in court.
"25 years ago I didn’t know any founders personally, let alone female founders."
"35 years ago Swiss women couldn’t open a bank account without the signature of their husbands."
Laura Matter is the co-founder and CEO of noii, a video chat-based dating app. noii combines sophisticated algorithms with psychological know-how to find suitable partners and then allows you to join them on a video chat speed dating round. You are then free to follow-up with the people you click with. Laura has a background in marketing and created noii out of a personal dissatisfaction with the available dating apps.
From her recent experience fundraising for noii, Laura recommends raising money from people who already know you, because then you don’t have to convince them of your virtues as much — they already know you’re a hard worker with integrity. She also recommends focusing on landing a lead investor, since it exponentially smoothes things along. Despite the difficulties, Laura is of the opinion that compared to building a product, fundraising is nothing.
Laura praises the amount of info available on the internet about starting a company in Switzerland, but she wishes there were more transparency between older and younger founders. She can also speak to the Swiss female entrepreneur experience — check out her recent article for the elleXX blog here.
"B2C is difficult in Switzerland. There’s not a lot of Swiss investors who invested in B2C success stories."
Heiner Grüter is the CEO at Meridium Partners, a strategy and M&A consultancy company. He was previously the CEO at UNIC, one of Switzerland’s first digital agencies and one of the Swiss Startup Mafia’s “mother” companies, having given rise to major players like Rentouch, Students.ch, Fashion Days and Qmram.
But why was UNIC so special?
Timing: UNIC employees were weathering the boom and bust storms of that era, and this gave them a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. Hiring: UNIC made a point of hiring only very talented people. Founding team: the UNIC founders were very entrepreneurial themselves, and cultivated that sort of environment.
Why should you sell your company?
- You should sell your company if you believe somebody else would be a better owner for it than its current shareholders.
- You should not sell your company simply because you’re tired and want somebody to take your job. This results in a fire sale, usually with very mediocre results.
What’s the right time to sell your company?
You need to wait long enough for your company to build a track record: KPIs and other metrics which show the strength of your business and support your projection of its future. It’s okay to go into a financing round without a track record, but never an M&A process. Don’t wait so long that you run out of cash half-way through the M&A process. Time pressure to finish the deal is something you want to avoid at all costs, or you’ll risk ending up with a pretty crappy deal.
"Selling your company means you believe someone out there is a better owner for it than your current shareholders."
"Being successful in Switzerland doesn’t say a lot about your expansion potential."
As founder and managing partner at DART labs, Sophie is a Silicon Valley VC with Swiss roots. She and her team focus on finding the best European technology startups and turning them into global players. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, she worked in media relations. In a livestream with Swisspreneur host Silvan, she answered some of the most common fundraising questions, like:
Is your company VC-backable?
- First things first: if you can scale your startup by bootstrapping it, don’t take investors in. How scalable is your company? And how scalable would you like it to be? VC money only goes to the most scalable companies. The goal of every VC is to have an investment be an entire fund returner — that’s how they look at startups.
Should you choose a VC fund or a business angel?
- Both can work: it really depends on your case. Look for the person with the most insider knowledge/network in your industry. If that person happens to be a business angel, great. If it’s a VC fund, that’s great too.
How many investors should you talk to?
- As many as you can handle. Your goal as a fundraising startup is to create FOMO (fear of missing out) in investors. If you’re only talking to one, he or she will feel perfectly at ease to drag things out, but if you’re talking to several investors simultaneously, each of them will be afraid that you’ll close a deal with someone else. Doing this in a condensed timeframe will allow you to really build up momentum.
What’s an inflection point?
- An inflection point is anything that validates your business in the eyes of an investor.
- Examples: Entering a new market, launching the next version of your product, acquiring a big customer, reaching time milestones, sheer growth, etc.
"The goal of every VC is to have an investment be an entire fund returner. That’s how they look at startups."
"Getting into Y Combinator can mean the difference between being valued at 6 million or 15 million."
Zeki Bulgurcu ist der Gründer von Swissmeme und Zekisworld. Aufgewachsen in Basel, startet Zeki seine berufliche Laufbahn mit einer Berufslehre als Detailhandelsfachmann. Seine ersten Memes veröffentlicht er 2013 - schnell entwickelt sich sein Instagram Kanal "Swissmeme" zu einer festen Grösse in der Schweizer Social Media Szene. Neben Instagram ist der Meme-König persönlich, aber auch mit weiteren Comedy Profilen auf Facebook, Youtube und TikTok unterwegs. Nicht selten zählen diese Accounts mehrere 100'000 Follower und so ist der Baselbieter einer, wenn nicht der erfolgreichste "Social Media Typ" der Schweiz. Dank des starken Personal Brands, welchen er sich in den letzten Jahren aufgebaut hat, ist er immer wieder als Werbegesicht in Online aber auch Offline Medien zu sehen.
Neben über zehn erfolgreichen Social Media Accounts hat Zeki Bulgurcu eine eigene Sucuk Wurst, welche in vielen Migros Filialen zu finden ist. Zudem plant er aktuell einen eignen Kino-Film.
"Hör auf dein Bauchgefühl. Wenn du eine Leidenschaft hast, welcher du in deiner Freizeit gerne nachgehst - bleib dran! Vielleicht explodiert es und du kannst ein Business daraus aufbauen."
"Als ich kündete und auf Social Media setzte, sagten alle 'Du spinnst doch'. Doch das machen einige heute immer noch."
Olga Dubey is the co-founder and CEO of AgroSustain, a one-stop-shop solution for biological plant protection. She’s originally from Russia and came to Switzerland for her PhD in Plant Pathology, during which she met her husband and future AgroSustain co-founder.
AgroSustain produces natural, biological crop protection solutions. These solutions serve to reduce food waste by preventing the formation of molds both in the field and on the shelf. The product, which is invisible and does not smell, creates a very thin barrier around the food which leads it to reduce its respiration — according to Olga, this is the plant equivalent of “falling asleep”.
"A researcher isn’t just someone who sits in a lab all day. It’s someone who’s constantly developing their analytical abilities."
"When you run a startup, you learn something new every day. You never get bored."