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."
Estella Benz is the co-founder and CEO at Skin Match, a retail technology which uses AI to take the beauty industry to the next level. In her university studies she combined marketing with the beauty industry, after failing to get into her desired fashion design school. Her interest in the beauty industry stems from the fact that it just takes a miniscule difference in a brand’s angle for this brand to find a completely new market, even if the industry as a whole seems saturated.
The predecessor to Skin Match was RUE CINQ, a luxury eCommerce store which targeted customers’ specific needs through its powerful algorithm. However, soon enough Estella started being asked by other brands for the use of this algorithm, and this was what in the end truly became a business, under the name Skin Match.
Skin Match offers beauty quizzes for brands’ websites, an “INCI-Explainer” for every single ingredient on the website (which is of course based on their growing product and ingredient database), and “beauty insight” — the google analytics of beauty products. Whatever new feature or tool they push out first gets tested by 100 customers with their likes. Estella recommends that you never assume you’ve reached product-market fit definitively, and that you be willing to ask the questions you don’t want the answers to. She says oftentimes founders know what’s wrong with their products, but aren’t willing to go through all the work required to fix them.
"We could earn a lot of money in corporate. But we still believe that entrepreneurship is the right path, and that keeps us going."
"Be open to ask the questions you don’t want the answers to."
Simone Riedel Riley is the general manager at the Swiss Technology Fund, which grants loan guarantees to Swiss cleantech startups. She got her MBA from UZH and also studied at Harvard and Indiana University. She then came back to Switzerland to work as a CFO for a number of companies, before joining Emerald Technology Ventures in 2010.
In 2014 Emerald Technology Ventures won a mandate by the Swiss government: as part of the passing of a CO2 law, the government wished to set up a fund which would help cleantech startups receive loans from banks, and ETV won the mandate together with South Pole. So the Swiss Technology Fund was born.
The companies the Swiss Technology Fund works with are 90% startups and 10% SMEs. Most of these startups would simply not get a bank loan without the fund’s help, and while the SMEs could eventually secure themselves a loan, they would certainly have to pay higher interest rates without the Swiss Technology Fund’s stamp of approval.
Why does the Swiss Technology Fund facilitate loans instead of equity rounds? Because the Swiss government did not wish to get too involved: with loan guarantees, the government only has to pay in the case of a default. In the case of a default, the government formally becomes that company’s new lender, and the bankruptcy administrators take a couple of years to fully dissolve the company, selling all the assets. The Swiss Technology Fund receives nothing, but that is a risk they are willing to take: out of 135 companies, only 7 have thus far defaulted on their loans.
The fund can also help companies by providing contacts from their wide cleantech network, in case of a funding round. To receive the guarantee, companies pay the fund an annual fee of 0.9% of the loan guarantee. Then of course they also pay an interest rate for the loan, which usually lands somewhere between 1 and 2% — quite cheap, compared to equity. Companies are also required to submit quarterly and annual reporting to the fund, as they would to any investor.
"If we only support high-flyers, then we’re not doing our job as a startup fund. We should support the startups that actually need us."
"The climate crisis won’t be solved by technological innovation alone."
Ivan Cossu is the co-founder and CEO at Deskbird, a people-centric solution for a hybrid workspace. He has a background in economics and worked for a number of banks and consulting companies before venturing out onto entrepreneurship.
Deskbird came about during the start of the pandemic: Ivan and his co-founder Jonas Hess quickly came to the conclusion that Covid would cause a huge disruption in the workplace, and initially planned to tackle this with a B2B co-working marketplace. However, upon gathering customer feedback, they decided to pivot it to its current model, where each office is exclusive to each company but employees can book desks as they please for their in-office days.
Ivan is a strong believer that a strong culture can be built remotely just as well as in-office, as long as the team actively works to build it. Remote-first teams also benefit from much bigger talent pools, which may grant an advantage culture wise in the long run.
"I believe you can have a stronger company culture in a remote setting than in an in-person setting."
"As a remote-first company, you have a much wider talent pool."
Soumya Dash is the co-founder and CEO of Sleepiz, a startup which produces remote sleep monitoring devices. Originally from India, he grew up constantly relocating to different regions of this country due to his father’s job, and this allowed him to develop an incredible degree of adaptability. This adaptability was then put to good use when he chose to do his masters at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology as a fully funded scholar.
During his masters he visited Switzerland as an Erasmus student. Soumya’s time there made such an impression on him that when the time came to choose were he would do his PhD, he turned down an offer from Stanford to study at ETH.
It was during the last years of his PhD that he started Sleepiz, which leverages the power of sleep insights with a device that is simply placed next to the bed. The device operates in a non-contact fashion and measures movements originating from heart contractions and breathing patterns, as well as body motions with medical grade accuracy. This is quite simply the first time we’re able to measure cardiopulmonar activity without actually touching the body.
Sleepiz is catered towards respiratory illnesses, namely sleep apnea. Most people who suffer from sleep apnea do not get diagnosed, which is concerning considering that this condition makes it likely that at some point in their lives these people will suffer a fatal stroke. However, even if people do make an effort to be diagnosed, it is a cumbersome process involving a night at a sleep clinic with a bunch of wires strapped onto you. Sleepiz has come to change all of that.
"I lived in many different places throughout my whole life. This has made me capable of seamlessly fitting into any environment."
"I don’t think I’m the type of person that takes no for an answer, at face value."
"We’re risk takers but not stupid ones. We needed to ask ourselves: is the impact worth all the pain?"
START global, the (nowadays) international organization promoting entrepreneurship among young people, was co-founded by Hermann during his Zwischenjahr at HSG. The inspiration for it was actually another project of his: during this time Hermann also created a computing school for kids in his home country, Austria; he then felt it was necessary to create role models for these kids, so that they would feel they had more career options than going into banking or consulting. He himself comes from a family of entrepreneurs and feels this area is a much better use of great talent than areas like finance, seeing as they nowadays don’t provide much value to people, according to Hermann.
In 2000, after finishing his studies, he co-founded btov — brainstoventures, a matchmaking platform to connect great companies with great venture capital. The founding team, Hermann reflects, underestimated how difficult it would be to make money with their business model — they wanted to take a cut from the equity the way Y Combinator does, but after one year they realized this model wasn’t going to work for them and they had to pivot.
Coincidentally, companies had previously approached the btov team saying it would be great to have their matchmaking software to use with their own employees, as they had little clue about the skills their people had. And that’s how btov was pivoted into the HR software Umantis, one of the first Swiss Software as a Service companies. In 2014 Umantis merged with the Haufe group: after realizing that one of their competitors was going public in 2011 with 30M revenue, 45M losses and an evaluation of 1B (which were crazy numbers back then), the Umantis team knew it was their time to start actively pursuing an exit scenario.
"When doing business, you should always be very clear with your terms and write them down — especially if you’re doing business with friends."
"It’s hard to see your company go in a direction you don’t agree with."
Click here to answer the 2022 Swisspreneur Survey.
And if you want to meet Carlo and Silvan in person, join us at the Unfold Conference.
Carlo Badini is a co-founder and CEO at Pabio, the startup which allows you to decorate your apartment with high-quality furniture through a monthly subscription. He studied Business Administration and Psychology at the Universität Bern.
Back in high school, he wanted to be a movie director, and so borrowed money from his parents to buy an expensive DSLR camera. To pay back his loan, he began producing short explainer videos for companies around Bern — and so Cleverclip was born. After graduating, Carlo took a gap year to focus on Cleverclip and travel, and it was by traveling that Carlo realized his privilege as a middle class Swiss person, and decided to put his “luck” to good use. While at university, he bootstrapped Cleverclip as a solo founder, which he nowadays does not recommend.
In 2020 he decided to step down from his role as CEO at Cleverclip to start a new venture: Pabio. The idea for Pabio is based on the premise that it’s cheaper to rent high-quality furniture than to periodically replace “fast” (= low-quality) furniture. In case a customer really likes a piece, they can eventually buy it out. Carlo says that this is obviously the best option for the customer, and that Pabio can afford to lose out on that recurring revenue.
In 2021 Pabio got accepted into Y Combinator’s Summer Batch. Carlo relates that though very expensive (Y Combinator takes 7% for a post-valuation of 2.1M), it was a really great experience: in 3 months Pabio tripled its sales and learned how to grow fast while still focusing on market fit; afterwards they raised a great seed round from both European and US investors.
"Entrepreneurship is one of the most efficient ways to change the world."
"Usually the problems you don't anticipate are the ones that actually end up making your life more difficult."
Click here to answer the 2022 Swisspreneur Survey.
Lena Jüngst and Simon Nuesch are the co-founders of Air Up, a revolutionary scent-based drinking system. Lena has a background in product design and Simon studied technology, management and business administration. They both come from Germany.
During her bachelor's, Lena and fellow student Tim Jäger stumbled upon the topic of retronasal smell (tasting with your nose) when they were looking for a topic for their bachelor's thesis. Their interest led them to connecting this topic with our modern diet, which is currently both a huge threat to our health and to the environment.
Our early evolutionary history taught us that food which tastes nice is good for us, but today that is certainly no longer the case. So if you want the sensory benefits of drinking a fizzy drink without the health and environmental costs, what do you do? You trick your brain into thinking water tastes like a fizzy drink, of course.
Air Up's first prototype was simply putting one straw inside a cup full of water and another straw inside a scent diffuser and slurping both simultaneously. This was the rudimentary beginning of the "pods'' for sale today, which can be conveniently attached to water bottles.
"Sustainability is THE product design question right now."
"Entrepreneurship means feeling constantly overwhelmed and constantly fascinated by your work."
Pascal Koenig is the co-founder, former CEO and current board member at AVA women, a startup manufacturing wearable fertility trackers for women. He studied business in St Gallen and New York and worked at McKinsey for a few years before being invited by one of his university professors to join a startup project — Cardiosave.
After having started 4 companies, here’s some of the advice Pascal has for young entrepreneurs:
- Pick your co-founders very carefully. Most people do so randomly or without much thought. Having studied alongside them and being confident in how knowledgeable they are is not a good enough reason;
- When building your product, don’t strive for perfection right away and know that ideas aren’t worth much. The real magic happens when you buckle down, get it done, and then iterate, iterate, iterate;
- Switzerland is more or less the same country whether you live on 100’000 or 1’000’000 CHF. So if you’re hesitant whether or not to take the entrepreneurial leap, take it;
- The best place to start when building a product is with a real problem that you know quite well.
"If you’re not embarrassed when you launch your first product, it’s too late to launch it."
"Switzerland is more or less the same country, whether you live with 100’000 or with 1’000’000."
Boris Manhart is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Growth Unltd, a company that helps scale your business. He was previously involved with CodeCheck and Numbrs, and studied for a couple of years at the Universität Zürich.
Boris is actually a university dropout: he quit after 2 years of studying to co-found the communication and promotion agency Compresso AG, which he ended up leading for 10 years. When looking back, he thinks a university education may give you a good background, but it's not all that's necessary to turn you into a successful entrepreneur.
Despite having co-founded Numbrs and Compresso AG, Boris has also been the external CEO at several companies, namely CodeCheck and TRIQ. This can sometimes be a challenge, because founders typically look at their startup as their baby and have a very hard time establishing emotional distance and creating space for someone else to come in and take things in a new direction.
Here are 5 things Boris wished he'd known before starting his first company:
- You shouldn't start without a solid foundation: what kind of values do you want to share with your team? What is the purpose of this company? What skills do you need to build a company that is successful?
- Choose your core team wisely: it is more important that people add strength to the company through their personality than through any specific skill.
- Leadership is not a competition: learn to delegate responsibility and to worry more about the team's collective talent than your own personal abilities.
- Stick to best practices: data based approaches always win. Find proof for your hypotheses!
- Listen to your gut feeling: though this contradicts the fourth point, there are certain situations in which you simple have no data. In those cases, trust your deepest instincts.
"If you do something out of passion, it usually turns out well."
"There is always a better you. Be willing to learn."
"As a founder, you should never pay too much attention to compliments."
Before joining VNTR, Alice's work at Postfinance consisted of trend scouting the data economy in San Francisco. Alice and her colleagues were interested in discovering which US startups and research projects would end up having an impact on Europe, and especially on Switzerland.
Lorena's main project is miira, a solution to optimize your pension with just a few clicks. Lorena's research told her that financial security and the ability to keep up living standards is a rising concern, even in Switzerland, and that due to a lack of transparency on the part of official entities, and the lack of an incentive to start saving, Swiss people do so too little too late. Out of this research, the "DESIRE" (Design Your Retirement) was born, but as it had an over-abundance of features, Lorena and her team simplified it into an MVP which tells user what their income is going to be upon retirement, and whether there is a gap between their ideal standard of living and that income. This MVP would later become miira.
Another one of VENTR's initiatives was the "Failure" and "Success" books — the former originated from a huge excel file a co-worker of Alice once had to compile, listing every innovation project VENTR ever did and at what stage it failed. The 500 copies originally printed turned into 2000 once HR got wind of it: they wanted every employee at Postfinance to own one, to foster a more failure-positive culture. This bred a wish for a book celebrating VNTR's successes, and so the Success book was born.
"Never fall in love with your first prototype. I've never heard of anyone whose first prototype was their golden ticket."
Markus Meyer is responsible at UBS Switzerland for payments, trade finance and leasing business. He has been working for UBS since 1996, and holds a PhD in Information & Technology Management and Banking from HSG.
According to Markus, there is no universal right timing for going international, but it is something Swiss companies should start working on as early as possible, considering the size limitation this country necessarily imposes.
Before going international, companies should take care to:
- Clearly define their USP/differentiating factor;
- Find out where their clients are, world-over;
- Ascertain what the competition is like in the countries they're looking into, and what the pricing level currently is.
Common challenges when going international:
- Sometimes you are simply not allowed to sell your product in a certain country, especially countries which already rely heavily on imports and therefore wish to protect their economy;
- Even if you are allowed to sell in a certain country, you will have to face different rules, regulations and taxes;
- Regarding distribution, companies would do well to remember that mindset changes greatly from country to country. Are you really catering to local needs? Are you falling into the (typically Swiss) trap of over-engineering?
"If you're a Swiss entrepreneur with a good idea, you have no choice but to go international."
Martin Eichenhofer is the co-founder and CEO at 9T Labs, a startup making 3D printed carbon composites for high volume production. He has an impressive academic background, with one BA, one MA, one MBA and one PhD under his belt.
His university path is actually deeply tied to his entrepreneurial career, since the idea for 9T labs occurred to him during his masters, his MBA was motivated by his desire to build 9T labs, and he got his PhD after realizing he didn't have enough of a scientific foundation for it yet. Martin also met one of his co-founders, Chester, during his PhD.
When commercializing an idea which originated in academic research, the 9T labs team relied heavily on market insights and treated the transition as a very gradual process. They also opted to sell to different industries/application fields, instead of hunkering down on a single one. In their book, it's better to partner up with the champion companies of each industry than to pursue every single company in a given industry.
"US companies get a lot more funding than us, but the fineprint of those deals often shapes the exit negatively."
The ON team won the SEF (Swiss Economic Forum) award for Innovation in Production of Sporting Goods, which earned them the SEF.growth (at the time called SEF for KMU) label. SEF growth companies get easy access to loans from UBS, and this was how Martin and Patrick met the ON founders.
They were very impressed from the very beginning with the ON team's commitment and with their expertise: despite being a young company, they had systems and automation in place which allowed them to know their global sales with a 30 min delay — and this in the early 2010s.
ON needed the loan money in order to pre pay all their orders, since their choice to invest all revenue into growth meant that it took them a long time to start generating cash. The loan amount was adjusted periodically based on the influx of ON orders. UBS also provided expertise for the decision making process.
"If you can get get funds through loans instead of equity rounds, then that's always preferable as a startup, because it means you get to keep your baby."
Phil Libin is the co-founder and former CEO at Evernote, the world’s best known note-taking app. Prior to Evernote, he built Engine5 and CoreStreet. He holds a BA in Computer Science from Boston University, which he began in 1989 and only finished in 2019. He originally dropped out shortly before graduating.
Phil did not originally plan to become an entrepreneur, but despite his ambitions of working a steady job for a large company, he just couldn’t commit to that sort of life and instead prefered to build companies with his friends. It was only 20 years into this career that it occurred to him entrepreneurship was a valid option.
He sold his company Engine5 for $26M in January 2000, right before the dot com bubble burst. Phil was 30 years old at the time. 25% of the money earned by the founders was held in escrow for 2 years — which turned out to be a very good thing, because the remaining 75% they invested into companies which then very quickly went bust.
Around 2007, Phil and his team got to thinking about building something like a cognitive prosthesis, a second brain — the note-taking app to conquer all. Their research led them to a California team of scientists working on a very similar product, and they decided to combine the teams. Originally, Evernote was a product intended for journalists and investors.
In 2015 Phil Libin stepped down from his CEO role at Evernote (remaining as Chairman until 2016) and moved on to new projects, such as the product studio All Turtles and the video communication company mmhmm.
"As young entrepreneurs, we always felt like we were failing. Like the reason we were starting these companies was because we couldn’t get real jobs."
Thomas Hofer is the head of the transaction advisory at UBS' corporate finance department, and has been working for UBS for over 20 years. Vito Gigante has been the head of SME M&As at UBS ever since 2016.
Here are a few common mistakes when it comes to selling/buying companies:
- Sellers often underestimate the difficulty of the selling process;
- Sellers often neglect to undertake the necessary preparation (i.e., mostly the documentation process);
- Buyers often focus on the aspects they have expertise on, and neglect to ask for advice on other topics.
Thomas and Vito recommend that you sell your company while it still has a bright future ahead, and not when it's about to tank. You should also pay close attention to the political and technological zeitgeist when assessing the right time for the deal.
UBS provides transaction financing services, where they act as a sparring partner for the buyer the whole way through. Their internal experts provide a 2nd opinion on various aspects of the deal, and they also coordinate the closing process to ensure utmost transaction security.
"The best time to sell your company is as soon as a promising future comes on the horizon. Don't make the mistake of waiting too long."
Bettina Hein is the co-founder and CEO at juli Health, an app for managing chronic health conditions, and an investor at the Swiss Shark Tank Höhle der Löwen. She also co-founded START Global when studying at HSG, as well as Svox and Pixability. She’s married to Andreas Göldi, who is an investor at btov partners.
Bettina grew up in a family full of entrepreneurs and so was never short for role models; despite this, she did not feel confident to jump straight into entrepreneurship after her university studies and ended up interning and working for a series of corporates instead. She particularly remembers her unpleasant experience at McKinsey, which she says had a cutthroat environment.
During her time at HSG, she co-founded the largest student-led entrepreneurship conference in the world, START. The people she co-founded it with would go on to start btov ventures, and also put her in touch with an engineer developing text-to-speech technology - and so Svox was born.
Due to the telecom bust in 2001, Svox went through a number of difficulties, having had to fire more than half of their staff and place the rest on short time work. Despite the hardships, Svox turned the tide and was eventually sold to Nuance for $25M. By this point, Bettina and her husband Andreas decided to get a mid-career masters at MIT, and it was out of MIT that Bettina built Pixability, the video advertising software company. She left Pixability after 12 years to support her husband in moving back to Switzerland. Shortly after moving back, she was invited to star on Höhle der Löwen.
In 2020 Bettina co-founded juli Health, an app for managing chronic health conditions. Juli Health is geared towards US customers, since it aims to help compensate for the US healthcare system’s many inefficiencies.
"No one in my family ever had a 9 to 5 job, so it was rather easy for me to envision myself becoming an entrepreneur."
"Before starting my first venture, I told myself 'If this doesn't work, I can always get a job at McDonalds.'"
Fabian is an executive director and the head of special segments, credit and recovery solutions at UBS, of which he has been an employee since 2006. He has an MBA from the Chicago Booth School of Business and a BASc in Business Administration from HSG.
3 misconceptions about liquidation that he believes founders must deconstruct is the idea that liquidation is not a valuable option, the idea that liquidation is in fact a failure, and the notion that liquidation is necessarily connected to an insolvency procedure.
There are 2 types of liquidation:
- Privately initiated liquidation: your business model didn't work out, and you've chosen to shut down in style. This may even involve a sale at the end.
- Forced liquidation, under the insolvency procedure: you have not been able to pay your creditors. In this situation, you may find an agreement with the creditor and manage to have some of your debt forgiven. If you do not reach an agreement, insolvency it is.
Fabian stresses the necessity of reaching out for external psychological support should you find yourself dealing with an insolvency procedure. You do not have to bear the brunt of it by yourself — and having an external, neutral perspective on your situation may end up benefiting you more than you know.
"Liquidation does not mean insolvency, and it is not necessarily a bad thing."
Roy Bernheim is the co-founder of the men's underwear brand T-Bô, the first clothing brand to be community driven. His background is in European Social and Political studies, and after university he went on to work in private equity and brand management.
Roy and his co-founder Allan Perrottet built T-Bô in 2017. They were interested in creating a highly scalable business with a large target audience, and soon discovered that men's underwear was an interesting category from this point of view, because:
- Online businesses with a physical component need a basket size that is not too big (because then people wouldn't convert, or would take too long to) nor too small (because then it's difficult to compensate for the acquisition cost). Men's underwear had a happy medium;
- It had an interesting customer acquisition cost;
- Even if you don't establish a subscription model, men's underwear is a product people will buy more of if they like it;
- You can ship it inside an envelope up to three pieces of underwear, which is highly cost effective from a logistics standpoint.
T-Bô menswear is Direct By Consumer, meaning that the products are co-created together with the T-Bô community — they're not personalized, but they are highly subject to democratic changes based on feedback. This demand-driven production means the returns are very few and they don't have to factor in wastage into their margin structure, which allows them to have competitive prices while still maintaining a very nice margin.
"The clothing brands of the future will be built in a collaborative and open way."
The first thing Jürg thinks founders should know is that value is in itself subjective, and guided by the individual who looks at the asset. What the UBS M&A valuation desk tries to do is identify a market consensus regarding the value of this asset.
Why should you do a company valuation? To prepare for the acquisition of your company, or for the buying of equity by other parties.
What should you take into consideration?
- Do not look to big company valuations as a reference, since your knowledge about their journey and inner workings is woefully incomplete.
- Mind the difference between the value potential of your company and its time value: you cannot just calculate the supposed value of your company taking into consideration the best case scenario of your company's future progress; you have to consider all sorts of possible scenarios, good and bad, and then base your valuation on that.
To prepare for a company valuation, you should first gather all knowledge about the future of your company in a transparent and easy-to-understand way.
"Large company valuations are often taken as a reference point by startups. This can go very wrong."
At the time of Qoqa's founding, e-commerce was quite new to Switzerland and brands were extremely hesitant about it, so the first Qoqa customers were so-called "internet geeks", who, having some knowledge on the subject, were afraid of getting their credit card details stolen by e-commerce websites or things like that. The first product Qoqa ever sold was an mp3 player, which at the time was at the cutting edge of technology. Nowadays it is through its forums, email and social media interactions that Qoqa receives feedback on what sort of products to make available next.
In March 2020, during lockdown, Qoqa stepped up to the challenge by creating a platform where small brick and mortar shops and farmers could advertise their products, so that Swiss customers wouldn't just buy necessities from large companies with internet media reach. This platform, which is still up and running, is called Direqt.
"Better to try and fail than do nothing at all."
Mathis Büchi is the co-founder and chairman at the pdf software company smallpdf and the digital tax accountant Taxfix. His background is in International Business and Global Management and he previously ran a tour company organizing trips to North Korea together with an NGO. His university studies, as well, took place in Asia: he frequented the University of Hong Kong and Korea University (in South Korea).
When the political climate in North Korea intensified, his tour company came to an end and he took the trans Siberian railway train back to Switzerland, where he would go on to found smallpdf in2013. Smallpdf was bootstrapped from the very beginning, as their business model allowed them to generate enough revenue from day one to pay themselves a salary and keep things afloat.
In 2016 he co-founded Taxfix and became itsCEO, not because he had a background in taxes or any particular expertise on it, but due to the fact that he himself found taxes an aggravating an confusing task. Taxfix got started in Germany because tax filing is even more complex there, so much so that 25% of Germans don't even file their taxes, thereby losing out on an average of 1000€.
Taxfix tackles this issue by radically simplifying the process: an automated questionnaire on your phone simulates the conversation you would have with a tax accountant and the tax relevancy of your replies is then analyzed by the app.
"Building something out of nothing is what excites me the most."
Julian Liniger is the co-founder and CEO at Relai, the world's easiest Bitcoin investing app. His educational background is in Business Administration and Psychology an he has previously worked for Gsponer Consulting Group International and synfluence.
He was originally introduced to bitcoin by a nerdy friend of his, through whom Julian bought his first bitcoin. Despite having had little talent for "techy" things all his life, he eventually grew to understand cryptocurrency.
The idea for Relai came from Julian's own experience. Before, if you wanted to start buying or trading bitcoin, you had to:
- Find an exchange and create an account, which required uploading all of your personal info and having it checked, which took a couple of days;
- Wiring money from the bank to the exchange and waiting for that process to be completed, so that you could then exchange the money into bitcoin;
- Creating a wallet, then withdrawing the bitcoin from the exchange to the wallet (since exchanges — and the bitcoin that is stored within them — are at the mercy of hackers).
The whole process took about 1-2 weeks and required 2-3 different service providers.
The fact that the process needed to be simplified was a no brainer. Together with his co-founder Adem Bilican, Julian started the pre-seed fundraising process. It took them 5 months to raise a meager 20k. In hindsight, Julian blames his lack of track record and the typical Swiss hesitancy, but also the fact that they were approaching the wrong investors: people who didn't understand crypto and sometimes weren't even that interested in fintech.
Once they got the money, Adem and Julian built the MVP in 3 months and went live — from this point onwards, investors were the ones approaching them. And it's no wonder: Relai allows you start buying, trading and saving bitcoin within just 1 minute, and they don't even need to know your name.
"More than half of Gen Zs and Millennials say they'll be investing in bitcoin. These are the people who are gonna control more than half of all money in the future."
Lorenzo Arizzoli-Bulato is the co-founder and managing director at LINIA, a startup manufacturing drone software for power line inspection. His educational background is in Electrical Engineering and before starting LINIA in 2018 he worked for companies such as IASTE, Axpo Group and EWZ.
Despite being in a rather niche market, Lorenzo has no trouble finding customers, in part because he knows the problem and buyer persona intimately (having worked in the industry for a while himself), and in part because power grid operators are under a lot of pressure:
- Due to the climate emergency, weather impact on power grid infrastructure is worsening;
- Due to decarbonization, more and more traffic is being brought to existing power grids;
- Building new power lines is usually met with quite a lot of resistance from local communities, so operators are wary to do so;
- The time frame for maintenance work is getting shorter as more and more people need to use electricity all of the time.
In November 2021 LINIA won the Energy Startup Day 1st place Public Choice Award.
"I see companies which offer similar products more as partners than as competitors."
Elisabete Ramalho is an international executive with 20 years of experience in digital transformation, technology, manufacturing and consumer goods, who is currently active as an industry lead at Google.
For Elisabete, strategy is, naturally, about making choices. These choices should be informed by answers to the following questions:
- What is my product really about?
- How am I gonna market it?
- Should I target B2B? B2C? B2B2C?
When answering these questions, there is no exact "right" or "wrong" answer; only answers which mean accruing more or less risk.
Another thing which needs to serve as your strategy's compass is the value proposition. If you have yet to land on a definitive value proposition, consider these questions:
- Does your product already exist in the market?
- Could your success be detonated by lower prices from the competition?
- Do you have a core competence relevant to building this product?
Speaking of competition: Elisabete recommends that you be aware of what they are doing, but that you don't fixate on it — you only know what their current and past moves are, not what they're ultimately aiming at, so you may severely misinterpret their actions.
When drafting an actual plan, try to answer these three points:
- Where are you going?
- How much do you need?
- What role will each team member have?
You might also want to work with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). Your annual OKRs should tie in with the team OKRs, which in turn connect to the individual OKRs. When setting goals, do so in a way that will push you out of your comfort zone. If you know full well you'll reach them, then those aren't goals — they're a checklist!
Lastly: allow your team members to shape the company strategy with you. They'll be more personally committed to achieving the goals if they themselves had a role in determining them.
"The right product to sell isn't necessarily the cheapest one. Because when you start pricing down, you cannot price up again."
"If you set yourself goals you know you will reach, then those aren't goals. It's a checklist."
Oliver Huber is the founder and CEO of Nomady, a Swiss sustainable camping platform. Previously he worked for VP Bank and Schwyzer Kantonalbank, and has a background in Business Admin, Finance and Banking from Hochschule Luzern.
Oliver has always been an outdoors and camping enthusiast, so the Nomady idea — landowners becoming hosts and renting out their campsites — seemed only natural to him. Having successfully flipped a house in the past, he had enough capital to quit his day job and start going all in on Nomady from day one.
When answering whether Nomady is capitalizing on the sustainable tourism craze, Oliver replied that wanting to get away from crowded places and connect with nature has always been a human necessity, so the growth of this market comes as no surprise. He also feels a responsibility to play his part in answering the climate emergency.
He began in earnest by going around his hometown and pitching the idea to landowners — 5 or 6 of them said yes and this allowed him to test his MVP. His first customers had a very positive experience, and word of mouth really helped Nomady expand, as well as some Facebook posts from Oliver himself.
Covid had both a positive and negative effect on his business: on the one hand, when the pandemic crisis began in March 2020 Oliver was in the middle of negotiations with investors, after having spent 1 year and a half bootstrapped, and his investors immediately quit. But on the other hand, since during the pandemic people couldn't travel abroad and felt safer vacationing in remote places, Nomady came as a perfect solution for their tourism needs.
"It was important for me to have real entrepreneurs on the board and as investors, because in an early stage you need to call them up and ask them difficult questions."
Elisabete Ramalho is an international executive with 20 years of experience in digital transformation, technology, manufacturing and consumer goods, who is currently active as an industry lead at Google.
Elisabete's maternal grandparents were a big inspiration for her. They ran a successful bakery in a small town in Portugal during the 50s and travelled all over the world. Elisabete's grandparents taught her the value of working hard and of staying humble, and also of intimately knowing the needs of each of your clients — they knew everyone's name and order as soon as they walked through the door.
During her career Elisabete has formed a clear opinion on what it takes to be a good leader. According to her, a good leader:
- Allows their team members to co-create the company strategy;
- Is always ready to acknowledge they're wrong, and always eager to learn;
- Focuses on a person's strengths when giving feedback;
- Avoids biased language and promotes diversity in hiring;
- Makes people feel comfortable enough to speak up, and gives credit where credit is due.
At Google, good leadership is measured by cross checking someone's annual performance review with employee retention, talent acquisition and team satisfaction rates.
"If you have the right people on your team, goals should be co-created. It can't just be up to one person to decide."
Philippe Willi is a co-founder and CFO/COO at TrekkSoft, a booking solution for the tour and activities market. He studied business administration at HSG and soon after started his first business, the web agency zimtkorn, together with DeinDeal co-founder Adrian Locher and Valentin Binnedijk. There they built websites for SMEs.
In 2007 he met Jon Fauver, a former raft guide and American living in Switzerland, who invited Philippe to join him at the water sports company Outdoor Interlaken. Then in 2010, Philippe and his old co-founder Valentin started TrekkSoft, as a booking solution for Outdoor Interlaken. They even put in their own money, to ensure they really had skin in the game.
TrekkSoft's main innovative feature was its "book now" button — though nowadays it seems absolutely obvious, this button was at the time quite revolutionary.
Philippe describes finding product-market fit as a moment when things suddenly just click, and you can stop relying solely on assumptions. However, Trekksoft's whole addressable market was rather large, so this product-market fit was only truly valid for certain market segments. Since trying to address the whole market with just one service seemed too risky to them, they opted instead for acquiring a number of competitors which addressed other market segments, and used investor money to do so.
Being in the travel industry, the TrekkSoft Group was hit hard by Corona. Though one company in their group made 1M in net profit in 2020, the group overall lost 30% of its revenue (which put them close to breakeven) and had to let go of a number of employees. Several other employees left of their own accord due to the lack of immediate careers prospects.
"Solving your own problem means product-market fit comes easier. But it also might result in conflicts of interest."
Urs Aebischer is the CEO at Diseo, a decentralized ecosystem of interconnected social platforms of brands and organizations where users exclusively control their data and earn from it. Urs is also the co-founder and CEO at Swiss Impulse Group, which focuses on disruptive digital media. He has a background in Physics.
Urs has always been one to search out new ideas. Back in 1995, when he was getting his PhD in Atmospheric Physics at the ETH, he was one of the first people to have an email address. In today's world of ubiquitous social media networks, Urs (as well as many others) has identified a problem: people's data is being harvested, used and monetized by third parties, without people ever receiving any sort of compensation for the value they provide. Urs does not believe we can legislate our way out of this; the social dilemma requires a solution built from the ground up.
That's why he created Diseo. On Diseo, sharing data and giving something your attention creates revenue which can be shared between up to 16 different people. Every time a user clicks on an advertisement, they earn income for doing it and for giving permission to be targeted by this advertiser. When a user clicks an ad, they also see which of their friends have already bought the product/used the service — this is what Urs calls "social selling". Users can also recommend ads to their friends, who, if they see it, will also receive money. Every single action in favor of the product creates a revenue share.
Additionally, both users and companies on Diseo have a trust rating and get to rate each other. If a company uses child labor, they get downvoted. Urs hopes that through this process dialogue and reform will follow.
"Facebook and Google could easily copy what we're doing. But that would ruin their entire business model."
Alain Chuard is a Swiss serial entrepreneur best known as the founder and Chief product officer of Wildfire Interactive, the social media marketing technology company acquired by Google in July 2012. At Google, Alain was responsible for overseeing Wildfire’s strategy, integration into Google’s Display Ads Division, and external representation of the product. He also co-created Swisspreneur with Christian Hirsig in 2016.
Here are some of his answers to every founder's burning questions:
- What's the ideal founder team? Alain prefers 2 founder teams with complementary skills: 1 product rockstar with an eye for design and strategy, and 1 marketing and sales machine. The founders should of course also share similar values.
- Where should I search for my co-founder? Look for high talent-density places, like Ivy League universities, On Deck Fellowship and Y Combinator.
- When should I quit my day job? Keep your day job during the idea validation phase, but go all in once that phase is through. You want to give your startup the best chance possible, and that requires you to give it your all.
- How do I know if I've got a good business idea? Start with your own problems and look for inflection points, or shifts in tech and user behavior. Ask yourself: why was this idea not possible 5 years ago? How do I currently have an unfair advantage?
- What makes a good MVP? MVPs should be barebones in terms of features and design but still provide a solution that captures a pivotal need the customer has. Basically: it should have achieved product market fit.
- How do I know whether or not to pivot? You should pivot if you're consistently failing to see demand or if you have a high churn rate.
- Should I bootstrap my company or raise funds? If you have a product that can scale through tech, raise funds. If you're running a business which grows in a more linear fashion, it's worth it to bootstrap. Either way, if you should choose to fundraise, approach it as a partnership rather than a transaction.
Currently Alain is the president of Prisma, a digital first school that adapts to every child's unique needs and abilities and to every family's lifestyle.
"I see a lot of founders that look at the fundraising process like a transaction, rather than as a partnership."
Valentina is a co-founder and partnership curator at Capacity Zurich, an incubator for startups built by refugees or migrants. She is originally from Colombia, but moved to the US after finishing high school to study Communications at California State University. She then went on to work for the UN in Singapore while getting her master's in Diplomacy and Gender Policy.
Despite coming from a family of matriarchs, Valentina initially had some misgivings about feminism: she thought feminism and femininity were mutually exclusive. However, this and many other opinions of hers changed when she took a class at University with a really amazing teacher.
When Valentina moved to Switzerland, she worked in Geneva for a time, after which she relocated to Zurich. Despite having worked in Geneva, being highly qualified and speaking several languages (namely German), it took her more than a year to find a job. Naturally, this took a toll on her self-esteem — she blamed herself.
One of her co-founders to be, psychiatrist Alexa Kuenburg, also came to this conclusion while working with war victims and refugees: the higher someone's education level, the more difficult the integration process becomes, because there is often difficulty in finding a job which matches the person's abilities, and this mismatch can put into question a fundamental part of people's identity.
Initially, Valentina and her co-founders wanted Capacity Zurich to be a labor market integration program for refugees and migrants, which would also educate Swiss companies on how to navigate the bureaucratic hoops of hiring people with a migrant or refugee status. It ended up becoming a startup incubator.
"Diversity-wise companies are beginning to realize that if they don't jump on the bandwagon soon, the wagon is gonna run them over."
Oliver ist der CEO des Helvetia Spinoffs Atlanto AG, einer digitalen Administrationsplattform für KMU. Ursprünglich war Atlanto als Projekt innerhalb von Helvetia geplant und wurde schliesslich als Tochterunternehmen ausgegründet. Oliver, welcher in einer Unternehmerfamilie gross wurde, war immer interessiert daran, in die Selbstständigkeit überzugehen. Nach seinem Studium an der HSG in St. Gallen, wo er sein Bachelor- und Masterstudium absolvierte, arbeitete er fast sechs Jahre bei Helvetia. Seit Januar 2021 ist er nun CEO der Atlanto AG.
"Der Prozess, Dinge manuell abzutippen, liegt in Zukunft einfach nicht mehr drin. Dafür werden wir keine Zeit mehr haben."
"Wir wollen das Leben von kleinen Unternehmen vereinfachen."
Daniel Borel is the co-founder and chairman emeritus of Logitech, the world's largest manufacturer of computer peripherals — with headquarters in Switzerland! After studying Physics at EPFL, Daniel went on to do his masters at Stanford.
In the 70's, Stanford was on fire. The Apple computer had just been created, as had Bill Gates' Microsoft, and the first microprocessors, operating systems and programming languages were just coming up. It felt like a technological revolution was imminent, and Daniel wanted to be a part of it. Together with fellow Stanford student Pierluigi, Daniel developed a word processing system, and their company address was "165 university avenue" — famously shared by Google and Paypal. Unfortunately, this project didn't take off, and Daniel ended up moving back to Switzerland to accommodate his wife's wish of setting up her own veterinary practice (which was not possible in the US since they did not recognize her diploma as valid).
Then in 1981, at his father-in-law's farm in the canton of Vaud, Daniel founded Logitech together with co-founders Pierluigi and Giacomo. Their product was a mix of hardware and software, which is a notoriously difficult thing to pull off, but Daniel believes that that's where you can really make a difference, and that this is what ensured their survival in an extremely competitive world.
How competitive, you may ask? Well, after meeting Bill Gates at a beach party in 1982, Daniel began talks with Microsoft — but they soon realized that the tips they were giving Microsoft on why not to buy from Logitech's japanese competitor, Alps, were actually being passed on to Alps. This made Daniel give up on Microsoft altogether.
With the rise of competition between computer manufacturers in the early 90s, prices went down dramatically, and Logitech had to move its manufacturing to China in order to produce cheaper and be able to compete.
In 1998 he decided to step down as CEO: after a crazy, decades-long ride, it was time for a rest. Nowadays, he keeps himself busy with his many grandchildren, his boat, and his philanthropic endeavors: Swiss-up, a foundation dedicated to fostering excellence in Swiss education, and Defitech, which manufactures computer technology for people with disabilities.
"Try and fail, and never fail to try, but don't put all your eggs in the same basket."
"Success is never final."
"By having a passion, you avoid having a job."
Andreas und Gianluca sind beide bei Helvetia tätig. Andreas ist Marktverantwortlicher für Unternehmen in der Generalagentur in Aarau. Dabei hat er mit Firmen-, wie auch mit Privatkunden engen Kontakt. Gianluca ist als Versicherungs- und Vorsorgeberater in der Generalagentur in Baden aktiv. Er durfte bereits seine Lehre bei Helvetia absolvieren und konnte sich danach seinen Weg in den Aussendienst schrittweise erarbeiten.
"Bleibt auf eurem Weg, bleibt fokussiert."
"Redet aktiv über Fehler, weil das Veränderungspotenziel bei Fehlern sehr gross ist."
"Mut ist sehr wichtig. Seid mutig, neue Dinge auszuprobieren."