Founding & Failing

This is the translated version of an interview I did for a university here in Munich. This is all about my current journey, what I really do and some lessons I learned down the way.

Working at a startup — How did it happen?
To be honest, it was more of a coincidence that I started working at a startup. At the end of 2015 I got into developing some iOS apps and had no idea how to turn my apps into anything business related. So I reached out to a friend of mine Andreas(CEO KONUX) who had already helped me out in the past for a school program so I asked him for advice. Since then I could work on my projects in the office of his company (KONUX). Shortly after I was hired as a working student so I could work for him in my spare time.

What are you doing for KONUX and how do you benefit from it?
Working at KONUX is an incredibly valuable experience for me. At the moment I am in the marketing team, creating presentations, improving our homepage and some other things. As this is my first “real” job I have the opportunity to grow with every single task I get since it is often the first time I am doing it. Besides that, I find that the whole situation of working in a team, setting meetings, observing behaviour is even more important because those are skills that are needed in every aspect of business and will be of high value in my company. To see how a meetings goes about or how people approach different projects is really interesting especially because I haven’t “learned” it yet. Of course I also get a small salary that I reinvest in my own projects. Long story short — working at a startup is more than just a means to an end for me but rather a “test environment”. I am the employee and can observe what a CEO has to handle without doing anything wrong myself.

Why did you decide to found a company? How did you cope with the expectations or requirements?
The moment I realised that I could do my own thing is still really vivid in my mind. Although I have been selling products for my entire life there still was this “aha-moment” where I understood that I could build something that brings value to others. The problem I am solving with Avory isn’t one I observed from the side lines but one that affects myself. I still hear me saying to a buddy “A product like this is a no-brainer, why does nobody sell that? Why don’t THEY build that?” I answered the question myself — “Why don’t I build that?” It was that moment that I realised that THEY weren’t a secluded special group of geniuses but humans as you and me. There are no specific requirements to be an “entrepreneur”. In todays world it only needs the following: The willpower, courage and perseverance to really make it happen and that I have!

So I didn’t decide to “found something”. It more or less happened automatically. As soon as I perceived the world as changeable I couldn’t stop thinking about what I want to improve first.

You are in the process of founding “Avory”. What’s the idea behind the product “Slide” and “Avory”?

First of all I want to say that I didn’t actually found the company yet. Now that I am only weeks away from finishing school this whole thing is getting serious and founding becomes useful. I didn’t want to found before just because there was no real reason to and I am not a fan of “founding for the sake of founding”.

In order to understand the idea behind Avory it is important to know that I’ve always been a fan of gadgets and mechanical watches. As the smartwatch became more of a thing I was blown away. I almost felt like I was in a Bond movie — wearing a device that sends your health data and notifications straight to your wrist. So I always wore different smartwatches and fitnesstracker until a friend of mine lend me his luxury watch. Although a watch primarily displays the current time it’s by far not the only reason why people wear them. Watches are one of the few kinds of jewellery a man can wear therefore they serve as a fashion accessory, status symbol and often times as an emotional object if it is inherited for example.

So I faced the following problem: I wanted the functionality and data from the smartwatch and the look, status and heritage of the luxury watch. The only solution? Two wrists, normal watch on the left, smartwatch on the right. This seemed ridiculous to me. Besides the fact that the wearable seemingly makes the standard watch pointless, wearing both devices is really annoying. As a result one of both devices always stayed at home.

The solution: A smartwatch that looks like a normal watch? No. The technology is already dated at the time of shipping and nobody pays thousand of dollars for something that’s considered “old” one year later when the new version is released. 
It needed a device that is easily integrable in any normal watch therefore combining both worlds — the world of traditional watchmaking with the innovation and disruption that comes with wearable technology.

“Avory Slide” is the first product and basically it’s just a technological watch clasp. It replaces the normal mechanical clasp of the watch and acts as a simple solution for the apparent incompatibility of smartwatch and traditional watch.

Renderings of the product (left); Slide assembled on a watch (right)

So now that you learned many things at KONUX and continue to gain more experience as a founder, what are some insights that you want to share with our students?

I find that startups and founding can bring huge value for the general public. Even if you yourself have no interest in founding, startups represent a brilliant opportunity to learn and gain some experience in business. Instead of working at a bar I’d suggest to just ask around and keep an eye open for positions at startups. Most companies need young, talented people for all kinds of things and many students fulfil the requirements to occupy such a position.

I want to encourage everyone who is playing with the idea of founding to do exactly that. Especially for young people the risk isn’t that high since most of us don’t really have any real responsibilities. No kid, no wife, no house to pay of … So if your business isn’t profitable you don’t have as much to lose which shouldn’t mean that entrepreneurship is a game that only the young people should play. But rather that it isn’t just for the older, more experienced people — being young and lacking experience can also be an advantage.

Personally I find that the motive of the founder is also important. The main objective shouldn’t be to get rich and drive an expensive car. You should choose the industry you are passionate about rather than the one where the money is at. I believe that you have to have a deep passion for what you do to be the best at it, but we know that story so I won’t get into that any further…

Another lesson I learned early on is to leave the ego at home. Some may approach entrepreneurship with the mindset of being the “boss” but especially in the beginning besides being the head of the company you are the maid-of-all-work. That’s something one should be aware of. Because of that it’s important for me to always have the big picture in mind. Boring, monotonous but important tasks are only fun if you know why you do them.

The most important thing though is to listen to yourself and just do it. The times people told me not to pursue this goal and explained all the possible things that could happen if I fail are countless. As long as you are convinced you can do it, that’s whats going to happen. Because the only alternative is to not pursue that idea and quit before you have even started. At least for me that’s not an option. I can’t sit still if I don’t work on Avory so it would be insane to not try it just because I could fail. What do I have to lose? Let’s assume I “fail” — my product sucks and I have to shut down the company in 2019. I’d have learned so much through that journey and gained so much knowledge that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. The only thing I’d have lost is money. I’d still be young enough to go to university or to start the next company.

Finally I want to encourage anyone to do what they are passionate about and if that is to found a company — do it. Because even the biggest failure will be counterbalanced by the gained experiences. Failing is all a matter of perspective. I think we can only win.