It’s difficult to be an entrepreneur and it’s even more difficult to be a successful one at that. What creates a successful entrepreneur? There are a number of articles and research papers that cite strong leadership qualities, high self-motivation, willingness to fail and a competitive spirit among a number of traits that are usually associated with strong leaders and innovators.
I bet having someone show you the ropes also helps.
Along those lines our CEO, Stefan Groschupf, initiated a few companies before successfully kickstarting Datameer in 2009. He is a self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur and has experienced the highs and lows of getting a company off of the ground. He knows what it’s like and offered to share his experiences through INVESTFORUM Sachsen-Anhalt, a German-based organization that helps guide German startups in the strategic planning of their entrepreneurial concepts.
Stefan reached out to entrepreneur Marcel Etzel, CEO of apiOmat Enterprise, to invite him to visit the U.S. for a few days to get a sense of what it’s like in the Silicon Valley tech market. Marcel and Stefan connected on business ideas and Stefan shared his own experience of expanding a business from Germany to the U.S.
Below is Q&A with Marcel about his business, insight into the U.S. market and lessons learned.
Q: Please tell me a bit about yourself and your entrepreneur journey.
I am the CEO of apiOmat. But before that, I studied business informatics and joined a big corporation, T-Systems. I always wanted to start my own company but I was too inexperienced. Instead, I joined a German mobile startup in 2010, which got me in the mobile industry and that is where I met my current co-founders. While working at this company we discovered that there were serious issues when we tried to build real mobile apps, meaning apps that used the data we had, involved customers and gave employees apps to be more productive. With that, we decided to develop a prototype. The problem in Germany though, is that if you work on a side project, then technically the employer owns your product. So we started apiOmat and after a year, we received seed funding and started full time in January 2013.
Q: Tell me about your company, apiOmat Enterprise.
A: apiOmat Enterprise helps mobilize companies (traditionally more than 1,000 employees) by simplifying the whole app backend development lifecycle from setting up your data model to adding functionality. We have fast and secure integration into corporate backend systems and cloud services via our preconfigured connectors, we work with all mobile platforms, generate SDK‘s and we have a transparent licensing model.
We currently have about 10,000 developers working with the free version, which helps with quality assurance. In January 2014 we finished the enterprise version and now have global customers. These are customers that have backend technology like CRM, Salesforce, etc. and they need to conduct business via mobile devices.
One great customer example is Berlitz who trains employees in foreign languages. They have about 6.5 million lessons a year and after each lesson there is an attendance confirmation that is used to bill the employers of the attendees. Somehow, you have to get that information back into the ERP system — mobile is easiest so they use apiOmat.
Q: Why are you looking to move to the U.S. market?
This is an international opportunity – we found a niche in the market and are already winning against huge corporations. The U.S. market is the biggest market in the world and while we have our differences, we understand each other. Our differences are not as big as other countries (e.g. APAC).
Here you have all of the large tech companies and networking opportunities. The people here are much more open and willing to take risks, which spawns innovation.
How did you get introduced to Stefan?
A year ago he was at an investment conference, Invest Forum, in Halle, Germany. I was also working with the guys from Invest Forum who introduced me and they let me know he is like THE entrepreneur for this region when it’s about B2B software. We were pitching and he liked it. I got a call two months later from the guys from Invest Forum who said Stefan wanted to invite us to the U.S.
This is one hell of an opportunity!
Q: What have you learned during your time with Stefan?
We have pretty similar business models, on a high-level. He talked me through sales blue prints and I found some things where I definitely have to improve.
Two months ago we Skyped and I went through my documents, our website, how we try to nurture and convert website visitors and he really walked me through it. It was fairly unstructured before but he gave me some great feedback about what is working and how to make some adjustments.
We improved our website and our documents and now I am improving the way our sales and support team work together.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
The time with Stefan has really helped us develop our strategy – how it’s possible for us to come here. It’s still a big risk coming to the U.S., internationalization. You have to know the right people here, and have the investment but there are still a lot if elements you have to prepare for and change for the U.S. market. For example, how much does an office cost, how do I change the way I interact with people?
I’m still not at a place where I say I have the master plan, but I’m getting closer to it.