My main motivation for going to START Summit 2019 was to meet old friends and acquaintances from the St. Gallen area, but also to learn from the talks. I was positively surprised. It ended up to be one of the best and most innovative tech/startup conferences I have ever attended. Check out the opening video as one of the details they nailed.
Here are my key takeaways:
#1: The University of St. Gallen (HSG) has a palpable entrepreneurship vibe. This event has been 100% student organized by 60 students. They had support of HSG’s Dean and the St. Gallen Mayor, both of whom came to the opening. I loved my time at the University of Basel, but looking back, I really missed the entrepreneurship vibe I felt in St. Gallen!
#2: St. Gallen wants to become the hub for eSports, similar to how Zug became the “Crypto Valley”. They started the initiative “Digital Sports Hub Switzerland” to push this forward. (Learned from the Mayor of St. Gallen.)
#3: There is no such thing as an “AI startup”. It always needs to be “AI plus x”, i.e. AI applied to a specific thing. AI itself is not a product, it’s a technology, similar to electricity. (Learned from Richard Socher, Chief Scientist at Salesforce.)
#4: How to build an AI startup: (1) Pick a very specific niche/problem. (2) Collect as much structured data as possible in this niche. (3) Create specialized algorithms that create value. (Learned from Richard Socher, Chief Scientist at Salesforce.)
#5: Ask yourself regularly: “Where can I have the biggest impact, given my personal skills and resources?”. I have added this question to my quarterly life review. (Learned from Richard Socher, Chief Scientist at Salesforce.)
#6: “Essentialism” is a better term than “Minimalism”. It’s not about the number of possessions, but how essential/important they are to you. (Learned from Cédric Waldburger, Entrepreneur and Essentialist.)
#7: Quick tips on how to start with essentialism: (1) For everything you add/buy, remove/give away one thing. (2) Put things you haven’t used in the past 90 days in a box. Then wait another 90 days to see whether you go back those things. If not, give away the box. This battles your loss aversion and the instinct of “I might need this one day”. (Learned from Cédric Waldburger, Entrepreneur and Essentialist.)
#8: “As an investor, it’s important to cut your losses. As an entrepreneur, it’s important to keep going. So there is a difference in mindset.” (Learned from Daniel Aegerter, Investor and Entrepreneur.)
#9: Dragon = a company that returns >1x the whole fund (compared to Unicorn = Startup valued at >$1 billion.) Recent European dragons were Spotify, Adyen, Supercell, Delivery Hero, Just Eat. (Learned from Nenad Marovac, Investor.)
#10: Logitech transformed itself from a PC peripherals company to a Cloud peripherals company. Now multi-brand, multi-category. Vision: Become a Nestlé or Unilever type company. (Learned from Bracken Darrell, CEO Logitech.)
#11: Best team size is a team of 2. Reason: You only have 1 relationship to manage. Team size of 3 = 3 relationships. Team size of 16 = 120 pairs of relationships. That’s why Jeff Bezos at Amazon focuses on very small teams (“two pizza teams”). (Learned from Bracken Darrell, CEO Logitech.)
#12: Large organizations have only one advantage: scale and resources. But one huge disadvantage: complexity and bureaucracy. Startups have the advantage of small teams and less pairs of relationships. That’s why startups can move much faster than the big guys. (Learned from Bracken Darrell, CEO Logitech.)
#13: Logitech CEO has 25 direct reports. This is a wonderful number. As he cannot micromanage them all (because they are too many), he needs to give them responsibility, so they can work autonomously. It’s not a 25 people team either (with 300 individual relationships). It’s 25 single pairs, i.e. 25 subsets of two people. This is manageable. (Learned from Bracken Darrell, CEO Logitech.) [Want to know how to calculate the number of relationships for a given number of people? I did. Here is formula with n representing the number of people: (n*(n-1))/2 e.g. for 25 people it’s (25*24)/2 = 300 pairs of relationships]
#14: Give each new employee this task: “after 30/60/90 days send me a note with things that are broken. What obviously broken/ineffective/inefficient things can we improve?” (Principle: Fish don’t notice water anymore). Logitech CEO meets with each new employee and gives her/him this task. They have implemented many suggestions already. (Learned from Bracken Darrell, CEO Logitech.)
#15: Logitech sees itself as a design company. Why did Bracken Darrell join Logitech as CEO? Because he wanted to be part of a design company.
#16: Pick a very specific niche. How did Scalable Capital (soon €2 billion assets under management) get started? They focused on a very particular target group. Super exclusive. Focused on people with a university degree in business or computer science (i.e. people with a high degree of numbers literacy.). (Learned from Erik Podzuweit, Founder of Scalable Capital.)
#17: California Privacy Act 2018 (CCPA) is coming. It’s similar to GDPR, i.e. everyone who has users in California needs to comply. (Learned from Lisa Gradow, Co-Founder of Usercentrics, a Consent Management Platform).
#18: Privacy = freedom from unauthorized intrusion. Cyber Security = measures taken to protect a computer against unauthorized access or attack. (Learned from Lisa Gradow, Co-Founder of Usercentrics).
#19: Archlet.io won the startup pitching competition. They use machine learning algorithms to make value chains more efficient. They implemented one project so far, and achieved cost savings of 3% for the client.
#20: A great business model for hackers is to become ethical hackers and sell their know-how to companies. Edwin van Andel (Hacker & CEO of Zerocopter) believes that 60% of all hackers could be converted to ethical hackers, applying responsible disclosure principles.
#22: “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.” — Buddha (Learned from Daniel Graf, Uber Advisor.)
#24: N26’s first product was “pre-paid cards for teenagers”. They spent all money, it didn’t work, then pivoted to the current product. (Learned from Valentin Stalf, Co-Founder N26.)
#25: Most of N26 customer service is done via chat. Their new chatbot reduced 20% of customer service requests. (Learned from Valentin Stalf, Co-Founder N26.)
#26: In the real estate space, a lot of digital low handing fruits are still available, e.g. remote signing of contracts with DocuSign. Lot’s of other innovation/disruption potential in this industry! (Learned from Dustin Figge, Founder von Homelike.)
#27: Don’t underestimate the power of mentors. Look for somebody with the same values, who is 10-15 years ahead of you. Don’t do it half hearted. Create a project and systematically reach out to specific mentors! #mentors That’s what I will implement, to find 1-2 additional mentors.
#28: Sennheiser, a 3rd generation family business, was founded in 1945; born out of necessity (needed food for his family, founder was scientist before); started with voltmeters, microphones; today 3000 employees (50% in Germany, still near the farmhouse where the company started); invented the first headphones in 1968; built a new innovation campus; CEO is here in St. Gallen to see what is going on, to not become complacent; the big opportunity is to create audio solutions for iphone/ipad. Video of those devices is great, audio still shitty. (Learned from Daniel Sennheiser, CEO of Sennheiser.)
#29: Audio & video are the future (Podcasts, YouTube videos etc.). If you are not good at it, then hire freelancers to help you! Lack of action is not an option.
#30: “Only do what only you can do.” Always ask yourself: Where is my edge? Then 100% focus on this area. All other things: Outsource them, find partners, or don’t them at all. (Learned from Daniel Sennheiser, CEO of Sennheiser.)
#31: Freigeist Capital investment criteria: How big is the market? Is the team right? Can this have a huge impact? Traditional KPI’s are not important (cashflow etc.). (Learned from Frank Thelen, CEO at Freigeist Capital.)
If you are interested in the Swiss and European innovation and entrepreneurship scene, you should definitely consider adding START Summit to your schedule in 2020! I will be back for sure.