What is your founder story?
After some experience in the corporate world, I was longing for quicker processes, leaner management and fast execution. I applied for a new position at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland to head the Center for Entrepreneurship and support students to found and grow their startups. After helping dozens of other startups for four years, I was “infected” enough to start my own (ad)venture.
Specifically regarding Piavita, Sascha, my co-founder (CTO) and I ran into each other and somehow the stars were aligned. We felt a perfect match as a founding team with respect to industry and technology expertise as well as readiness to go and jump into the cold water. I used to ride in the past and always had a passion for horses. However, I did not know much about equine veterinarian work until I spent some time understanding current practices prior to meeting with Sascha. Sascha’s technology work on software and sensors was super interesting as it allowed to get appropriate signals through thicker material of different sorts (i.e. thick mud). We looked at the problem of vets regarding horses and other animals and realized that our unique insight, both from a problem and technical perspective could create significant value for horse owners and their vets, as it would lead to better care (through real time data) and significant cost savings at the same time (less travel for vets). So we set on a path to create a professional Fitbit for horses as our initial product. We thought about applications for other animals too (i.e. cows), but we set a clear focus on horses as we realized that the global equine industry has a staggering size of over $300B and the level of care for horses is one of the highest in animal health.
Up to today, we have measured over 2 billion data points already and we have a great data advantage to provide additional value to users (e.g. benchmark insights) as well as learnings for our own product innovation efforts and customer needs.
What is your greatest learning as a founder and entrepreneur so far?
Nothing is predictable, with every closed door there is another opening up, there is no “everyday”, and this was the best decision ever. In the corporate world your schedule is predictable and when something comes up it’s easy to “put it in the agenda for later”. Within a startup, days aren’t the slightest predictable and when something comes up the mentality is much more “let’s get this done now”.
What advice would you give to a first-time founder?
Go for it. You will never experience a steeper learning curve than in a startup (either founding one or working in one). Trust your intuition and try to stay focused (do one thing right from start to finish and don’t follow every advice or opportunity). If you are truly passionate about the idea and see real value, the emotional value of pursuing it will overcompensate any loss resulting from failure.
What keeps you awake at night?
In general, nights become sleepless if the workload grows faster than can be worked off. I have to be very honest with myself about how much can be done in a day and structure my tasks – and be honest with myself about what will not be done today or tomorrow. At startups, you will never really be “done” with anything at the end of the day. It’s constant evolution, iteration, questioning, etc.
As a founder, what is the #1 thing you have learned about leadership?
There really is no right or wrong as long as you are authentic. There are so many paths you could go down and people tend to give advice relating to their own successes of their own leadership style, but you have to figure out for yourself what style fits best to you and that you can follow in the long run.
What is your advice on managing your startup and personal life at the same time?
Tough one! I think there is no way around the fact that we will always live for our startup, in the end it’s our baby and we chose to go all the way for it. So for me, the balance is not to switch off business, but to accept the fact that there is never a day where everything is done and that staying healthy and sane is the most important to follow your dream in the long run. This means, even if I think about business even in free time, I try to accept and embrace it, but try to not get pulled into it too much and feel free to postpone things to business hours.
What is your favorite job interview question?
What would be the first three things you would do if you were the CEO of Piavita for a month?
What should be invented even if not possible today?
The automation of tasks that free the brain and let you focus on one thing at a time while making sure everything is registered, sorted, and prioritized for the next days and weeks to come would make life a lot easier.
What store would you open on Mars?
Wearable solar panels in smart clothes – this idea is actually stolen from my co-founder who is definitely the more creative and instantly had three ideas on this question :).
Favorite book as a child
The very hungry caterpillar
What would you be (not in technology) if you weren’t a founder
Something really unique, funny, and/or something no one would know about you
I grew up in southern Bavaria, where people indeed wear Lederhosen and Dirndl for various occasions (although some Americans told me they thought most Germans are dressed like that all the time 🙂
Three of my friends actually married in “Tracht” (as we call it).