April 16, 2018
As CEO and CTO, Joeri and Boris form a well-coordinated team from the very beginning of Snuk to their recent successful fund-raising. We sat together to reflect on their journey, to ask about their friendship and how they see the future of Snuk.
Joeri: Boris and I both grew up in a small town in the west of Belgium, went to the same high school together, and later to the same university in Ghent where we both decided to study Engineering. I got my Master in Computer Science, whereas Boris went for Electrical Engineering. That’s already 7 years ago, now.
Boris: I was a product manager at Caroobi, which is an e-commerce company for car repairs: You go online, say what’s wrong with your car and based on that they get you an offer.
Joeri: I was still working for my Belgian startup when I came to Berlin but quickly started at a Berlin startup as Head of Operations. After 6 months, basically through Boris, I found out about WATTx and had to take the opportunity!
Boris: Snuk is the first venture that WATTx launched. We provide a healthcare IoT platform that offers multiple services for example patient room control and heating automation.
Boris: What I liked the most was the video on the website that showed the happy and motivated people working at WATTx. The opportunity to have a supportive environment and to start a company at the same time attracted me. Otherwise, you’d be relying on your personal network - that you either have or don’t have. But WATTx ensured that there would be a network from Day 1. And eventually the idea of course: I had an affinity with smart buildings from a previous job.
If you are going to found a company you need to really know and trust your co-founder.
Joeri: It was obviously the main factor, because I think if you are going to found a company you need to really know and trust your co-founder. It’s not always easy and if you can’t trust each other blindly in those difficult moments it becomes even more difficult. It was one of the big attractions of this opportunity: That we were able to kickstart this idea of our own company but in an environment where we’d have support and that would enable us to do it even though we were in a foreign country.
Joeri: I think a big advantage of being in a setting like WATTx is that you have a bigger social environment and “more colleagues”. Even though you are not working for the same company, you are in an environment where you meet people that are interesting to talk to, and our engineers also have partners that they can exchange with.
In the very beginning it was just the two of us. Bit by bit we hired people. But even now we are only six - a very tight, small team. Which is good for a lot of things: You can move fast, everybody knows what everyone else is doing. The downside of that is of course that you only have those six people that can give input to any kind of problem.
Being in the WATTx office has allowed us to be a part of that broader community. And I think that’s also really helped us in attracting new talent.
Boris: I would say that one of the dangers of the environment are the distractions that come with it. You have access to all these people but they also have access to you. They push ideas, give you information, or tell you about an event that might be interesting and you kind of feel obliged to look into these pieces of information. Eventually, perhaps only 5% of that information is useful to us. It’s important to make sure that when you have a network and an environment that you work in that you don’t let it distract you. You should follow your own goal and do what’s number one on the agenda.
There’s a laptop, there’s nothing on it, only an internet connection. And this is supposed to be a company.
Boris: The funny part about the first day was coming into an office with some old laptop, because the one you had from your previous job got taken away. And you realize that the company at that point is a person and a laptop that has nothing on it. And that’s it. That was quite liberating in the way that you could choose what goes first. But also a bit frightening. There’s a laptop, there’s nothing on it, only an internet connection. And this is supposed to be a company. But then eventually, as times goes by, you’d learn what WATTx had already found out. We learned about their research, got introduced to customers, and basically dived right into the action while working together with the WATTx engineers.
Making the website, the logo, and a name for the company - all these things had to happen from scratch. And that was frightening, because for one, there is nothing to start with. And secondly for the first time in your life there is no boss, and no one telling you what goes first. You have 50 ideas and have to come in to the office in the morning and decide: “okay, today this one is the one I am tackling”. There is no one above you, or a senior that says that something else is more important.
Joeri: Especially in the beginning you don’t have an intuition yet. You need to somehow find a way of deciding what you’re going to prioritize. I think we got a lot better at that over the course of the months, which is just a natural part of the learning curve of anyone who founds a company for the first time.
Joeri: You can’t really put your finger on when it happened. it just improved over time. I also don’t think we’re at maximum efficiency yet.
Boris: Today, looking back at the first few months, you think “oh, I was a teenager, and now I am an adult”. But probably in two years from now, we are going to look back and be like “oh, even after one year I was still a teenager, and now I am really an adult”.
Joeri: It’s like life, but on a smaller scale: Every five years you think you were such an idiot five years ago. Founding a company is the same, but rather in months and weeks instead of years.
I still remember the very first time we sat down with some big A3 sheets and started sketching out everything that needed to happen in all the different parts of the firm. It actually helped us with having everything on our radar. I still have those A3’s rolled up in the corner of my desk.
Boris: It started out as a rather vague idea of making a piece of technology for smart buildings that people could reuse. But we lacked a proper use case to start with. As we tried getting customers and talked to many different people, we quickly realized that it’s better to focus on a certain application or a set of applications, and then build a technology for those rather than starting out generic. Without a use case, you don’t know exactly what you are designing for and have a harder time prioritizing.
Today, Snuk has a clear direction to develop in: We now focus on bringing smart building technology to the hospital market, and are targeting the applications we develop specifically to these customers.
Joeri: Yes, that’s right. We recently closed an investment deal with a company called BEWATEC. They are active in the hospital space, and we are now setting up a really deep partnership between our two companies.
Our products really complement theirs, because we can expand their current offering. They are the German market leader in bedside tablets for patients, and they offer various patient services, information and entertainment. Through this collaboration between Snuk and BEWATEC, we can turn this into an all-round smart hospital platform, including smart building functionality. Letting the patients control room variables from their tablet, for example, automating some space and room functionalities inside hospitals, et cetera.
The hospital market is a really cool one because it’s a very fertile ground for many new applications. It’s also a very well defined microcosm. By partnering up with a player like BEWATEC that has really good access to that market it’s a lot easier for us to get in where we wouldn’t be able to have gotten in as an independent startup.
Boris: In the beginning it was quite a challenge because we were building an idea that could go in many directions. But from day one, we were very clear that we would need senior people to start with, as we didn’t see junior engineers building the foundation of our product. WATTx supported us in selecting fitting people.
More generally, we were looking for all-around people that would be able to move away from their expertise, or cover for things that weren’t necessarily on their CV but that happened to be something we needed in order to build the product. We started out by getting a core team of people that covered almost the entire stack. And now we’re looking to expand to a bigger team with more expertise. Our current hiring focus is on React and golang.
Boris: We were, and still are, looking for people that have a specific field of expertise but have also touched on several other technologies and have a core interest in learning new technologies. They shouldn’t mind doing something they haven’t faced yet, while being quick in picking up new things and diving into new topics.
Joeri: I think that’s actually the most important thing and the single point on our checklist that can’t be changed, as compared to something technical, that could be learned. We look for people that have the same outlook on their work and life in general as we and the people on our team do. One of our hiring criteria is whether we would like to go for drinks with this person. Especially when you’re a very young startup you’re more driven by the team spirit than by the processes in place.
Boris: Part of the interviewing process is that every new candidate has to exchange at least a few words with everyone on the team. Everybody has to give their approval on a candidate.
We look for collaborative open-minded people that are able to have constructive discussions and are not shy about providing feedback on things to improve.
Joeri: I’m really happy with the culture we have right now. The team fits well together, we feel we can trust everyone, they have fun with each other but also work to get things done and I definitely want to keep that. It replicates itself: once you have that culture, the people in the team will have the same view as you on applicants, and it doesn’t really happen that three people like a candidate while three others think a candidate isn’t a good fit. We just recently decided we would accelerate our hiring process for candidates we have a good gut feeling about , so we don’t lose them to someone else.
Boris: I’d say because we have an interesting project with a lot to learn and there is a challenge ahead of us that people can dig into. We also created an environment in which you are trusted to do your job and where people don’t constantly look over your shoulder. People teach each other on how to do new things which, to me personally, is one of the most satisfying things: fixing a problem or creating a product as a team.
Joeri: When someone new joins the team, everybody will be eager to learn about what they have to say while also being very happy to share their knowledge in return and bring that person to a new level and a new field. Snuk is a really great place to learn and grow as an engineer.
Joeri: I think we are going to move from being a company that has a lot of prototypes to a company that has more projects with customers, and with more feedback and involvement from these. Once you’re dealing with customers you can get a lot more direct feedback on what they need.
Joeri: I think there’s always a risk of working together as friends. If you get into a business together it could mean the end of the friendship but I don’t think that’s the case so far - Boris, correct me if I’m wrong…
Boris: We’re still friends. (laughs)
Joeri: Actually it’s been a pretty good experience. We have known each other for so long and knew what we were getting into. We both have our strengths and weaknesses which we are aware of and we try helping each other with correcting the latter.
Boris: I would say the strangest thing is to give each other work. As a friend you usually give each other beers, or gifts.
Joeri: Yes, you can only do this with friends you already have an honest and direct relationship with. You can’t be afraid you will offend the other.
Boris: Another danger I would say is being distracted. Because you’re friends your business meeting can quickly turn into having a nice chat, so you have to make sure to talk about the work and not about hobbies.
Joeri: He’s super organised and excellent at spotting things that are going wrong and should be handled differently. If I’m procrastinating something actually important, he will tell me.
Boris: I think he’s very solid in what he produces. He’d never deliver a document that contains mistakes, which is very important when you write contracts, or when you create customer presentations, sales material, and anything that goes external. He helps me step up on the quality of my work by giving me constructive feedback.
Joeri: Everything regarding the roadmap for developers and the division of tasks, or more general everything product related, is Boris’ responsibility. I don’t get involved in that even though I know who’s doing what. Some things we do jointly, such as the company’s strategy. Anything related to sales, and anything that is German, I do. Anything that has to do with legal documentation and contracts, I do. For presentations, powerpoints, and sales meetings, I do the main part, while Boris deals with the technical part. I also have the fun responsibility of accounting and payroll. So, I’m a little bit the “Mädchen für alles”, as you’d say in German, while Boris is responsible for the important stuff on the product-side.
Boris: Exactly. I make sure we create something that has value for the customer, while also taking care of the product development team recruiting.
We are now in the position where we can accelerate and start delivering that vision.
Joeri: I’m really excited to get into that next stage of selling the product and make it scale. Last year has been a long process of finding more focus and narrowing down what kind of company we want to be and what product we want to build. We are now in the position where we can accelerate and start delivering that vision. I’m really excited to see that happen.
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