September 25, 2018
Since summer, WATTx is now led by a tandem of Martin’s with our new COO Martin Mittermeier joining in July. We sat down with our new COO (and our slightly older CTO) and discussed the strategy and vision of WATTx as well as current challenges.
Let’s start with introducing our new COO - Martin Mittermeier, what’s your story, and what did you do before joining WATTx?
Martin Mittermeier (MM): By profession, I am a lawyer.
I finished my legal studies in 2007, and began writing my PHD thesis in Law, while also finishing my History and Literature degree. After two years of preparatory courses for the legal service, having gained a lot of experience in different environments, I decided not to pursue a legal career because I had the feeling that you do not have that much opportunity to build something and that is what I like to do.
So what did you decide to do instead?
MM: During my studies, a friend and I thought about founding a company. In 2012, we got introduced to Project A and I went there to pitch some ideas, which they didn’t find that interesting or convincing. But they liked me and asked me to join as a so-called ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’. An entrepreneur in residence is someone who does business development for portfolio ventures and then, founds his or her own company. That I did for a year. I’ve worked with Tirendo, where I was responsible for more tech-focused product management; then joined Saatchi Art, which is a Los Angeles-based art marketplace; and finally, in the beginning of 2013, together with a friend that I got to know at Project A, we started our own company.
What was important to us, after having worked at different places and in different industries, was to create a product that had the potential to have a real impact. We looked into different spaces and found the Mittelstand extremely interesting, mainly because it was quite heavily under-digitized at the time, and didn’t have any existing solutions adapted for their needs.
We found the Mittelstand extremely interesting, mainly because it was quite heavily under-digitized at the time, and didn’t have any existing solutions adapted for their needs.
MM: Our idea was targeted at their absent online marketing. Our typical customer at the beginning would be a company from Baden-Wuerttemberg, that was producing pumps with 40M in revenue in 70 different markets, but had a really small marketing team doing only trade fairs and shows, or sending out Christmas calendars. Companies like that were not performance-driven marketers, and had no clue about how to generate leads online.
What we came up with was a platform that we called Kyto and that is still alive and thriving today.
Eventually, I left the company for two reasons: One was the birth of my daughter, so my girlfriend and I decided to move back to Frankfurt. The other reason was that I had done sales for four years then and I was somehow a bit tired of it. I still find it one of the most interesting fields to work in, and it is definitely crucial for every B2B startup. Nonetheless, after four years I was ready for a change.
I left and worked for about a year for Citavi, before I decided to go back to Berlin. When looking for opportunities here, I started a conversation with Martin Unger and eventually joined WATTx.
Can you describe your role at WATTx? What were you hired for?
MM: I’m mainly supporting the ventures in finding their go-to-market strategy, as well as looking at their processes and thinking about how to make them more efficient.
On the WATTx-side, a new business model has been defined and we now need to execute the plan, which means having a general sales process in place as well as clear directives for doing project management with our customers. My primary goal is to oversee those processes and make sure that everything runs smoothly.
What did surprise you since you’ve started working at WATTx?
MM: The quality of the team. I didn’t imagine finding people driven by purpose, people that take ownership, and also contribute to the company strategy without applying specific directives too the degree I found here. That’s something I really like.
I’m also pleasantly surprised about our collaboration with Viessmann. Everyone in Viessmann is very positive to what we do, and support us actively. So whenever we need any help, we get it very quickly and without any friction or bureaucracy headaches at all.
I didn’t imagine finding people driven by purpose, people that take ownership, and also contribute to the company strategy without applying specific directives. That’s something I really like.
So for you Martin Unger, what did change since the other Martin is here?
MU: I think it gave us the opportunity to ramp up the efforts of finding external partners. Additionally, Martin is taking over a lot of tasks I weren’t particularly good at, such as checking all the contracts from his legal point-of-view, and making sure that everything we do is aligned with our strategy. It’s also beneficial that we get to split the overview on the projects - having more management capacity is actually one of the most important advantages.
Martin Mittermeier is also bringing a lot of sales expertise, which is for sure something to be used to get more traction for our ventures.
Going into sales expertise, how would you pitch WATTx, Martin Mittermeier?
MM: WATTx has a deep knowledge about how Mittelstand partners work through our connection with Viessmann: we understand how they set expectations and how the management works in terms of making decisions.
We have a large array of skills that are unmatched in their combination: our teams are especially strong in data science, engineering, UX, HR, and Business Development. Making connections between those disciplines makes a lot of sense, as it covers all the core competencies that you need to build a successful digital product. You can now see that many company builders are modeled following this same approach, especially with this strong focus on UX, concentrating on problems first.
I also think that WATTx has a lot of experience building startups from the ground up, so that we are able to build a company from scratch, attract a team and the right leadership.
What is the response from the Mittelstand to that pitch?
MM: It’s very positive. And thanks to the good image of Viessmann, who is a key player of the digitalisation of the Mittelstand, we get a lot of insights and requests.
On the other hand of course, many people are interested in working with us because they see that what we are building a strong track record with the projects that we do with external customers. We call these projects ‘CBaaS’, or ‘Company Building as a Service’.
We are building a strong track record with the projects that we do with external customers. We call these projects ‘CBaaS’, or ‘Company Building as a Service’.
So who’s the perfect partner for WATTx?
MM: The perfect partner comes from the Mittelstand, has a lot of revenue, has had a first experience in digitalisation, and perhaps even a first failure. We are looking to work with people that understand that it takes a lot of knowledge and have some patience about it. Ideally, the perfect customer is a family-run company that’s not too large and has quicker decision-making processes in place. Besides that, having the financial power and a willingness from the management to really invest and work with us on digitalisation.
What’s sort of the spectrum we are looking at?
MM: We are looking to work with companies that have 400-500+ million in revenue per year. From a spectrum of problems we are solving, we decided to have a strong focus on factories, manufacturing, and logistics. We want to build a strong expertise in these fields.
Regarding our CBaaS-model, we are a bit broader and are more open to see new ideas there.
Back to the challenges, and more especially regarding innovation management, what do you consider as hard when you work with Mittelstand partners? Is there something that people might need to keep in mind when working with us?
MM: I think the Mittelstand is a very good partner for us because - if they’re not too large and not too politically structured - they are very goal-oriented, and usually come to us with a specific idea, so that we can directly start working together.
However, sometimes we also have talks with people that are very early in this journey and want to do “something digital”. I think in these cases it’s more difficult to work and onboard them.
MU: Some companies are not showing enough courage to introduce necessary changes, or might be too conservative or take too long to decide. There’s always a problem when you have very different work cultures and try to achieve a common goal together. It demands a lot of flexibility and both our side and those we work with. But it can be done. However, we can’t work with companies that have a cautious approach to digitalization - it doesn’t work. Either you do it or you don’t. There’s no half-solution to digitalisation or running external vehicles for new digital business models. Either you do it or someone else will.
If I put myself in the shoes of a Mittelstand company, looking at WATTx does now, I would maybe think “Okay, what they’re offering is very similar to what Accenture, McKinsey or BCG offer”. What would you say is unique about WATTx? What can we offer that you can’t find in a traditional consultancy?
MM: It’s two things: firstly, our team is very hands-on. It’s not about delivering powerpoint presentations to be shown to the management board later on. We deliver products and services that are actually used and bring value to the customers of our clients. Secondly, since we are owned by a Mittelstand company we have the experience and understanding on what it means to work with Mittelstand partners - which is invaluable as consultancies come from a different background and just tend to apply the same playbook to all digitization projects and digital innovation initiatives.
MU: We also make sure that the knowledge that we create in those vehicles stays with these partners. This step is really essential, especially in the journey of digitalisation, as it allows them to continue building new teams and new businesses independently afterwards. This is really important for us. That we not only deliver a successful project but also the foundation on which further digitization projects can be built.
How do you make sure to find common problems that Mittelstand companies have?
MU: If we are looking for partners, we look for complementary markets. But the companies always have to be strong in Manufacturing and Supply Chain. That is our focus. And the problems we find in these sectors are overlapping and not industry-specific, usually.
Looking at quality control in factories for instance, which our startup deevio is tackling at the moment, we observed that many of those processes in different sectors are similar. All the venture ideas we have, can be scaled in a horizontal approach.
But it’s important for partners to build new businesses in their own vertical also, and that’s exactly why we are proposing CBaaS. Companies want to go for new opportunities in their own sector and we’ll support them in doing that, as long as they don’t have their own team already doing it.
What would you say is the average status of digitalisation in the Mittelstand?
I’m always being asked this question and I can’t really tell you. I think it’s very different from company to company. A lot of people in the Mittelstand have understood that something is changing; some see it as a huge opportunity, while others see it as a huge threat.
I personally think that it’s a huge opportunity: it will bring new value and create novel business models. The situation is very diverse. Some companies have understood that digitalisation provides some value but don’t know how to do something about it yet, while some have understood it and are already actively moving forward.
Some companies have understood that digitalisation provides some value but don’t know how to do something about it yet, while some have understood it and are already actively moving forward.
As you touched upon earlier, the WATTx ventures don’t have a strong record of success yet. do you think that this will change over the next few months?
MM: You have to keep in mind that our ventures work in the B2B-realm. That means that we go for very complex solutions that take time in building and investing. Nonetheless, I’m sure that we are about to close the first deals for our ventures, I know that we are making good progress on the sales side, and finally, we have ideas for new ventures that are being developed at the moment - so next year we should see some good traction overall.
What would you say is the vision for WATTx?
MM: Our goal is to build a a central Mittelstand hub, technologically and digitally, together with Viessmann and other partners. We aim at making partners benefit from what we are doing, using the products of our ventures, and also hedging their risk regarding the Mittelstand digitalisation. What we build are digital solutions that several companies will want to use as it’s factory-related and not specific to their individual problem or market. We build products that can scale within different industries.
Our goal is to build a a central Mittelstand hub, technologically and digitally, together with Viessmann and other partners.
So If I’m reading this and am interested in collaborating, how do I get in touch with you?
Send us an e-mail or reach out via Linkedin. We are always open to new discussions and new collaborations.
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