Breakfast with Bastian and Martin

This is the fourth part in our article series “We are wattx” in which we pull back the curtain and give you a sneak peek into how it is to work here. This time, we want to introduce to you the driving forces behind the company.

As CEO and CTO, Bastian and Martin form a strong and well-coordinated team since the very beginnings of wattx. Café Oliv in Berlin Mitte hosted us for a nice breakfast interview about management, business strategy, team culture, and the history of wattx.

Can you tell us how wattx came to life?

Bastian: I come from a management consulting background, and before wattx I had been working for BCG for a bit over three years, in Hamburg and New York. I focused mainly on the energy industry, industrial goods, and on digital strategy, and started to get more involved in tech and the startup scene. Then I met Max Viessmann in Hamburg where we worked together on my last BCG project before I left for New York. We stayed in close touch afterwards. He started involving me a little bit as a second, outside opinion on what Viessmann was trying to do to create a holistic digital strategy. One day, he asked me if I wanted to help him build this outpost in Berlin and tap into startup ecosystems - what would later become wattx - and I said yes.

The first iteration of wattx took shape during my very first week, back in August 2015. I flew down from Berlin to stay with Max in his house in Munich. We locked ourselves in for an entire week, just us and white sheets of paper and lot’s of red wine, trying to wrap our heads around what we were trying to create.

Martin: After having worked in academia for a number of years, I started a company with friends in 2010, which unfortunately failed. So, I figured that maybe I should gain some more knowledge on how to effectively run a company, and how to build complicated systems, which led me to Project A Ventures where I became the CTO of a startup called Toroleo. After Toroleo, I went to Flightright. After working there for a bit over a year, I felt that it was time to move on and pursue new career opportunities. This coincided with Max Viessmann coming around and offering me this great opportunity to work for a company with a lot of tech involved, committed to a culture of learning-while-doing. And I just thought: this sounds incredible.

And how did you two meet?

Martin: I remember that we met in a crappy Indian place somewhere in Berlin Mitte. Thinking back now, I loved that first meeting so much. I remember thinking, “Oh, a business guy that used to work for BCG - what will he be like?” When I saw him coming down the street, I drew a breath of relief - there was no rolling suitcase, no suit, and he also had a beard!

Researching and developing new business models around really cutting edge technology... is the essence of wattx.
Martin Unger, CTO

What did you expect you’d be doing at wattx in the beginning?

Martin: I expected to do lots of researching and developing new business models around really cutting edge technology - which still is the essence of wattx.

Bastian: Originally, I thought we’d be building an experimentation lab; researching topics and building out tech, as well as coming up with new business models. Some for Viessmann and some stand-alone ideas that would be valuable and worth pursuing.

Did that have the name company builder or anything similar at that point? Absolutely not. Looking back, one of my main learnings for life in general is that sometimes you have to be comfortable with having an idea and accepting that it’s not going to be a straight line towards achieving what you’ve imagined. Being comfortable with that ambiguity as well as taking turns here and there while always trying to move forward is one of the main learnings from my time at wattx. I’m incredibly thankful to people like Martin and Laure (UX Researcher, ed) - people that were there from the start, and helped us go from a vague idea to what wattx is today. It required a lot of trust and faith.

We share a vision on how teams should work, be, and interact with each other.
Martin Unger, CTO

As CEO and CTO of the company, how do you complement each other?

Martin: We have very complementary skills. I do everything tech-related at wattx, and Bastian is responsible for everything associated with business and user experience. He is the driving force behind everything; always enthusiastic about the direction we are moving into, pushing things forward while I’m trying to keep everything on track. We have very different personalities but we still work together extremely well. We share a vision on how you should feel when you are coming to work in the morning and on how teams should work, be, and interact with each other.

If everything depended on us, it would slow everybody down. We’re here for course-correction.
Bastian Bergmann, CEO

How do you work and manage others?

Bastian: I try to delegate as much as I can. I want to empower people to entirely own their job. In the day to day, I want people to be autonomous and only approach me or Martin when they need an external pair of eyes, or help with more strategic decisions. I usually try to give as much rope from the beginning as I can, and see how much they can handle, and then adjust accordingly. To me, what’s important is that I can help people learn and grow. There needs to be a learning curve; there needs to be a professional and a personal growth.

Additionally, I see our roles as being able to make rapid decisions even if we don’t have the full picture on every project. We actually should not have all the information. If everything depended on us, it would slow everybody down. We’re here for course-correction. The question is rather: How can I get people in a position where they can have as much autonomy as they need to remain fast, make good decisions, and have that trust?

I want to empower people to entirely own their job.
Bastian Bergmann, CEO

What are your biggest challenges with managing the team?

Bastian: Making myself available for everyone equally, having the same amount of mental capacity for every topic, and always very very clearly setting expectations. Because then the team is in a position to do their job. But it’s difficult to squeeze that approach into every day and be on top of everything throughout an entire day if you have many meetings, phone calls, and the like… That is super challenging.

Another big thing is not getting lost in complexity. When you feel like you’re losing control, it’s very easy to dive into topics and get caught up in the details and sort of micromanage people. So, refraining from that, and being comfortable with the fact that things are rocky sometimes, is very challenging.

It’s a skill to be comfortable to have as little information as is needed to make decisions.
Bastian Bergmann, CEO

What have you learned since starting your roles as CEO and CTO at wattx?

Martin: We have learned so much on the way: about interactions with large corporations, from setting expectations to framing things in particular ways to making ourselves more attractive to the outside world. We also learned a lot about new technologies and how easy or hard it is to implement those.

Knowledge is the most valuable asset of wattx: We now have the experience to look at an early stage project and more easily and definitely say “this will work out” or “this won’t work out.”

Give people the possibility to make mistakes without fearing consequences. You have to trust them.
Martin Unger, CTO

Bastian: I think, we also learned that transparent communication and giving the team context is absolutely critical. If you have a team that can handle very transparent communication, even when things aren’t going well, and it creates discomfort, it builds an incredible amount of trust.

I also came to understand that you should always give individuals and teams a chance to improve and grow. And there are numerous examples within our teams where people have grown, taking on more responsibilities, and working on very different projects. There are several incredible individual stories within our team.

I personally learned how to make very difficult decisions; whether it is letting people go or killing projects. You always have to make the tough decisions quickly. It’s a skill to be comfortable to have as little information as is needed to make decisions.

Martin: As Bastian pointed out, you have to be comfortable with people making their own mistakes. You can be there and share your opinion but you also have to be able to say “Try it your way if you want to.” Give people the possibility to make mistakes without fearing consequences. You have to trust them.

How would you describe the team at wattx?

Bastian: It feels more like family than a team. People are incredibly close on a personal level with each other. And I can personally learn from an interaction with each and every one of them and I love it. I’ve never seen a team where literally everybody is so invested in their own curiosity and learning, wanting to try new things out.

Martin: We had the huge opportunity to get 20 people on board and create our team directly from the start. And that’s part of the reason why, when I am sick, I actually don’t want to stay at home - because I think it’s boring there, and I’d rather go to work.

What I also appreciate is that we work with developers who are able to think out of the box. They are not only focused on their core competencies but are actually looking into usability or limiting factors concerning finances and business development. People at wattx are incredibly good at working in cross-functional teams.

How much of the culture building was conscious and how much just happened?

Bastian: It was very conscious. We have a value document, which is one of the first things that I started working on in week one or two. Just writing down values and ideas on how I would imagine the team to work together and what that fundamental value system would look like. You need this to guide your recruiting decisions, especially early on. If you make poor decisions because you don’t know what should guide your decisions for hiring, it’s very difficult to build a company culture. Then, the second component is leading by example: what you want people to adhere to, you have to hold yourself accountable for.

Last question: what will you tell your grandkids about wattx, say in 50 years?

Martin: I’ll tell them that it was an awesome experience because the learning curve was incredible and not comparable to anything I’ve experienced before. I hopefully will also be able to tell them, while looking at commercials, “This is a company that we’ve built.”

Bastian: Yes. I share this idea of leaving something that actually has value and that stays. And that taking a leap of faith can really pay off in the grand scheme of your life. I’d also like to imagine that in 20 or 30 years down the road, outside of this whole experience, there’ll be relationships that lasted on many different levels and that a lot of the people at wattx will still be part of my life.

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