In 2020, wattx started a new phase in its transformation: We sat down with managing directors Julius Patzelt and Simon Müller, to talk about their plan for the future of the company.
In 2020, a new phase in the transformation of wattx began: Julius Patzelt, former Head of Venture Development at wattx stepped up in his role to become managing director last autumn. At the turn of the year, managing director numero dos also came on board: as the new CTO, Simon Müller is responsible for all things technical.
With so many changes happening, we sat down with the renewed management to talk with them about the fresh dynamic, how wattx is changing (with them), and what their plans for the future – or rather the next 5 years – hold.
Julius Patzelt: I'm Julius, and together with Simon we are running wattx as Managing Directors. wattx is the company builder of the Viessmann group, and our goal is to build new ventures for the group and other Mittelstand companies in Germany.
As the CEO, I try to ensure that we as a team follow our mission: Turning ideas into businesses. That’s why I am in constant dialogue with Mittelstand leaders to understand their challenges and define how wattx can help them. Simon, the CTO is making sure that we solve customers' problems by applying a user-centered approach and using cutting-edge technology.
Simon Müller: I'm a tech person – my background is in Computer Engineering, with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering. When I started out in Mechanical Engineering, Robotics was my main area of interest as I liked the intersection and the interdisciplinarity of topics. Then, I moved on to more business-oriented topics, which led me to the founding of a startup, together with a couple of colleagues, in the area of production planning systems. This, for me, was the best combination of Business, Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. After that startup was acquired by a strategic investor, I started building up their digital unit in the German Mittelstand – which is where my fascination and interest in the German Mittelstand come from.
JP: I studied business and started working as a consultant quickly after that. Afterwards I was building up the innovation unit for a big telecommunications provider. And in that particular scenario, I was able to see how corporate innovation can fail. I was taught that innovation will not work by just building up a big team and throwing a lot of money at it. You don't really succeed in the business without solving a customer's pain point.
Then I changed to wattx and started working on different projects with the Viessmann group but also with other Mittelstand companies. I personally have the feeling that we add a lot of value on our projects which makes me happy.
SM: That sounds so romantic when you phrase it like that: "when you found each other". (laughs)
JP: I was looking for the exact opposite of myself. Someone with complementary skills. Essentially a techie who studied Engineering and who could take care of our tech and UX team. And I think in Simon I found that someone. Already, within the first weeks, I realised that I am a decisive person who takes action quickly while Simon rather thinks for a bit longer and then shares a more thought-through opinion on things. I think the mixture of both is ideal.
SM: The setup is also what I'm usually looking for when I think about great founding teams. The complementarity is definitely the way to go. If you're running a tech company, you always require someone that is more on the tech side, so that you basically know that there's a structure behind everything that is being achieved. But you also need someone on the business side of things - and that's what I found in Julius. He has a really exceptional grasp on everything related to the business and numbers aspect and also on showing others what we are doing - in a very non-salesy but still representative kind of way. So that's what I'm generally looking for and what I was expecting to find at wattx.
JP: How about summarising it as "Simon the brain doing tech" and "Julius, the nice guy, doing business"? (laughs)
SM: I was waiting for Pinkie, especially with your pink sweatshirt today. (laughs)
SM: I usually try to reflect quite regularly on what I want to do in the future. And one of the things that I always want to do is to create something that solves someone's problems. And if you're talking about that on a tech level that usually means creating a product – but when you look at the greater perspective of things, products usually do not inspire change as much as the companies behind those products. And that's what makes the whole challenge at wattx so interesting to me: That we try to really build companies that offer much needed products. That's for me an even larger lever than just building the product itself.
JP: What attracted me back in the days was how wattx aimed at solving industrial problems by building ventures - and doing so by applying deep tech and stuffing cross-functional teams on projects. Also, during my interviews, what really convinced me to join wattx were two things: Firstly, everyone within the interviews seemed to be super skilled and knew what they were doing. And, secondly, they seemed to be super nice and really working together as a team. This attracted me back in the days, and that's still the case.
What makes me really proud is that we work on projects as a team. We are not just a digital lab burning the money of a big corporation. We have our own projects, generate our own income, and are entrepreneurial ourselves.
SM: I really am a strong advocate of the German Mittelstand and its opportunities. The setup itself is quite unique and future-oriented – if you take the German Mittelstand as the whole. One of the aspects that I find interesting is that they are not focusing as much on the next few years but are rather thinking long-term. Which makes the setup especially interesting for a venture builder, as it allows for a long-term perspective on projects and on ventures going forward.
As part of our identity at wattx, one thing that I consider truly future-oriented is the sustainability aspect. Our mother company Viessmann even included it in their purpose statement, making it part of the identity. And for a lot of their employees – that they call ‘family members’ – sustainability is really part of that DNA. That's something that I can personally identify with, too.
Within the framework of the German Mittelstand, we can contribute in a positive way as a venture builder. That puts us into such a new and unique but very purpose-oriented perspective and additionally provides us with a great vision for our projects and ventures.
SM: When I had just joined, one of the aspects that surprised me was how warmly everyone welcomed me and how quickly I was able to connect to everyone - or at least I have the feeling that I made some sort of connection. I was told that this would be the case, and that you have this great connection within the team. But still, even knowing that, it was surprising to experience how quickly I felt welcome.
JP: Martin, the former managing director and I, were similar in our way of thinking and in our way of working. I was more process-oriented, but in general, I would say, we were more alike. So, I'm really looking forward to being confronted with someone with a different thinking, with a different mindset, with different skills. I'm super excited about having Simon as a sparring partner and as someone who challenges my decisions from time to time.
SM: In that regard, I'm thinking the same. I'm really excited and looking forward to getting to ramp-up "our own" very first venture, together. How that will look like – because there will be, again, ups and downs – will be interesting. And "our own" is of course not limited to Julius and me, but refers to the whole team.
JP: I would say, the strategy remains the same. Our goal is to develop ventures that are strategically relevant to Viessmann, and to build meaningful ventures with other Mittelstand companies.
With Simon on board, I hope that we can step up our game when it comes to the technical complexity of ventures and the projects we are working on.
SM: Generally speaking, I think it's more in the fine print where the new setup can make a difference. What I can bring to the table might be some more detailed knowledge in certain areas which, I hope, can give us an advantage in funding and founding one company or the other. And with more technical expertise, the amount that we can provide as a service to external companies might also be different.
SM: In our context, we're usually talking much much shorter-term. Especially when we look at the evolution of wattx in the past. We started in deep tech company building and explored different domains. As of today, we define ourselves as a venture builder, focused on developing innovative business models and companies with our Mittelstand partners.
We are not going to solve challenges like climate change today or tomorrow. These are problems that need a lot of work for a long period of time. Exploring that and having the backing of Viessmann also gives us a little bit of perspective and longer endurance in that regard.
JP: I was excited and nervous. And at the same time very positively surprised as the reactions of the whole team were great: Everyone was truly supportive of me stepping into this role and I'm absolutely grateful for that.
Looking for a co-managing director was stressful, but the condition of accepting my new role was that I’d look for another person who works by my side. I'm not a lone wolf. I definitely have the opinion that you, as a team, can achieve better results.
And this decision I made, very well reflects at least two of our values at wattx: firstly, we are team players. And secondly, we’re humble. I myself had to acknowledge that I can't do everything on my own, and that there are other people around who can do things better. For instance, managing the tech team and potentially being even more visionary than I am.