Accelerating the Learning Curve

Text by Stefan Zanetti, synesix solutions
Stefan Zanetti

Stefan Zanetti

The year 2012 was an important one for me as an entrepreneur. At the beginning of 2012, seven years after I founded our two companies, synesix and careware, I was thinking about where to go, both personally and professionally. After a bumpy time, both companies were running well and there was no need to change strategy. I had learned, however, that building up companies is what I am good at. Others are more gifted at running the operations. So I decided to go for a longer leave in the summer of 2012, with the whole family. I handed over the responsibility of the existing business to our core team, and wanted to gain some distance.

It sounds a bit cliché, but being away from our offices in Switzerland gave me some clarity on what the really important ingredients are for our business, and all of a sudden it became clear that we could transfer these ingredients to completely different areas. In other words: we could use our competencies to develop very different solutions for our clients. Personally, I really felt the desire to launch something that had the chance to make a global impact, something largely scalable.

One of the ideas we carried around for a long time was to launch a service that enables consumers as well as businesses to build digital identities for everything they like — shoes, gadgets, paintings, sports equipment, wine, etc.—and to equip these profiles with additional services, such as reminders, making-of videos, forms to reorder spare parts, or new sharing capabilities to see which people own similar things. Some of our existing business partners were fascinated when we talked to them about the idea, and Swisscom was even willing to support us in developing a prototype. This, combined with the insight gained during my summer leave, led me to evaluate turning that idea into a spin-off company.

When I met with our board of directors, they were immediately convinced that the new service was viable and agreed that we had to take it to Silicon Valley. Why? To get inspiration from other founders regarding how large web services are launched, and to test whether our idea seemed hot in the place that mattered. The Valley, we were all convinced, is still the place where a big portion of globally successful web services are launched.

One of our Board Members knew the swissnex people and I was immediately connected to them. We proposed that swissnex San Francisco serve as our hub for several weeks while we worked on our concept, met with providers of similar services, and tried to come up with a clear draft of how and what we should do.

Working with swissnex was outstanding from the beginning. We set up a first call with Gioia, Birgit, and Cyril, who work together at swissnex on startup support and innovation services. It seemed to be as simple as sending over a list with bullet points regarding what we were interested in. They came back with suggestions of people, events, companies, and organizations to visit.

Birgit Coleman, Gioia Deucher and Cyril Dorsaz

Birgit Coleman, Gioia Deucher, and Cyril Dorsaz

Not everything could be addressed in our short time frame, but they also suggested other offerings that anticipated our needs, like a workshop with digital branding specialists. We were quite used to the American way of how to get connected to other people, but what we experienced with swissnex was on a completely different level with regard to networking.

The result is that in a very short time we met many founders, got dozens of hints on recently launched services, and were connected to potential direct competitors, VCs, and other organizations supporting European startups. And we baked all these lessons immediately into our concepts. After just a few weeks, we came home with a substantially reworked approach, a completely new name, and a value proposition that has remained stable: “qipp: digital profiles and amazing new capabilities for all things people care about.”

It’s, of course, our obligation to make qipp a success. But swissnex San Francisco highly accelerated our learning curve. There were some minor costs incurred in our voyage, but compared to the knowledge we gained, I would say that we saved at least one year of testing and going down roads already traveled. So swissnex’s small fees were probably the best invested money ever, from that point of view. It was also super fun to be in San Francisco!

Next spring, we will send another employee of ours to swissnex, and we plan for much longer stays in the future. We have a number of well identified areas we’d like to explore, including user activation and retention, staging of developments, digital marketing, and some technical issues around APIs. We are convinced that you have to be there to understand how people in the Valley do it. After an exciting 2012, we look forward to an even more exciting 2013.