THE TRAVEL ADAPTER FOR THE DIGITAL FUTURE
The digital revolution is all around us. The “Internet of Things” consists of refrigerators, cellphones, computers and the lines in between. Connecting these entities there are intersections that must be connected to ensure that things will work. In order to make this work Felix Kollmar and David Amann founded their firm Licobo and developed the software solution “CloudRail“ – for maximum data security and functioning intersections. We met up with Felix in the Mafinex technology centre to find out what makes „CloudRail“ so unique.
CloudRail — a railway between the clouds?
In a way, yes. We are connecting the clouds! We aim to make things compatible. In particular cloud systems, apps and software, but also smart devices. There are many insular solutions available and we wish to interconnect all these islands. This puts us in the “Internet of Things” in which we offer a certain technology — at the moment primarily for cloud based solutions.
So this means you are in charge of allowing my computer to communicate with providers such as Dropbox for example?
Exactly. Though we don’t deal with end users, but rather with software developers that are in the process of launching an app or cloud based solution. We will then ensure compatibility with other applications, such as Dropbox. Nowadays other systems will always be integrated, be it cloud storage or social media. Any software you look at has a multitude of outgoing connections — this is where we come into play.
So if I were to build an app and integrate a Facebook button, this button could be your guys doing?
Quite possibly. We are strongly invested in Android and iOS. Our focus may be on cloud storage with suppliers such as Dropbox or Google-Drive, but a second major sector we deal in is actually social log-in functionality — these are often supplied by us. We also dabble in point of interest and payment applications. The most popular integrations are what we are interested in.
To keep the “Internet of Things” running we rely on so called APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Can you break down what they are about?
APIs are interfaces. Many businesses are interested in opening up their systems and allowing external partners to dock in. So if an app is to „talk“ to Dropbox, this will function through the Dropbox API.
So the API is a kind of translator, that is versed in both systems and their languages?
Yes and no. Let’s say I’m Dropbox and want to open up my system through an interface. On this case I will create an interface that works well for me. After that Microsoft may come along with OneDrive and create a second interface. After that GoogleDrive creates yet another interface. By now we have three separate interfaces that communicate in different ways and are used in different ways. This is the big problem! If I am building an app I can’t know which cloud storage my end users will be using, so I have ensure they are all compatible. This requires a new connection to be programmed each time.
Which is a considerable effort!
Yes, an individual integration for each provider. This is where we come in and offer a universal interface with our product „CloudRail“.
A universal adapter, as for electric outlets?
Exactly. A digital, universal travel adapter that works for everything.
Do you profit from the constantly changing state of technological developments?
Indeed. Interfaces are constantly changing and with CloudRail we remove the constant need to adapt to changes from the developers. The moment CloudRail is integrated the developers don’t have to worry about integration any more.
Do your clients pay for individual use? What is your business model?
We offer a large range of services free of charge. This means one can use CloudRail completely free with a visible logo branding. Aside from this we offer premium packages that are accounted for monthly and per application. We offer three different packages with features such as API statistics or API management.
The more successful your clients, the more revenue you generate?
No. The price stays the same. Our pricing is generally not that high. Besides the free offer our services start at 19 Euros a month. Our service is aimed intensively at the mass market, as we wish to revolutionize the way APIs are used and integrated. We are focusing clearly on the largest and most popular services and not on small specialized providers. We want to define the standard for how developers deal with APIs.
And what exactly is the revolutionary part?
That we built the adapter! Our system is built on three pillars. First, one must find a provider such as Stripe or Paypal, that for instance wishes to manage a credit card payment. This can be done through our platform. The next step is integrating them very easily via our interfaces. Step three is maintenance. The estimate is that maintenance accounts for one week of work per year and integration. So any developer that is using our service can scratch that time from their budget, as we keep everything up to date. Dropbox just recently released a second version of their interface, which means a large amount of programming work for all developers of software with Dropbox connectivity. Those developers though that use CloudRail must not do anything at all.
And the concept is actually new? Hard to believe!
There have been some things here and there. Especially in the enterprise market. It has not yet really worked for the mass market though. We cut the middleman and transfer data from peer to peer. For example between Dropbox and the mobile app.
This minimizes our infrastructure costs, allowing us to offer low pricing options.
Reliability, fail-safety and data security are other advantages of our system.
You founded Licobo in 2012, while CloudRail became part of your portfolio in 2014?
Well, that’s kind of tricky. Our limited company Licobo was initially set up to sell a smart address book. In the end we had to give up on the project. Ultimately we founded a second company with CloudRail, but continued to use the old company construct. On the surface today we are only CloudRail.
You founded as a duo – your partner David Amann and yourself. How is the distribution of roles and how large is your staff by now?
David was always the „tech-guy“, the creative nerd. I studied communications engineering and am more about the hardware. I familiarized myself with the field and understand the world we work in, but I don’t code myself anymore. Nowadays I take care of product management – my port to the technology – and deal with marketing, sales und so forth. Davis left the operational business and at the moment we are five people in the team, plus to active Business Angels. We are currently setting up a division in India and have just recruited our first new employee.
How does one set up a division in India? Buy a plane ticket and do some research on-site?
No, it’s a remote process. One of our Business Angels is a medium-sized company with 35 employees in India. The have an office that we can integrate our people into. For us this is a very favourable variant of building a workforce.
With your know-how you guys could have easily found comfortable and well paid jobs. What led you to become self-employed with your startup?
The idea seemed exciting to us. I had already been involved in several firms and had previously went through a small scale business startup. And after graduating we had nothing to loose and wanted to see how far we could make it. Just the way one might expect it went.
What brought you to Mafinex in 2012?
We first moved into one of the seed-rooms for start-ups, and shortly after into our own office. That was great as everthing became much more official. We reached a new level and were able to recruit an intern, which was a great help. At our university at the time the was no real startup support yet, which has changed apparently. Mannheims regional business promotion coached us very well though.
How good is the startup ecosystem in Mannheim?
The startup centers Mannheim has are great! There is no other city comparable. The community is constantly growing and evolving, as well as the awareness for Mannheim as a startup city. Back in 2012 things were much less cool. Something that could be improved is the availability of funding. Which is problem for a lot of startups. If a startup has found its niche and wants to expand, there could be better consultancy regarding the specifics. For example by mentors that are well versed in the respective field. An accelerator would be great, as there are hardly any here yet.
So real knowledge transfer and support by mentors is essential for startups in tech?
Very much so. In the early startup phase it is great to have someone who keeps you going, and who tells you what dangers to be aware of. Sure, you can find people to help you, but that is always difficult. A mentor meets you twice a week, knows exactly what is relevant, keeps you on track and can point out bumps in the road.
Interview: Paul Heesch
Photos: Ricardo Wiesinger