Three friends from Mannheim are revolutionizing the "cloud for developers"
In the Mannheim technology center MAFINEX, three friends are revolutionizing the “cloud for developers”. Lukas Gentele, Fabian Kramm and Daniel Thiry just got into business two years ago, but have already been awarded several prizes, and have been able to present their idea in Silicon Valley.
Lukas and Fabian, you two studied computer science and economics, and Daniel, you are a business economist. All of you transitioned from university right into self-employment. What was the determining factor in taking this path?
Lukas: Daniel and I had been running a web agency together during uni. Fabian became a part of the agency. So we’ve been a trio for some time now. This led to the inception of covexo. When conversing with other developers, we discovered that many we troubled by the same issues we were also dealing with. There was no solution for the matter at the time – so we began developing one.
Tell us about this issue, the solution, and your idea. Tell us about your start-up.
Daniel: As we were working in our web agency, we often found a real discrepancy between web and desktop based development. Software is mostly developed locally, while being executed in the cloud later on. For this issue we use container-technologies such as “dockers” or “kubernetes”. As in a seaport, this means that containers are loaded with data, and “shipped” to the cloud. For running the software this is fine, but for development, a timespan of 30 seconds to 5 minutes means constant periods of unproductively for the developers.
Fabian: We solve this through real-time synchronization. This removes the delay – development locally and in the cloud take place simultaneously. Project managers and developers receive all data, at the same time. Work becomes collaborative this way. Though the best aspect of all this is: Our solution is compatible with a multitude of systems. Developers can carry on with their preferred workflow, while our product, “DevSpace” – short for developer space – takes care of optimizing the process.
You started up in 2017. Have you entered the market yet? In your case this sounds like a big deal …
Lukas: We developed the idea in 2016, and directly applied for EXIST. This is a founder-award, which is organized on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economics and the EU. We received 120.000 euros. This allowed us to officially get into business in April of 2017. That summer we received an additional private investment of 150.000 euros from friends of ours, who believed, and still believe in our idea. Whenever we make a big step business-wise we will invite them to celebrate here in our offices.
Daniel: We moved to the Mannheim technology center MAFINEX in September of 2017, which was just the right thing to do. Additionally we took part in several international conferences. This included the WebSummit in Lisbon. In November of 2017 we were awarded the Mannheim start-up award MEXI, which is worth 10.000 euros. After this we finished up our prototype, so we were able to market our first product in spring of 2018. This led us to expand our team. We now have an additional permanent employee, as well as a working student.
Market entry presents a crucial step to any start-up. How did it work out in your case?
Fabian: The EXIST financing ended in April of 2018. This coincided with the marketing of our first product. Twelve months are just not enough time to tackle such a complex issue. Luckily there was some money left from our last round of financing. Additionally we received a start-up award by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. As of now, we also reached third place of the Baden-Württemberg “Cyber One” high-tech award. We are currently also in talks with a new investor. So things are looking quite positive.
Lukas: We did have to learn a few things though, regarding market placement. Our first product was a closed system, which was not the right way to go. We didn’t receive enough exposure. We changed up and opened up. We are now Open Source, and the main part of the code is free to anyone. It’s a free download now, and we are planning on making money through the Premium version, as well as with additional versions and features.
How much exposure did the switch to Open Source generate?
Daniel: We started with online posts. A single post gets around 8.000 views at the moment, which is great. We’ve received 250 “stars” by now, and over the course of the past two weeks, 200 users have downloaded our software. Devs hate sales pitches, so the best case scenario is being recommended within the community. This is happening as we speak. One of the biggest tech influencers has commented on our product, saying it is “a cool, smart technology”. He is planning on getting us into his newsletter, which would be awesome for us.
Fabian: We see a potential 140.000 developers in Germany, who our product could appeal to. Internationally there are 21 million developers, 3.3 million of which are within our target audience. The potential demand and growth is given, and is set to grow over time.
With such potential demand: are you afraid of emerging competition? Especially as you source code is up for grabs.
Lukas: It’s still fairly new field. But yes, at the moment all the big players are involved in the subject. Microsoft, Google, and so forth. In the US we actually do have to direct competitors, but it seems they are pursuing different solutions. In comparison we are a small player, but we’re independent. Our product runs on all systems, which is a real advantage – it’s revolutionary even! The name covexo and our product “DevSpace” have been internationally trademarked.
This summer you were invited to Silicon Valley. What led to this?
Daniel: We Applied for the “Y Combinator”, which is one of the most renowned accelerator programs for innovative high-tech start-ups in the world. The program offers a tree month support period, connecting you with clients, mentors and investors from the Silicon Valley. The guys behind Docker, AirBnB or Dropbox were all part of this program. Every year up to 15.000 start-ups apply for the program. We made it to the last round, which consisted of the best 500 start-ups. So we were invited to California, which was a real surprise! It was a real highlight of our firms history!
Lukas: US Investors are less afraid of innovative approaches. Germans are more hesitant and safe-thinking. This is fine, but makes life more difficult for us. Investors in Germany are more numbers and revenue oriented. Silicon Valley is all about “thinking big”. We’ve found some great support here in Mannheim though. We are still in vivid contact with the guys who were previously our professors, and are now our mentors: Prof. Armin Heinzl, Prof. Heiner Stuckenschmidt and Dr. Christian Bartelt, of the Institut for Enterprise Systems, of the Mannheim university.
Fabian: Here at MAFINEX we are constantly networking, be it over a beer after work in the lounge, at a BBQ or a hackathon. Sonja Wilkens, of the Mannheim business development department is always very helpful. She had helped us apply for EXIST in 2016. Aside from this there are constantly events offered to connect potential clients and start-ups. By the way … we are currently looking for a Business Angel! Another cool thing we se in the future: two offices – one here Mannheim, one over in Silicon Valley!
What is your goal in the long-run?
We want covexo to be successful, of course! But we also want to pursue our individual visions. Being good friends for years makes our work just that much more special!
Interview: Sina Listmann / LA.MAG
Photos: Sebastian Weindel