Surfing the mobile tsunami
This is the dream of every startup: to build up an internationally appealing company and then sell it off successfully! For the founders of Movilizer this dream has come true – but the adventure continues! Having sold the company to the US corporation Honeywell, the Mannheim team now wants to kick off the next digital revolution with its cloud-based app technology.
In March of 2016 you sold Movilizer to the global player Honeywell. With such a success under their belts most start-up founders would spend their time hunting for yachts or growing their own wine – you on the other hand go back to work as if nothing has happened. What keeps you guys going?
Alberto Zamora: That’s a very personal thing. We asked ourselves: How can we offer a promising future to our employees who have invested so much energy into the company over the last 10 years? The sale of Movilizer gave us the unique opportunity to start the next revolution in the world of the Internet of things. That’s what keeps us going every day – with a focus on successfully developing our people.
The sale to Honeywell put the brand Movilizer on a back burner. How can you manage to keep the brand’s identity?
Jörg Bernauer: It’s kind of bittersweet when see how your own brand changes after such a sale. That makes it so much more important to preserve your identity and company culture since that is the crucial factor for success. Without a positive atmosphere within our company, it would be so hard to achieve our goals. What sets us apart from many other companies is that with around 150 employees we still have the lean organization of a typical start-up but with the benefit of Honeywell as a big partner at our side. This privileged constellation makes us an exception – and not only here in this region.
Many startups have great ideas and technologies but they often lack good contacts to make that one important leap forward. Why did it work with Movilizer?
Alberto Zamora: One of the reasons for our successful sale of the company in March 2016 was our visit to Silicon Valley last year on the Business Development Program “German Accelerator” sponsored by the Federal Department of Commerce. There we encountered a highly developed culture of entrepreneurship and met with mentors who took their time to work with us – six months as a matter of fact. That was very important and eventually led to the connection with Honeywell. Another positive fact was that Movilizer had already been very well known and done successful business with large corporations in the USA.
Honeywell is an internationally operating business conglomerate. Until recently there was no connection with Mannheim – now Honeywell employs more than 150 people in a very modern building at Mannheim’s Technology Park Eastsite. Why was this investment so important for the US company?
Jörg Bernauer: Honeywell is a Fortune 100 company and a household name in the States. The company’s turnover is twice as much as SAP’s – with about 150 million end consumers. As a pure cloud-software provider we are a perfect fit for Honeywell’s “Internet of Things” future strategy with a mix of software solutions and hardware products and an emphasis on key technologies of the future, such as “Sensor-to-Cloud”. The Movilizer Cloud established here in Mannheim now belongs to the core of Honeywell.
Oliver Lesche: Honeywell’s future is IOT – and without the Movilizer technology this future simply is not conceivable. We quickly arrived at the core of Honeywell and are very pleased that CEO John Waldron is more than willing to give a talk at our Movilizer Day at the Mannheim Congress Center Rosengarten. This event has developed into a flagship consumer event. Last year 250 people came, this year we are already talking about more than 800 attendees. An incredible success story if you keep in mind that we started out at a very modest level in Mannheim’s Mafinex.
Why did you decide for the Mafinex Technology Center in Mannheim when opening your startup?
Oliver Lesche: Because Mannheim took really good care of us! At the right moment we were offered an office at the Technology Center Mafinex. At the start we only had little money and so the reasonable rents for office space were a god-sent. Plus, the right infrastructure was made available to us and we also received competent consulting, so we were in a position to organize customer events directly on site. And finally they helped us tremendously in the search for a new location which we found in Mannheim’s Eastsite, a perfect place.
How did the idea for Movilizer occur to you and when for the first time did you realize its potential to grow into something really big?
Alberto Zamora: We had the idea in India in 2006. At that time we used to be in Bangalore a lot on SAP business and we would often sit in the hotel and spitball ideas of how to display ERP company data on the mobile devices that had just surfaced everywhere. It was a vision of building a multi-platform for digital applications, an idea not everybody got right away with only Nokia telephones around in those days. But soon enough the Blackberry arrived and we had this hunch that something like an iphone was just around the corner. We still had absolutely no idea how to establish a company but we knew one thing: We would have to be prepared for the first generation of really good mobile devices.
Is it a true story that Movilizer got started with a consulting appointment at the Mannheim IHK, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce?
Oliver Lesche: We received consulting from the IHK but also from the Mannheim Startup Center GmbH team since right off the bat we very much focused on the development of our business. I’d say that our success also rests on the fact that we have clearly delineated areas of responsibilities reflecting our different backgrounds. I looked after finances and operations as COO, Joerg as CTO was responsible for engineering and development and Alberto as CMO managed marketing and distribution.
How do you finance a technology startup with its immense investment needs?
Oliver Lesche: It was hard at the beginning since didn’t have any money. Each one of us chipped in 15,000 Euros – for us that was a great risk. We just couldn’t afford going on developing forever and for that reason we set up a second consulting agency named Movilitas Consulting AG, very successful and profitable in the consulting business. The profits and the money from the sale of Movilitas Consulting AG to the American company Peak-Ryzex early in 2013 were put into further developing our Movilizer products. To this we added a Series A Venture Capital round we had completed in October 2010.
Movilizer has grown fast and dynamically. Is Mannheim a good location for personnel recruitment?
Alberto Zamora: Well, in Berlin recruiting may have been even better, but Mannheim did just fine in that respect because we were able to take advantage of excellent infrastructure in the region. Our first employees came straight from the SRH University Heidelberg or the University of Mannheim we have an exchange program with. And it was also helpful to have a University Mannheim professor on our supervisory board. You definitely have to maintain a good relationship with universities and colleges.
What is Mannheim’s greatest advantage as a location?
Jörg Bernauer: Mannheim’s geography. There is no city in all of Europe with a better and more central location on the map. It’s only a few train hours away from Paris; a 45-minute care ride gets you to the Frankfurt Airport and two hours later you are in London. And in spite of all this travelling you can be home with the family in the evening.
What are your personal relationships with Mannheim?
Alberto Zamora: I’m from Spain and moved to Germany at the age of 22. First to Walldorf and then with Movilizer to Mannheim. For me, Mannheim is a very cool city! But I think the city needs to increase marketing to make that more aware and visible. We have a lot of young employees and they really love Mannheim. But of course the entire metropolitan region and its attractions come into play here – the close proximity to Heidelberg is also a big advantage. Mannheim is geographically in the sweet spot for start-ups!
How could the Startup City of Mannheim become even better for startups?
Alberto Zamora: We would wish for Accelorators here, the way they exist in Silicon Valley. There they successfully network experienced mentors who know exactly how to build a company. Should there ever be a mentorship program at the Start-up Mannheim Network, we could see ourselves very well play an active role in it. That is the key to success because that was the reason we could sell our company to a fortune 100 company. Fact is, it is not only about technology and an idea but always also about how to implement it in the real world and have the right marketing in place.