In September GTEC Startup Academy began its fourth semester. Over the next four weeks we’ll be introducing you to the 2015 cohort of founders and their teams from across the world who have joined the program.
GTEC Startup Academy is GTEC’s early-stage acceleration program. In a 3-month, 2 day/week program involving 60+ of Berlin’s most experienced CEOs and investors as mentors, the GTEC Startup Academy helps to turn an idea into a startup or to bring entrepreneurial drive to early-stage enterprises.
If you are a founder with a remarkable technology-driven startup idea, apply for next year’s Startup Academy program or for the GTEC Lab (rolling application) – GTEC’s innovation hub connecting startups, industry, and academia.
For this week: meet chatShopper founders Antonia Ermacora (30) and Matthias Nannt (26) from Kiel.
The nuts and bolts
Matthias: “chatShopper is personal shopping via messenger. Today there’s a huge variety of products and product categories, making it hard to find the product that fits your needs. That’s where chatShopper comes in. We connect you via instant messenger with a product expert who can find you exactly what you’re looking for.”
What was the journey to entrepreneurship?
Antonia: “I trained as an event organiser and spent a couple of years in London setting up a food business on a converted double-decker bus. But once I’d got the business set up and done the marketing, I realised that I didn’t actually want to run a food business. Standing there selling food all day wasn’t my thing. I went back to Germany, to Kiel, in 2011 and started studying business administration and started working on e-commerce projects. During that time I got involved in the Kiel startup scene, where I met Matthias (chatShopper co-founder). I knew if I ever started a business, I wanted to start it with him: we got on well and our skills complimented each other.”
Matthias: “I studied Computer Science in Kiel, but spent a lot of my time focused on getting involved in the startup scene. Together with other students I set up starterkitchen.de in Kiel to encourage more students to become entrepreneurs and at the same time looked around for projects to get involved with.”
Antonia: “Early 2015 I did a practical semester at Otto, which was great for e-commerce insights. At the same time, Matthias and I had the idea for FairPiece (a crowdfunding platform for ethically produced clothes) which won us a place in the SpeedUp! Europe accelerator in Hamburg. We ran four campaigns, two worked, two didn’t, but quickly realised it wasn’t going anywhere. Crowdfunding businesses are so hard to make sustainable. Then I read something by the Zalando CEO saying that in China it’s completely normal for people to buy stuff via messenger. The idea for chatShopper was born.”
Matthias: “We started talking about chatShopper. I was sceptical at the beginning. I didn’t think people would actually contact another person via WhatsApp to buy things – too complicated – mainly because I’m a person that looks up things online on his own.
What was the journey from idea to actual functioning business?
Matthias: “But Antonia convinced me. So, we decided to try it and to start off super lean. We took a couple of afternoons to put together a business structure, a logo, a simple WordPress site and a WhatsApp phone number.”
Antonia: “We spent €9 on Facebook advertising. Ten minutes later we had our first request – such a strange feeling. Requests kept coming. That was great but hard to manage, because we just had one smart phone to message our customers. More than five simultaneous requests just weren’t possible.
Matthias: “Using WhatsApp web (chatting on WhatsApp on your desktop) helped. And the idea clearly worked. Two weeks later (in April 2015) we started focusing on it full time.”
Antonia: “We’ve grown so fast (we now have two interns and employ three people). The business model is that the customers pay us and we go buy it from the online shop for them, taking roughly 10% commission. When we got to having more requests than we could handle, we employed a few people (mostly students) as product experts – they get 4% on every sale. Now we’re building up a network of partner firms – Otto, About You, Asos – and the aim is that in the long run the partners pay the commission instead. As soon as we get enough chatShopper will be free for the customer.”
Antonia: “We started out selling everything. We were getting some really strange requests – cars, gold, sex toys … Anyway, we realised it was more sustainable to focus on fashion. And we had people thinking we were a scam – there’s so many of them out there. Now we’ve got the Trusted Shops Certificate. That helps.”
Matthias: “Getting direct customer contact at the beginning (and even now, when we’re super busy) was great. That way we could understand what issues customers were facing and iron them out.”
Why Berlin, Why the GTEC Startup Academy?
Antonia: “The startup scene in Kiel is tiny. Berlin is where it is at. But we don’t have the time to establish all the contacts we need so quickly. When I read about the Startup Academy I thought it would be such a good way of getting connected. We need to build a network and secure first funding.”
Matthias: “Relying on something we can’t control like WhatsApp is risky, so we’re developing an app, which we can hone to enhance our customer experience.”
Antonia: “Finding a business angel and building awareness.”
Thanks Antonia and Matthias – we can’t wait to see how chatShopper develops over the next three months.