This week former Simyo CEO Nicolas Biagosch and his team checked into GTEC to hold a three-day Berlin break-out. Usually Dusseldorf-based, they came to GTEC for the space and inspiration in their search for a gem of an idea for their next business venture – whether joining a startup to grow it exponentially, spinning off part of a bigger organization to do something disruptive and innovative, or starting something entirely new. For GTEC, this meant having direct access to an incredibly talented entrepreneur and his team to give advice and ideas to our GTEC Lab startups and the broader GTEC community. We interviewed Nicolas to learn more about his drives, future plans, and impressions of GTEC.
“I was trained as a lawyer but focused more on the business and management aspects of it, with an interlude starting a business in the late nineties in Berlin – Planet Internet. From 2006 to 2010 I was Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer at E-Plus. But my deepest motivation has always been leadership: in helping people become better. So when the entrepreneurial opportunity to lead Simyo came up in 2010, it seemed perfect.”
What was your vision for Simyo?
“I wanted double-digit growth, year-on-year, whilst keeping costs at the same level. When I joined Simyo (a no-frills sim card and mobile phone tariff provider, launched as joint-venture with E-Plus in 2005) had already been going for five years. What I saw was a company that had grown massively and had been very innovative, but, in the face of rising competition with little room to move in the market, was stuck. It had only one product – and that just wasn’t cutting it. But it did have great assets: brand, online competence, and an agile and entrepreneurial spirit. So I took these assets and put them together in a new way – to find a new S curve. At first we identified a different segment, taking our pre-paid customers and opening up for them a more valuable product. That worked well, but it wasn’t enough. To achieve that level of growth, we had to create an innovation net that would enable us to put a new product on the market each year. And that’s what we achieved.”
Did you ever regret setting such a high bar?
“Honestly, it has never crossed my mind. I think part of being an effective leader is staying a little naive – believing that the impossible can be possible and working out how to get there (or at least close to there). So even though achieving this growth meant majorly restructuring the company – over the years we exchanged over 50% of the people – I never had any regrets.
I believe that if you do something with full respect for the other people involved, you can ultimately transform a difficult process into a positive and beneficial experience for everyone. So when it was clear that the company was moving in a new direction and that some of the people who had been there for a while wouldn’t be so well suited for it, we talked about it openly, discussed potential options for them, helped them find new jobs, and made sure that they stayed part of the family. That worked, and people appreciated the opportunity to move onto something that was a better fit. Another part of being a good leader is managing people through the challenging times and making sure they come out of it well. It was the same with the integration process into Telefonica earlier this year.”
What was that Telefonica integration experience like?
“To use an analogy: it was like putting a boat into a train. We had a fully end-2-end organized business that had to be dismantled and inserted into a huge functional organization. It was an interesting and complex process. But we managed it.”
So what next?
“Having overseen that integration process I was ready for something new, as were many of my team from Simyo. We are so strong together that we wanted to move on together. It’s like being in a band where you have these fleeting moments in which everyone gets it and works in perfect synchronicity – we have that now and are looking to find something for us to take on. That’s why we’re here [at GTEC] for a few days to help us work out what.”
“I was amazed by GTEC when I visited Christoph Raethke [GTEC Director Education] earlier in the year – the location, the network, its ambition to be the link between academia, startups, and industry, to be the epicenter for entrepreneurship. It seemed like the obvious place to go for us to get inspiration, where we’d have access to other entrepreneurs. So far, the energy is phenomenal, such as at last night’s Corporate Startup Meetup, and the founders we’ve met have been very inspiring.”
Thanks Nicolas – we enjoyed having you and the team in the GTEC Lab.