Philipp Etzlinger is an Austrian entrepreneur with more than 5 years of experience at a web startup and a strong financial background working in different positions at such companies as Deloitte, ExxonMobil and OVAG for nearly 10 years. Currently he runs his second startup named uugot.it where he is responsible for all biz related issues, including business development, marketing and strategic decision making. In today’s interview for Magazine MN Philipp shares interesting insights about his entrepreneurial journey, lessons learned from his first endeavors in a startup world and gives valuable bits of advice for startup founders.
Magazine MN: Philipp, you previously worked in a more corporate environment. What made you decide to become an entrepreneur ?
Philipp: I spent several years working for one of the Big 4 auditing companies. My first business idea popped up when I was studying for my tax advisor exams. And I couldn’t help but think about it all the time. At that moment I realized that career in tax, audit, or, basically, in the financial environment is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I was convinced that there were so many interesting things out there to go for. Furthermore, I believed that starting my own company would give me the possibility to work on a product or service that is missing in our everyday lives. That was the main reason why I started my first startup.
Magazine MN: How do you define success?
Philipp: Success and satisfaction are related to each other. Many people measure success in monetary terms. But as for me, success is when our team creates a product people love to use. Nonetheless, the road to success can be quite bumpy.
Magazine MN: Most entrepreneurs compare running a startup with a rollercoaster ride. How do you manage to deal with ups and downs of running a startup business?
Philipp: Ups and downs occur in other businesses too, but the amplitudes are likely to be more radical in small structures than in bigger companies. This is why it is the most important to have a team which stands close together and people you can count on. I advise everyone to take the time to choose the right co-founders and the right teammates. Initially, we had great and experienced people at uugot.it, but the time had come when we needed to secede from them, because they didn’t share the same mindset any longer. This is an absolutely necessary step you’ll need to take. Regrouping, splitting and reassembling the team is one of the important actions you’ll need to take to form a winning-team. You also need to learn that you cannot bind people to your startup. It’s better to drop a final curtain, rather than keep someone you cannot count on or someone who stands with one foot on the brake while the rest of the team is in take-over-the-world mode. So having the right team definitely helps to compensate the amplitudes of that “rollercoaster ride”. Moreover, I highly recommend to reserve one day just for yourself, your hobbies or family. This is something I’ve adopted lately.
Magazine MN: What’s your attitude towards risk ?
Philipp: You need to identify, quantify and measure risks. Depending on the risk you need to take proper actions and make proper decisions. Basically, creating a new product or service involves greater risks and doubts than working on a solution that already exists on the market. So it’s even more important to spot on the different risks and classify them. Sometimes, due to the lack of valid market data, it will be especially difficult to answer some questions. But still it remains important to do your job properly. I’m not risk averse in case I can measure it, but there’s a second aspect: in case if I have reliable data, but my stomach still tells me not to make a certain decision (although, in most cases decisions are made jointly at uugot.it), I’ll back away from that one. But there is a good thing about our business: you can mostly test, iterate and improve all the time .
Magazine MN: What is the most important thing you’ve learnt while working in a corporate environment that helps you run your business? Do you believe that prior work experience improves the odds of entrepreneurial success ?
Philipp: I’ve learnt that at my current stage of personal development I’m not the right person for a corporate setting. The leeway is very limited. I’ve learnt much more when my first startup failed after 4 ½ years of operations. And what I have learnt so far has more to do with psychological aspects, rather than business stuff. Besides, I’m more sober now and I avoid mistakes I’ve made at my last startup.
Magazine MN: Do you trust your guts when it comes to making decisions?
Philipp: Yes, there are decisions I would make according to an inner sentiment. I can’t say that those have always been the right decisions, but I estimate that in around 90% of cases those decisions were correct.
Magazine MN: Your latest project is called uugot.it. Tell us more about it.
Philipp: uugot.it is a service that enables learning languages while watching TV. It’s kind of duolingo for TV, but it has an integration aspect too. Assume that you’re coming from a foreign country, but don’t speak the language of your host country properly. You will not be part of the society out there as you don’t know what moves people from that country. With uugot.it TV will become a tool which supports integration as people will be able to understand the broadcasts, although the content is broadcasted in a language they only understand slightly. Integration starts with understanding what’s going on, what moves the society of that country and uugot.it will jump in there.
Magazine MN: What inspired you to create uugot.it ?
Philipp: During my studies I decided to take an ERASMUS semester in Paris. My French wasn’t that good when I arrived in France, but later on I’ve improved my French by watching TV. Well, that was in 2003, long time before smartphones were available for the broad public and therefore was some time until the app-age started. So I was sitting in front of my TV in my small room in Paris watching the news on France2 and I’ve been looking up the different words I didn’t understand in my dictionary. You can imagine that this was not an ideal setting as I missed many parts of the show due to the fact that I spent time looking up the words manually. Once, when I was working on the concept for another second screen solution, we had a brainstorming session and it was like a thunderstruck when the idea to create uugot.it came to my mind. All of a sudden the whole situation in Paris, where I was sitting in front of the TV, spooled as a film in front of my eyes and I knew that this would be the thing. “That’s what I want to do for my whole life”, I thought.
Magazine MN: What is your best advice for the first-time startup founders?
Philipp: Choose wisely who you take to the team. I worked with remote teams, with agencies and with freelancers. But it’s necessary that people stick together, especially at an early stage. So no remote teams until you’ve built a certain structure, or what we call at uugot.it, the inner circle. Take your time and spend quality time with your partners and, if your partners don’t understand and believe in your product or don’t share the same mindset, it’s better to split up.
Shira Abel, a friend of mine and a former mentor at Microsoft Ventures, states the following and compared the the relation among the cofounders with a marriage ,” Choose your co-founders wisely – it’s like a marriage. A lot of startups failed just because members of the team didn’t get along with each other. You can have a great idea, but even the best idea will not take off if you don’t have the right team that will help you to bring idea to life. The team must be able to execute the idea”.
It’s often the hardest part to bring the right people together. But if you do so you will definitely increase your chances to hit the road to success.
Philipp Etzlinger was interviewed by Natalie Myhalnytska
Connect with Philipp Etzlinger on:
uugot.it website: http://uugot.it/