We are in conversation with Pascal Mages, Claudio Clematide and Martina Lattmann of the startup ITIGO, which was officially founded in May 2016.
ITIGO offers total IT solutions for micro and small businesses. How did you come up with your idea?
Pascal: Dominik and I both did IT support for several years and kept running into the same problems that needed to be solved. There was no smart and affordable solution on the market that would have met our quality and security requirements. Another motivation was that most offerings for SMEs are based almost exclusively on products from a single manufacturer, and we wanted to reduce these dependencies.
You are four founders?
Pascal: Yes, it started with Dominik and me. 2-3 years ago we started discussing the idea. In October 2015, we decided to implement the business idea. After a short time, Matthias Leutenegger and Claudio joined us.
What is your professional background?
Pascal: I am a trained watchmaker, an environmental scientist and have a postgraduate degree in business administration. I did IT support on the side for ten years, before the startup. Dominik is a computer scientist and worked for a long time at the ETH, among others at the Neptun project. Since the Neptun project became independent, he has been the managing director. There, 15-20’000 laptops are sold to students and institutes every year. Matthias is a student of bioinformatics.
And you, Claudio?
Claudio: I am a business economist and worked for almost seven years as a management consultant for banks and insurance companies at Ernst & Young after my studies. After that I had a break of one and a half years…
Pascal: …during which you cycled a lot…
Did you ride a bike?
Claudio: Yes, the two of us cycled from Switzerland along the Balkan coast to Istanbul, then through Turkey and Iran. By ferry we crossed the Persian Gulf to Dubai and rode through Oman to Muscat. From Muscat we flew to Kigali in Rwanda. With some detours through Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa we reached Cape Town after about 16 months. In order to travel home at the pace we were used to, we flew from Cape Town to Barcelona and biked back to Switzerland. Still during this trip Pascal asked me if I would like to support him, Matthias and Dominik in the implementation of the business idea. Since we took a notebook with us, I was able to familiarize myself with the business idea and its implementation before we left for home.
Martina, you are an employee at ITIGO and have recently started working here. How did your decision to work in a startup come about?
Martina: I had actually applied to a partner company of ITIGO, which then recommended me. In the end, the team and the exciting challenge were my motivations to start here.
How do you finance yourselves?
Claudio: We four founders initially paid in CHF 100,000 to establish the AG. We will do a first, small financing round of another CHF 100,000 in July to finance further start-up investments and to drive product development. We will then do a larger financing round in early 2017 to ensure continued company growth. Therefore, we are intensively looking for investors in the next six months.
Pascal: We are also looking for sales partners who already offer industry solutions, with whom we can then jointly offer a worry-free overall IT package. With sales partners, we can offer well-integrated industry solutions including infrastructure.
You are a relatively new startup. Do you already have customers?
Pascal: Our first product is ready; we already offer network and security including WLAN. However, our actual basic offering, which includes the entire infrastructure including software as a worry-free package, is still under development. We are already supplying network and security to a customer in the financial sector. We are especially pleased to have found our first customer, a small company, in this sensitive industry. Of course, we are now hoping for further orders from this industry.
Claudio: We will not only offer the complete package, but also individual components from it. We assume that smaller companies tend to want the complete package. The larger the company, the more likely they will want individual components and services, such as groupware or software management. We hope to slowly grow into the company.
How do you plan your marketing?
Claudio: We happened to discuss this internally today! We plan to bring in someone external, a marketing coordinator, who will manage all the marketing activities.
What is it like working in a startup?
Martina: We are still few people and you can get involved a lot. But that also gives you more responsibility and you might be the only specialist in one area. The team is very important to me first and foremost, and the work comes second. From my training, I fit in very well here and can contribute my know-how. We use a lot of open source technologies, so I don’t have a lot of experience with that, but I can learn and benefit a lot from it. I have worked in large companies for a long time and managed the internal IT. We offer SMEs what large companies already have. That’s a great task.
Pascal, you have a child. How do you manage to balance startup and family?
Pascal: Yes (laughs)…for men, in contrast to women, it is rarely mentioned in a professional context that someone is a father. You have to want the compatibility. From the beginning, it was clear to me: I don’t want a startup where I have to work 150 percent to make it work. You have to take that into account when planning and selecting the team. Everyone works part-time between 70 and 80 percent. Working in a startup has one big advantage: flexibility. If there is something urgent at home, I don’t come to the office. It also doesn’t matter much to our employees when they work. I can also work at home in the evenings when the little one is asleep. I will do my best to ensure that this continues to work in the future.
Claudio: A lot is based on personal initiative. Everyone wants to join in and the motivation comes from within.
Speaking of time flexibility, won’t that be limited later when the customers roll in? Will you then have one person for customer contact?
Pascal: We don’t want just one person for customer acquisition and support. The whole team is there for the customers….
Claudio: Yes, typical startup…everybody does everything (laughs)….
Pascal:…we will see who is the best salesperson (laughs).
Founding a startup and working in a startup also means more risk than simply being employed in a company. What is it like to take such a risk when you also have a family?
Pascal: I didn’t earn anything for a year. It is a great opportunity for me that my wife also works and earns money. She shares the risk and supports me. An absolute condition for reconciling startup and family is that you have support at home.
How important is Startup@UZH for you?
Claudio: We are very grateful that we can use the premises at Startup@UZH. This greatly reduces our fixed costs. In addition, it allows us to fully concentrate on building and developing our business and we don’t have to make any long-term financial commitments.
Speaking of growth: are you currently looking for employees?
Pascal: We are always looking for good people who fit into our team and want to work in an exciting startup. Currently we would like to have a Linux system administrator.
I could only recommend you. Thanks a lot for the interview!
This blog post originally appeared on Startup@UZH.