Sandra, the fact that bakeries and butcher shops need to pay attention to and document hygiene conditions is nothing new. What problem is your HygieneApp meant to solve?
I come from a bakery background, and had first-hand experience there of how difficult it was to accomplish such seemingly simple tasks as planning, monitoring and documenting cleaning. There are mountains of paper involved. You're constantly printing plans, sending them here and there, sometimes something gets forgotten, a verification gets mislaid... When the auditor from the oversight agency comes, you can be in a real mess. It became clear to me back then that digitizing this whole process would be a huge time savings – and therefore save money, too.
I had the idea as long as ten years ago. But back then, there was only computer software and payment systems – which were both impractical. The new solution needed to be convenient, simple, mobile. When the tablet revolution arrived, it seemed to me that the time had come. So I wrote a business plan, pulled together a developer team and founded my company HygieneApp. That was in May 2015. We had our first customer by July.
App development can be expensive. How did you finance your launch?
It was mainly with my own capital. I tried crowdfunding, but to be honest, that was a total fiasco! (laughs) Things were pretty difficult at first. Sometimes we didn't know how we would pay the bills. But that's part of the experience. You have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. Lots of IT startups try to develop a perfect product – and it never gets finished or is then out of sync with the market. It was always important for me to be very close to our customers' needs. Now that a year has gone by, I can say that was the right approach. In the past few months we were far less in the red than our realistic calculations had initially indicated.
In fact you have 14 customers today, ranging from a small butcher shop to a large bakery chain. How did you do it?
Because of my background in this profession, I know lots of restaurateurs and food businesses. So I already had a network, and that's definitely a key success factor for any startup. And then our app won third place in coffee company J. J. Darboven's IDEE contest and the attention that brought us was enormously helpful. We receive several queries from potential new customers every day on our website alone. And we're not resting on our laurels; we're already working on more modules. The next area we'll be tackling is quality control.
You're presenting your startup this March at CeBIT's SCALE11 startup platform in Hannover, Germany. What do you hope to achieve there?
Mainly we want to make new connections. That's the most important thing, especially when a company is still young. Every partnership is worth a lot. Each one strengthens the value chain. For example, now we have a partner who's developing an additional module for our app. We have white label requests, customers who want to integrate their own branding into the app. For things like this, meeting face-to-face is essential - despite the many advantages of the digital world.