Bernd Kirschner, Head of the Department of Business & Management, talked to Victoria Noack.
In the meantime, you have arrived more than 100% in the startup scene and are developing your business idea mightily – that is super and impressive at the same time. I can still remember very well that you were already working on this idea 3 years ago at the beginning of your Master's degree in "International Business & Management". Let me start with the following question:
How did you come up with your business idea and how long did it take before it became apparent to you that this was going to be your thing?
I got the idea to develop an app that makes life easier for people with allergies and intolerances, especially when it comes to shopping, from my friend, who suffers from various allergies. Going shopping with her or cooking for her was always a hassle. She had to read the small print of every product she wanted to buy in the supermarket to avoid difficulties when eating it later.
I just thought to myself, there must be an easier way to do that – yes, that was the initial spark.
However, I didn't know at the time how difficult the solution would be.
I started working on the implementation of the idea during my internship in the Bachelor's program at the Gründer-Institut in Heidelberg, and I spent another 8 months working on it even after I finished my Bachelor's degree.
The most difficult thing was to get the content data of the products. That was a long road that led me through a contact from the Gründer-Institut to Better Life, who have this data. Today, the founder of Better Life is a shareholder of Declareme GmbH.
In fact, everything has developed step by step – to where it is today. At first, it was just an idea that I wanted to try out. As time went by, the project became so important to me that I couldn't stop after my internship ended. The individual phases in the implementation were not easy, there were many ups and downs. But I enjoyed being challenged again and again by new tasks. When I decided to start up, this was the only way for me.
Did anything change during your studies?
My studies, especially the focus on entrepreneurship, gave me a lot. I understood the connections better, was able to apply what I had learned directly and also felt more confident in corporate law, when I created the business plan or went to the sales strategy, for example. This also enabled me to convince investors.
What were the biggest challenges on your way to self-employment? I hope the studies didn't get in the way.
Well, the biggest challenge was and is the financing.
The first big step was programming the first version of the app. I had developed a mockup and had a clear idea of what needed to be implemented IT-wise. But the offers from German programmers were horrendous. Through contact with Better Life, I then found IT specialists in Ukraine who programmed the app for less than half. I was able to finance most of this with the study fund and found a UG.
But the app has to be continuously maintained and developed. The necessary data has to be paid for, and there are also a number of administrative costs. All of this could only be achieved with the entry of an investor. But for that, I needed a powerful team.
But luckily I already had interesting contacts through the implementation of version 1.
After your super cool pitch on "Die Höhle der Löwen" last fall, you received a financial commitment of € 250,000 in exchange for a 25% stake. Congratulations! Did you expect this?
I had high hopes, but I did not expect it. I had already pitched to investors several times before, but never got the commitment. The good thing about the "Höhle der Löwen" format is that as a young startup, you can present your story and vision through the pitch and the Q&A session at the beginning and thus convince them in the first step. This way, investors get to know you and your company before they focus purely on the numbers.
This helps especially when you are still in the early stages of your startup.
How was this TV experience and meeting the famous TV investors for you?
It was totally surreal to suddenly stand in front of the lions, with all the cameras and the whole production team. I already knew from various events how to speak on a stage and present my idea, but of course not in this setting.
But the "lions" were all very encouraging and nice and after the pitch was done, the Q&A was really fun.
What has changed for you or your startup after the investment and where should the journey go now?
A lot has changed for us. The investment gave us the chance to completely rebuild and expand the app. I was finally able to put my plans into action, equip the app with more functions and make it interesting for broader target groups. In addition, of course, there was the greater awareness from the broadcast of the show last October.
But the development continues permanently. In the meantime, the app has been given more functionalities and we are looking for partners, such as health insurance companies and businesses, that license the app and make it available to their insured persons or employees. We see a lot of potential there to reach more people to make their daily lives easier.
And now my last question: do you now have one/two tips for our students who are struggling with innovative ideas and/or business models? What should they do, what should they avoid?
My most important advice is to hang in there – I firmly believe that perseverance is the key to success. Founding is unfortunately not easy, not quick or as glamorous as the success stories might make you think. It often takes a long time and – quite honestly – many of the necessary tasks are not fun either.
But with the right support from a team, mentors or from family, you will be able to go your way. And perhaps as a final takeaway, seek support for the startup itself. When going through this process for the first time, there are some mistakes that can easily be avoided.
Dear Victoria, we thank you very much for the highly interesting interview and wish you every success in the future.
Victoria Noack, ©MCI/Geisler
Victoria Noack & Bernd Kirschner, ©MCI/Geisler