published 14 Aug 2014 by Eva Thalhammer in Austria 5 minutes 40 seconds to read

The man who works in dog years

As more and more people decide to care for an animal these days, the pet market is constantly evolving. Realising this almost non-digitised market niche, Linz-based Tractive developed a service, all about our furry friends. One of three Michaels at the helm of the company, cofounder and CEO Michael Hurnaus, at 31, has an impressive CV, almost like he worked in dog years, but he still can’t find the time for a pet of his own. Inventures.eu talked to him about his inspirations and endeavours in the pet business.

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Nothing compares to the smile on a child’s face after finding a lost pet again. All tears are forgotten and everything that counts is playing  with the missed fellow again. Michael Hurnaus, CEO of Tractive, is very much aware of the restlessness and despair preceding these moments. When his friends approached him to help them look for their lost dog, he had no idea how to actually find a pet in the great outdoors. Michael is not especially experienced with animals, but has a track record in some of the biggest tech companies, so he naturally asked himself why there was no better way than helplessly calling out for Rocky, or Skippy, or Princess.

Trading on his background in GPS tracking and good contacts with young developers, Michael realised the answer was not far and the initial spark for his pet startup was lit.

Just two years after its launch, Tractive counts 15 employees, has developed 15 apps and offers three hardware products in its store. Moreover, the team sells products in about 50 countries, with the goal of becoming the number one business for pet gadgets. 

A high school dropout with big ambitions

Maturing beyond his years, Michael developed his own philosophy of independence very early in life. When he quit high school at the age of 15 and decided to earn money rather than doing finals, he didn’t listen to people around him and started doing things on his own. A very considered speaker, who formulates his thoughts carefully, Michael also has a sober perspective on his own life: “As a voluntary dropout, people had no understanding of my decisions. But for me, it was important to know that it doesn’t matter what I am doing at one time, I can always do something else at another point in my life.”

Proving this, he later decided to return to studying, signing up for FH Hagenberg, one of the top campuses for IT and Media studies in Upper Austria, where he discovered his love for America. He reached across the big pond through an internship at Siemens Corporate Research. One year later, an Europe-wide competition for interns once again gave him the chance to move not just to America but to the facilities of a computer giant. This led to a full time job at Microsoft Surface in 2008.

Although admitting that at this time, America was just the right place for him, moving back to Austria with his wife, whom he met during his studies, was always on his mind. After another adventure at the major e-commerce business Amazon, where he worked on the Kindle reading apps, he decided that it was time to taste independence again and founded Tractive in 2012.

Through mutual friends, he met his cofounders Michael Tshernuth and Michael Lettner, two pre-doch developers at the time, with whom he not only shared the same name but also the strong wish for a new challenge.

Closely following the user behaviour of their core product, a GPS pet tracker for cats and dogs and corresponding apps, the startup realised people were using the social media function of their app to upload photos of their cats, dogs and even fish or snakes. Hence, the idea for Peterest was born and realised, with another service called PetBattle, a tinder for your animals, still a work in progress.

Currently, Europe, Australia, USA and Canada are the most important markets for Tractive, but the goals for their next targets - South America and Asia - are already set.

Learning from the big ones

Going back to his time in America, Michael remembers valuable lessons: “There were high expectations and long working hours at Microsoft but you can learn a lot about organisation and leadership skills from big businesses. So after a while, I was convinced that if I can put this energy in my own business it is going work out,” the young CEO says of the experiences that provided stepping stones for his business.

One of these lessons was about teamwork. The three Michaels operate very well together, which makes them even pickier when recruiting nowadays. “This maybe comes a bit from the Amazon-hiring process: I always look if I can learn something from an employee as well. Only if this is present our team can improve as such.”

Michael admits that you can’t deny the hierarchy in a company, but with team events and activities such as sports or Lasertag, he tries to keep it as accessible as possible. “No matter if intern or cofounder – the ideas and the input should meet the expectation of everyone in the team.” Currently, the team of Tractive is based in Pasching, Oberösterreich, right next to the office of Runtastic. “We have a close relationship with our supporters,” Michael describes the role of their business angels Hansi Hansmann and the four Runtastic co-founders. “When I have a question I know I can call Hansi Hansmann 24/7. He really invests in teams, not in products.”

Aside from his valuable strategic input and suggestions during board meetings, Hansi offers support in many other areas. Regardless of whether there are questions related to finances, shareholder structure or legal issues, Hansi, who has made many investments in different startups across Europe with a focus on Austria, knows either  the right answer or the right person to get an answer from.

Juggling many hats at once

Although convinced by the success of his business concept, Michael himself can’t imagine having a pet at the moment as he has very little leisure time. Earlier this year, he became father and tries to spend as much time as possible with his baby boy. His wife Verena is Director of Design at Tractive and currently on maternity leave. “She has worked for big firms and has a background in UX design and App design and without her we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Michael says of the strong shoulder he leans on.

Adding to his obligations as father and entrepreneur he also puts on the mentor cap, advising startup QGo. After a long day, the one thing that helps him recharge his batteries is going for a run, Michael reveals.

No matter whether he is sprinting through the career ladder or jogging for leisure, Michael seems to always pay attention to his surroundings as evident from the startup's strategies to engage users by providing new tools and services for them and their pets. Customer feedback is highly valued and the comments of grateful users who relied on Tractive for helping them find their cats or dogs is the best and most authentic testimonial to Michael. “I want Tractive to become a synonym for pet gadgets and wearables and I think we are already well on track.”

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