kompany: the A-Team of Austrian startups
kompany’s four founders are an international mix. Russell, Bernhard and their co-founders Iris Pittl and Peter Bainbridge-Clayton had been friends and business partners for years before getting together on kompany’s board. For neither of them has the kompany been their first startup experience.
Russell and Bernhard radiate confidence. Russell founded his first people-search engine company, 123people, as a garage operation years ago, expanded it within six months into a profitable business and sold it successfully. Bernhard, too, has been a founder of several companies in internet and new media services. Both CEOs of kompany have held management positions in consultancies, telco companies and online gaming industry. So when they – mere 14 months since the launch in February 2012 – describe the kompany as a grown-up project, one should take their word for it.
“We have been working together and founding startups for years. We have seen a lot of things work and fail. We might not be your typical 20-year-old hipster gang, but we don’t have to be. We’re more laid-back, we know the rules of founding a company.”
What kompany does
It was the downside of their vast business experience that triggered the idea. Conducting a business requires you to know who you’re dealing with. “We’ve all been burned before,” says Russell. When you’re a big shot, you might hire a private detective and they will tell you everything about the business executive on the other side of the table or the shareholders of his company. When you are an SME, where do you go for that kind of information?
Russell’s answer comes as no surprise – to kompany. Based on an e-commerce business model, kompany uses governments’ information on registered companies, packages it on their platform in real time and provides it either as a single-purchase or as a subscription to the end-user.
“kompany is the leading business profile platform. We offer a full view on a company’s registering details, the shareholders involved (and their agreements), financial views, reports and much more. Our target group is business owners, who want to learn more about their potential partners and investments. Normally, business owners have very restricted access to this information, especially compared to the ‘big fish’. We lower the barrier and give them access to the same information, instantly online. Conducting business is based on trust, we unlock and validate the kind of information you need, to make decisions on whom to work with. Twenty years ago, a business owner had a small amount of suppliers and employers. With markets increasing and ‘doing business’ cross-border getting easier, you’re suddenly faced with 40 business contacts and opportunities. We work to reduce the gap of not-knowing if you can actually trust those people”, explains Russell.
The kompany founders chose to launch in Vienna. “It’s not about selling an idea, it’s about building a company. That’s why we looked for a city to settle down and build on a strong base,” says Russell. At the same time, kompany‘s aspirations are to cover as many countries’ business data as possible which requires a lot of languages. They are currently present in 24 countries, with Switzerland about to join the list, too. Having a diverse team thus came as a necessity.
“Obviously English is our corporate language. Although that actually isn’t the norm in Vienna yet, it is the only accepted business language outside of Austria. However, having different nationalities on board makes sense, as you have an idea of the local cultures in which you try and roll out your service. We started with six people and did everything in-house: development, marketing, sales, business development, legal. Most people we have been working with for years. When choosing new team members, we looked for diversity in character and nationality at the same time.”
Both Bernhard and Russell seem to be fans of the A-Team series. Not in terms of 80’s haircut style but rather in terms of a people-management approach. “Right at the beginning you have to get the best menand women. An A-person has enough self-esteem and is not afraid that he or she might become redundant or replaced by someone more skilled for the job. Generally, people tend to hire people who are less skilled because they would feel threatened otherwise. A-people will hire other A-people. It might sound a bit harsh, but in the startup world you need a certain arrogance. Technology might fail, but with a great team you can steer into a new stream.”
The CEOs want every employee to be on board. In their co-workers, they look for expertise but also for soft skills like entrepreneurship, leadership, creativity, and innovation. Bernhard elaborates: “We want to know if someone has the potential to become an entrepreneur within the company, even if he or she is ‘just’ the junior developer. We’re not looking for people who just take commands. We’re looking for a certain attitude.” Delegation is the key, too, in Russell’s and Bernhard’s approach: “The founder syndrome is an understandable thing – it’s your baby – but you should focus on finding the right people and give up control as soon as you see that someone else would do a better job than you do.”
Creating the right environment
Having heard this, we naturally wanted to learn some of the kompany CEOs’ more practical advice on keeping the empowered team rolling. So how do you keep everyone involved? Bernhard likes the dashboard: “We mounted a dashboard on the wall to give everyone a sense of what’s happening. We have the revenue button that makes a heck of a sound when someone made a purchase. Plus: the whole team knows about customer service issues. Everyone can participate and help out. We have a very flat structure, you’ll see small teams that work together. And we try to offer the right setup for quick communication. We follow the scrum methodology, but in a light format.” Russell adds: “Follow scrum by the word and you will fail.”
And it seems to work well for kompany, Bernhard thinks. “With a new release you’ll see a lot of people stay at the office until midnight because they’re so involved and want to see it happen. They work late because they actually enjoy it. We sometimes actually have to take out a little of the startup speed and send them home!”
Bernhard and Russell are proud when they give out the figures. Right now, kompany’s A-team comprises 15 international professionals from 8 countries, speaking 10 languages. The CEOs think of kompany as a “out-of-the-beta“ business. Their platform now provides information on 21 million companies from over 20 countries, covering altogether around 1,5 billion business filings.
You might be thinking – but what do all those businesses made transparent through kompany’s platform think about this? Russell is happy about the feedback they’re getting: “It is not ‘hey, that’s not cool’. Rather they want to give us the right information. I don’t find that surprising at all. For a business owner, the more exposure the better, right? We are all improving our SEO – why would you try to hide your business behind a curtain when it comes to actual, valuable data?“
Russell and Bernhard are of course thinking about expanding further. “Today we’re already leading in offering online international business information in a number of local languages. But we are still very Europe-focused, and we want to go into Africa, Asia and the US. That will get us into a position where we can do something interesting like a company graph, showing how entities are connected, in a visual way. The team members, shareholders, vendors, daughter-companies, everything. A graph that will allow you to browse through this space and make more education choices and steps,”says Bernhard. The graph – while still in a product-development stage – already has a name: Global Company Graph. The CEOs want it to become every businessman’s tool for due dilligence.
kompany plans to grow to cover data on 30 million companies from 30 countries over the next few months. Over the next three years, they plan to cover 120 jurisdictions and 100 million companies. The investors seem to believe in Russell, Bernhard, and kompany’s growth. A few days ago, as part of the second financing round, kompany closed an investment deal with Norbert Zimmermann, former CEO of Berndorf AG (see our previous coverage). In addition, Zimmermann will be on the A-team as an advisor and coach.
The interview for this profile was taken by Floor Drees.