How do you Start up? An Interview with Netural´s Founder Albert Ortig
Albert Ortig, founder & CEO of both Netural and Roomle, is out to make visions work, and once they work, to make them lucrative. In spite of all his experience, spinning off is still anything but routine for him.
Albert, one of your start-ups has recently taken wing. Someone has written about a “start-up assembly line”. Has company building become routine for you?
Of course, those foundations share a common basis. There is now a very solid understanding of what has to happen on the road from idea to prototype and on to a company. It requires a focus on both the users of the product and on the team involved. You believe in something, you want to find out if it really works - and then you want to get it going. However, that´s never routine, it´s always individual, albeit based on rich experience gathered over the years.
Every “child” has its individual character, and Netural has more than one. What was, or is, special about Roomle?
Roomle is our first spin-off to enter the venture capital market. This is different in every respect from a purely operational spin-off of a segment. On the other hand, Roomle has been with us for twelve years now, and has passed all phases of an innovation process, from finding the right timing to enter a market to picking the appropriate technology. For instance, we decided early on to operate cloud-based, contrary to the opinion of the furniture industry at the time, and therefore enjoy a major advantage today. But what makes Roomle really groundbreaking is that it has kicked off the paradigm shift from conventional product planning to configuration-based production.
Roomle was Netural's first venture-financed start-up, with well-known, experienced investors on board. How do you make that journey a success?
Our simple, but significant premise is to work closely with people you need to be on the same wavelength. Selecting partners is not only a question of invested amounts, but also of mutual understanding and shared visions. We really value investors who join us, especially those who are industry experts, and we understand a trust-based relationship as a key to success in this and every other business. Among the Roomle investors, I found people whom I could call at any time of the day or even the night, and that spirit is invaluable.
Roomle started out in 2014 to revolutionize furniture sales. What makes the German Homag Group AG a “perfect match”?
Roomle focused on the configurability topic from very early on, because the main question in the furniture industry is how do we make complex products configurable by customers - throughout all process stages, and through to production? During the last seven years, Roomle has achieved total leadership in terms of performance, experience and integrability. On the other hand, Homag, the world market leader for integrated solutions in furniture production, has equipped plants with tools and processes for fully automated manufacture of wood-based products. Now this competence becomes linkable through interfaces and standards. This opens a huge market for Roomle, but even more importantly, we have a lot of cultural common ground – which brings us back to what I said about investor relations!
Netural has made spinning off its products, including the developer teams, a principle. What kind of mindset and employees is suitable in this?
Five years ago, the entire Netural organization transformed into an agile corporate structure. The key principle is to provide all employees with the full transparency they need to make decisions, ideally with total clarity regarding their roles, tasks, sovereignty and interfaces. This is why we have developed a preference for entrepreneurial personalities who put the task at hand before their personal benefit. Above all, we are out to make ideas work, and once they work, we can go about making them lucrative.
Netural´s core activity is developing digital services for medium-sized and large companies, but more and more often you appear as a company builder. Where is the hen, where is the egg?
Being digital service provider is in the Netural DNA. One of our core competencies is to quickly understand a business, identify its requirements, and find the levers we can pull to give efficient support. During these processes, we frequently identify market gaps for digital products, and those that we can cover, we do. Developing digital services for our customers is our main focus, but more and more often ventures grow out of these processes – either our customers´, or our proprietary own. This is a reciprocal process. Without such an in-depth understanding of what makes a market tick we could not target products with such precision.
Do you have a recommendation for people who consider launching start-ups?
View it a bit like the stock market. Serious investment consultants always recommend long-term thinking and patience. With start-ups, it is very much the same. Give them free rein and trust that they will follow their spin-off mission. Of course, this will require a team you can trust and a viable capitalization. Note that lack of capital kills fewer start-ups than their own inability to let go at the right moment, or their following beliefs while ignoring facts.
You see yourself as a “facilitator”. What would you like to facilitate in the foreseeable future?
This is a hard one, because what we do can solve so many problems and improve so many things. On the strategic level, this includes pushing technologies for various industries forward to, in a sense, revolutionize them or at least to make them more efficient. Our thinking covers everything from manufacturing and retail down to health. On a personal level, I want to create space for the team to think without limits.
You are known as a design aficionado. What are your current top 3?
Latest addition is my Zaksenberg Holit citrus press, with its focus on precisely what it is supposed to do, squeezing. In a sense, it´s totally over the top, but I enjoy making fresh orange juice for me and my family on that thing, because it looks good, works great, and is easy to clean. I'm also looking forward to installing a Vesta board in the office - a digitally fed mechanical messaging display that elegantly converts the digital to analogue information. Last, but not least, my Silhouette titanium reading glasses, the world´s lightest glasses, inspire even non-wearers like me!
What makes you think outside all boxes?
Five days of vacation! Which is why I don´t take time out too often. Those boxes need loads of attention. (laughs).
Thank you for the interview!