LA Report: Why did you set up your company?
I was an entrepreneur since high school. My family owned a truck transportation company, and my father and grandfather were both passionate entrepreneurs. I have always loved starting and implementing new ideas into practice.
SugarTrends really grew from my love for unique non-mass market products and small boutiques. I always loved to discover small stores and boutiques on my travels and also in my home town. I like the idea that small boutiques are often family-run or independently-owned, the attention to detail and customer service is always superior (to mass-market chain stores), and because they are usually driven by passion (rather than commercial considerations), that really shines through in the curated edit of products available for sale.
We noticed that these little stores have so little staff that it is increasingly hard to compete with the large chain stores and modern online-only e-shops. So we decided to create a dedicated space in the web for all those wonderful small boutiques to come together; it provides them with easy-to-use e-shop functionality and services. This was the start of SugarTrends as a marketplace and service provider for nice small stores.
By bringing them together in one online space, we hope to give those independent boutques a shared strength, whilst creating a space for consumers who, like us, also prefer to shop from small local stores.
LA Report: How long did it take you to set up your business?
The company developed first as a side project. We essentially tested the idea for two years before focussing on it full time from 2013.
LA Report: What education or training did you have?
I studied business engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. It was a very broad degree covering business, mechanical engineering and IT. Before university I undertook a two year vocational training programme in Deutsche Bank. I also worked as management consultant for Booz&Company and Arthur D.Little, and before starting SugarTrends, Christian and I founded and ran the University Entrepreneurship Center CIE-KIT at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
LA Report: Where did you source funding to set up your business?
We ran the test phase and the first year on our own savings. Once we decided to focus on SugarTrends full time, we took a group of private business angels on board. For the next phase we are currently in talks with institutional investors, as well as running a crowdfunding campaign. Everyone who believes in our concept can already buy shares from 250 Euro.
LA Report: Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?
We are fans of the European Commission’s Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs programme. Through the programme, I am able to host junior entrepreneurs who stay with us for up to six months. They learn from us and we help them in refining their business idea.
We are currently investigating further support services and public funding available at regional and EU level.
LA Report: With hindsight, which would have been the most valuable knowledge base or skillset to have before setting up your business?
I think you need to be in good mental and physical condition to start a company, and be sure that you have the persistence to keep up. Starting a company is like an ultra-marathon.
LA Report: Do you have a mentor?
Although I do not have a close personal mentor, our angel investors act like our mentors. And of course I always try to learn from experienced people.
LA Report: Who is your greatest inspiration?
I really admire Richard Branson and Jack Ma.
LA Report: What is the specific benefit that distinguishes your product or service from its competitors?
It’s the people and the attitude of our company. Our stores and our customers love us for the positive-minded personal service.
LA Report: How does your company change people’s lives for the better?
Shopping is entertainment, and entertainment is one of our basic human desires. For consumers, we create a nice space and for our boutiques, and for our store-owners, we make it easier to run a sustainable micro-retail business in an increasingly ‘online’ world.
LA Reports: How long did it take you to break into new markets?
Although we started internationally from the outset, for cross-border e-commerce, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. In the first phase we are primarily focusing on German users, but 20% of our buyers are also from the UK, Europe and the USA. In 2017 we want to break into a further consumer market, though we are still deciding which it will be.
LA Report: How would you describe your progress so far?
We made some good progress in 2o15. We introduced 180 stores into our network, and already you can shop stores in 50 cities from 20 countries. We also made some good technical improvements this year, though the speed of development is still limited by our startup budget. Our next goal is to reach 300 stores at the beginning of next year.
LA Reports: How are you planning to grow your business?
We want to become the world’s largest online space for the very best local stores and boutiques. We cover a broad range of products cross-category from Fashion, Jewellery, Home Design and Gourmet. SugarTrends should be the best service provider to micro-retail business.
LA Report: If you were in charge of the government ministry for SMEs and start-ups, what would be the three most important changes you would make to help them grow?
1. Make the starting phase easier for small businesses with tax benefits and employment cost reductions, as well as incentives for private investors for the first 5 years.
2. Make it more common for big companies and public bodies to also purchase from new businesses.
3. Help failed business owners to actively recover as quickly as possible.
LA Report: Entrepreneurs are important to society because…?
….they are much better in implementing innovation. They bring about change in society and generate new positive energy. And they are best in creating jobs.
LA Report: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is…?
…you can create something new that makes sense. And you can recruit your own team that also shares your same passion. It’s a lever to change society.
LA Report: If you could go back in time to when you were just about to start your company and tell yourself something useful, what would it be?
Always be aware that time is the most limited factor. And always invest enough effort and brainpower into solid planning and design. I am a fan of the ‘lean’ startup principles, and sometimes you catch yourself going into too complex next steps and deviating from the lean path.
I also have to remind myself daily to carefully listen to my employees and to our customers. They actually have the best ideas, but you need to listen to them carefully to fully convert their energy.
Visit SugarTrends at www.sugartrends.com