(Apologies for the video camera which had a mind of its own and a wild auto-focus throughout the interview.)
Rebecca Rachmany, CEO of Gangly Sister: Hi, I’m Rebecca Rachmany. I’m the CEO of Gangly Sister. I’m here in London, and I’m here with Gerlinde, whose going to introduce herself.
Gerlinde Gniewosz, CEO of Ko-Su : Hi. Thanks Miss Rachmnany. I’m Gerlinde, the CEO of Kosu, and it’s essentially the coolest thing you’ll ever see. It’s a mobile learning platform, which allows anyone, anywhere in the world, to create their own interactive learning experience. It’sdesigned especially for the mobile device and classes can invite anyone they’d like and they can publish these activities on their mobiles. We have a lot of fun and have users in over 120 different countries.
Rebecca: What kind of changes in direction have you had with this start-up?
Gerlinde: So, um, initially, when I started out I decided I wanted to do something in mobile. So, it was actually the 15th of December 2008 and the iPhone came out and it was a game changer and actually the biggest risk was on the development side, so I taught myself how to program over that Christmas break-
Rebecca: What, you just taught yourself how to program? Over Christmas break?-
Gerlinde :Ok, yeah, so there were only two books on how to program, how to program the iPhone at that stage so one I couldn’t understand because it was too geeky, and the other I did pages, I think, 1-400, every exercise and then the first app came out in February 2009, so I did a whole lot with the development-the coding, the questions, uh, so when that actually got onto the mobile device I was on such a high that it was so amazing, like the first app, live on a mobile device it’s like, “Wow!” I haven’t had a high like that for years since. But I was out there doing educational apps, being both the publisher and the developer and after the first year the industry was already changed so you couldn’t make money on the app stores anymore
Rebecca: Wow, ok. And how do you deal with those changes? Do you see them coming or does it usually happen after the crisis or how does that work?
Gerlinde: Uh, I would say you always-nothing ever happens by surprise.
Gerlinde: Usually, in the sense that there’s lots of opportunity coming, but things like that you see it coming a long way off,, usually about 6 months out because you get feedback about that type of thing. You know-Kosu resulted from all of the feedback that we were getting. And usually, you know, when you’re doing those types of changes you’ve got about six months. It’s more about whether you actually recognize it early enough. But those early signs are usually there.
Rebecca: Are there particular people you’re listening to? Is it just your customers or are there particular publications that you look to, or mentors that you look to that are ahead of the trend usually?
Gerlinde: No, I always say if you’re going to look at a new country or something, walk the streets, particularly if you want to do a proper job-walk to work, walk the streets, walk through the marketplace and you get the vibe of what’s happening, if people are really ready for it. And it’ talking to the ordinary people, it’s talking to the normal people, and you start to see patterns arising.
Rebecca: Have So, you were saying that you actually had a failure in the start-up world, and here you’re having no fear again, so can you tell us a little bit about that failure?
Gerlinde: Oh, that was a fun one. I decided I was going to do my own food village, web start-up, putting food and news online. .We talk about today where people can look at menus, order online, uh, back in ’98, ’99 that wasn’t the case. Uh, discovered that, when you do a start-up, you don’t rely on an industry that has one of highest bankruptcy rates of all industries, particularly in Australia where, if a restaurant lasts longer than two years, it’s a miracle. So, my mothers, I got my mother involved and we’re walking from one restaurant to the next, trying to convince them to put their menu online and in most cases it was middle-aged, elderly people who didn’t know what the internet was, and only if their kids were there did they say, “Oh, yea, mom, dad, you’ve gotto put it on!” So there were a few venues we could get that came online but then we had the issue of how could they get updated so then we had a whole, bad issue of customer service where people would complain, “Hey, that menu is out-of-date,” or “The pricing’s wrong.” So yea, it was a good experience and I learned many things along the way.
Rebecca: So, would it be fair to say that even the failure was fun and worth doing?
Gerlinde: Oh, yea, you learn a lot. Probably the only thing I regret is not having more time. At some point you have to put full conviction behind a start-up and I was still holding down my investment banking job, trying to do this after-hours
Rebecca: You wanted to tell me about the worst advice you ever got.
Gerlinde: They say when you are doing your MBA, there are three things you can change in your career: there’s the function, the industry, and the geography, and you should never change all three at once. Ah, well, I’ve never actually followed that, and I tend to change all three at once in my life, and it is a bit more challenging but who says no to a big challenge?
Rebecca: How do you assess what is good advice and bad advice? I mean, we all get lots of advice-what filters are you using?
Gerlinde: I think when asking for advice it’s good to ask multiple people, and then you do a form of triangulation. Ah, so you take the different advice, and then there’s that core bit which is common to all that advice. And at that point you just at it and go, “Should I follow it, shouldn’t I follow it?” And sometimes you think, “Oh, that’s the safe way,” but sometimes you just decide not to do it. So, starting out, you can talk to so many people and they’ll say, “Oh, don’t give up your corporate career,” etc., and at some point you just say, “Ok, let’s do it.” But my view is you always have back up plans of back up plans of back up plans, so if it fails there’s a fallback plan so you can do something else.
Rebecca: You say it as if anyone could do it, and I think you actually have a special ability that you’re not aware of.
Rebecca: Ok, so what kind of things have you had to change about you as a person in terms of becoming and entrepreneur or over the course of your business, what personal changes have you gone through?
Gerlinde: I think when you’re the entrepreneur the bucks stops with you. So if you don’t do it, no one will help, no one will come to your rescue. You realize if you don’t get out there and talk about what you do all the time, then no one else is going to do it.
Rebecca: What are the essential traits you need? So one is to believe in what you’re doing.
Gerlinde: Yea, and the other is just, I think it’s the get up and go. You need to think, “I’m going to make this happen,” and you’ll get a lot of naysayers along the way, people who say, ”Oh, that won’t work, that won’t do, “ or etc. and you just have to say “Beep!” And I think you get a lot of people saying, “That’s not possible,” or “That’s too difficult,” or etc., and you’re just like, “Fine, that’s your opinion, and you just break it all down, do small steps, and prove them all wrong.
Rebecca: So you’re one of the people I’ve interview who’ve done both corporate and start-up, in intervals. So, what do you think are the myths people tell about corporate versus being entrepreneurs or what’s the message you’d want to give?
Gerlinde: I think one of the biggest myths they give is when they say entrepreneur is very different form being corporate. So, in a corporate world, if you want to make things happen you do have to be just like an entrepreneur and go and kick heads and make it happen. Not every corporate environment is conducive to it, but that’s the same in the entrepreneurial world-you have to really go out and fight for it. So in those types of things, it’s the same type of thing, except in the corporate world you might not have the power to make the full decision, whereas, as the entrepreneur, you are 100% responsible. So I think there’s a lot of overlap and you can learn a lot of things.
Rebecca: We’re giving, pretending to give you a virtual gift, yea, (laughter), so if I could give you an extra hour today, what would you do?
Gerlinde: Oh, well, it’s just like the sleep, or keep going through my to-do list and my email inbox, or except where I live I’d probably get a can of paint and go paint my neighbor’s metal railings, which I’m slowly to make my neighbors…
Rebecca: Painting your neighbor’s metal railings?
Gerlinde: Yes. (laughs)
Rebecca: What color?
Gerlinde: Oh, I just paint them black so it won’t cause too much of an issue.
Gerlinde: But mine are blue, so…