The software navigators.
Start-up. About one and a half years ago Felix Eichler, Kajetan Uhlig and Hartmut Hahn (top, from left) founded the company Userlane in Munich. Her idea: a navigation system that guides users through any software. Since then they have been overwhelmed by their own success. Their greatest challenge today is to maintain the rapid pace of growth.
There remains the question of the risks. "Our biggest challenge," says Hahn, "is time. For us, the key question is how quickly we manage to convince companies to switch from traditional training methods such as videos or on-site training to new technologies such as Userlane and thus quickly establish ourselves on the market.
"Don't you find it fascinating that Navis drivers almost always lead to the right destination, no matter where they are?" asks Hartmut Hahn. "And that these are very easy to use? Wouldn't it be great if a navigator could guide you just as easily through any software?"
In fact, all computer users, whether at work or at home, are now confronted with new applications almost every day. Each time, users need to find out how a program works and what they need to do to get there.
A universally applicable software navigation system would therefore be a great relief.
This is exactly what Felix Eichler, Kajetan Uhlig and Hartmut Hahn have developed. Their "Userlane" technology allows companies to create interactive tours on any web-based software. These interactive tours then guide each user live through any software. Simple and intuitive to use, it guides him to his destination. Like the navigation device in a car.
The history of Userlane also begins in the car. On a sunny day in summer 2015 in the Austrian Alps. In a car. "Felix, Kajetan and I," says Hartmut Hahn, "were out in the mountains and had lost us hopelessly. Our salvation was - of course - our navigation system. Somehow we then came to talk about the parallel to software applications. Here, too, users are often suddenly lost. Except they don't have anything to help them except a call to the IT expert."
The thought never lets go of the three of them. They get together to pursue their idea together.
Kajetan Uhlig, 32 years old, is an expert in user experience design. Behind this lies the art of creating positive experiences for users through a holistic view. This is of great importance for products of all kinds today. However, it is particularly important in the online sector. "If you neglect the user experience today, if people don't use an application or product with joy, fascination or enthusiasm, you can forget your idea," explains Hahn. "To generate this enthusiasm among customers is Kajetan's speciality. He has a lot of experience in this area and an eye for what appeals to users."
The second in the group is Felix Eichler. At the age of 22 he is the youngster in the trio and the "wunderkind", as Hahn calls him. At the age of 15, he began his studies as a highly gifted student at the TU Munich. Computer science, of course. And it is hardly surprising that he is responsible for the technical part of Userlane. Eichler is the head behind the algorithm for the software navigation system.
And then there's Hartmut Hahn. After several years in strategy consulting, the 36-year-old moved to the media company Hubert Burda Media, where he spent three years searching for interesting online companies for the publishing house. "So I've been evaluating companies to see if they're interesting to us. And then they decided whether an investment or a complete takeover would help the group forward or not."
The design expert, the computer nerd and the business man found Userlane.
This is followed by brainstorming sessions, the formulation of a business case and the production of sketches and prototypes. "The decisive factor is to be able to really test whether the product will be received," explains Hahn. "Today there are start-up ideas like sand by the sea. To approach investors as an inexperienced founder, without customers and merely with a PowerPoint presentation only works in the rarest of cases."
Hahn wanted to show something solid. Proof that there's real demand. That is why he begins to address companies from his network. "We asked them if they would buy such a product if we had it ready in three or six months. Some were even willing to sign a contract immediately."
Now the three of them know that the business idea can work. We're looking for investors. The fact that the Commerzbank subsidiary Main Incubator, the high-tech start-up fund and the entrepreneur Robert Kabs are three well-known financiers who come on board as business angels at a very early stage is probably also due to the fact that Hahn was already sitting on the other side during such talks. He knows what matters.
"In addition to real customer interest and the right team, two main criteria are decisive for investors," he says. "What are the risks? And how great is the potential? I always say: "Our company is not without risk, but our market potential is certainly not without it.
In fact, the possibilities seem enormous. "We have two options," explains Hartmut Hahn. "On the one hand we can approach the companies directly with our solution, on the other hand we can approach the software providers to attach our navigator directly to their applications. Both ways seem highly attractive. "Have you ever thought about how many cars are delivered today without a navigation system? Hardly any. If we transfer that to software, it becomes clear that theoretically there are hardly any limits to our growth."
It does not seem unrealistic to bring software providers on board. "After all, they are interested in their application being as easy and problem-free as possible for the customer to use," explains Hahn. "Because only then will a company invest in long-term software." So far, however, most applications require a great deal of explanation. Extensive training is necessary. "But these are often not sustainable, since hardly any employee can remember everything that is conveyed there. Then we need retraining."
If a software update comes, the problems start all over again. "All this causes costs, is at the expense of efficiency, and in many cases leads to a company terminating software contracts," explains Hahn. In Germany alone, according to a study conducted by the University of Kassel in 2014, around 5.6 billion euros are spent each year on training with standard software. Interactive tours can make all the difference. "In fact, we have found that the churn rate, i.e. the number of cancellations of software contracts, decreases significantly through the use of Userlane. Employees can call it up at any time, companies save around 80 percent on training costs and the use of the respective software becomes more attractive".
If Userlane could take over the entire IT training market, the sales potential for the company in Germany alone would be more than one billion euros, since companies could save 80 percent of these costs with the Navigator. And all this with a perfectly scalable business model. Because it doesn't matter whether the company sells its technology five times, 50 times or 500 times. From a purely technical point of view, there is no additional expenditure.
So far, the company has indeed grown rapidly. Today, just one and a half years after its launch, Userlane works with over 50 companies, including Linde, Deutsche Telekom and Commerzbank, three DAX companies. The number of employees has increased to 20. Monthly sales increased tenfold compared to the beginning of the year.
To keep up the pace, the founders now need more capital to increase awareness and develop the software further, as well as more employees. "Especially the latter are not easy to find. The market is empty and not everyone is suitable for working in a start-up."
The search for investors for a new financing round is apparently simpler. "In the meantime, we are no longer in the very early start-up phase, but have established ourselves to a certain extent and proven that our business model works. The risks for new investors have therefore decreased," explains Hahn. He is currently looking for financiers from the environment of private wealthy individuals or family offices.
However, the three founders, who themselves still own more than three quarters of the company, pay close attention to the distribution of the shares. "We select our investors very selectively and make sure that they share our vision and take an entrepreneurial perspective," says Hahn.
A complete sale is therefore "currently out of the question". Interestingly, there have already been offers to buy, especially from the USA. "The reason for this is that investors there have become aware of us through our only competitor, WalkMe, which has so far only been active in the US market," explains Hahn. However, he can only imagine working with a larger US investor if the company itself were to take the step across the pond. "But we won't worry about it until 2019."
For the time being, the primary objective is to serve the German and European markets. And at the same time to improve and further develop the software. Felix Eichler is in particular demand here.
"Of course, software is never really finished. There are always possibilities to approach new markets with certain extensions and to point out new use cases with features like Machine Learning". If, for example, a user has taken a few steps with software and then no longer knows what to do, his navigation system should automatically recognize the problem and offer the employee context-related help based on what he has done so far.
Welcome to the world of artificial intelligence. "You can see," laughs Hartmut Hahn, "there's still a lot of air up there for us in every respect."
Measurable benefits - the advantages of the Software Navigator.
"For an employee in a medium-sized company, it is no longer enough to know how Microsoft Office works," explains Hartmut Hahn, co-founder of Userlane. "They're constantly confronted with new programs or software updates today."
An example of this is the sales area. Initially, Excel tables were used there. Then came the first local customer relationship systems, or CRM for short. Now we are switching to cloud-based solutions. Similar upheavals can be observed in other sectors such as human resources or marketing. In addition, manufacturing companies are making innovations in connection with Industry 4.0, which is why machine control today is almost exclusively software-based.
Most companies respond with training. On the one hand, however, this entails considerable costs. On the other hand, if employees do not get to grips with the software immediately afterwards, many things will be forgotten again in no time at all. "Of course, there are also manuals. But do you know anyone who looks in there?" asks the Userlane Managing Director. And the quality of explanatory videos varies a lot. "But their biggest drawback is that they're not interactive," informs Hahn.
His conclusion: "No matter which way companies go, it's always expensive, and at some point a suboptimal use of software goes at the expense of a company's efficiency." This is exactly what is different about a navigation system. An IT employee from the company itself could integrate zum Beispiel into any software. He then creates the corresponding tours for the employees. And because Userlane is not a video, but ein Werkzeug, which is displayed directly in the respective software and explains the relevant steps, users and employees can complete their current tasks while they are still getting to know the application. "In this way a company saves costs, the implementation of new software is accelerated and efficiency in the company improves," Hartmut Hahn lists.
Hahn estimates the costs for a medium-sized company to be in the lower five-digit range per year. "In detail, it depends on the number of employees and how much the company saves compared to training by external trainers."
The implementation and creation of the tours by the respective software is then carried out by the specialist department of the medium-sized company itself. "This is usually not a problem because no programming skills are required and the employees of a company know and understand the software used and the underlying processes much better than we do.
Medium-sized companies that have a web-based SAP system can also obtain the Userlane Navigator directly from the Walldorf-based software group, with which the Munich-based start-up has a partnership. In this case, the corresponding SAP employee sets up the tours for the employees. In return, SAP receives part of the revenue from Userlane.
The other way to obtain the Userlane software is Software-as-a-Service. Customers no longer purchase a license for the unlimited use of software. Instead, they subscribe to them, usually for one year, with costs based on the approximate number of employees accessing them. After one year, the customer decides whether to extend the subscription or not.
Author: Gerd Hübner