First Nuremberg, then the World — how Roboyo Wins Global Customer Hearts by Storm with Process Automation

An interview with Roboyo-CEO Nicolas Hess by Anne Christin Braun

Not too long ago “process automation” to some might have sounded like a scary way to make entire professional branches redundant. By now it’s crystal clear that e.g. some recurring back office tasks can easily and efficiently be automated in order to make employee’s lives easier and give them a chance to focus on tasks where their expertise is actually needed instead. Pretty reasonable in times of almost 2 Million open jobs in Germany alone.
Nuremberg-grown company Roboyo promises that their solutions go beyond task management to enterprise transformation. To learn more about the secret sauce for this glocal success story, we met for a chat with Roboyo co-founder and CEO Nicolas Hess.

Nicolas Hess, Co-Founder and CEO of Roboyo. Picture: Roboyo

ZOLLHOF: Nic, you’ve founded Roboyo back in 2015, in the midst of the COVID pandemic you raised € 21 Million and by now you are an international team of 500 people. Looking at the very beginning of it all, can you tell us about how you became a founder and how you found your co-founders?

Nic: Right before we started Roboyo I worked for 3,5 years as a consultant in Switzerland. During that time I was working on a process automation project and immediately said to one of my colleagues: Couldn’t we do this ourselves, too? I didn’t know him very well at the time but this is how I got my first co-founder. That was different though for my second co-founder who was already my roommate during my studies. That’s how it all started out back in 2015 with lots of planning, before we kicked off operations in 2016.

ZOLLHOF: Many startups we work with at ZOLLHOF are rather early stage, so team is always extra important to us. As a founding team of 3, what is your secret for working together successfully?

Nic: Right at the beginning we could cover a lot of complementary skills. Sven our CTO as the tech person and Christian and myself, both with a background in consulting but in very different fields. So bringing different perspectives to the table certainly made us a strong team. It also didn’t hurt that the three of us all had an incredibly strong will to make this work without any plan B in place. We really went all in.

ZOLLHOF: What would you recommend to someone who is just starting their path as a founder and are there things you would have liked to know back then that you know now?

Nic: There are some things you can plan but others that you can’t and it helps to be aware of this. I can’t plan if I have the right timing for my idea and market, I can’t plan when I win my first customer. Even if I can influence who I work with I can’t know how we get along as a team in extreme situations or how people react. Luckily this worked well for us. What is crucial is getting real and honest feedback on what we are doing.

I know some people who started their own company at the same time like us but they had to realize the product is not good enough or their target customers are not clearly defined. So we’ve always been good at talking to people who have the relevant experience to give profound feedback and act on it. Don’t ever think you already know it all and be aware of all the things you don’t know. So we always asked for that, made sure to try stuff but if we realized that something doesn’t work we always prefered to take two steps forward and one step back.

ZOLLHOF: In which countries are you active currently and what is your biggest market?

Nic: We got actual offices in 13 countries and our biggest market is still Germany or rather DACH, followed by the US.

Nicolas Hess on stage representing Roboyo. Picture: Roboyo

ZOLLHOF: I read an interview with you where you mentioned that Nuremberg has great conditions for startups but that we are not that great in making that known. What do you appreciate in the region and where could the entrepreneurial ecosystem here improve?

Nic: There is a lot that I appreciate. It’s rather the media that often doesn’t cover news about successful startups. You hear a lot about DATEV, Siemens and Schaeffler but little about young companies. On the other hand there is a lot that does work well. The city of Nuremberg always has an open ear and is reachable if you have an issue to discuss, so it’s great to know someone is always just a phone call away. Also the ecosystem with all the big players around is great, especially if you sell B2B solutions while all the local universities will continuously attract great talent. All of this means great conditions for the region, even if they might not be communicated as much compared to other cities.

ZOLLHOF: Our federal government has recently released the first ever startup strategy. What do you think, what does Germany need as a startup nation in order to be competitive on a global level?

Nic: Startups need another standing, it needs to be easier to get loans with banks. Another aspect is that you are almost always subjected to personal insolvency if your business is going down, because as a startup you don’t get a bank loan without private liability. Paired with topics like e.g. tax heavy employee share ownership it’s not super attractive. Yet, you do have an incredible economic power and market access opportunities compared to countries like e.g. Portugal.

ZOLLHOF: What made you most happy during your entrepreneurial journey and what did maybe not work at all?

Nic: Good questions. There were many things and special milestones like the number of employees or revenue thresholds, the number of clients. I think what really makes you most happy is if you realize that you were able to create a company from scratch. One that has a real impact and that customers appreciate and want to use because they get so much benefit out of it. All of this is happening on a global level with colleagues from all over the world working on international projects. This really is fun.
When I think about what went wrong I especially think of the beginnings when we still had to learn a lot and had to make up a lot from thin air. Looking at our stable operational situation now I remember that it hasn’t always been that way.

ZOLLHOF: What are your personal goals and your goals for Roboyo in the next 2,3 years?

Nic: We want to be present in all important markets and want to be the global number 1 in intelligent automation. We want to further expand, acquire other businesses and grow as a company. It’s our goal to make a difference — on a large scale, as a top player in the market.

ZOLLHOF: My last question is if you have a specific productivity hack or tool that you use?

Nic: Not being part in everything and be rigouros on where you can/want add value without negatively interfering in people’s responsibilities.

Anne is Head of Marketing at ZOLLHOF. She has many years of experience in tech communication, marketing strategy and PR. When she’s not at ZOLLHOF, Anne is working on her Master’s degree in Health Sciences.

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