Nicolas Bürer was named “Swiss Business Angel of the Year” in 2018 and has been included in the “Who is Who of the Swiss Economy” multiple times. After co-founding MOVU, Switzerland’s largest moving platform, and a successful tenure as Managing Director at digitalswitzerland, Nicolas is now building a new and exciting venture. In our interview, we had the chance to learn more about his latest project and what it takes to connect a big vision with real-world action.
Hi Nicolas! On LinkedIn, we saw you have a project that is “soon to be disclosed”. Can you now tell us more about this project?
Certainly! For the past five years, I served as the Managing Director at digitalswitzerland, leading the country towards digitalization on a national scale in politics, society, economics and for individuals.
Now, I have transitioned to a new role in the manufacturing industry, which happens to be the largest sector in the world, accounting for 18% of the worldwide GDP.
The impact of a startup is its true beauty. It has the power to shape the future, creating a great team and generating job opportunities.Nicolas Bürer
My focus is on a project to enhance digitalization, modernization, and sustainability within manufacturing. We are working to make the industry more efficient, productive, and sustainable, reducing waste and defects.
This project has been underway for a couple of months now, and it’s a truly fascinating international project. It involves digital real-time data and lean operations to help the manufacturing sector.
That’s an ambitious undertaking! How would you describe the vision of the project?
The manufacturing industry is responsible for over half of the global electricity consumption and more than 20% of CO2 emissions. And there is still a massive amount of waste.
Our end goal – if you think of it in terms of how Elon Musk’s goal is to go to Mars with one of his companies – is to eliminate waste, reduce CO2 emissions, and massively decrease electricity consumption in the industrial sector.
We aim to help and support the 10 million factories worldwide, which employ around 400 million workers. That’s about 5% of the global population! We want to provide them with intuitive and modern digital solutions. Actually, if we can even assist 1 million factories, it would already be a tremendous accomplishment. We would be happy.
You have a long history in the startup space. What motivates you to take an active role in advising and shaping startups?
The impact of a startup is its true beauty. It has the power to shape the future, creating a great team and generating job opportunities. When I invest in sectors like food, or industrial technology, it’s about moving and shaking things up.
Financial rewards are important, but it’s crucial to recognise the combined value of both impact and financial success in the startup world. We must remember that startups are like roller coasters, and those who say it’s an effortless journey with easy growth are lying. Every startup – without exception – faces its share of ups and downs. So, anyone thinking of investing should be ready for this.
What challenges are you facing in the process of building your new startup?
The current challenge we face is bringing all the right pieces together.
In any project worldwide, you require a good product, a perfect team, financial resources, and finding the sweet spot in terms of customers. These are all pieces of the puzzle, and no one has all the answers at the start. It takes time to figure it out. You might have one or two pieces, but not all of them.
So, it’s a challenging situation. However, I am confident we will adapt, turning this challenge into an opportunity for great success. Ultimately, challenges are opportunities that move us forward, no matter how scary they feel at the time.
Are there any qualities that separate successful ventures from the rest?
There are three qualities that I would emphasise.
Firstly, having complementary skills within the team. It won’t be effective if everyone has the same expertise, such as three people with only marketing expertise or three tech specialists. Therefore, combining sales, marketing, product, and tech skills is important to create a well-rounded team.
Digital is still about humans. A successful digital transformation enables organisations to operate in real-time.Nicolas Bürer
Secondly, good soft skills. You need to be assertive, determined, and highly responsive. Agility and quick thinking are valuable, but also not making hasty decisions. Being open to change and embracing risk can also make a big difference. Without a set of soft skills, it won’t work out.
Lastly, strong fundraising and sales skills. Teams must be proactive and persuasive in their interactions with investors and customers. I’ve seen too many teams that excel in technical aspects, product development, or marketing, but are not good at sales. It’s crucial to have great sales skills, whether it’s to secure investments or to build a customer base.
How does the current financial landscape affect the future of startups in Switzerland?
Like in any other country, the recession affects us too. There is less funding available, fewer growth opportunities, and fewer exits. The level of resistance also depends on the industries. Some sectors, like biotech and deep technology, like blockchain and drones, seem to show greater resilience.
But still, we are affected. Every startup must be prepared to pivot when necessary and transform their mindset and the way they work. It becomes crucial to optimise burn rates, aim for faster growth, and reach break-even points sooner.
What advice would you give organisations that are attempting to digitally transform themselves?
Digital is still about humans. A successful digital transformation enables organisations to operate in real-time. That’s what it is really – real-time data flow. It helps organisations survive, be more productive, potentially increase their profit margins, and hopefully become more sustainable.
From what I’ve seen in the last 15 years, I can say that it’s still about keeping humans in the centre. We must also convince collaborators, customers, and shareholders.
In my experience, if you have any resistance on the way, your digital project will fail. So, you must ask yourself, are you ready to have real data information? Are you able to disrupt yourself? Are you able to really involve everyone in the organisation, every stakeholder? If yes, do it. If not, leave it.
What should people understand about money and investing that can help them direct their funds toward goals like yours that can potentially change the world?
You know, depending on the specific business model, having investors may or may not be beneficial. Investors can be advantageous or not, depending on the circumstances.
In our case, with a self-service software-as-a-service business model, it takes time to gain traction, but it eventually becomes highly recurring and profitable. Thus, we need and appreciate investors’ financial support.
One important aspect is to recognise that the impact should come first, and financial returns should be aligned with that impact.
Founders and management need to prioritise impact over immediate financial gains. Another key point is that projects always take more time than anticipated. Despite our fast-paced world, expecting quick exits within three to five years is unrealistic. Patience is necessary.
How do you define wealth beyond money?
While money enables various opportunities, pure joy in life goes beyond financial success. It involves good health, joy, family, and social connections. These aspects are vital. Prioritising success and money alone can lead to stress and tension. Money is important, but it is not everything.
Thank you, Nicolas!
Looking to dive deeper into the thoughts of another visionary leader shaping Switzerland’s future and beyond? Explore our exclusive interview with Grégoire Pavillon: “A lifelong passion for service” next.