Foundation of the month: askui
Founder of the month
What does your company stand for?
At askui, we have a vision of an automated digital world. Our software helps developers to achieve this goal through software that allows them to analyse user interfaces based on screenshots and simulate human actions there. What is special about this is that we can automate virtually any action that a human can perform with a computer.
As a company, it is important to us that all employees believe in this vision and that we work on it together.
Where and how did you get the bright idea to found the company?
Dominik and I often had contact with test automation in our previous jobs and it was always a big bottleneck in the development process. The biggest problem is that you have to have a lot of understanding about the software to be automated – we wanted to solve this dependency. With the knowledge about computer vision from lectures at the KIT, the brilliant idea came.
With the help of artificial intelligence, it is easy to recognise and control elements on user interfaces like in self-driving cars. After that, it was a long process of many development iterations together with customers and users.
How did the founding team come together?
Dominik and I met in a lecture at the KIT. Funnily enough, it was also a lecture on founding. The task at the time was to found a fictitious start-up and submit a fictitious EXIST application – we didn’t realise at the time that we would submit it in “real” form six months later (but with different content).
Where do you see the hurdles in the start-up process? Where did you get support?
In my experience, the biggest hurdle is “just doing it”. And by “just do it” I don’t mean research and market analysis – but making phone calls, LinkedIn messages and writing emails to potential customers. Many founders focus far too much on development and other issues that are not actually important. Getting out of your comfort zone shouldn’t be a hurdle, but it usually is.
Financing is also a big issue. For us, the KIT was a decisive partner with the EXIST start-up grant. Apart from that, there are many good places in Karlsruhe, such as the Gründerschmiede, the Cyberforum and the Pioniergarage (and others), to get help with the first questions.
What was one of your biggest challenges during the founding phase?
The biggest challenge was probably just saying “we’re doing this now” and not letting others influence us. I don’t know how many times I heard sentences like “That already exists”, “And you need something like that?”, “If you knew what was coming, you wouldn’t do it”. Setting up a business is not easy, that’s for sure – but it’s worth it!
In the start-up process, you also have to learn how to deal with feedback. Often the negative comments come from unqualified people who have no contact with your idea – you have to filter that out. At the same time, you have to be able to accept feedback if it is qualified and learn from it. Sometimes that’s not as easy as it sounds.
What qualities do you think a founder should have?
The most important quality is probably that you are willing to go the extra mile and expect nothing in return (financially speaking). It sounds tough, but from a financial point of view, founding a company is only worth it in very few cases. You have to stand behind your idea and be willing to do everything for it. If you’ve been to a start-up conference and talked to many founders, you can really feel what is meant by “founder drive”.
A willingness to learn is also a very important quality. Success at startups is typically not measured by the status quo, but by willingness to learn and execution speed. It’s okay to make wrong decisions – you just have to be willing to admit it and learn from it.
Do you have any practical tips for other young entrepreneurs?
The best tip I have for young founders is to always think in terms of problems rather than ideas. A start-up should always solve a problem in a certain market, how this problem is then solved is the product. With this way of thinking, it is easier to part with your product and take a different approach to solving the problem if it turns out that no one buys the product.
At the same time, founders should not start directly with product development, but should first deal intensively with product validation. Young founders often make the mistake of first developing a product and then looking to see if it can be marketed. It should be the other way around.
From today’s perspective, what would you perhaps do differently?
I would follow my own advice and start with problem validation. To do this, I would set up several landing pages, conduct many interviews with my target group and build up an audience before writing the first line of code.
What are your plans for the future?
We are currently preparing the next major update of our software. The focus will be on optimised documentation and self-service. In addition, we are currently implementing processes to be able to grow better. We are now 15 people and will probably double this number in the next few years. This has to be prepared.
We talked to founder Jonas in our related podcast episode, feel free to listen in and learn more about askui’s founding process.