“You have to be on fire for your founding idea”
Marc Stratmann from fragPAUL simplifies personnel management in restaurants.
Marc Stratmann and Peter Praeder met during their studies at the University of Cologne. Their entrepreneurial spirit and inventiveness combined from the very beginning. With their software fragPAUL they want to facilitate personnel management in the gastronomy sector. Valerie Lukassen from GATEWAY spoke with Marc Stratmann about the ups and downs of startup life.
How did you get the idea to found fragPAUL?
I am only too familiar with the complex challenges faced by restaurant operators. In my private life, I am closely connected with the industry, growing up in a restaurant, so to speak. Personnel management in a catering business costs managers and employees a lot of time and nerves. From hiring to shift planning, time recording, vacation planning, payroll accounting – a lot of paperwork has to be done. The restaurant staff would much rather put their energy into cooking or into a great event – into things they enjoy.
Already in 2008 I had the idea to develop an intelligent software to solve this concrete everyday problem. At that time there weren’t even WhatsApp groups, online calendars etc.. They used pen and paper – a huge effort! I then quickly created a prototype for shift planning and time recording, which was well received by the industry. Based on this, we developed an intuitive and innovative software in 2015 that guides users through the bureaucratic steps of hiring personnel and automates recurring tasks. fragPAUL is not just an app for time recording, but an intelligent personnel assistant.
How did you know how to do it best?
As a founder, you don’t have to know every detail in depth, a basic understanding of the relevant topics is enough. It is important to assess one’s own expertise correctly and to have ideas on where to get additional knowledge. I studied business administration and know the industry. My co-founder Peter Praeder is a computer scientist and had his first experience with start-ups. We supplement our own know-how with my father’s legal knowledge – he is an employment lawyer – and a partner company for payroll accounting.
At first, we had a different founding idea on the subject of advertising, which could also have been considered for an existing sponsorship. But the application is relatively complex and we had no patience for it. We wanted to get started right away – and that went with fragPAUL!
With fragPAUL you have caught the right wave. Your product quickly aroused interest and you were accepted into accelerator programs…
Our product immediately attracted the interest of our customers – and only by word of mouth! Not only restaurateurs, but also other industries were interested in such solutions. In 2016 we were accepted into an accelerator program of the University of Leipzig and immediately afterwards into an accelerator program of the Metro Group. That was a very instructive time. It became clear to us that we really had to focus on our core competence, i.e. reducing bureaucracy in small to medium-sized companies in the hospitality industry – hotels, restaurants, bars, cafés, catering. In addition, we became aware that we had to take the customer’s point of view much more into account than just acting according to our own ideas. That’s why we named the product fragPAUL – we originally had a different name.
We are still close to the Metro Group today; after all, we are in the same industry. Metro is our strategic partner through which we win many customers.
fragPAUL has grown very quickly, you now have 16 employees. What was your biggest challenge?
To be honest, our rapid growth was the biggest challenge. But that was of course a very motivating problem! We had to do a lot at the same time – build a customer base and build a team. In the hot phase from January to September 2017 we made many mistakes, but also learned a lot!
What were these mistakes and how did you learn from them?
For example, we were at a major trade fair and had set ourselves the goal of making 200 contacts. Instead, we had more than 1000 contacts and concluded several contracts and special conditions directly at the trade fair – we didn’t even know how to professionally record and track all this. It’s easy to lose track of things. So we quickly bought a CRM system (Customer Relationship Management System for managing customer data), but it didn’t fit our needs at all. In the end, we tried out four systems in the running business until we found the right one for us. In a large company, a team would deal with the procurement of a CRM system, test, weigh, decide – we just had to do it, improvise somehow.
We also had to find and train suitable people for sales, we have a product that needs a lot of explanation. We didn’t have a good customer service either, but you should always be available for customer questions in order to keep their trust.
How did GATEWAY help you in retrospect?
As a student or a recent graduate, you have a business idea and want to make it big without knowing how to do it. It sometimes feels like setting off into the desert without water. The best thing to do is to find experienced fellow travellers and to find out where you can find water. My co-founder Peter had already gained experience with FoodLoop and knew the GATEWAY team. Peter also knew other GATEWAY start-ups with whom we exchanged a lot in the beginning, e.g. Tagxter, Möbelfirst.
We found GATEWAY’s advice on founding a company helpful, as we were repeatedly pushed in the right direction. The openness of the GATEWAY coaches was great, they were not immediately interested in potential sales and profits. So a good idea first gets its space and can grow in peace.
What advice would you give to people interested in starting a business?
You should start out with passion, not cool. Take a concrete problem and offer a 100% suitable solution. Don’t be demotivated by other people’s concerns. Burn for your idea and have fun with it – that’s the engine that drives you!
Thank you very much for the interview!
Further information on fragPAUL can be found at www.frag-paul.de