Dr. Florian Wolf, founder of Mergeflow tells us about using innovation in technology and business.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Florian Wolf: Most importantly, we are well and healthy. The pandemic has its challenges, such as not being able to go places or to meet people. But it’s also a time to re-think some old ways of doing things.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Mergeflow.
Dr. Florian Wolf: After I got my Ph.D. in Cognitive Sciences from MIT and worked as a postdoc at the University of Cambridge in bioinformatics, I started Mergeflow. Originally, the plan was to build analytics software for institutional hedge fund investors. But then the global financial crisis of 2009 happened. We had to pivot the company. Eventually, we moved into tech discovery. That is, we now build software that helps innovators, technologists, and entrepreneurs discover and track emerging technologies, R&D, markets, and other insights. This is very exciting because we not only get to build software. We also get to learn a lot about all kinds of tech sectors and industries, and the people and ideas in these sectors. It’s like a nerd’s dream!
How does Mergeflow innovate?
Dr. Florian Wolf: We innovate in various ways: We talk through ideas and build them into the software in our own team. And we work very closely with some of our customers. This helps us build things that are close to the market. Finally, we are generally curious. We are always on the lookout for ideas from the news, books, movies, etc. And of course, we also use our own software to discover companies or people to work with, or ideas from R&D. These ideas often trigger a thought process in our team, which then leads to software being built. Overall, innovation applied to our work really is building ideas into code.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Dr. Florian Wolf: Our product is SaaS, which helps because this makes it independent of location. But the go-to-market has changed a lot. Whereas it used to be mostly a classical enterprise sales model, with many in-person meetings, etc., we now have built a self-service model. And we have been creating much more online content around our software. What helps us a lot: it’s acceptable now to do things via web meetings. This saves a lot of time and money on travel. That being said, it will be nice to be able to meet people again. But I think–and hope–that the focus of these meetings will shift, less “operational” and more “getting to know each other as humans”.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Florian Wolf: Not necessarily difficult, but perhaps a bit intimidating. When you build a whole new business model (self-service in our case), it does make you nervous at first. But we have since gotten very encouraging signals and feedback from customers (who are now more globally diverse than ever before). My lessons learned here is that when you build one new thing (e.g. create more online content or make your product easier to use), it does not only support the thing you intended it to (a self-service model in our case). It also supports the other facets of the business (in our case, software solutions that are more tailored, rather than off-the-shelf and self-service).
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Dr. Florian Wolf: Like most other organizations, we use web conferencing and team chat solutions a lot. In terms of working methods, asynchronous communication is really important. But none of these things are new to us, because we have always been a distributed organization.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Florian Wolf: We build software that automates tasks that traditionally are done manually: Collecting, structuring, and visualizing tech and business “signals” from across diverse sources. So our competition really is the manual way of doing these tasks, which we still see a lot. We plan to stay in the game by continuously building new things, being curious, humble, determined, and probably also a bit paranoid.
Your final thoughts?
Dr. Florian Wolf: In a way, reaching out and connecting with people around the world has never been easier than it is now. And many innovations have happened during this pandemic, on a global scale and in record time (the vaccinations of course, but also e.g. the first private manned spaceflight and the successful landing of an incredibly sophisticated Mars rover). I see this as inspirational.
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