First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Mike Heininger: Thankfully, our team and families are all well health-wise. As we are a remote-first company, our daily lives weren’t affected too much, and the rest of our families have also adapted well to the new normal.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Yodel
Mike Heininger: I originally studied Media Informatics and Knowledge Management and have worked together with my brother David Heininger (COO of Yodel) since the 90s in our own company. There, we worked on numerous projects and consulted for a variety of different international companies, including establishing Multimedia and Internet services. Since 2010 we were also involved in knowledge-management projects for clients in data-intensive industries. On top of that, we were consistently building VoIP systems and chatbots since the early 2000s.
We started with Yodel’s idea in fall 2015 to solve a problem for ourselves (we hated to answer the phone). Our then head of development, Mario Uher (now CTO of Yodel), built a prototype, and we launched the MVP in spring 2016. This is also the time when our fourth founder Nina Hoedlmayr (CCO), joined the founding team. After the positive feedback from our first customers, we also received the first funding from the renowned early-stage fund Seedcamp, which also marked the time of the official start of the company.
How does Yodel innovate?
Mike Heininger: We innovate by default – we are in a highly competitive industry: telecommunications. How we differentiate ourselves is to constantly improve and implement the latest available technology. We do this by keeping up to date with what’s available in the market, how this could be beneficial for our customers, and then work on how to best implement this in our core product.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Mike Heininger: Yodel is a cloud business phone solution that tightly integrates into other software tools. For instance, we are the #1 phone system for the Slack ecosystem. So any company that needed to restructure a work from the home environment due to the pandemic was potentially looking at Slack or other competitors to have a working communication solution, meaning they are also evaluating Yodel as a phone solution for their new setup. So thankfully, we are a tool that is more relevant due to the pandemic and can benefit rather than suffer from it as a business.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Mike Heininger: Although our business is healthily growing, we still need to make difficult decisions and be flexible to change. For instance, we were planning to raise an investment round through VCs just when the pandemic hit. So this was something we needed to rethink really fast and find alternative ways to receive the funding (as everything was stopped for a while during the beginning of Covid-19).
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Yodel in the future?
Mike Heininger: In situations like these, it is really valuable to have a great team and co-founders that support each other. Even if you have a rough day, you can be sure that one of the other founders is there to motivate you and keep you going. We are very positive that we will get out of this pandemic stronger and have a bigger position in our market. We are delivering a great product and know that businesses will be leveraging the pros of a cloud phone system like ours in the future as well!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Mike Heininger: As said before, we are in a very competitive market where many competitors offer a cloud phone system. Our differentiator is that we focus on a real team approach and how they want to work and how they try to be more efficient. No one else focuses on the customer like we do – especially in the combination of delivering a highly technological product that is easy to use!
Your final thoughts?
Mike Heininger: As a founder and CEO, you have a lot of responsibility and uncertainty at all times. Don’t be afraid of change and uncertainty, but embrace it and always keep improving. This way, you will stay positive, even in hard times.