Christoph Wagner is the CEO of Scanbot SDK, an AI company in barcode scanning, document scanning, and data extraction. He became the CEO in 2016 and turned the company over with great success.
Christoph loves the product, getting feedback, and being bold by constantly thinking about what can be done to stay on top of things. Loving challenges helped Scanbot reach new heights while maintaining the relevance of the company in a competitive market.
Listen to his recipe in today’s Startup Stories episode, the way Christoph Wagner runs Scanbot SDK, and let yourself be inspired.
You can listen to the full podcast or watch the video version here.
NOTE! The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form. The followings are snippets from the interview podcast that were edited for clarity and brevity.
Why did you decide to join Scanbot SDK?
Christoph Wagner: My main reason was that I wanted to learn. There are three founders of the company. Frank Thelen was the public face of it, but there were also two others, Alex and Mark. They were very experienced entrepreneurs, and my main goal was to learn from them.
I actually joined the company in mid-2015 as Head of Operations, but it was already clear that I take over the company as a CEO if I’ll do a decent job. This happened quicker than expected, so at the beginning of 2016, I became the CEO.
As you said before, there was a big vision about a document management system that did not pan out. They had to focus on one part, so at the beginning of 2014, they released the scanning app for iOS and Android, and then I came in.
Tell us about your CEO beginnings
Christoph Wagner: When I came in, the app was okayish on the marketplace, and together with the team, we 10x all metrics.
This means the number of downloads, engagements, and the number of documents scanned. We never tracked the number of pages because we had this privacy-first approach. At our peak, we had 36 million scanned documents per year.
The problem they had before of missing product-market fit was no longer there. This was great. Nonetheless, being in the app store business, being a productivity app is quite a hard business. Of course, some apps earn amazing amounts of money on the app store, but it’s mainly about either content apps or games.
Except for the games, the app is more of a vehicle, not the actual thing they sell. Let’s say, for example, in the case of Netflix, they need an app to distribute their content, but it’s not what they are selling. They are selling the content.
I saw that selling an app, a tool that makes people’s lives a little bit better but it’s not life-changing, became harder and harder. The way I approached this is how I can scale this to be worthy for our VC-backed startup.
I don’t need to tell you that there are certain expectations from VC-backed companies.
What was your own vision for the company once you became the CEO?
Christoph: For the first six months, my only goal was to understand the company, really understand the product, and the people. Then I started to develop my vision.
What I saw was that the technology we developed to make analog data digital could be way more valuable for companies instead of for private users.
In your private life, you have something to scan from time to time, but it’s not a daily habit. But there are many heavily paperbound companies. For them, the technology we developed provides way more value compared to a private user.
Do you recall the first big decision that was yours?
Christoph: There were quite a lot of those. I think that one of the first was that I completely changed the total appearance of how we market the app in the app stores.
I changed the whole description, and there was this topic of ASO, meaning app store optimization. I completely changed that too.
We went from 1,000 downloads per day per operating system to 50,000 downloads every day.
If something is working, we double it. If not, we cut it off.
Do you recall what kept you up at night during those times?
Christoph: Of course, it was changing everything, doing them differently than the previous leadership.
They were amazing because they let me do it. It’s hard to let someone in and allow do completely different things.
They were also available for any feedback I had and guidance. But in the end, they let me do everything I thought was right.
What kept me up? If my decisions were right.
What keeps me up till today? If it’s bold enough. Is it just a small change that won’t move the needle in the end, or is it something that will create long-lasting value for the company and all stakeholders?
How do you keep up with the required innovation and boldness?
Christoph Wagner: One thing is that we really listen to our customers. That’s always easier said than done. You need to bring your customer to talk to you. Now that we switched to B2B, there are large companies like traded companies and Fortune 500 companies.
As you can imagine, many times they have different things on their plate than talking to a startup. Yes, we have that general slogan to talk with your customers, but many times the customers don’t want to talk to you, especially for a product like ours. If everything goes well, they don’t even notice they have this product.
So we needed to find a way to make it work, like creating a continuous feedback channel.
On the other hand, to keep innovating, we are making sure we have a culture where making mistakes is encouraged. Should not be stupid things, but as long as we learn something and we move ahead is always OK to make mistakes.
I think this is one of the things I have, as a CEO, to remind people. I rather make mistakes than don’t do anything at all.
Could you develop communication solutions when it comes to your customers? How did you solve this issue?
I think what worked was that it was me as the CEO asking these questions. It worked better than sending someone from the customer service team.
I approached this like, “I’m the CEO of the company. I’m really interested. I really want to learn…” Then we promised them that in this call we only listen, and learn, without trying to upsell you or pursue you to do anything. We are just listening.
Then we prepared the meeting to make it a good experience for them. Lastly, we promised that on any topic we need to follow up we actually do it. I can say that we religiously follow up.
The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form.
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