We meet Tobi Schneidler CEO, founder and owner of Bouncepad
11 November 2015
Tobi Schneidler is CEO and co-founder of Bouncepad and an entrepreneur who began his career as a designer, studying in London. In 2010 the Bouncepad iPad Kiosk was born out of a consulting design project and has since grown into an international design and manufacturing business with one simple focus; how physical retail can change in the age of technology.
We caught up with Tobi to talk about the inspiration behind his success and the future of the connected consumer.
Tell us about the history of Bouncepad
I was always interested in the relationship of how technology impacts the design of furniture and environments. This led me to start a design agency focusing on how retail could change in the age of technology and e-commerce. I worked with companies like Barclays and Adidas on new retail shop concepts, as well as more experimental stuff. My ethos is that technology is not something necessarily screen-based and abstract, but quite charming, physically pleasant and approachable that lives around you in an environment.
Our projects were very much done on a consultancy basis but my aim was to have a product. In 2010 when the iPad came out, we'd participated in an experimental pop-up shop in Soho showcasing some ideas of how retail in the future could look and how digital products may be sold in a physical environment. Although the iPad was launched as a purely personal consumer electronic tool, I saw it as a great commercial tool too. By creating more personal sized kiosks, usable from the user interface and digital content point of view, we put iPads into our pop-up shop and watched people play. It was pretty clear that this was a goer.
We launched our first viable product about three months later and switched on our website. A week in and we had our first order from Johannesburg, South Africa. We started to design more beautiful enclosures and created bespoke versions for different mounting options in different store environments. Then the business really started to grow and we began to get a few big brands under our belts. We’ve been working with McDonald's now for more than four years, as well as other brands like Clinique, Comcast and Hugo Boss, all of which have multiple retail outlets. We grew our business by solely focusing on the B2B environment.
Our iPad stand enables experimentation by bringing digital into physical store environments. Our customers are experimenting with digital instore and we’re starting to roll out new ways of engaging, servicing and transacting with customers. The vision for the business is to help our brands to reinvent retail for the connected consumer.
How tricky has it been to recruit appropriate talent for a growing business?
I think as a start-up, it's quite easy to select other “experimenters” who are a jack of all trades. If you're lucky and have good ideas you grow. When you get to our size and you get into scale-up territory, suddenly you have to solve much more complex problems. These are fundamental problems in the business to do with processes and delivery functions that you previously outsourced or didn't have on your radar. The selection of people doing that is a major challenge and you have to almost start from scratch every time you recruit. That's probably one of the biggest challenges - retaining the energy and flexibility of a start-up and having people aligned with a purpose, but then going to the next step and scaling-up. I think competition in London is great for almost any kind of talent. Having the right focus, being able to communicate the focus to the people you want to hire and getting them excited about the challenge, that's half the job done. Creating an environment that people like to stick around in is also important. As the business has grown, the bit that we want to focus on is the creative bit, how you foster talent and retain staff. Also, growth through training is something that as a start-up you can't really afford. Now we're in a position where we can actually send people on courses and run more internal training.
How would you describe the culture of Bouncepad?
We basically want to give people as much autonomy as possible to get on with their job and to facilitate this we have four simple values: curiosity, pride, fairness and derring-do. We spend a lot of time aligning them with the business goals. It’s about everyone having a tacit understanding of what the big goals are and then being able to chip in, not about hierarchy. One of the great things about a fast-growing company is that you create a pool of opportunities. Some people really appreciate these challenges and see them as learning opportunities by being curious. That's probably the most valuable energy you can create in a company.
From a cultural perspective, Netflix and Zappos are always popping up, focusing on how people interact with each other in the workplace, and there are examples of more established companies that work with a matrix structure, with no published hierarchies as such and they operate very successfully. That can only work with the right cultural foundations, supporting people to succeed and giving them the autonomy. That's why when I do my alignment workshops it's all about our four values: curiosity, pride, fairness, daring-do, but they're not prescriptive. They're a starting point for us to have a conversation about what they mean to colleagues. Every time we do that we come up with amazing examples, be it on the production floor or in marketing or in R&D. It then becomes more of a conversation and developing a style of interacting as well as picking out examples where things went wrong and giving people licence to make mistakes. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t make tons of mistakes, that's one of the fundamental things.
How did you finance Bouncepad?
It's a self-funded business and the vast majority of growth has been financed through cash flow. It's not to say that we won't take investment in the future and I'm doing extensive research looking at all the options as well as setting the business up so it becomes an attractive proposition. One of the interesting dynamics I see in this whole start-up world is that there is almost a default mental position of, 'I need to get funding' or 'I need to get a VC,' or, 'I need to get an angel’, that no one is even considering bootstrapping as a business model. A lot of the technology start-up world starts to bring weird truths into a business culture where you're not allowed to make profits. On the other hand, you can meet a lot of very inspirational entrepreneurs especially in London, who have built great businesses with very little funding, who considered profitability to be one of the core qualities of a business from day one - I find that very inspiring.
What are the biggest challenges you face in growing the business to the next level?
I guess the fundamental difficult part is to take that next leap into the unknown. I'm very lucky to have a trusted co-founder here (Managing Director Solon Sasson), as I'm a little more out there, whereas he knows about the machine of what makes this place tick and how things function. We each spur each other on to find solutions and now we increasingly bring in more seasoned business people to advise us on certain questions. Making a call on what to prioritise is difficult but if you find the right focus area it becomes much easier.
I think the biggest danger is when you lose focus, or when you see too many opportunities and you try to dabble in a lot of them. That’s why we are completely focused on retail and enterprise. We focus on these big customers because they have very specific requirements with clear scale opportunity for us. We apply that focus into our whole business giving us a much better structure to make these decisions. I think the other thing that I have learned is that probably half the advice I get, I take, and the other half I dismiss.
Who are competitors in the marketplace and how do you differentiate yourselves constantly?
I am less interested in what the competition is up to. My focus is on the question of innovating together with our customers, and create relevant product for the demanding enterprise space. We understand the requirements really well by now.
There will always be copycats, but we have seen them come and go over the years.
We invented the category of iPad and tablet kiosks and it is a fascinating area to play in, as many of our projects sit at the heart of digital in-store transformation projects.
What government support is there for scale ups like you?
There are a few initiatives out there but if I look honestly at what helped me to grow the business, it's more private sector initiatives, resources that I can find and access under my own steam, than government run programmes. You can get grants to get business advice and mentoring which is great but the thing that really helps is to have a local network of mentors, advisers and peers that you can tap into. I think more can be done in the scale-up, rather than start-up space because that's when you have a real entrepreneurial success, when the company scales and when you build companies that can last for a longer time. There are lot of heroic stories out there for start-up founders. That's a first risky step to take but we need to actually celebrate people who've built businesses and created more than two jobs - that’s something that I'm proud of.
As an entrepreneur, if there’s one thing you’ve learned since starting Bouncepad that you could have told yourself at the start, what would that be?
Don't take blind advice from a supposed expert or seasoned business leader, think for yourself. There isn't a single “one size fits all” truth to building a business. That's probably the biggest learning.