How an executive MBA widened an entrepreneur’s perspective
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I decided to go to business school after the technology company I co-founded was partly bought out and I found myself in a new role requiring different skills.
Dolphin Technologies, launched in 2001, provides services such as usage-based vehicle insurance and other telematics services. In 2007, Meta System, an Italian manufacturer of automotive electronics, bought a 70 per cent share of the company.
The acquisition meant that I went from chief executive and founder to being on an executive board. I became chief marketing officer and responsible for international expansion of Meta’s telematics company, Octo Telematics, so I felt I needed additional academic business knowledge.
After making comparisons with other schools, the Global EMBA at WU, Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria, appealed most to me. This was partly because of the international residencies it offers, including some in Russia and China. I have always travelled with my work, from Rome and California to São Paulo, so I liked the global approach.
The programme also involved a virtual team project as a final assessment, for which we had to create a business. My team decided to design and create an online polling system that could be used via smartphone by audiences of television programmes such as the X Factor, or by companies for market research. The platform, called iVoting, is still out there. It is free and already used by about 1,000 companies.
The virtual team project seemed at first to be the downside of the EMBA programme. You work with fellow students you have never met and who are based in places such as China, the US and Poland. The logistics of working with people spread around the world and across four different time zones can be difficult. But these difficulties come up in real life, so you need to learn to deal with them and it turned out to be the most important experience of the entire programme.
Another highlight was a trip to India for a residency focused on operations. During the trip I visited a school that had food provided by the Akshaya Patra Foundation. The organisation’s motto is: “feeding a hungry child is not charity, it is our social responsibility.” The foundation feeds 40,000 poor Indian schoolchildren each day and gaining an insight into how it does so was very humbling.
The pupils’ parents agreed to send them to the school only if they were fed and we saw how they were catered for using rudimentary facilities. We were provided with packed lunches but some colleagues and I ate with the children, using our fingers to scoop lentils off an aluminium plate, as they did. The experience was incredible.
During the EMBA programme I also found my career aspirations started to change.
I had been in a very corporate environment and I was planning to return to it, but I decided this was not the direction I wanted to go. In 2012, I decided to leave Octo and went to Silicon Valley, where I co-founded a start-up called Everbill, a cloud-based accounting application for small and medium-sized companies. Starting from scratch — finding office space and an apartment, buying a car and furniture, opening a bank account — was very fulfilling.
In April 2013, I left Everbill and returned to Vienna. I went back to Dolphin as chief executive and started working on a management buyout, which happened in 2014. With my co-founder, Thomas Pöschl, and our financial investors, who leveraged the buyout, we now control 76 per cent of the company. Within the past 18 months or so we have grown from 15 to almost 40 employees and are expanding out of Austria into central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and north Africa.
My aspiration for the coming years is to build products and services based on the idea of “happy people in a connected world”. For me that means designing and developing technology that supports new models of sustainable and efficient transport, saving resources, time, money and the environment.
Since my experiences on the EMBA and in India, I like to focus more on people and to collect experiences rather than material things. I give a lot to charity. The way I see it, why would anyone who drives a Mercedes not buy food or water for a hungry child?
I have become involved with Light for the World, an international disability and development organisation that provides services such as cataract surgery in countries across the globe including South Sudan and Ethiopia. It is about $40 for cataract surgery, so if I give $400 it can help make 10 people see.
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