Alexander Rinke’s BBC Interview
When Alexander Rinke wanted some of the world’s largest companies to hire his small start-up company he came up with a new method – he would send his managers handwritten letters.
“We knew that if we sent an email, it could only be deleted,” he says.
“And if we sent out typewritten letters then their secretary would open them, and bin them as spam.
“But with a handwritten note, it seems more personal; it could have been a letter from a family member or friend.”
Degree at the Technical University of Munich
Alexander launched Celonis when he was 22 with two friends, Martin Klenk and Bastian Nominacher in 2011 after completing math and computer science degrees at the Technical University of Munich.
Expanding on a project they had been working on as part of their courses, Celonis is a hi-tech data mining company that uses software and artificial intelligence to monitor the performance of companies to help them become more efficient and work better.
In very simple terms, Celoni’s software will monitor a company’s computer system, and find out things like which employees are unproductive, which suppliers are too slow, and which production processes can be streamlined. It then proposes solutions.
The three friends were convinced of what they could offer companies, but they just needed to get noticed.
Hence the handwritten letters.
They served as a treatment, leading to meetings with some of the largest companies in Europe.
Today, eight years later, Celoni’s customers include BMW, Exxon-Mobile, General Motors, L’Oreal, Siemens, Uber and Vodafone.
And after securing an additional $ 50m (£ 39m) investment last year, Celonis says it is now valued at more than $ 1 billion (£ 780).
Born and raised in Berlin, Alexander says he started his first company when he was only 15, delivering tutors to high school students.
“It was good to get my first idea of how a company ran,” he says. “But in the end I knew it wouldn’t last forever.”
Fast-forward to 2011 in Munich, and Alexander came up with the idea for Celonis then as part of his studies, he Martin and Bastian helped a real business improve its customer service.
The three students found that the company took about five days to make corrections to problems, and they thought there must be a faster way.
“We interviewed people in the company to try to understand why it took so long,” says Alexander, who is now 29. “But we quickly realized that no one would take on the blame. It became political.”
So the idea for the Munich-based Celonis was born: remove people and labor policy from the evaluation process and replace them with impartial computer analysis.
The company is designed by the students became their first paying customer. As Martin and Bastian worked fine-tuning the software, Alexander drove up to 1,000 miles a day around Germany and Austria to meet potential customers, including those to whom he had sent a handwritten letter.
Tillväxt av Celonis och utvidgning till USA
Celonis grew rapidly, and just one year later opened a US office in Palo Alto, California.
But while corporate customers were seemingly easy to secure, Alexander admits that because the company had to expand its workforce so quickly, sometimes they used the wrong people.
“Initially, we were hiring people just based on their resume, but we made some bad decisions,” he says. “Some simply weren’t the right fit.
“We quickly realized that it’s all down to character and personality, as well as their resume. The most important thing is to build the right team around you.”
Today Celonis has more than 400 employees, and its subscription-based product is used by thousands of companies around the world.
A private company, its annual sales now tops $ 70m.
Patrick Magee, Frankfurt correspondent for the Financial Times, has written about Celonis on numerous occasions in recent years.
“When I interviewed several large companies that are already working with Celonis I expected to hear a good thing or two,” he says.
“The reality is that they swooned. Managers at large groups like Siemens and Vodafone said it was like having an X-ray of their operations, making it easy to detect inefficiencies and make a fix.”
In the future, Alexander may have to learn to write in Japanese, as the company is looking to expand to Japan.
“Japan is such an interesting market, because they are so obsessed with efficiency and improving things,” says co-CEO. “So there’s a big demand there.
“But we are also looking to expand in the markets we are already in.”