“Don’t Set Any Limits!” – an Interview with Dagmar Schuller from audEERING
Dagmar Schuller founded her company audEERING in 2012 with a small team and very little seed capital. Building something new and continuously developing suits the founder. She studied economics first and then law, both with a focus on IT. During our interview, Dagmar Schuller told us about the kind of footprint she would like to leave behind, why a smile is important and the clichés she had to battle in the beginning.
What motivated you to found a company?
That’s crystal clear: my belief that intelligent audio analysis and AI will significantly influence our future. My motivation was to sensibly and responsibly make AI accessible and therefore useful for people in the most varied situations and areas of application – in everyday situations in particular. My cofounders had already laid the foundation with their distinguished research work at the Institute for Human-Machine Communication at the Technical University of Munich.
Moreover, I had also always been responsible for business units that had to be established from the ground up when I was an employee. After successfully negotiating several times for different companies in investment rounds and developing and expanding entire business units both nationally and internationally, the next logical step for me was to found my own company.
Did you have role models when starting the company?
I didn’t have a classic role model in mind while founding like Bill Gates or Elon Musk. I never thought about following a certain role model. That just doesn’t suit me or the way I think. As a founder, you always want to create something new and are motivated to continue developing. You work towards leaving your own footprint in a particular market or segment and are motivated when ideas turn into actual projects and products. If you want to make a difference, you also have to stand behind that difference as a person. So I found inspiration in particular styles of leadership or innovation processes that also suit me and our company.
“New ways of thinking based on in-depth discussion”
When and where do you have the best ideas?
That really depends on the situation. My ideas mostly pop up spontaneously after direct communication with someone. If I put myself in a particular context and talk about a problem in an animated discussion with someone, I always try to build a bridge to finding a solution. That often helps me find completely new approaches. Even if the solution isn’t quite clear yet and still needs a lot of consideration, the decisive idea usually arises from that kind of in-depth discussion. Then there are times when I need to have my head completely clear to be able to start from the very beginning and have ideas. Taking a relaxed walk without any stress out in the fresh air helps the most.
What’s your biggest talent?
My biggest talent is probably being able to recognize trends and their potential early on. I was already interested in neuronal networks, fuzzy logic and genetic algorithms as a teenager. For example, in the mid-90s right after I got back from New York, I was working for Ernst and Young and recommended that a large mail order business change their ordering procedures to digital processes. That would have been enough to react to needs early on, become a trendsetter and prepare the market. But the major players weren’t far enough along yet for the idea and I was removed from the project due to the client’s outrage at my “complete lack of understanding for trends in retail.” Now it’s impossible to imagine the world without online retail, and the mail order business mentioned no longer exists. For me, it has become one of my most pronounced strengths to be able to forecast those kinds of developments and to set current trends with audEERING .
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
I luckily have never made a truly major mistake in professional terms. But I have underestimated things along my career path. In earlier professional situations, for example, I expected people to react differently to particular developments and expected different types of motivation and driving factors that lead them to a personal decision.
What’s your secret networking weapon?
As simple as it may sound: smile and look people in the eye! Then you’ve already made the first move. I see people who just stare at their smartphones much too often at networking events. They’re missing out on so many valuable opportunities. Networking to me means taking your eyes off the screen and making contact with others and using that time for fruitful discussions. On top of that, a genuine smile will help disarm any stressed visitor.
The “women and money” cliché
What are the three most offensive prejudices you’ve encountered in everyday startup life?
I have thankfully only encountered a few prejudices since founding audEERING. You normally deal with concerns from business partners and investors as to whether the technology can actually deliver what the presentation promises. But that was never an issue thanks to our established reputation based on our research projects.
I personally had to fight some clichés here and there during my career. Although I worked in positions at a young age that involved a high degree of responsibility, I was considered less capable than my colleagues. I also ran into the classic “women and money” cliché. During a meeting with an investor, I was suddenly asked if I would be able to spend the money intended for the investment for the company. No one would ever ask a man that kind of question.
Was being a female founder an advantage or disadvantage for you?
From my point of view, my role as a woman hardly played a role when founding audEERING. The main focus was definitely on the competence I had to offer based on my economic and legal background in combination with innovation and IT. But in general for women in Europe, it’s still more uncommon for women to be active in tech-based sectors than for example in the US. As a result, I tend to stand out at events or during presentations in the field of technology. That can certainly be an advantage, particularly when it comes to networking. You also quickly connect with other women in the tech sector. That naturally doesn’t mean that all women should now throw out their original plans and look for business models in IT instead. It’s more about being true to yourself and understanding that being a woman is a strength and not a flaw. The question should not be: “How do I have to be to be successful in this area?”, but should instead be “What am I like and how can I use that to be successful?” And above all – do I enjoy doing it and am I authentic?”. Women should have faith in their individual skills and talents and not set any limits, even if you encounter a cliché here or there.
What’s on top of your desk at the moment?
When I look over at my desk right now, there’s an extremely interesting scientific paper next to my laptop about emotion recognition in dogs. My now-cold lunch is also waiting for me. Every founder is probably familiar with that kind of thing – something else always comes up.
Where’s your next vacation destination?
I was in Denmark a few weeks ago, so I plan to spend my next days off in my Austrian hometown with my family. I’m originally from Styria and can’t wait to enjoy the breathtaking mountains, fresh air, Styrian potato sausage and salad with kernel oil.
No need to be shy about “Made in Munich” innovations
What have you always wanted to say to Munich residents?
Vienna is the only city that’s more beautiful! Just kidding – Munich is fantastic and I would not want to be anywhere else. I would like to inspire Munich residents to confidently present their city as the exceptional European business location that it truly is. We often tend to focus on the US and view Silicon Valley as the center of the global startup scene. But if you take a look around Bavaria and particularly pay attention to the Munich startup scene, you’ll quickly notice there is no need to be shy when compared to American competition. On the contrary. “Made in Bavaria” innovations, and particularly those “Made in Munich,” are of world-class quality.