Multiconnect: “We Are So Ready to Do Some Sparring with Startups”

Some Sparring with Startups” The medium sized company Multiconnect likes to work closely with startups and helps them develop their solutions with Multiconnect’s expertise and resources. Several successful products and solutions have already resulted from their “MUC-Up” program, as we learned from Manfred Artmeier, CCO of Multiconnect, during our interview. He also explained what his company looks for in a startup and what startups can expect from a partnership with Multiconnect.

Munich Startup: Who is Multiconnect and what do you do? Please introduce yourselves!

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: Multiconnect is a medium sized company in the field of ICT. On the one hand, we’re a telecommunication service provider, a carrier, with a strong foundation and are boring enough to have been on the Bundesnetzagentur list for the last twenty years. On the other hand, we’re also a software manufacturer. That means we make our calls smarter with our software applications. We are part of a technology group with three offices in Munich, Vienna and Milan. We as Multiconnect take care of B2B business, with which we generate roughly 30 million euros in annual turnover.

Munich Startup: How exactly do you collaborate with startups? How long have you been doing so?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: For the past three years, we’ve been working in very close cooperation with startups in three areas: Firstly, we are the carrier for many startups’ applications, especially when startups use cloud telephone services from the very beginning. Why do startups count on us? We are dynamic, flexible, have our own startup commercials and everything we do is based on APIs. That essentially makes us a great option for integrating telephone services into your own CRM landscape or customer service strategy. And our solution team obviously offers support in the process. You might say we help integrate telephone services into startups’ communication solutions.

“Product sparring is the most interesting aspect for us”

Secondly, we engage in strategic partnerships with startups. Generally speaking, that means founders who are working on something in an area that interests us and who want to have us as a sparring partner – especially in sales, marketing and product management. That kind of product sparring is the most interesting aspect for us, because that is where new things emerge. It’s super interesting at the moment to bundle them with our basic products. We then strategically collaborate with these partner startups. They often work right here in our office in the city located on the Platzl square.

The third point is that we actually have a startup mentality in many fields of business. That is demonstrated by our mobile subsidiary Spusu, which with a small, young and dynamic team in Milan is trying to take over the Italian mobile communications market with disruptive approaches after having done so quite successfully in Austria.

Munich Startup: Which startups have already been guests at your office?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: A great example is CX Labs, which was founded early this year by Robert Klein. This startup has made it their mission to ‘shopify’ B2B communication solutions on their website. We now have online shop systems for virtually everything, but they are quite rare in B2B – and are even less common when it comes to telecommunication services. If you go with one of the big service providers, it’s going to be tough to put together a cloud telephone system with a telephone number, a video call application, chat features, and so on with 5-10 mouse clicks. Then you have these archaic elements like setup fees or ridiculously high pricing models for telephone services. This is where CX Labs offers genuine added value. They let you set up complete and fully functioning cloud telephone services in ten minutes. For us as a carrier, that is obviously extremely interesting. And that not only applies to us, CX Labs now also has quite a few startups as customers. It’s really great to see how they’re growing.

Manfred Artmeier, CCO of Multiconnect

Collaboration between Multiconnect and startups

How do we collaborate with CX Labs? Firstly, by giving them access to the necessary and presentable infrastructure here in our office. The team is given space here in our office. They can make investor and customer pitches here in our quite prestigious office right on Platzl square. We also play a bit of a regulatory role, because many great ideas that would be technically feasible in telecommunication are unfortunately not legally possible. That is where we naturally have the necessary insights and experience to be able to support our partners appropriately. And thirdly, of course, we’re developing products together. The technology behind CX Labs includes major parts of our basic technology in the field of Voice over IP. That makes us nothing other than their telecommunication backbone. For a startup to make progress, a new innovative leap or a new product with our technology as their foundation is the best thing ever for us.

Munich Startup: How did you end up working with startups this way?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: It’s simple: We have our own classic product management department that sets up product pipelines. And that’s why we’re interested in what’s going on “out there.” Because we want to prioritize flexible and agile products based on market demand instead of sitting in a product management ivory tower. That is where we need sparring with external players – and with startups in particular. The result might also be that our sparring partner’s idea or solution makes absolutely no sense for us. I just recently had a long call with a startup working in the smart city sector where that was the case. They told us that they like our initiative for helping communities become digital, After an hour, we realized that we wouldn’t end up working together because the areas of application simply differed too greatly. And that’s not a problem, because that’s how we learn.

Support in making the first steps in market development

Munich Startup: How do things then develop for startups when they work with you?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: One subject where we can really help our startups is in market development. After all, marketing a communication solution in B2B is anything but trivial. That’s also because there are so many big players and established SMEs who have been doing it for decades. As a result, small and innovative companies are often stifled. So what are often needed are quick wins in sales to establish a standing. This is where we support startups with a sales partnership. Opening the door for startups to our customer base of more than 300 companies can really speed some things up.

For example, the first customer that CX Labs acquired through us was an owner-run SME that we introduced them to. Because I arranged the introduction, they also got an appointment with the owner or decision maker. The result was that instead of taking nine months, their sales cycle only took nine days. We naturally also have some networking with VCs and business angels. We like to help out in that area as well, but the focus is definitely on marketing and sales.

Munich Startup: What kind of startups are of particular interest to you?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: All startups that are active in one of these three areas. One is customer relationship management and customer service. Customer experience is of particular importance to us at the moment, regardless of the contact channel. To give an example, we would be interested in having an AI company approach us that is able to automate cross-channel customer inquiries.

Multiconnect is interested in startups active in customer service, voice commerce and telecommunication

The second area is voice commerce. That’s also where we come from as a phone service provider. A whole lot of things could really appeal to us. Voice control is just such a huge subject.

And the third area we’re interested in is the field of telecommunication. Whenever someone is brave enough to come up with something dynamic and cool in this “old school” area, that really piques our interest. Much like how CX Labs managed to make it possible for companies to order and operate cloud telephone services and cloud unified communications entirely online.

Munich Startup: Do you scout for promising companies yourselves?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: No, it doesn’t make sense for us to be active out in the field because we just don’t have the resources for that as an SME. A good 80 percent of startup contacts come from our personal connections or network of partners. For example, we are a 3CX Platinum Partner, have a relatively large number of contacts in CRM companies like Zendesk, Freshdesk and others. Within this environment, we often come into contact with talented founders. What I don’t want is for Multiconnect to be the one to set the pace, because we don’t think we know everything better, but instead want to communicate as equals and do some intense sparring.

Munich Startup: Which stage is the best time for startups to contact you?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: When we think about startups, then we’re thinking about the transition from the seed to the startup stage. So that means in an early stage, because that’s when this kind of partnership makes sense for both sides.

Munich Startup: Whom should startups contact if they would like to meet with you?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: You can always reach us easily by phone. We’ve even set up a dedicated number: +49 89 44288 666. We also have a specific website about our startup program MUC-Up. That’s also where you can sign up for our regulars’ table – and the Augustiner beer is on us. So that means it’s definitely worth stopping by!

“We count on a go-getter mentality”

Munich Startup: Tell us about a no-go factor in a pitch!

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: We are so ready to do some sparring with startups, but we also need to see that they have a go-getter mentality. We have nothing against dreamers, quite the contrary, but we just don’t have the time for meta-strategy debates. That’s why I want to know in very concrete terms what you use to solve what problem and for whom and what the outcome is for your customers. But don’t worry, we’re not interested in verifying a business plan. We simply want to know if the pitch is precise enough to make us want and be able to help. And of course the startups should come from one of the three verticals that I mentioned, customer service, voice commerce or something to do with telecommunication – that’s what we know best and where we can provide targeted assistance.

You should also actually need at least two or three of the things we offer as assistance, which means either sales or marketing, the mentioned “downtown office as a service” or our carrier services. And something else that’s important to me: You should completely do your own thing here. We’re not here to watch over you or be pushy, but are instead a “partner on request” – and on equal footing. And there’s another thing I want to mention: If someone would rather not apply directly as a startup partner, but is perhaps interested in a half-day workshop about a specific subject that has something to do with us, we’d be happy to work with you. And even if it’s just over coffee, a beer or some fruit juice, you can always talk straight with us.

There’s a lack of networking between startups and SMEs

Munich Startup: What do you think the Munich startup scene does right? What could use some improvement?

Manfred Artmeier, Multiconnect: Looking back at the past few years, I have to say that Munich is a functioning startup ecosystem. Where I do think there’s room for improvement: There’s a lack of networking with SMEs in the city and the surrounding area – especially in IT. Companies like ours were also something like startups two decades ago, even though we were called something else back then. A lot of knowledge about many subjects has come together since then that young entrepreneurs and companies could certainly benefit from.

And there’s something I know from talking with owners and CEOs: A lot of SMEs that are about the same size as us, with an annual turnover in the range from 10 to 100 million euros, would be happy to interact more with startups. But that interaction still happens very rarely. And I think that’s something both parties are responsible for: SMEs often only have their industry trade shows and conferences in mind, and startups also have their own events and trade shows. Corona would definitely be a good time for new, virtual formats. I think that’s something we should address immediately, because I would really recommend that kind of interaction.