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Opinions From Startup Changemakers
German Startup Changemakers: Jackson Bond

We had a chat with Jackson Bond, the Co-founder of relayr, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) powerhouse delivering a complete solution for risk-free digital transformations. His contribution to the startup ecosystem in Berlin consists of mentoring startups, participating in investor networks, and investing back into the ecosystem. Read more about Jackson’s mission at relayr, check out what lessons for founders he shared with us and find out what he considers the next big thing in the startup world.
A man with glasses, a mask and white hair

1. Hi Jackson, thank you for agreeing to do the interview. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how you entered the startup world?

To quote Lennon and McCartney, it has been a long and winding road. I entered the startup world in 1998. I had a Bachelors from Princeton in Art History in 1991 and a DAAD scholarship, which paid my way to Germany for a year of postgraduate Masters Research on the History of German Photography. In 1998, together with a group of fellow journalists, we founded the non-profit group Berlin Information Group e.V. to provide an English-language newspaper – b-magazine – to Berlin. 

In 2001, we pivoted from content to software and founded 8hertz Technologies. We had read about the Voice Web in WIRED magazine, and how the startup TellMe received $250M to build the voice web, browsing the internet via voice commands, with results spoken back at you. So I invested in a voice-recognition software to make our city guide a voice-enabled internet guide. We ended up building speech-enabled solutions for car companies like BMW and Volkswagen. We sold 8hertz in 2007 to a UK competitor, VoxGen.

In 2013, I was approached by Harald Zapp and Michael Bommer, on whether I would be interested in supporting their idea to build an Internet of Things company called iThings4U. Once I understood how transformational the Internet of Things would become, I agreed to join them as a Co-founder and Head of Product, and we rebranded as relayr.

2. You’re the Co-founder at relayr, where you help companies in industrial markets to successfully navigate disruption and stay relevant. Tell us more about your mission there!

Our mission is to support industrial equipment makers and equipment servicing companies, build and scale their business, leveraging the real-time data from their machines. We make money by sharing in that business over the long term. This ensures that our mutual interests and financial goals are aligned. 

We analyse and scan the industrial market for these business opportunities to partner with market-leading industrial companies to build new revenue streams. We build a partnership with that company to launch a new business. We are successful if our industrial partner company is successful. This means we deploy the resources at our disposal, to support the successful execution of that business. The resources include 1) our deep AI expertise in data analytics and predictive algorithms, 2) over a century of insurance expertise inspecting industrial equipment to understand the risk of equipment breakdown and failure, and 3) financial instruments and expertise, to support with off-balance, CAPEX re-structuring.

3. What is it about the startup world that particularly attracts you, and how are you shaping the ecosystem in Berlin?

The startup world is about pushing boundaries and innovating in collaborative teams across disciplines, in a highly accelerated time frame, and then with every test, discovering and learning, adapting and improving, rapidly. It’s fundamentally unstable, uncertain, and therefore extremely rich with knowledge, challenge and excitement. And as with so many things, where the odds are against you, there are great losses but also the chance for great rewards.

When I entered the startup world in 1998 in Berlin, people talked about ‘Risikokapital’ (Risk Capital), not Venture Capital. There were no institutional VCs in Berlin, no accelerator programs, no corporate incubators. Today 22 years later, Berlin has become a thriving ecosystem and one of the top 3 startup epicentres in Europe, with its share of unicorns. 

I would like to believe that my small trajectory through the Berlin startup world helped to drive awareness to Berlin and provide encouragement to young founders. Some of my former employees went on to become successful entrepreneurs themselves in Berlin, building companies, providing jobs, and growing the ecosystem. My modest contribution is to continue to coach, mentor and challenge startups, to participate in investor networks, and to invest my returns back into the ecosystem.

4. You have over 15 years of experience in the IoT and mobile internet space, building and managing product companies and teams. Could you share the top 3 lessons for founders you learned over the years?

  1. Adaptability: building a company is about surprises and the unexpected, trial and error, learning through your mistakes. Which leads to adapting to the ever-changing dynamics of the market you are working in. You are defining a new market, and creating new demand, but it’s a dialogue between you pushing your new product into the market and the market pushing back. Stop and listen closely to those around you and the market. Consider and adapt to your vision. But, this does NOT mean doing what the market tells you.
  2. Kill your darlings: be ready to pivot and abandon lots of hard work if it doesn’t move you forward. Cut and decide quickly, decisively, and do not hold on too long. Consult with your trusted advisors, listen closely and then promptly make a decision. Don’t look back.
  3. Team trumps idea: ideas are cheap. The execution is everything. It’s a given that someone else has or has had the same idea as you. For good execution you need a good team, who brings complementary and sometimes overlapping skills, no ego, open and fast communication, no politics, results-oriented. Teamwork, this is the fundamental thesis of ‘The Innovators’ by Walter Isaacson, who spent years researching technology innovation.

5. What’s the next big thing in the startup world? What do you predict for the German startup ecosystem in the near future?

Circular Economy is my bet, which is supported by ecosystems sharing data across value chains. Anything impacting and increasing the efficiencies in Value Chains and Supply Chains, lowering waste, lowering consumption of natural resources, lowering emissions and the carbon footprint, renewable energies, improving food supplies. My next investment will be in URGrow.

Thanks a lot for your insights, Jackson. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.

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