─ I have only ever sold those things I love myself, things that seem to me to have some soul to them. I believe that in commerce inventiveness is essential. At Montblanc, we spent the larger part of the marketing budget on a variety of catalogues and unusual trade dress for our products. Montblanc make designer pens. In order to sell successfully, you have to point out the individuality of a product, to convey a whole romance, and not simply display the price tag.
In order to sell successfully, you have to point out the individuality of a product, to convey a whole romance, and not simply display the price tag.
─ As far as I know, you are still involved in the catering business, too?
─ Yes. We supply several products from Germany and our Bavarian partner Ponnath produces fresh Bavarian sausages for us in Moscow using German technology.
─ And who are your clients?
─ One example is Lamoda.ru. They are German, as it happens.
About Matthias Wintzer
Born in Hamburg, graduated from the university there. Worked in Peru and Poland. Came to Moscow in 2003 as regional brand manager for Montblanc. In 2006 set up Plus Ultra Luxury Products & Solutions, selling quirky gifts (computers made out of wood, gold cigars and other things in a similar vein). Launched the tech startup GetShopApp along with his partner Sharif Karmo in 2013. Main focus of GetShopApp: the automatic generation of mobile versions of websites (Android and iOS) and m-commerce apps linked to payment systems.
─ Are there great differences in the logistical problems encountered in Russia and in the West?
─ There’s a huge difference. First of all, in the attitude towards business. Yesterday being a case in point. The driver who delivered the barrels of beer we ordered for a party refused to help us get them upstairs to the nightclub. He said that’s not his job, dumped them on the pavement, and hurried off to his dacha. And I, dressed in a suit, had to lump them around by myself.
Catering is a business where you have to keep an eye on everything, check everything. To be a success, you have to sacrifice your soul, your nerves: to the client, in any case. In any country. All the more so in Russia. I don’t particularly like the business but it brings in a stable income. It’s not like a tech startup where you have to keep investing and investing, knowing that 90% of startups never make it onto the market. I’m glad that our GetShopApp falls under that other 10%.
─ How did you find yourself becoming a startup in e-commerce?
─ One day, I walked into the Digital October business centre and I met Sharif Karmo there, a 19-year old entrepreneur from Syria (he is half Russian). Sharif was involved in importing goods from China, and he had a studio for developing mobile apps. He set out his business idea to me. I have to say that I am no beginner in e-commerce, either. I made my first WAP application back in 1999, when I was head of the marketing department of Habanos, the Cuban cigar company, in Germany. The app told you where the nearest cigar retailer was by your entering your zip code. Geolocation, in its own way. There are hundreds of thousands of online stores and, according to statistics, up to 80% of websites haven’t been optimised so that they’re compatible with mobile apps. And few are geared up towards good conversion, by which I mean, so that a visitor’s viewing leads to a sale. Usually web designers are limited in trying to fit all the website’s capabilities into the mobile version. I mean, they have to build it all from scratch, allowing for the way in which users hold their smartphones in their hands, and making it so that they will be able to get to the right page with two or three clicks of a finger. So, Sharif Karmo and I created a service which automatically generates a mobile version and smartphone app for online stores. It is pre-loaded with capabilities for e-payment, push notifications, and mobile marketing. You won’t have to enlist the help of a mobile marketing expert or manager, or to recruit staff to maintain a mobile store.
There are hundreds of thousands of online stores and, according to statistics, up to 80% of websites haven’t been optimised so that they’re compatible with mobile apps.
Everybody is talking these days about mobile advertising but few can envisage how it is actually going to work. If you’ve seen an advert for something you need but using your smartphone to get to the mobile version of the site where it can be found isn’t possible or is awkward, then the point of the advert is precisely nil. The adverts and the facility for buying and selling should be part of an overarching technological platform.
The adverts and the facility for buying and selling should be part of an overarching technological platform.
─ Do you have any direct competitors in this field?
─ There is one company in Germany which took on this very same problem back in 2011, but I wouldn’t say that they are significantly ahead of us. They raised $9.8m of investment, the most part of which they have spent already. This is the second year for our company, and we have had a lot less investment.
─ You are running a commercial enterprise in Russia. Which competitive advantages does this give you?
─ One of the main advantages is Russian programmers. I can’t sing their praises highly enough. However, we have specialists from various countries working for us. There are programmers from Belarus and Ukraine. As for Sharif Karmo, our Managing Director: you could call him a real wunderkind. He started his first company aged 14. Concurrent with his working at GetShopapp, he is studying at the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.
─ How many people are there on your team?
─ Ten, and a few more are outsourced. In fact, there are 11 different languages on the project.
─ In basing an IT company, involved in e-commerce, in Moscow, do you need to know the nuances of regular trading, the particularly Russian aspects to it, too?
─ Yes, of course. To be able to work with Russian clients such as, for instance, the portal electrovenik.ru, you have to understand their business processes, otherwise you won’t design an effective app. They have a support service which the user should be able to access with one movement of a finger. They have a lot of couriers and they need to be dispatched to the right places.
─ How do e-commerce and regular commerce differ from the management perspective?
─ In the catering business which we were just talking about, employees’ every step has to be supervised, to make sure, that they haven’t forgotten to put the salt cellars on the tables, so to speak. In IT that isn’t necessary, nor is it even possible. You only have to set the objective in the right way and then monitor the result.
─ Have you been able to attract investment from any venture funds?
─ A certain amount of money has already been invested in our project and a new round of investment is in the offing. We are holding talks with one of the largest Russian banks. One of the leading German venture funds has shown an interest. Next year promises to be very interesting. We will be rolling out GetShopApp internationally. And promoting the concept, little known in Russia, of t-commerce.
Next year promises to be very interesting. We will be rolling out GetShopApp internationally.
─ And that concept is what exactly?
─ t-commerce (Smart TV shopping) is a synthesis of e-commerce and m-commerce. Let’s say you are watching a Hollywood film. In one of the scenes, there is a pizza. On the screen, a box opens and an alert sounds, a bit like for a chat message. If you don’t pay any attention to it, then nothing happens, and nothing intrudes on your continuing to watch the film. But if you want to, you can press a button on the TV remote and activate an app on your smartphone where there pops up an offer to buy a pizza from the place nearest to you or from somewhere else. Or if your attention is caught by the leading lady’s handbag, you can buy it there and then at the press of a button. You don’t even have to enter your credit card details: the application has already remembered them from the last time you made a payment. Or you can pay the courier: in Russia that is still the most common way of doing it. The next day, you receive your handbag. Or the very same day, more likely than not, if you happen to be in Moscow.
─ How does the advert attach itself to the frame of the film?
─ Such things are in development. We, for example, have been given the opportunity to use Japanese technology which recognises various goods in a film. An iPhone, let’s say. Once the program has found the corresponding frame, it is already easy for us to connect to our database, and a box will pop up with a particular offer for the item. Or, having identified the MEXX handbag, the program itself will launch MEXX’s own app. In the next few days, we will be running a pilot test. It will be a simplified version. The phone receives an SMS with a link to the site for the product which has grabbed the consumer’s attention.
─ You have travelled a lot and know several languages. Why did you settle in Moscow?
─ I really love Hamburg where I was born but I get quite bored in Germany. Being in Russia is a lot more interesting. Everything in Germany is quite predictable. Whereas in Russia, no two days are the same. In Germany, every day is identical. Here, you feel as though the whole time you are riding the American slopes ([an idiom meaning “roller coaster”)which the whole world calls the Russian slopes (another idiom meaning “roller coaster”). And that I like!