Fireside Chat with the Co-Founder of hybris

On June 4th at SAP in Berlin Carsten Thoma, one of the co-founders of hybris – a leading provider of omni-channel customer engagement and commerce solutions that was acquired by SAP in 2013, gave several startups valuable insights into the hybris-story. In a rather intimate and direct atmosphere, Carsten talked about the first humble steps in the beginning of hybris in 1997, which every startup encounters. He shared his experience on the company’s long road to success, not ignoring to include the many setbacks – the startup got bankrupt three times within one decade – and the many moments when their hope to recover was nearly about to vanish forever (although having a revolutionary multi- and omni-channel commerce idea that was clearly ahead of its time but hardly having tailwind from investors who believed in it).

One of the integral pillars that prevented the company to break into pieces, ranged for example from its special corporate management culture to strategy meetings on a quarterly basis. The employees were intrinsically motivated, sometimes worked without payment, but in a very transparent environment with flat hierarchies and eventually became shareholders and important ambassadors of the company. Meetings always included all employees where they had the opportunity to critically discuss if hybris was still doing the right thing and were encouraged to give new food for thought to change.

Apart from that, Carsten enthusiastically described what innovation meant for hybris back then on the highly competitive market and how they approached it, particularly in the difficult periods of its emergence:

“Until you are beyond a certain threshold, you can afford to not have the number one product or service or idea on the market, but then you have to be so much better than anybody else in what you are doing. You have to brainstorm a lot and think about what this gap can be that you put between yourself and your competition. If this gap is not big enough you have to be honest to yourself and start all over again. We developed a complete platform, three times within the first ten years and it almost killed us.”

The market, where the business is supposed to take place, should be completely addressable and also be fit for digesting more than one player at the same time. Already by keeping these two basic criteria in mind on each decision level, hybris could rethink its initial approaches to omni-channel commerce enterprise software in the course of the 2000s and adjust them more precisely.    

After Carsten’s highly interesting insights into the hybris story, there was enough time for the guests to ask questions, get feedback on own ideas and network with each other over some pretzels and beer.