This is the first in a series of interviews with our In Mind Cloud team as a celebration of our 6 year anniversary and the launch of our Manufacturing X sales platform. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest blog posts, or follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up with our news!
In case you didn’t hear, we’ve just announced our new end-to-end sales platform, Manufacturing X! I spoke to our CEO and Chairman of the Board, Dr. Christian Cuske, to see where we came from, and where we’re heading in the years to come.
Charing: Could you give us a little background as to your experience and career trajectory leading up to In Mind Cloud?
Christian: I started by studying something more technical; Software Engineering, many of the technologies we’re using today, for example, Java and Web Applications. My first job however was in a consulting company for financial services, I soon figured that I was missing something: the IT part, which I studied. So, every time we were doing something in terms of analytics, or there were models we needed to run or validate, I would always try to automate things. But using more rudimentary technologies, like Excel. So I wasn’t satisfied.
Ultimately, I went back to university and did my PHD, again in the topic of computer science, actually theoretical computer science with a lot of programming. Once I finished, I got an excellent job offer from another consulting company. (laughs) So I had my two-year period of doing programming again, and I was feeling better, and then I went back to consulting.
We built the entire consulting practice for the spin-off of a US firm in Germany, from scratch. It was quite an experience; it was like a start-up to be honest. It was a global brand, but they didn’t have an office in Germany, so five former colleagues and I teamed up and built the different teams from a few people, to a hundred people. That was a good experience, of being in a start-up and building something new.
At some point the same nagging feeling of, “I’m a software person, not a consulting person!” came back, and that’s when I joined SAP. There was a strategy team at SAP handling the investment portfolio, and after two years I took over an industry program for the manufacturing/ high-tech business industry. That team was largely based in Asia and one of the main products in this group was the predecessor of SAP CPQ. This is when my family and I moved to Singapore.
After some time, I realised that, with the market moving to the cloud, the competition really isn't the usual large suspects that SAP was competing with. Instead, it's smaller cloud vendors in this space that can handle the remaining 80 percent that wasn’t just large enterprises.
With that in mind, what was the reason for starting In Mind Cloud, and why locate the company in Singapore?
The honest answer is, because we happened to be here at that point in time. For many of our new colleagues, it would also be easier to move to Singapore than to Germany, simply from a geological, cultural, and employment standpoint. Also, Singapore is very start-up friendly, in terms of the overheads when you set up a company. It’s fairly low compared to other countries e.g. Germany.
Due to my time at SAP, I also felt that there's a large untapped customer base here in Asia. It wasn’t the biggest market then, but it was the biggest potential market.
All of that led to the decision to do it here. Let's start this company in Singapore. It's not a thorough analysis where people are sitting crunching numbers; that's not what happened. We were here and it felt good. (laughs)
Of the many sectors, why manufacturing, especially businesses with complex offerings and calculations in the sales process?
In the industries that we target, there is a certain underlying implicit complexity in the product. It's not the standard retailer type of product; it's something that needs to be either engineered when you order it, or semi-built before you sell it. There is some logic and complexity and I think that makes a specific piece of software really relevant for sales.
I actually don't like to use the word ‘complex’ because I think it shouldn't be complex. The technology itself might be complex, and that's a good differentiator, but you don’t want to position it as complicated.
The best offering would be one where, inside, it's really complicated, it takes very good care of your problems, but to the user, it looks simple.
That’s what we’re aiming to help our customers with.
How has the company adapted to change over the last 6 years, especially in terms of CPQ?
I've never really liked the term CPQ, because it's an abbreviation for an enumeration: configuration comma pricing comma quote. Of course, now, it’s a market-acceptable term, but it's literally describing a class of certain software components which can be very different but are focusing on a similar process. CRM, customer relationship management, is a concept. CRM and ERP are very strong descriptive terms. CPQ is loose. Also, I feel that CPQ mostly refers to the engine. For example, it feels like we're not talking about a car, or even the driving experience, but instead we’re talking about the 2.5L diesel engine inside it.
I'm also keeping an eye on trends like Industry 4.0, digitalization of manufacturing, and real questions around the sales process. How do you come up with new products, how do you bring them to the customer, sell them and make your customers happy, when there’s eroding margins, more competition and pressure? CPQ is not the simple answer to that. CPQ doesn't describe the business process problem, and very few customers use CPQ as a term when we speak with them.
The answer to these challenges is an end-to-end manufacturing sales, which comprises, in part, of the CPQ.
What are your three biggest achievements in the last 6 years of In Mind Cloud?
To begin with, number one, we came as a start-up, and we're running three offices already. We started in Singapore. We now have an office in Germany and we're currently doing the same in China, so, if you look at the size and age of our company, three offices in three totally different regions is great. We’re serving customers globally, from China to North America.
Second thing is, we're the first company to have such a high level of verticalized, cloud readiness that helps extend manufacturing sales. I think we were the first ones to bring this complicated problem, and input it into complicated software, but then deploy it and provide it in an easy-to-consume way.
The third one I like to keep pointing out, is the number of people we have working in In Mind Cloud. Do you know the number of nationalities working here? It's crazy. If you look at a classic start-up in Germany, she would have way more than 50% percent of Germans, working in Germany. We have 17 different nationalities! I think we're managing quite well! Even if you think about diversity, if you look at the management team, we're almost 50-50. I think we can be proud of that diversity.
What major threats and opportunities do you foresee for manufacturers in the next few years?
One of the key threats to this is that the expectation of the end customer is increasingly focused on custom offerings, whilst the cost sensitivity in manufacturing is constantly growing. For example, if you buy a laptop every year, you expect that it's going to be cheaper, or at least the same price with more features. How do you combine giving the customer the feeling of custom individual products, but at the price of a mass production? Here's where I think sales processes and our sales platform play a vital role because it's really bridging the representation of the product to the end customer with the manufacturing capabilities. Bringing that together very early in the sales process is a key opportunity.
So that threat, if you manage it, can be a huge opportunity for a manufacturing company. In other words, I can sell very custom products, because I know which of the custom options are not going to be that expensive for me. It's okay to give in and say ‘I can do this. A couple of these laptops in white are no problem. But if I put a fourth USB port, then that's probably really expensive.’ So then don't do it. That logic already in the sales processes is important.
Another pressure that manufacturing in Asia will face is ‘digitalization’. It's a big word. People say, well, what does it mean? One very tangible example: if you look at the three main regions, the biggest difference between China and the US, in manufacturing terms, is that the US has a very strong software industry, especially in high-tech. So, when it comes to digitising machines as simple as a pump or as complicated as a power plant, markets such as the US would have an advantage because they have the underlying software technology that easily allows them to connect to cloud. You need the infrastructure, you need the software, and that will change the industry, as it will bring up new players, which can cause some of the old plants to cease to exist.
In Mind Cloud serves manufacturers from all over the world. How would you characterise the differences between the environment in China, Germany, and Singapore, from where the company is based?
From an industry point of view, within manufacturing, there are different types of companies in Germany versus China. Right here in Asia, you have more of the contract manufacturers, so the problems are different from the machine manufacturers in Germany. Interestingly, they supply each other, so the German companies making the machines to produce sell these machines to the Chinese companies and they then meet in Singapore.
If we look at the role Singapore's playing, it's a perfect bridge between the western cultural influence which makes it easier for both German companies and Chinese to work with Singapore. So there’s a lot of activity in Singapore, from German companies meeting Chinese companies to sell their machines and vice versa, where Chinese companies meet German companies for the manufactured goods.
What are you most excited about for In Mind Cloud in the next 6 months?
I'm excited about the Manufacturing X launch because I think this will be a game changer for us. This new product positioning allows us to provide a better pricing structure. After six years with our customers, we have data points now. When we come up with changes to our product bundling, we can look at existing customers and ask, ‘Would they have benefited from this new offering?’ And the answer is yes. So, rather than selling one monolithic software, we're selling for manufacturers in different facets, and the customers can choose and pick from the different modules which we want to bring to market. That's exciting. And we've sold it already!
We also have a couple of events , most recently in Taiwan, and then the SAP CX Live summit in Barcelona and the Deutsche Messe Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific in Singapore.
Do you have any advice as to how manufacturers can start on their digitalization journey?
(laughs) My advice would be biased.
On the serious side, if you look at the challenges which we spoke about, for example, mass customization at the price of mass production, and the increasing influence of digital platforms, I think starting with the sales process for a digitalization journey is not a bad idea.
If I'm a manufacturer and I change my entire shop floor, it's going to be too expensive. It's not something that you try out. However, you can use the sales machine, or the sales channel, to experiment with different offering types before you actually manufacture them. It's a relatively-low risk, significant step towards a more digital business model, right? That's how I see this. You put your entire go-to-market team onto a digital platform, like Manufacturing X from In Mind Cloud, and we'll move you substantially somewhere in terms of digitization without needing to touch all the machines, hardware and the cost-intensive areas of your company.
Lastly, what is your personal motto?
I strongly and firmly believe that motion is positive.
I get positive energy, even from a slightly negative development, because, as long as things are moving, as a manager or as a company or as a team member, you have a chance to influence direction. It is very hard to change the path of things which are at a standstill. I'd rather take something which is moving that I can push in the right direction, rather than having to invest all the energy of getting that initial momentum going. That's my motto, which sometimes drives some people crazy because it feels like you're never happy with the status quo. Even if it's good, you're trying to change it just to make things better.