Transcript: E105 – Georg Petschnigg – 5 of 6 – New and Old Amsterdam
Georg Petschnigg: Having a tool for great thinking – Paper. Having a great tool to see inspiration and hold onto it – Collect. Having a tool to show, you know, your work -Paste. Having a great tool to deliver your ideas – Transfer. Right. So, we have a tool for thinking, seeing, showing and delivering. These are sort of the pillars of the creative process.And that’s an incredibly exciting proposition, right? Because the world hasn’t…doesn’t understand that this exists yet. But it does. Like, we built it!
Stephen Cummins: Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS! The show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS scale-ups!
This is the fifth and penultimate of a six-episode series recorded with Georg Petschnigg at the Web Summit in Lisbon. We find out how Fifty Three, although it built great tools, never shipped the manual to creativity until it joined up with WeTransfer – a company that better understood the power of content. We learn that hand-writing is not dead … and that in this world of selfies and personal branding, there’s still seemingly much more people in this world that care far more about creating for others. But we start with Georg’s perspective on how the landscape has, to a large extent … the physical landscape … shaped many of the core cultural characteristics of born and bred Amsterdammers. And why the city has evolved into a sophisticated, multilingual environment that champions pragmatism, openness, collaboration, and tolerance … And also why, with native and adopted New Yorkers, there’s a sense of grandiosity, energy, individual risk taking .. and a sense of infinite possibilities seems to be much more pervasive in that massive city.
Stephen Cummins: Do you feel there’s a connection there? When you talk about, for example, you know, the first stock exchange … and any of that model from, you know, ships … some more likely to come back, some with bigger, more valuable payload if they do come back et cetera. Basically the model for investment and venture, you know, …And then Wall Street in New York. And then the fact that, you know, Amsterdam is very open and so is New York by US standards, it’s very open, very liberal.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah.
Stephen Cummins: And also there’s something a little bit hard-nosed or direct about Amsterdammers and New Yorkers in some ways in the way they communicate…
Georg Petschnigg: The two big differences … It’s true, both cities are very… very open. Amsterdam is very open minded. And in New York, it’s also very open minded, also very direct. But they came out of a different origins. The origin in Amsterdam is, like … look, you know, the people have won the land, and they fought the water together. Right? So, and when you start looking around, you see the windmills and you see, like, you know … Amsterdam, that area exists because people fought the water together! So the tolerance and the frankness in people as a result … that they had to work together! That is, like, it by necessity.
Stephen Cummins: The Zuiderzee is just, like, incredible.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah. So, because if they don’t work together, the water is going to win, right? And everyone loses, right? So that is like actually sort of a really interesting, you know, cultural phenomenon. In New York, like, it was like, you know … there’s still the rest of the country, right? There’s so much space still in the United States. Like, if you pissed someone off, like, well, just travel West, right? There was a way out … in many ways. Like, so there is sort of, it’s a different. You know, I would say it’s, you know … there is a grandiosity about that!
Stephen Cummins: Yeah.
Georg Petschnigg: Right there is like ‘We’re gonna, you know, we’re the capital of the world!’ Right? There is sort of that… that like in many ways like, you know, the resources and the scale, and the infinite plains. Like, you know, there’s still so much more of America to find. Like when you’re like on the east coast right … and essentially, like, so there’s a certain directness and, you know, the pioneers … They would make their way to the West Coast. So, there’s just so much more space. You don’t have to agree with people in the US, right? You can just pack up and keep going, right? And that is something like. Oh god there are so many differences, like … you know, bicycles everywhere versus screeching subways, right?
Stephen Cummins: Massive. Yeah. Yeah,
Georg Petschnigg: But that is also again like … the quality of life in Amsterdam is remarkable, right? And I think, you know, you end up making, I think … it does impact also like sort of … when you look at a lot of, like… you know … in the US, there’s been a huge push on growth at all costs. Again, that speaks, I think maybe partially to the grandiosity. What I’ve noticed is like, you know, there is more of a measured-ness in the Netherlands to this in terms of the approach, right? Privacy plays a huge role, right? You know, just you know, growing responsibly. Like even having that type of discussion, right? Something that just wouldn’t necessarily occur in the United States. It does happen in the Netherlands.
Stephen Cummins: It’s interesting because you … culturally, personally … and I’m sure you enjoy the great things about the great city of New York … you seem culturally more in tune with the Netherlands, because you would think in a sustainable way, I think. You do think about growth, but you think about it … you don’t think about it at all costs. You’re not really about the money.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah.
Stephen Cummins: I know that’s a cliché …. and all entrepreneurs wanna say that. But you’re actually not really about the money. You’re pretty confident that comes along anyway if you introduce value into the world. But you are very much about doing something meaningful. And doing something long-term and sustainable. You’re not building this to spike and jump off at some point. Is that a …
Georg Petschnigg: No. No. That’s correct. I mean, again, like going back to the beginning of our interview … like, I grew up in preserving an historic castle. Right.
Stephen Cummins: Okay.
Georg Petschnigg: It’s, like, that seems like a completely reasonable thing to do, right? Whereas, you know, the American response would have been just tear it down and build a casino, right? I don’t know, I may be over simplifying here but …
Stephen Cummins: Of course.
Georg Petschnigg: …. There’s like you know … this trade off between preserving and tradition and… holding onto the collective … versus like forging out, conquering the frontier and doing the new, right?
Stephen Cummins: What is it? The Joni Mitchell song about paradise and they put up a parking lot? Just that pragmatism. Well, not that the Dutch were not pragmatic either. But it was business first, I guess.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah,
Stephen Cummins: Business first in New York, yeah.
Georg Petschnigg: yeah. So that’s like … I have to admit there is no greater feeling than standing up at the right frontier with the right group of people and taking that first step, right?
Stephen Cummins: Fantastic.
Georg Petschnigg: There is no greater feeling than that …. But you know, then… then what does it mean? Like when you’re there, and you make your discovery … it’s like build something that lasts!
Stephen Cummins: What’s your vision for where WeTransfer gets to? Now that Fifty Three is, you know, has worked its way through, or is working its way through, that complex integration. Where would you see yourself in a few years time? Where would you like to be?
Georg Petschnigg: We are right now in a very critical and exciting phase which is like, you know, launching and getting out this. Our set of tools, you know …
Having a tool for great thinking – Paper. Having a great tool to see inspiration and hold onto it – Collect. Having a tool to show, you know, your work -Paste. Having a great tool to deliver your ideas – Transfer. Right. So, we have a tool for thinking, seeing, showing and delivering. These are sort of the pillars of the creative process. So we want to… to really launch and bring into the market that set of tools. And we needed to let, you know, the world know that actually there is now… a set of tools for your innovation, for your invention, for your creativity. You don’t just have to make documents. You don’t just have to make like, you know, photoshop files, right? Actually, everyone … meaning everyone from individuals to your enterprise, right, can be creative. And you have now a set of tools for that, right?
And that’s an incredibly exciting proposition, right? Because the world hasn’t…doesn’t understand that this exists yet. But it does. Like, we’ve built it! And we need to now get it out, right? And that’s sort of like essentially with, you know, what the team is going to be focused on for the next one to two years. Right.
Stephen Cummins: And would that be part of your role?
Georg Petschnigg: That is my job, right? To verbalize, like, where essentially our new products are headed. So there’s the transfer product and then we have our additional products. Where those are headed is part of my job, but then of course, like I work with, you know … the CMO on the marketing side, I work with, you know, my counters on the transfer team … or work like on our core technology team … our service team. I mean, look, you know, we have an executive team. They are more people working on WeTransfer.
Stephen Cummins: Of course.
Georg Petschnigg: But launching that. And getting that, you know, into the world now is essentially what we’re focused on. So what I hope is that in like, in two to three years from now … what that really means is that, you know, that, we hear the phrase, “Like I’m not creative” less and less and less.
Stephen Cummins: Because people are all creative to some degree. They’re not equally creative … because just kind of you know … but, they all have a certain level of creativity. To be creative is to be … is part of what it is to be human.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah. WeTransfer has, like, this great “editorial and content” team … where like, we’ve never done “editorial and content”. Like, what does this mean to us? So we ended up building, inside of the Paper, the Paper store. Which is essentially a collection of creative prompts and creative journals and it … essentially is this little world that …
Stephen Cummins: You’ve created a marketplace?
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah.
Stephen Cummins: Really?
Georg Petschnigg: It’s not a market … I mean, it’s not … it’s more of a store front of little journals and creative exercises. So you can learn everything from doing better handwriting, to drawing portraits, to mind-maps, to… there are visual drawing meditation exercises. But it’s essentially a single place where you can get started with your creativity.
Stephen Cummins: And these are third parties building them on your tools?
Georg Petschnigg: No. No. We commissioned. We did them in-house. And so, I mean, we’ve been working with so many different, you know… you know, designers and educators and artists in the world. So it was actually … so the first 25 journals that we launched, we essentially either did them ourselves or commissioned them with our audience, our customers. But the crazy thing is….
Stephen Cummins: So, like, ecosystem is everything for you right now?
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah but the remarkable thing is like … so we’ve been running like Paper for seven years. But I only realize now that we never shipped the manual, right, to “Creativity.” You know, people would come to Paper and be like, “Listen, you know, I sort of, know like I’m excited about drawing … and I’m stimulated by the blank page. The much bigger market is people who don’t know how to draw and just need a place to start! So it is one of those things where we, like, now with the launch of the Paper Store, just saw quite a dramatic change in how people are using a product, and taking up the product. Because now…
Stephen Cummins: And you can see the change? You’ve been able to measure it?
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Stephen Cummins: How long ago did you launch it?
Georg Petschnigg: We launched .. I think it’s three weeks ago, but it’s very clear like in terms of metrics.
Stephen Cummins: In three weeks, you’re seeing a dramatic…
Georg Petschnigg: Oh yeah.
Stephen Cummins: Wow. And the response. You seeing people just wanted it. You could feel that! It’s like a product market extension fit moment or something…
Georg Petschnigg: It is an extension. Our conversion to a subscription doubled!
Stephen Cummins: Wow!
Georg Petschnigg: And again, it makes sense..
Stephen Cummins: That’s huge.
Georg Petschnigg: …Because we… That’s what I mean … we were sort of shipping the missing manual, right? But it’s like the manual people were all looking for. For how to really unlock your creativity, right? And now it’s there.. and it’s beautiful! And it’s such a funny thing. Like, we didn’t know we would learn about content joining up with WeTransfer. And we did. And we sort of wanted to do it too.
Stephen Cummins: You thought it might be the other way, maybe.
Georg Petschnigg: We’re like … you know what let’s do this content thing too. You know, and so, you know, Chris and Max and Allan, like, the team, like, they just like they just ran with it. And it’s a beautiful place. Again, it’s just early. But even in that early … when you’re looking at what are the top downloaded journals. One is around… the top one is about handwriting!
Stephen Cummins: Are you serious? How counter-intuitive that is to my mind?
Georg Petschnigg: The second one is about drawing portraits. Not selfies. Portraits!
Stephen Cummins: That doesn’t surprise me as much. Okay.
Georg Petschnigg: Right. And the third one isn’t about diagrams, okay?
Stephen Cummins: That doesn’t surprise me too much either, but the first one really surprised me.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah.
Stephen Cummins: But that’s validation that we still love to wield tools.
Georg Petschnigg: Yeah! But it’s also like, you know, people want a quiet place to think. They want to create for others. You know, they want to be able to read their ideas. That can show them to others. That’s where handwriting is important, right? And that’s like … we didn’t know, like, where would people go? What would they gravitate to? But if I just, like, line up great handwriting, you know, drawing, creating a portrait of someone else and diagramming, expressing your thoughts. That this is where people go, right? I mean, it just shows that humans are just great creators.
Stephen Cummins: What an insight as well. To be able to even get that stack rank. To even know that, yeah, coz that informs your future designs. That informs where you’re going on so many levels. And I wonder how many people ….. there’s some great minds there … you know we’re looking at the forum (in the Web Summit in Lisbon) which is where the speakers are. It’s all founders and, but I don’t think any of them would have guessed that if you’d put up 10. Well, if you put up 10 options of course, somebody would. But I don’t think anybody would intuitively feel that would have been the number one.
Georg Petschnigg: No.
Stephen Cummins: Because we’ve forgotten. There’s something beautiful about that .. you know facilitating that relationship. But in a way that also integrates with the digital ages. That allows us to transfer things, to share things. To collect things as you said. And then to put something else on top of that and… and to express ourselves in a way that we can best express ourselves. There must be research around that?
Georg Petschnigg: There is. There’s a lot of research on it. Like the simple thing is, like, you know, I mean you can go all the way back to the development actually of the typewriter. And the development of the typewriter in part was developed for the typist office, right, where people then stopped writing by hand. And you had then a secretary type stuff for you, right? Yes, it was more efficient. You were able to send out more communications, right? But it was a step back in terms of what would feel like a personal communication. You know, having like something typed up in courrier typeface, signed at the end. Like the signature became the substitute for sort of this whole thing was written by hand but, you know … something was lost.
Stephen Cummins: In the next episode, 106 of 14 Minutes of SaaS, the final instalment in our series of 6 with Georg Petschnigg, we hear about the immense influence dance has had on so much of what he does. And as is the traditional with all guests on this show, he has some great advice for entrepreneurs
Stephen Cummins: You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills, and to Ketsu for the music. Thanks also to Anders Getz for the transcript. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoyed the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series, and give the show a rating.
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