14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E29: Mike Reiner, CoFounder City.ai, Berlin v Amsterdam, 1 of 2

Mike Reiner at TOA Berlin with Stephen Cummins. Part 1 of a 2 part conversation with Stephen Cummins for 14 Minutes of SaaS - talks about Berlin v Amsterdam as tech and startup hubs, VerbIT, Scoro and Rocket Berlin

E29: Mike Reiner, CoFounder City.ai, Berlin v Amsterdam, 1 of 2

We talk with Mike Reiner, Co-founder of city AI and venture partner at Open Ocean. He chats about his history, life as founder, investor and advising companies like Israeli founded Verbit.ai of AI and London based Scoro. Since this interview Verbit has raised another $21M for its hybrid AI & human transcription solution – bringing total funding to $34 million after only 3 years. And Scoro raised another $5M for it’s work management solution. He compares Amsterdam and Berlin as start-up hubs too. This is part 1 of 2 episodes. “I’m wired and I’m easily triggered to start new things.”

Transcript of Mike Reiner talking with Stephen Cummins – part 1 of 2

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Mike Reiner

What is extremely powerful is to be thankful. And that can be for anything … you know it can be for your family, it can be for close friends, it can be for a really small things but … just getting into the habit of being thankful for things that happened in your life is something extremely powerful. …. I’m just incredibly curious and I just love to do … different things can be different energy. And I guess that’s why, as you mentioned … I’m wired and I’m easily triggered to start new things.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes, the show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

This is part, one of a two part series I conducted outdoors in Tech Open Berlin with Mike Reiner, co-founder of city AI and venture partner at OpenOcean. He talks about his life as a founder, investor, and advising companies like London based Scoro, a business management software for collaboration on projects, sales and reports. And Israeli founded Verbit.ai, smart AI technology to disrupt transcription and captioning. He also compares Amsterdam and Berlin as startup hubs.

Great to meet you.

Mike Reiner

Thank you. Great to be here.

Stephen Cummins

You’ve had quite an interesting past. Tell me a bit more.

Mike Reiner

So I was born in Hamburg Germany. I’ve got a German father. I moved to the Netherlands when I was a young teenager. I’ve a Dutch mother. So I always say I feel much more Dutch and then I feel German. I think the Dutch culture has shaped me more than the German culture.

Then like I went to study information science, which is basically a mix of computer science and business. So, like the Bachelor’s was a lot of computer science, and my Master’s was primarily focused on business. While doing my studies I tried a lot of different things. We did a bit of consulting, you know … just earning a bit of money on the side. Started some projects back then … like one was one was interesting which had nothing to do with money. It was called Partners Inc. We just thought like people looked miserable going to work. I thought I would like to change that a little bit. So we started a simple website. We just started doing what we call ‘the happy action of the day’. Just to do something to make another personal smile. You know, to do something fun next to work and the serious stuff you might be doing. So we started that and then a few months in, we ended up having five columnists writing articles for us – articles related to happiness and lifestyle. That was a lot of fun.

So that was something I did do my studies. Then I started something called Clinq, which initially I wanted to match people based with similar interests. It then kind of pivoted into the idea of helping expats in a new city to meet each other. And then we’d have a map where you could see what’s happening around you – that could be commercial events and private events. Again. I mean back then we just tried stuff out and it was a lot of fun as well. But like nothing commercially interesting back then.

And then I joined a corporate. I joined IBM. I worked for strategic outsourcing and M&A for a while. Basically working first in projects that get different entities together and trying to figure out how that fits. And then later also new deals and big global deals where you’re working in a team. Did crazy due diligence in like African countries – where I went to countries like Gabon and had to interview people there to check, you know, for a merger to find out like things like how sustainable the business is, but also how secure the data centres are. Are you would walk there, you would just find the cleaners lying on the floor with open doors – in the are whether there’s customer data. And there would be water on the floor with the cables going through. You would look at it and say ‘Wow! This is a multinational company. A global company with these kinds of data centres.’ There were good times.

And then there was a program called Extreme Blue, where I was just involved in a side of it. I was a business mentor there and I helped a bit in setting it up as well. It was a bit like an accelerator. It was a 3-month program to match students with innovative corporates … to [help them] write a business plan and develop a prototype within 3-months. And then I thought ‘Hey, that would be a really cool thing to do with startups, right? So I thought a bit more about accelerators, and I researched it a bit. And then I had an Estonian girlfriend and moved to Tallinn, Estonia. And I got in touch with a local investor there, and another guy from London, and we started an accelerator called Startup Wise guys. And I management that for close to three years.

So we initially was technology agnostic. Later we rebranded for business tech – So only B2B focused, very similar to Techstars. Initially we had 15,000 euro tickets, 3-month mentoring, brought a lot of mentors over from London and other cities. Anyway so I invested in roughly 30 companies with the accelerator, got a new team in place. Now we’re also in Riga and we’ve making more than 80 investments with the accelerator by now. It was a lot of fun.

Stephen Cummins

Happiness seems to be the theme of the day. I interviewed Ysiad Ferreiras, the CEO of Hustle today – and he actually came up with the idea of World Happiness Day. And got it approved by the UN, while he was traveling around India. So there seems to be a focus on happiness – probably apt for TOA I’d say.

Mike Reiner

Important topic.

Stephen Cummins

You know, from speaking with you at the amazing TOA party last night, and just today … you’re very relaxed demeanor …. but yet you’ve got the stressful daily tasks [associated with] 3 separate projects, big projects. Is this how you’re wired? Or do you meditate? Or do you take long walks? How do you stay the way you are? So centred.

Mike Reiner

I’m not always like this. I fluctuate. So there’s maybe different sides to it. One … I do meditate, like too little – but I try to stay in the habit of doing this more or less on a regular basis. I don’t manage every day. But, you know, I try to do it every week at least.  Sometimes I manage every day. I think meditation is extremely powerful. I think something I’m not sure I could say related to this … but in terms of mindfulness … what is extremely powerful is to be thankful. And that can be for anything … you know it can be for your family, it can be for close friends, it can be for a really small things but … just getting into the habit of being thankful for things that happened in your life is something extremely powerful. And how you with your professional work is I guess …. there’s two sides to it. One is I always recommend people to focus. And I don’t do it myself. I do different things. So I don’t eat my own dog food. I’m just incredibly curious and I just love to do … different things can be different energy. And I guess that’s why, as you mentioned … I’m wired and I’m easily trigger to start new things.

Stephen Cummins

Up to recently you advised an Israeli company that seems to be a hyper-growth SaaS scale-up called VerbIT. And they’re transcribing text live from videos and audio. How was that adventure for you.

Mike Reiner

It’s an incredibly team. So, Tom the founder & CEO … he’s a friend of mine. We were brainstorming at the very beginning … he was just finishing another venture, and went through Techstars. And wanted to start something new. So we were brainstorming … and then he went off to start verbIT with a very talented tech team. So they built really good algorithms to do like video/audio to do text transcription. And they built a marketplace around this. So that means the system is doing the transcription automatically, and then the marketplace of human transcribers correct the transcription to get it up to 100 percent accuracy.

They are now also going into live captioning. And they have been growing like crazy. I mean it’s unbelievable, the company is less than two years old. They’ve raised $11M. They are growing like crazy. And I mean the CEO is an incredible hustler. An incredible biz dev guy, right? I mean he’s just going after customers and…

Stephen Cummins

And I suppose with all the data and the learning. Over time, the algorithmic part could almost completely take over at some stage.

Mike Reiner

Yeah. I mean, I think that that’ll take some time to really get to 100 percent accuracy. The first 80 percent is relatively easy, right? The last 20, that’s the hard part. But what’s really interesting with a human … I mean with… with the transcribers .. they’re essentially educating the system. They’re training the algorithms. So as the transcribers are correcting, the algorithm learns and it gets better and better and better. So it’s a very interesting play.

Stephen Cummins

So it’s moving to 90, 92, 93 percent  … You are chairman and head of business development for Scoro ..  which is also rapidly scaling, and it’s a SaaS for SMEs. And I think they focus on professional services. I’d love to know more about that company.

Mike Reiner

Yeah. So Score has built a platform for, as you mentioned professional service companies, meaning companies that bill time … to manage their company in one place. So it’s called a business management platform. So essentially, with Scoro we enable people to [handle] everything from the first customer interaction where it’s sales … all the way to invoicing … all in one place. And also we have integrations with big players … so for instance with finance, it’s Xero or Quickbooks. So you’ve all the data in one place. It’s always a problem with all the fragmented data all over …       and you can manage everything from one place. Extremely good dashboards where you can exactly see what’s happening in the company, who’s doing what. tIn Scoro we go deep on time management – so we can see at a very granular level where people spend time. We can adjust and learn from this. So it’s a platform play where right now it’s such a fragmented market. And people still use a lot of excel sheets. And then like a lot of different niche tools. There are companies that use 10 plus different tools. You know, the data being in a lot of different silos. Also just the switching costs are very high. And that’s what we’re trying to change with the Scoro.

Stephen Cummins

So you’re involved at 3 levels with artificial intelligence. But before we get on to that, I’m just curious to know how does Berlin and Amsterdam compare? They are obviously 2 great places with a lot of energy, amazing cities culturally, but also great startup hubs. How would you compare them? What are the pros and cons between the two?

Mike Reiner

Berlin is bigger than Amsterdam. Berlin is scrappier than Amsterdam. I think the main difference is Amsterdam is a great place for B2B startups. Especially B2B enterprise, and that’s because a lot of HQs of big companies are headquartered in Amsterdam, or in the Netherlands, for tax reasons. The Netherlands has a great tax climate for corporates. So it’s a great place for B2B enterprise start-ups because the customers are close. Plus the airports Schiphol is one of the best airports in Europe. So very easy to travel anywhere, extremely well connected and a fantastic city. And it’s also the Dutch culture – it’s very entrepreneurial. So it’s a very entrepreneurial country and attracts a lot of expats. So, Amsterdam I think is fantastic. But obviously much smaller than Berlin.

Berlin in turn, I think is a great B2C hub. Traditionally with Rocket Internet which has scaled a lot of B2C startups … and they have created a lot of spill-over talent that left Rocket Internet and started their own companies. So Rocket Internet has been a massive boost for the local ecosystem.

Stephen Cummins

They went and did something incredible and I think it’s kin of funny that they’re kind of disliked in some quarters in Silicon Valley … because so many great companies from Europe, and great founders and great talent, are sucked into silicon valley. So, I think it’s fair enough really, isn’t it?

Mike Reiner

Yeah, absolutely.

Stephen Cummins

Next episode, and the concluding half of the interview, Mike will talk about founding City.ai, a non-profit focused on democratizing the design, development, and use of artificial intelligence. He’ll also talk about how educational life is a VC can be, and how he assesses is whether or not founders will be successful.

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thank you to Ketsu for music provided. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

 

14 Minutes of SaaS