Marc is yet another techie who has made a successful transition to being an entrepreneur.
In this interview, he discusses his journey, as well as a lot of the nuances of positioning his venture, Starmind, for success.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself as well as to Starmind.
Marc Vontobel: I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Starmind. I have a background in Computer Science specializing in AI. That’s also the origin of Starmind. I met my co-founder at the artificial intelligence laboratory in Zurich. We were supposed to work on humanoid robots, and we were totally lost. The initial idea of Starmind came up to build an eBay for knowledge.
Instead of learning all the different disciplines ourselves, we envisioned having a platform where we can ask any question and put a price tag on it. That’s how Starmind started. The problem was it was a one-sided market. No one really wanted to pay a colleague for their knowledge. It took us some time to understand that what we have built is actually solving a much bigger problem that every large organization faces.
There is so much knowledge in a large organization that it’s very hard to unlock that for an individual employee without knowing their colleagues. We pivoted into the B2B world and built the platform that constantly learns, on its own, who knows what about what. If you have a question and don’t know who to ask, Starmind will find that for you. In 95% of cases, you get a solution very quickly.
Sramana Mitra: Your background is pure technical?
Marc Vontobel: I did study economics as well.
Sramana Mitra: Your co-founder is also a computer scientist?
Marc Vontobel: He studied biology.
Sramana Mitra: But neither of your come from a sales or business background. You’re technical people.
Marc Vontobel: Absolutely. We didn’t plan to make a business out of it. In the end, we tried to solve our very own problem of very lost in so many different tricky questions.
Sramana Mitra: This happens a lot. One of the first product ideas that I worked on was based on my own problem. I was trying to do sales. This was the beginning of the internet in the mid-90s.
One of the first problems I had to deal with was whom to sell to, so prospecting and lead qualification problems. I came up with an AI product idea to solve the problem of lead generation and lead qualification. This was, of course, a little bit early in the history of the internet.
It was the end of 1997 when I came up with this idea. The data was not as rich, but we did build a business. We had customers and venture capital. My point is going back to how technical people come up with product ideas. It’s often from problems we encounter in regular life.
Marc Vontobel: I would agree. Starmind is not the first company I founded. It was always a problem I wanted to solve. I didn’t find the right tool or product to do so.