Andreas Brenner is Founder and CEO of Avrios, an award-winning fleet management software.
Founded in 2015 in Zurich, Avrios manages fleets of 20-1.000 vehicles for >1.000 companies in Europe. They are one of the fastest growing companies in the SaaS space.
I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur from an early age.
At age 12, I started making websites for my computer gaming clan. Later, I started making some pocket money by making websites for other people. That’s how I got into software. Then I studied business administration and went to work for a few startups. After that, I joined my family's logistics business. We operated our own connected fleet. So that's where I got exposed to data driven fleet management. In 2014, we decided to sell the family business and the time had come for me to start my own business. I wanted to bring data driven fleet management to everybody else.
Inflection points were coming all the time.
We started with a vision that originated from our family business' challenges. We wanted to build a telematics meta platform for trucking companies. The platform would have to ingest financial data. Over time we iterated away from serving heavy duty trucking companies. Today we serve passenger car and van fleets as well as mixed fleets. And we focus on the management of procurement data, financial data and compliance.
Over time, we understood that the market needed more than a fleet management platform. Companies needed a way to become independent of their car and lease providers. They needed a real and flexible transportation platform. This platform would have to enable digital transaction with, addition and removal of suppliers. So we continued to pursue our vision of a fleet management platform but we expanded it by a marketplace. We had to set our customers up for a world of faster change and increasing regulation.
Set the hiring bar high.
When we first started Avrios, I was a first time entrepreneur and had many unknown unknowns. Among others, I didn't understand the type of people we would need to scale the business. I continued to raise the hiring bar for specific experience. I now feel confident about the management team we have put together. They have all been there and done that and it shows. The people on the journey are instrumental, there’s nothing more important.
As an entrepreneur I have to stay humble.
In the beginning I had to do a lot of work myself. Nowadays my main job is taking good decisions and taking them quickly. So I often have to make decisions with incomplete data. It is to be expected that some decisions turn out to be wrong. I had to learn to come to terms with my making mistakes and to keep moving forward regardless. I have to reflect on and learn from the past, whilst not taking things too personally.
I had to learn how to manage my energy.
When it comes to stress management, I went on a learning curve as a founder. In the beginning, I thought that I was a person with endless energy. I thought I could solve all problems by investing more energy. Over time I learned that I had to let others solve problems and rather provide direction. Taking good decisions and providing direction requires me to be centered. Reflecting on that and working with a coach and a therapist was very helpful for me.
It took me a while to wrap my head around this and understand what I needed to do. Part of that was allowing myself the time and space to think and to take good care of my body. So I started working out, paying attention to nutrition and so on. I barely drink any coffee and I’ve gone through periods where I’ve completely avoided alcohol.
To me as a founder it's intuitive and natural to get things rolling.
I learned that only very few people are willing to start something but many people want to board a moving train. To me as a founder it is natural and intuitive to get things moving but it's not as intuitive to keep them going. So I get most of my thrills from initiating things, growing, expanding and changing.
So I learned that I could be most helpful to the company by taking the lead on change initiatives. I am ok with uncertainty and chaos. But I also needed a strong management team that could keep most initiatives moving. The team had to be really good at optimizing things. They had to turn chaos into structure. We needed complimentary skills.
There are 3 key pieces of advice I’d given to my younger self, based on the experiences I’ve had:
Who is your customer? What product do you want to build for them? Answer those questions and only then build a strategy. Most founders I talk to, and certainly we at Avrios, were not clear enough on our ideal customer profile. We built too many things for too many people although we felt like we were very focused.
Whenever I work with younger startups, I see them approaching it the other way round. They first think what it takes to get funding, almost as if that was a school exercise. And then they adjust the strategy in a way to get funding and then build a product that supports that strategy. I think that's the wrong way around.
As mentioned earlier, you need to hire the right people. Building a strong culture and having the right experience in your team will be your biggest drivers of growth.
Before taking VC funding, there are a few simple questions you need to ask yourself:
VC should be current in the battery of a moving vehicle. The artificial time constraint from a VC fund can create unnecessary pressure on a company that doesn't have a working product yet. So, do you honestly have a working product? Do you know who your best customers are? If you have that, you have everything to come up with a strategy, to build a product and take it to market. And if you’ve built that into a business plan, is that a business plan you should present to a VC? Why shouldn’t you bootstrap it? Should you take capital from another funding source? Or should you work with VCs? If the answer to that last question is yes, then start building good relationships and do your due diligence. Too many people don’t do their due diligence on investors.
There's a ‘family spirit’ when working with Notion Capital
My experience has been very good so far; I'm definitely a promoter of working with Notion. I like their operator background. I also think the platform team is unique, especially in Europe. Another upside is the ‘family spirit’ that’s found at the Notion-led events. There’s a kind of vulnerability and transparency in the discussions that I haven’t seen at any other events. On the flip side Notion is a UK-based fund, so for a German / Swiss person it’s a different style of communicating. It took me some time to really understand the nuances of advice I received.