Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?
I ask myself this regularly. I studied music (piano to be exact) and actually just wanted to start an online business on the side, to help with some income during my studies. Of course one thing lead to next and suddenly I had a bunch of online businesses which all struggled with the same problem of communication silos due to too many channels and Unified Inbox was born.
Whilst I’m still playing the piano at times, I’m hacking more on the keyboard these days 🙂 Organizing communications and creating a unified way of dealing with our messages isn’t that different from music though. There are a lot of channels (voices) to look after and they need to be composed in a harmonious way for it to sound good.
In particular what lead you, and the company to being based in Singapore?
For this type of company, naturally Silicon Valley would be the place to be. You require massive funding, support, network and visionary people to make it happen. But in my case I would like to unify all channels, including Eastern Social Media and Chat Apps and not just focus on the Western side alone. As Singapore is “the” place to be where all merges, I decided to be based in Singapore.
You’ve got a lot of interests! How do divide your time between them all?
I’m just about learning that. Ask me again in another year 🙂
— Toby Ruckert (@tobyruckert) May 20, 2015
How was 2014, what went well?
We successfully established our HQ in Singapore and have created a fully owned subsidiary in Germany. We had a great presentation at CommunicAsia where I gave the opening speech on the Future of Communication and created our first product (Outbox Pro) on top of our UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) platform.
Anything you’d do differently?
We initially focused too much on partnering with Telecom companies and pushing our mobile app. Whilst this is still a viable strategy, most Telco’s are simply too big and too slow to move at the pace we’d like them to. So looking back I’d focus more on our own go to market, than on the partnership opportunities.
Plans for 2015 and the future?
Find a big globally active partner to take our technology to market not just in one but many countries.
Previously as a mentor you probably saw a lot of mistakes, what key tips did / do you give to startups?
There is no right answer to this question, because every person and every company is different. Startups are en vogue now but I’d very much caution people to get into the startup game for the hype. You should have a solid, meaningful idea, which you believe can excite you and are passionate about for at least 5+ years. Your horizon shouldn’t be less. More is good, but hard to realistically fathom. Many people believe in the fail fast mantra the wrong way. Building a long term sustainable business is not a joke and indeed a struggle (as Ben Horowitz puts it). So when starting choosing wisely is important.
How tough is it now you are on the other side of the table once again?
I knew what I was going into, so from that angle it’s ok. There is one big difference though to my previous companies – I had never taken any capital from outside investors. I had bootstrapped all the way and while I’m very happy with our investors, I would not do it again. The reason is simple: too much energy, focus, creativity and ultimately time is wasted on the fundraising trail and keeping everybody aligned and in the loop – so that part is a bit tougher than before.
How does Unified Inbox differentiate itself from potential competitors, and explain this to customers?
We’ve actually just shifted from being an app to becoming a platform provider, so any competitor is welcome using our API’s to build their own Unified Inbox app or service 🙂
You have a good following on twitter, is this part of how you do business, has it helped you?
I do Twitter regularly but not with a specific focus. It does help me at times, but it can also be a big drain. I’d say I use Social Media opportunistically.
Blogging, who do you follow, read for inspiration?
At the moment my time for reading is limited (so it is for blogging) but I’m getting back into it. I don’t believe in reading for inspiration. I’d rather play piano, take a walk in nature and watch/observe what is going on there – it gives me inspiration which is relevant for my situation / experiences and needs – books can mostly do that for knowledge only and the advice given is often out of context.
Being a busy person and user of social media, how do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?
That is a very good question. I meditate regularly and take walks in nature. I like to cook and do some exercise. Eventually it comes down to discipline. When I’m in one place, I’m quite good at it actually and can manage all my things well (most of the time anyway). But while traveling (and I travel a lot), I find it much harder and still fail big time in “keeping” the balance I’ve created for myself in one place. So that’s something I’m working on right now.