Shaper: Tobi Schneidler

Show aired on 9th January 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The jaunty and gentle sound of Lullaby of Birdland from Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, two classics of the jazz world, a great way to start the programme. It’s Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss, thank you so much for joining me on yet another Saturday morning in January. Jazz Shapers I hear you ask, what is that? Well I hope you know that it is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper and my Business Shaper today is Tobi Schneidler; he is the CEO and co-founder of a business called Bouncepad – fantastic name. They are putting tablets and all sorts of technology into the retail environment and you will have noticed over Christmas that you probably spent a lot more money on-line rather than off-line – well he is making sure that the businesses he works with are fit for purpose going forward. Lots coming up from Tobi very shortly. In addition to hearing from Tobi, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that a great mix of music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul including Woody Herman, Madeleine Peyroux, new music from GoGo Penguin and this from the one and only Donald Byrd.

Donald Byrd with Places and Spaces and it reminds me of the Macy and Max Era and that kind of music which I absolutely love. Tobi Schneidler is my Business Shaper here today on Jazz Shapers; CEO and co-founder of Bouncepad and as I said, they are a business who are ensuring that the digital and the non-digital worlds of retail and leisure and all sorts of related businesses are converging properly. Tobi thank you so much for joining me. Explain in your own words what it is that you are doing and the gap that you filled creating this business called Bouncepad?

Tobi Schneidler
So hi Elliot, great to be here. Five years ago when the iPad was launched we thought this would be a great tool to use commercially in stores and rather than being, you know, a consumer piece of electronic, that there is a dimension of actually commercially using it in enterprise conditions in shops essentially and we created a pop-up shop round the corner here in Soho and the response was overwhelming so we basically designed a way to present tablets securely in stores – a product called the bouncepad – so it is a physical tablet stand which has now grown into a whole range of different solutions for retailers such as Vodafone and Hugo Boss and even McDonalds are using them. So it’s been an amazing journey and its, yeah its placed us right in the heart of this whole omni-channel transition of bringing digital into the physical retail environment to really connect up these experiences which are important for consumers.

Elliot Moss
Now a couple of observations – number 1 – you are German and number 2 – you studied architecture and in fact you came here to London I think in ’93, over 20 years ago – it makes you feel old doesn’t it – to do that. What was it about London that made you come over here and what was it about architecture at that point because obviously you have evolved but there was something that drew you to architecture I imagine at that point?

Tobi Schneidler
Architecture I just love because it’s a discipline that brings together design, a consideration of your environment, the context you live in, lots of different scales, you know famously the sort of door handle to open plan from Bauhaus you know, it’s all these considerations that I found fascinating and why I want to engage with architecture and there is a strong technology I mentioned to architecture as well naturally, yeah, so it is culture meeting technology and London was really a choice because it is just the biggest city in Europe and it’s the most international city arguably on the planet and I just thought Frankfurt would be a bit small.

Elliot Moss
And in that time obviously you have gone through a variety of things, I think you have been a lecturer on technology and design, you’ve been in various different universities across Europe. How did you get into and I believe you then created and co-founded a business called SpotSpot and this has been called a London based creative engineering consultancy devising interactive instore experiences. That was about 10 years ago. What was the moment if you can just capture it for me, when you realised that there would be this, this space for this Bouncepad, this idea that a tablet could play a role inside the retail environment?

Tobi Schneidler
So I was already interested while I was studying architecture how the digital would inform physical environments and the space of architecture is very slow moving, it’s a, you know, most architects only start building their first building when they are like 60 or 70, you know, so I didn’t have the patience for that so I wanted to go into technology research and that then led to opening a consultancy, helping big brands to reinvent retail essentially. But consultancies have their own problems as a business you know, and I really wanted to have a product in the long run and the bouncepad was such an idea of actually bringing digital into physical environments and really sort of making them more relevant in today’s world.

Elliot Moss
Find out how that happened and what Tobi’s lightbulb moment was coming up after the next bit of music which is going to be from Woody Herman & The Herd and it is called Sidewinder.

Sidewinder from Woody Herman & The Herd and I always find myself pouting quite a lot when I hear that particular track. Tobi Schneidler is my Business Shaper today; CEO and co-founder of Bouncepad and we were talking about the fact that you set up this consultancy but like many people who do that, they go ‘oh I’ve still got clients and that’s quite awkward I actually want to do my own thing’ and this thing was called Bouncepad and I believe there was a kind of revelation that you had apparently when you were in Apple’s London flagship store. Just tell me a little bit about that because for people that have these moments, sometimes they kind of either don’t realise it was a moment or they don’t know what to do about it. Tell me about the moment and then tell me what made you do something about it?

Tobi Schneidler
So I have had several moments like that before, and they resulted in very weird stuff.

Elliot Moss
I was going to say it sounds like we are having a religious conversation. We are not. We are not.

Tobi Schneidler
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
It wasn’t a revelation of that sort.

Tobi Schneidler
No, no I had a lot of fun stuff before that that actually didn’t result in commercial success but the iPad was really this kind of very approachable piece of technology that people intuitively know how to use and it just made sense to use it commercially as well. Not just look at it as a piece of consumer electronics and it sort of nicely coincided with a moment of us being invited to, to a pop-up shop in Soho called the App Lounge and we designed the first prototype bouncepad literally on the back of a broomstick, some laser cut acrylic plastic and just placed this prototype in the shop to see how people react to it and it was just an amazing success so three months later we launched a first minimum viable product and switched on a website and then the first call came in from South Africa so we were an export business from day one and it just continued from there basically.

Elliot Moss
You talked about the other revelations which didn’t turn into any great thing. How did you know or rather did you not know that any of these revelations may or may not have made it. Was it just a question of going through the motions and was it that the end of the broomstick with a bit of acrylic actually just happened to work versus the other ones which didn’t? Is that true? Is it a bit of trial and error truthfully in this game?

Tobi Schneidler
A tonne of trial and error and I think yes and some of the other ideas I did within the safety net of Technology Research Institutes so it wasn’t my own money at stake, some of them I actually put up my own sweat and money to do but this was just an epiphany, I was just totally clear that this would be a goer really.

Elliot Moss
And once you had made this one and it is, if you go to the Bouncepad.com site you will see them and they are pretty gorgeous actually. Once you go into that place, actually then setting up a business because you are an architect right, I mean you set your consultancy up. How did you know what to do? I believe you have used a lot of your own money, you mentioned it just then but in terms of team, in terms of getting you said, your first order was ensured you were an international expert business straight away but how has it been in these first few years of building your own business?

Tobi Schneidler
Well I have always been interested in business and I have been sort of had this weird little hobby like other people doing like, I don’t know, gardening or clubbing or whatever, I quite like reading up on business and understanding about business.

Elliot Moss
He looks normal by the way.

Tobi Schneidler
And so I was always like seeking out also people who were interested in sharing that interest and that sort of led me to my co-founder, Solon Sasson and other people who basically can help build such a business you know, and it’s really important to think about building a business as a collaborative effort. It is not like one, one sort of sole genius who can pull it off and that’s basically how we’ve thought about, over these 5 years now. We sort of bringing in friends, colleagues, other experts with the relevant expertise.

Elliot Moss
Find out how collaboration has been the core of what Tobi Schneidler has achieved as CEO of Bouncepad. Lots more from him coming up. Latest travel coming up in a couple of minutes but before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning I hope you will join me for some fantastic business company over the coming months all the way through to the end of 2016 and beyond. Some special new features coming up later in the year, we are going to be having young entrepreneurs included on the programme and you will be hearing from some of our friends that I have interviewed over the last few years and finding out what they are doing in our ‘encore’ feature. But today Tobi Schneidler is my Business Shaper, he is the CEO and co-founder of Bouncepad; they make tablets come to life in the retail environment, the leisure environment so that you don’t go somewhere else when you are in the middle of shopping in an expensive place like Hugo Boss for example. Tobi, you were talking about the business that you have grown over the last 5 years and the importance of collaboration. In your business of course you make the hardware look nice but you are also developing software and that is an incredibly collaborative business because you are not a software developer. How have you enabled the business to become connected with that world and how do you view relationships with all these different providers of clever technology people?

Tobi Schneidler
So we’ve… I mean my own background is basically in architecture and design but I have then worked in a media lab and been exposed to a lot of technology people, coders, programmers etcetera and there is a design dimension to software which is not that far off architecture. How you think about the user, how you think about experiences, that has to work structurally etcetera so basically judging a good piece of software is, is not that different in a way and we are seeking out partnerships that can really help us to bundle an offering to our customers so to actually combine the bouncepad with their software in the best possible way.

Elliot Moss
And have those partners come to you quite happily because they can see you are doing an innovative thing and if so, how do you then nurture those relationships because it is one thing technically being in line but there is another thing that Tobi’s personality and your partner, your partner founder personality works. Have you had to work at that or has it come naturally?

Tobi Schneidler
It is almost like a naturally evolving ecosystem because the whole area of bringing digital into a store environment is even newer than the whole ecommerce you know, area which in itself is only like whatever, 10 years old or so. So it’s a lot of connections that have been built over the last 5 years and where people naturally want to collaborate and retailers also like to see these kind of collaborations taking place.

Elliot Moss
You don’t seem very stressed by any of this, I mean you are at the cutting edge of a new business, you even said – or a new industry if you like – you said that ecommerce is relatively new. This, this kind of combination synthesis of digital and real world buying experience is even newer. Are you naturally very calm? I mean you seem calm, is that the thing or are you just incredibly good at hiding it? Because in a business like yours, you know, where you are literally almost not quite hand to mouth but you are building fast, surely that’s stressful?

Tobi Schneidler
Yeah, it is but you can’t help yourself I guess so it’s basically I think that’s the fun thing of actually building a business, of being an entrepreneur is that you are exposed to a lot of problems you need to solve on the spot. That’s why I think I am probably completely unemployable by a normal company. And that’s the exciting thing of being in the space because there is a real sort of revolution going on in retail because a few years ago, you know, ecommerce was about to kill every shop there is on the planet but this clearly hasn’t become true, now retailers consider physical outlets as being key to their retail strategy, especially the luxury ones, the high value retailers and we are sort of playing right at the heart of it which is really exciting.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Tobi Schneidler, my Business Shaper. Time for some music this is GoGo Penguin who I love and it is called All Res.

The haunting sound of GoGo Penguin with All Res. Tobi you were talking about this revolution that you are involved in. Did you think when you were younger you would be a revolutionary? Did you think you would be an entrepreneur or did you just think ‘I am obsessed with business and I quite like it and I am obsessed with the way things look and I like the functionality thing and all that’, is this where you thought you’d be?

Tobi Schneidler
Yes.

Elliot Moss
Really? You are that sure?

Tobi Schneidler
I always wanted to be a designer which is about you know, creating stuff, designing stuff, solving problems you know.

Elliot Moss
Were you building things as a kid?

Tobi Schneidler
Yeah. I was trying to build a car which didn’t go very far.

Elliot Moss
How old were you when you were trying to build a car?

Tobi Schneidler
Eight.

Elliot Moss
Of course.

Tobi Schneidler
I think I got to the steering wheel and maxed out but basically the idea of business I always found fascinating as well. There is some family history to running a business as well and…

Elliot Moss
What’s that? Parents or which?

Tobi Schneidler
Grandparents yeah and I sort of wanted to create something that’s, that’s maybe a bit bigger than you know, just a piece of industrial design or a building and I think this is where the transition from architecture into this other more exciting area of digital and entrepreneurship.

Elliot Moss
Now you mentioned your grandparents and the kind of therefore its partly in the DNA but have there been other people along this journey that you have gone to for advice and that you go ‘that really helped me’ or have you just been paying lip service because you knew exactly what you needed to do?

Tobi Schneidler
No I have always been seeking out sort of advice from sort of the elders and also I am a member in a club here in London which is all about owner operated businesses and so we give each other a lot of peer advice.

Elliot Moss
That’s the Supper Club?

Tobi Schneidler
That’s it yeah.

Elliot Moss
Okay and is that useful because many people I interview are actually members of this organisation and there are many others. What is it that is so special about that, that environment?

Tobi Schneidler
Well basically I usually describe it as alcoholics anonymous for entrepreneurs so it’s basically for people who can’t help themselves and put themselves through the stressful thing of building a business to talk about their problems really one-to-one and not being interfered by professional advisors. So that you can get these kind of other opinions, how other people solve these problems every day.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with my guest Tobi plus play a track from Madeleine Peyroux, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

A Little Bit from Madeleine Peyroux. Tobi Schneidler is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes. We’ve talked a lot about that you are at the vanguard of the revolution and indeed I think you have been recognised as one of those people, I think the business was profiled in the TechCityInsider 100 and I am sure there will be more accolades as you go forward. I have been reading a lot about 2016 predictions about the way technology goes and everyone is starting to say that technology is irrelevant, the experience that it delivers is now where people are focussing on. What is the experience that you are going to deliver over the next two to three years do you think for consumers?

Tobi Schneidler
So I think the big shift is that digital, you know, which has been a buzz word which you can’t, you can’t use that word anymore because it doesn’t mean anything anymore because everything is digital now and people just expect digital information, knowledge, experience to be around them you know, Smartphone, in their home, in their car and if something doesn’t work that’s kind of the moment when it shows up so basically I think that delivering stable well-run products is a key thing but then also to make that part of the whole shopping experience and change the way that retailers actually operate these digital experiences in a store environment is really important. So a lot of retailers are quite conservatively run, they have no clue about technology whatsoever or they don’t even know how to integrate a digital and the physical worlds and increasingly now we see more and more organisations changing which is really exciting and putting really clever new ideas into place.

Elliot Moss
Now assuming you do that really well and the business keeps growing and it has grown fast. Are you the kind of person that’s going to go ‘thank you very much I’ve had my bit and I’ll sell nicely’ or are you in it for the long haul? And what will make up your mind. I mean obviously everyone has a price but you strike me as someone who likes making stuff and I wonder, and fixing stuff and I wonder whether you will even, as you said, be able to stop if you like because you look like an entrepreneurial addict. Is that right? I mean where does it go for you financially? Is the money important in all this?

Tobi Schneidler
So basically I recently came across a really interesting organisation in California called Tuckworld Organisation. They are all about sustainably run business. So I am not a subscriber to the whole silicon roundabout craze and sort of you know, seeking out tens of millions of venture capital funding and not giving a damn about how efficiently and profitable you run your business. I think business is about profitability which is borne out of delivering a great product to your customer you know, that’s value creation and that kind of principal is often completely overlooked by a lot of these kind of start-ups that you see around. So and building a sustainable business is a lot about connecting to the market and also building a great team internally and really sort of you know, getting a bunch of people together who liked to do what they do and who think that there is some mileage in it for the long run.

Elliot Moss
And basically, well the answer in a way is that I am not leaving any time soon, thank you very much Elliot, it sounds like. You are very happy and you will continue to do fantastic things.

Tobi Schneidler
Plus I am German. You know the whole thing about Mittelstand and…

Elliot Moss
Yeah, yeah, right, right… it’s in the blood and you are… it’s what makes Germany, Germany from a business perspective. Tobi fantastic to have you here in London and on the programme. Just before I let you go, it would be remiss of me not to ask you, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Tobi Schneidler
So it is Armendra by Ruben Gonzalez and to be honest I don’t listen to a tonne of jazz but this is one track I have been listening to since the ‘90s and I love having people over for dinner and it is a sort of a ritual that every time I have people over for dinner, that track gets played first and get everyone in the mood.

Elliot Moss
Well I look forward to my invitation and look forward to listening to it. That was a joke he said, you don’t have to invite me. Here it is just for you. Thank you so much.

Tobi Schneidler
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Armendra from Ruben Gonzalez, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Tobi Schneidler. A collaborator at heart, someone who has understood alliances are important and he has needed those because in his world of bringing technology and architecture and design together all to make up what is going to be the future of retail that is absolutely critical and in a word, a bit of a revolutionary. Great stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Stay with us right now because coming up next right here on Jazz FM, it’s Nigel Williams.

Tobi is founder and CEO at Bouncepad, a fast-growing technology company that helps retailers reboot stores for the digital age. Based in London and Boston, Bouncepad products are now used in more than 50 countries.

Tobi’s background in architecture led him to question how the next generation of commercial space could use technology to connect with real people, in real life and real time to save the high street. Research and teaching at the Royal College of Art and Saint Martins in London, as well as the Interactive Institute in Stockholm, led him to projects around Intelligent Homes and to his involvement in the emergence of the Internet of Things.  This work then launched a new type of retail design agency, for the connected customer world. Bouncepad, the product, emerged shortly after, to become the world’s first iPad Kiosk, establishing an entirely new product category. Some of the biggest brands in retail, hospitality and travel – including McDonalds, American Airlines, Hugo Boss and Virgin – are using Bouncepad to innovate their service offering, increase conversion in store, drive loyalty and return visits.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Tobi on Twitter @tobiping

While I was studying architecture, I was already interested in how the digital would inform physical environments.

The space of architecture is very slow moving: most architects only start building their first building when they are like 60 or 70 – I didn’t have the patience for that.

I had a lot of fun stuff before this that actually didn’t result in commercial success, but the iPad was this very approachable piece of technology that people intuitively know how to use.

This was just an epiphany, I was just totally clear that this would be a goer really.

I have always been interested in business. Some people like gardening or clubbing or whatever, I quite like reading up on business.

It’s really important to think about building a business as a collaborative effort.  It is not like one sole genius who can pull it off.

I am probably completely unemployable by a normal company.

Building a sustainable business is a lot about connecting to the market and getting a bunch of people together who like to do what they do and who think that there is some mileage in it for the long run.