Till Kratochwill (INSEAD MBA 15’D) is one of the three founders of the startup Reparando, an on-site repair service for smartphones that launched in Stuttgart, Germany. It is now growing in over twenty cities in Germany and poised to bring its phenomenal impact to the rest of the world.
We depend heavily on our smartphones, and need quick solutions when they break down
Your smartphone might have fallen on the pavement and cracked. Perhaps it drowned. In other cases, the death was inexplicable: it simply konked off. Most of us have been there (and if you have not: lucky you!) and when it happens, it feels debilitating. Like any emergency, we instantly hunt for a solution.
With a mighty 6.1 billion people predicted to be using smartphones globally by 2020, the demand for quick repair grows steadily with it. Meeting this tremendous demand is the German-based startup called Reparando that was co-founded by INSEAD alum Till Kratochwill in July 2015.
Reparando provides repair for mobile phones through a network of trained technicians who go to your location, and this service is backed by an in-house Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technical engine that optimises the value chain from ordering parts, booking appointments, and fulfilling repairs across the city.
This startup was conceived while Till was studying at INSEAD. One day, his college mates from Germany, Jakob Schoroth and Vincent Osterloh got in touch with him about this venture idea. Till flew back to his hometown over the summer and, together, they developed the business idea and incorporated the company. Right after INSEAD, he dived full-time into the venture rather than return to his consulting career at Bain where he had worked for almost five years.
Starting with a landing page that explained what the venture was about
What is the first thing they did to get their business idea off the ground? “We created a landing page, put money into Google, and then we got calls. When people break their smartphone, they immediately Google for a repair shop. So we got revenue in the first few days.”
Before hiring technicians, the trio taught themselves how to repair these phones, and personally fulfilled each work request. Since they hadn’t built their online booking system yet, they managed all the appointments manually.
Seeing real revenue trickle in from customers was encouraging. In the first few days, they had at least a couple of customers per day—but the founders understood that this was only the beginning for a high-growth venture. Till cautions against feeling victorious too early. “Starting a company is super simple, but surviving the first two years is probably the most difficult part: getting your first revenue, securing your first investors—when you literally have to do everything yourself.”
“Starting a company is super simple, but surviving the first two years is probably the most difficult part: getting your first revenue, securing your first investors—when you literally have to do everything yourself.”
Spiralling upwards to the next level of growth through corporate partnerships
Growing from two customers a day to 10,000 repairs in eighteen months is testament to the founding team’s vibrant aptitude for sensing opportunity. When they initially cast their net into the World Wide Web using Google Ads, they were still uncertain about what exactly their customers needed, but they stayed vigilant. “From our landing page, we saw a lot of corporate customers and even small businesses such as lawyers and dentists. We realised it made sense to move into B2B contracts.”
Their move toward corporate partnerships seemed to happen quite naturally, but it sprang from the alertness of the founders to the transpiring opportunity. It started when they repaired the phones of several managers from Bosch. In order for this bill to be expensed to the corporation, Reparando had to be registered in their system as an official business supplier.
This way, within months of launching, Reparando signed their first contract as the dedicated on-site repair service for the Bosch workforce in Stuttgart. This experience set the groundwork for shaping dedicated corporate contracts with other firms such as Boston Consulting Group and more.
Hiring university students and giving them the power to do their job well
While the three founders can repair smartphones (in fact, Till still drops into the workshop to use his skills), the scalability of their business depends on a wide network of reliable technicians. Their team has grown steadily from the three founders to over 70 people across 20 German cities.
Till and his co-founders actively recruit talent at local universities. “The standard Reparando technician is a student who is studying engineering, and working part-time. We provide training, and pay them for each repair.”
Their organizational culture is based on getting things done. Like most of us, Till hates meetings. “I need to keep enough time in my calendar to actually do work. Otherwise, it feels like you spend your whole day in meetings, and nothing happens.”
“I need to keep enough time in my calendar to actually do work. Otherwise, it feels like you spend your whole day in meetings, and nothing happens.”
To achieve a day that isn’t chocking with meetings, Till’s management style is based on informal check-ins as and when needed. “My logistics manager is purchasing spare parts in six-digit numbers every single month. If he has something to ask— he just asks. There’s no need for frequent meetings when we can talk every day.”
You are always fundraising.
With such a high-caliber management team and obvious market opportunity, it is no surprise that Reparando secured their seed funding within six months of launching in early 2016. Their investors include Monkfish Equity, Catagonia Capital, and Richmond View Ventures, along with business angels such as the founders of Trivago and Andreas Albath who was formerly CEO of Telegate. Most recently in March 2017, they closed another financing round with one of the leading telco companies in Germany, Deutsche Telekom.
Till shares some classical wisdom that held true for their team: “Only work with investors you like and trust, and don’t stop fundraising until the deal is closed.” Even when you are closing a round, Till cautions against turning away investors. “Just be transparent. There are many rounds—Series A, B, C, and there is always a possibility of a second closing. You might only need a small ticket now, so they can always join the next round.”
Growing around the world, and the search for collaborators
From one city in Germany to twenty cities, the team is now looking with confidence at the world. In Germany, market expansion is relatively straightforward: they hire a city manager who gets a base salary, and technicians are paid per repair, so there are no major upfront costs.
Countries such as Austria are more familiar, and easy to do on their own, but they seek partners and collaborators to venture into markets elsewhere such as Hong Kong. “In places with their own language and culture, it makes more sense to find a partner who will run the business, while we provide the technical engine, business infrastructure, and marketing.”
“In places with their own language and culture, it makes more sense to find a partner who will run the business, while we provide the technical engine, business infrastructure, and marketing.”
The potency of Reparando’s platform to manage the entire customer service journey—such as optimizing the schedule of technicians, monitoring inventory, and determining the expertise of each technician to match with each job—means that the platform can be used for many other business models, not just smartphone repair. Reparando has essentially built a Software-as-a-Service platform that can be white-labelled for numerous other on-site services (eg. physical training), and they are happy to enter discussions to take these collaborations forward.
Spend less time networking, and more time working
Two years into their venture, the team is still obsessed with automating and improving their backend system. With the humility of an entrepreneur who is always adapting to the future, Till notes: “I don’t think the platform will ever be perfect. We are always getting better.”
“I don’t think the platform will ever be perfect. We are always getting better.”
What has he learned from running a business? “My key insight is to spend less time networking, and more time working. Identify key strategic partners and build meaningful relationships instead of trying to get in touch with everyone in the industry.” That said, he credits the incredible exposure when his team made it to the finals of the INSEAD Venture Competition in 2015 and the strategic advice received from faculty and classmates.
“…if you enjoy doing it, you will push further when you are faced with a decision of whether to shut down or continue. So it’s a self-reinforcing effect.”
What has most contributed to their incredible growth in such a short time? Ultimately, Till says, you have to enjoy the experience of building a company. “If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it for the potential exit. Statistically, the chances of an exit happening are not high. However, if you enjoy doing it, you will push further when you are faced with a decision of whether to shut down or continue. You will think: I don’t have a salary, but at least I can keep the business alive, rather than cut loses. So it’s a self-reinforcing effect. Enjoying the experience improves your probability of succeeding.”
If you want to take part in Reparando’s magnificent growth, simply explore www.reparando.net and email Till directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about their fundraising experience from co-founder Vincent Osterloh over here.