“In our kitchen of ideas, there is always a buzz”
Astina specializes in high-quality e-business and e-commerce platforms. The company now employs 17 people at its headquarters in Zurich and its second branch in Ljubljana. Attika magazine talked to managing director and co-founder Marc Gasser about stays abroad, spin-offs and the ambition of young entrepreneurs.
By Fabia Bernet
attika: How did you come to become an entrepreneur?
Marc Gasser: As the Internet slowly established itself, I started programming websites for SMEs in the St. Gallen region. It quickly became clear that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial later on. I had the vision of a company in the field of Internet development. After graduating from high school, I studied business informatics at the University of Zurich and in Sweden. In 2005 I founded Astina together with my current business partners, who I met during my studies. Over time, I studied less and less, but worked even more. We have fully focused on our company and are still making our money from it.
How would you explain the function of your company to a layman?
We try to put the customer’s business model on the Internet. If possible, we do this in such a way that there is a conversion of new and existing customers. In addition to the tried-and-tested shop, the customer should also be able to offer his services on the Internet and thus improve it.
Can you clarify that?
We are active in three areas. In the e-business, we deal with online shops and marketing applications. In the field of business applications, we are committed to industrial companies with complex algorithms. The third area, the incubator, is often influenced by our stays abroad, where we also get inspiration for new business models. We have already founded various companies as spin-offs of Astina, with ideas for this being developed in South Korea or Slovenia. In South Korea, however, the main aim was to implement the innovation management applications we produce at Astina for several large international companies and were able to get to know the Asian cultures.
How have you benefited from these stays?
It was a pretty special gear. Nobody really understood South Korea, because South Korea is not the first destination for a small Swiss company. But that just made me more motivated. In the end, I benefited a lot from this trip. I have had the opportunity to analyse the markets in China, South Korea and Japan and have gained a lot of valuable experience. It is important for an entrepreneur to break into new realms from time to time and learn from other cultures. You get a good perspective that few else have. There is a lot to learn from this. The same applies to our second branch in Slovenia. Very few Swiss companies use this country.
What were the points for a second location in Slovenia?
There were several reasons. The main reason was that we are finding fewer and fewer top-qualified software engineers in Switzerland. If we had been looking for them in Romania or Poland, we would simply do the same as many other companies. And we would have to contend with cultural differences, distance and time shifts. We have therefore said to ourselves that we want to create a second branch that can be reached quickly. It was also important to us that people are on the same line with us. We looked around Berlin, London and even Ljubljana. In Slovenia, we were welcomed by top companies from the very first minute, even though they were actually part of our competition. We were thrilled.
In retrospect, the reason for the euphoria and the great interest of the Slovenes was certainly also the economic situation in the country and the security that a Swiss company radiates. But also the fact that there was practically no big international software company there made us special in the eyes of the Slovenes.
Are you also initiating projects in Ljubljana?
We see the second location exclusively as a team extension. We do not want to launch projects in Slovenia, but rather to benefit from the competence and ideas of our employees and to develop projects there for Switzerland.
More and more often we fly with our customers to Ljubljana to plan the work on site with the developers and to concentrate on the workshop in isolation from the daily business.
What distinguishes the Swiss market from the Slovenian market?
Compared to Switzerland, the mood in Slovenia is much more pessimistic. When it comes to job security, the economic situation or politics in Slovenia, people tend to be negative. In Switzerland, surprisingly, more and more companies are meeting who want to launch something special and are innovative.
Are more locations planned?
No, not for the time being. The location Slovenia fits wonderfully at the moment. But you should never say never. Sure, it’s an exciting thing, but at the same time incredibly laborious. I now spend almost the same amount of time in Slovenia as in Switzerland. But this is almost no different. There is Skype, etc., but face-to-face is more efficient.
At the beginning of the interviews, you briefly mentioned the spinoffs of Astina. What kind of projects are these?
We have several start-ups. Among other things, a website that offers reservation solutions for restaurants was purchased by “local.ch”. We also have e-commerce startups, e.g. for custom shirts or department store products. Our kitchen of ideas is always bubbling.
Is it typical of young entrepreneurs nowadays to want more and more and no longer focus on just one project?
It also strikes me that many entrepreneurs often have an incredible number of good ideas. It’s hard to hold back and not start another project. It’s easy to develop something once you’ve figured out how something like this works.
But it would certainly be easier to focus on just something, wouldn’t it?.
When you work in the Internet industry, you come across so many ideas and inspirations. You can see how easy it would be to start something new. That is the incentive. You know how to do it, how to proceed, you have people for it, and so the temptation is great.
But you are right. It is important to focus and not jump back and forth between x projects. This is the be-all and end-all of a successful company. But I would have answered this question differently five years ago
How do you see the future of Astina?
Together with our design partners, we have developed a very flexible and uncomplicated project methodology. We will perfect our special iterative process for project implementation in order to be able to launch a project even more efficiently.
This point landing requires an interactive and transparent approach, which customers are often not used to. The method sets us apart from other agencies, but requires a lot of persuasion. This is the only way we can offer a solution on time and with high quality in record time.
You are a member of the Pioneers Club. What are the benefits of membership?
If you have a problem with your company, you can always find someone in the Pioneers Club who has already faced the same problem. This is how you can help each other. The exchange is extremely important. I really appreciate that the atmosphere is always serious, but it also leaves room for a certain looseness.
Marc Gasser, 31 years old, founder and managing director of Astina AG. He studied business informatics at Uppsala University in Sweden and at the University of Zurich. In his spare time, the internet entrepreneur can be found in the Valais mountains.