Startups and innovation: an interview with the CEO

Adrian Baumann

Adrian Baumann Marketing · Project management June 2024

This summer, the car manufacturer Infiniti (Premium Nissan brand), invited our Director, Axel Pasqualini, to share his experience on the creation and management of Startups. The session was held at the charming Maison des Vigerons in Bursins (VD), in front of the entire EMEA board. Axel talked about his challenges around Generation Y, collaborative culture and continuous innovation. In this article we have extracted some of the topics for you.

Hello Axel, let’s talk about you, your role as director of Apptitude and its history.

 

AP: Of course! Well, I’m Axel Pasqualini, software engineer, 30 years old and co-founder of Apptitude. The company was born in 2012, from the need of our former employer to have flexible, local and qualified developers for certain mandates. Raphael, Pierre and I started working in our living room while seeking new clients. It’s the story of three friends in their garage who create a stable and sustainable business. In my role, I spend most of my time managing projects, collecting customer / idea needs and transforming them into a digital concept. I also take care of finances, HR, sales and cleaning from time to time ☺

Quite a nice progresion in less than four years! Do you have a magic recipe?

AP: ☺ Thank you! The recipe is simple: work, focus, value creation; with a little bit of luck. The customer experience must remain central; we are in a small area (Romandie), people know each other and talk. After some unsuccessful outsourced projects in India and the Philippines, we realized that we were not creating enough value for our customers. We had to revisit our initial value proposition: the creation of digital products with a great user experience. Given the local specificities and customers with their high expectations, we now think that we cannot / should not outsource our work.

Could you come back to the customer experience and elaborate with a larger example?

I guess everyone here knows the success of Uber, Airbnb or Lyft ☺. One of the many things that make them successful is definitely the customer experience. It starts from the homepage, the user experience, the slick design, the secure transactions, the service guarantee and the after-sales service. Have you ever been canceled by your host on Airbnb at the last minute? Airbnb customer service will make sure to find you an equivalent alternative in less than an hour. That is customer experience at its best. To come back to Apptitude, there are sometimes projects that don’t go as planned. We always make the extra effort to meet deadlines, quality and requested features.

Recruitment: how to attract the best talent when you cannot always offer them the same options as big companies?

Recruitment is the scariest thing you can do in a business. It involves many parameters and risks, especially when you are a small structure. The good developers and coders are a rare commodity in Switzerland, which makes them expensive and they know it ☺ Compared to large companies like Swisscom, Credit Suisse and many others, a startup offers colloaborators a better perception on the results and contribution of one’s work. This is particularly important with generation Y (born between 1985 ~ 1995); they need to see what are the direct results of their actions; they need to feel involved, accountable and they should not feel trailed or trapped in a boring job. They like to have relatively free schedules, nice and innovative projects, smiling colleagues, no managers, aperitifs, fruit and coffee at will; among others. In the end, the salary becomes a minor element of the equation and is not so important as long as the rest is there.

How did you manage to motivate teams during difficult times? And to keep it at a high level?

People say that I am a positive and motivated person. I’m sure this side of my personality does most of the work. Now, keeping motivation high in the long run and retaining top talent is hard work. It goes with my previous answer; having interesting projects and feeling involved, but not only. As a director, you must be an example, have passion and show / share it with your team. You must celebrate small and big wins for the team. It’s important to define and affirm what makes your business attractive.

I heard you play foosball. What’s your best trick?

Haha ☺I’d say “Flip-flap push-snake”.

Thank you!