This young German entrepreneur, named Innovator of the Year at the MIT Technology Review’s ‘Innovators Under 35 Germany 2016’ awards, has high hopes for his startup, which develops Business Process Management (BPM) software for companies. Below is a portrait of this very open and highly ambitious entrepreneur.
Up on the stage, he shows the easy confidence of a company boss used to pitching to serried ranks of investors. Storytelling ability, plus a good dose of humour, accompany the technical details as he explains ideas that may not be easy for ordinary mortals to grasp. Gero Decker, 34 years old, is back in Berlin to describe the great adventure that is Signavio, the company he co-founded in 2009, which has won him the title of Innovator of the Year 2016 at the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Awards for Germany. Behind the scenes, he goes into more detail about his career: in 2006, while studying for a PhD, he created, in conjunction with several university friends, a web tool designed to improve company business processes. Users piled in to download the free-of-charge tool. “We wanted to be the first to do this. We put our tool on line, the press talked about it and we had 20,000 new users within 20 minutes, which caused our server to crash,” he tells us with pride, underlining: “People liked what we’d built.”
This initial breakthrough enabled Gero and his three co-founders, also IT buffs, to win their first customers, and then to officially launch their company in 2009. Now today Signavio publishes software designed to help companies of all sizes to optimise their management and decision-making processes. Gero Decker explains: “Our mission is to make Business Process Management accessible to everyone. In the past, only very big companies used to have access to these tools. We’re now making sure they can also be used by far smaller companies.” The young company now employs over a hundred staff and raised €31 million worth of funding last year. The road to success seems wide open to him, to say the least.
Entrepreneurship in the blood
It is no mere coincidence that Gero Decker is now one of the innovators of his generation that people are keeping an eye on, although in fact he started out on an entirely different tack. He explains: “Most people in my family are entrepreneurs, and I just didn’t want to be one. My family was very disappointed when I became a consultant. They felt that I had sold my soul. For them, the only way to be happy was to set up your own company. And it only took me two months to realise they were right!” Nevertheless, one legacy from his time with a consultancy is a strong desire to help companies to work better: “It’s amazing to see just how badly managed some things are. There’s just so much to do,” he points out. And the entrepreneur’s goals for his venture are commensurate with the range of opportunities out there. “In the medium term, the target is to be one of the top ten software companies in Germany, and long-term, worldwide!” he reveals.
While the company is still working to improve the service it provides, the main current objective is to expand its market. Signavio already began expanding abroad four years ago, opening offices in San Francisco, then Singapore. Nowadays Gero regularly goes back and forth between the US and Berlin, clearly very happy with his life as a globe-trotting entrepreneur. So what about his family? “They’re all in mechanical engineering and they thought we were making video games! But recently I took them to our new offices, which occupy an entire block in Berlin. I think they understood then that it’s for real,” he laughs. When he received the Innovator of the Year prize, Gero Decker had a thought – and a word – for all the people who work at his offices in Europe, the United States and Asia: “It’s a great privilege for me to work with such fantastic people and help to make the world a better place through technology.” Meanwhile we’ll be watching the progress of this Wunderkind closely…