4 Questions for Achim Sztuka, CEO Strategy Compass
1. What personally motivated you to leave a secure job at a corporate group and start your own business?
I had been keen to have my own business for a long time. Ever since interviewing various business founders as part of my thesis at university, in fact. Coupled with this was the fact that, in my previous jobs, I had noticed that what I had considered to be right wasn’t necessarily what ended up happening – sometimes to the great long-term detriment of my employer.
That doesn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy my previous jobs as a business consultant and as a strategist for a corporate group – on the contrary. But I’m not a huge fan of company politics, as I like getting down to actual business. I believe in putting into practice the things I consider to be right. And I realized that, at the end of the day, the only way that can work is if you take control of your own destiny.
This is incidentally also one of the reasons why Strategy Compass has no investors, and is kept privately owned. Only then do we actually have the freedom to live this dream.
2. So, why set up a business providing an add-in for PowerPoint?
Well, you need some sort of idea to start things off (laughs).
The idea ultimately ties in very closely with my previous professional experience. Whenever something important was due to happen, it would involve PowerPoint. This was a given in business consultancy, but it also applied at the corporate group: Whenever I wanted to convince the management of something, I needed a good presentation.
And then there was the practical side: When I started my first job at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, I was prepared very well when it came to presentations: As part of the orientation, every consultant was sent for a two-day training course to learn the basics of good management presentations. During projects, we would scribble our slides on paper and fax them to the graphic design department, which would send us back slides which were more or less ready to use. And there was an internal add-in for PowerPoint which helped us create our own slides faster and more effectively.
All this “infrastructure” went out the window when I moved to the corporate group. No tool, no graphic designers, no trained team. I had to create all my slides myself, using only PowerPoint. That was not fun at all (laughs).
The QuickSlide product we offer today, with its accompanying portfolio for presentations, was devised by drawing on old knowledge from my time as a business consultant. We picked up on these approaches and further developed them.
Another factor of course also played a role in my decision: The notion that, no matter where you look, almost all presentation problems are quite similar. This served as the basis for our business idea – a field my co-founder and I were very familiar with, where I had already gained a lot of experience, and where we were able to enjoy the work and change things for the better.
3. Do you guys think you’ve actually developed a better form of PowerPoint? In other words, could your software work without PowerPoint, in terms of logic?
Gosh (pause). Based on how we see ourselves, it’s a bit different. For a start, PowerPoint is a tool that works well. But it could just as easily be called Keynote or Open Office. It really doesn’t matter. The main thing is that PowerPoint is a tool which provides a number of different options and enables complete standardization: Every school student uses the same PowerPoint a company executive does.
But if you’re in a business context, there are some challenges that PowerPoint struggles to meet. It lays the basis, so to speak, but isn’t yet able to get things quite right, because a lot of things are missing “on top”. As such, we don’t see ourselves as being the better PowerPoint, but rather as a means of equipping PowerPoint for business contexts. This is something Microsoft is yet to do, and little has changed in the last fifteen years.
And after all, it’s not just a question of software. We’re not about making PowerPoint better as software; we’re about the goal behind it – the goal of enabling people to achieve more with their presentations, be it in brand communication or in pitches to decision-makers or customers. All kinds of aspects come into play here; it’s not merely a matter of software. That’s why we follow our own unique path – of being not only a software company, but, with our high degree of expertise, also consultants and a design agency.
4. Was it difficult to become an official Microsoft development partner? How long did it take?
It’s not actually that difficult at all to be admitted into the normal partner program. If your company is in the right business, access is very easy. In our case, however, we’re not just a Microsoft partner; our QuickSlide PowerPoint add-in itself is also certified. And that of course only works if your development processes are in complete compliance with Microsoft standards.
When we got started with QuickSlide, we were aware right from the outset that we would rely on Microsoft. Neither my co-founder nor I are developers; we come from the user’s side. So we looked around to see who was the best programmer we could get. We managed to secure Dr. Pfeiffer, who was THE PowerPoint developer in Germany at the time. We made sure we took note of everything that needed to be noted, so the QuickSlide certification process went relatively smoothly. Even this step wasn’t that difficult – though others would probably have had more trouble… (laughs).