Willemijn Schneyder is the CEO and founder of SwipeGuide, an Amsterdam-based startup seeking to revolutionise the manufacturing industry through Saas software which creates a shift in how instructions are created, followed and distributed. “In short SwipeGuide is a platform for workforce excellence in manufacturing. What that is, is digital work instructions and checks in an app.”

SwipeGuide in short by Willemijn

“In short SwipeGuide is a platform for workforce excellence in manufacturing. What that is, is digital work instructions and checks in an app. Within the manufacturing industry, technical documentation and work instructions, they’re still stuck in the last century. They’re printed on paper or Excel sheets and they’re very complex. Frontline workers spend all of their time at the lines, they have no time for anything else. So working through these documents usually eats into their lunches and evenings. We have developed a platform and an app that helps manufacturers reduce operational downtime through digital standard work instructions and text in a very unique way. This is based upon a patented instructional format that empowers frontline operators and engineers to document, capture and share their expert knowledge across teams, lines and plans with a consumer-like ease of use.”

What inspired Willemijn to build the foundations of SwipeGuide?

“SwipeGuide was born out of frustration on how user-hostile technical documentation and work instructions are to every generation that is born and raised on new technologies. Any generation after me still uses printed instructions or user manuals that you just pull out of a box when you buy a coffee machine. So tribal and paper knowledge holds the improvement potential of processes and product hostage. Before SwipeGuide, I owned an agency that created growth through new value propositions and I was leveraging new solutions like checkbook technologies around products and services to drive and change behaviours. Then when I met my co-founder Daan, he’s a learning expert and fellow serial entrepreneur, we had the perfect opportunity to change the world of instructions. We realised that instead of using these checkbook tools, we should address the root cause of the problem – and the problem is: how do we give operational knowledge to people? If companies are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of euros a year on customer experience technology that does nothing else but create a ticket pass throughout the company and give an answer to the question – there must be a market for a solution that can prevent product questions, returns and issues by providing digital dynamic usual manuals that constantly give feedback and updates as you go. So basically, if you don’t know how to fix your printer, you go to the user manual, you get a fix but you see an issue. You report that issue back through the app and therefore the next person won’t have that same problem”

Shifting approach for success

Willemijn says one of the biggest challenges she encountered revolved around businesses not wanting to invest because they originally saw the Saas software SwipeGuide offered as an after-sale issue.

“We started with this thesis of the revolution of user manuals and we found that in order to create a successful product in SaaS, you don’t just need product-market fit, you need a group of companies willing to buy fast because you’re always out of funding in the early stages. What we found was that even though we solved a problem, the potential customers were not willing to pay for it because it was an after-sale service and it required a change in the way an organisation would run.”

However, this initial setback led to the discovery that the Saas software could indeed solve a huge problem for the manufacturing industry, resulting in a number of prestigious names embracing SwipeGuide as a vital part of their operation.

“We had all these customers, Heineken and other production companies coming in and saying ‘look this is amazing, it solves a very relevant problem in a very relevant industry and we’re willing to pay for it.’”

This meant SwipeGuide was still tackling the same problem, just in a different context and in a different market than originally planned. Willemijn pointed out that nailing the product-market fit before attempting to scale was a huge part of the business’ success today.

“We didn’t need to change the process on the customer side, so it was sort of ready to go. We chose not to scale until we had a product market and go-to-market fit. That meant continuous learning and improvement of the product but also understanding our commercial value proposition and where we could construct the most value for the customer and for ourselves.

“It takes a big effort to say ‘we’re going to choose this market, this is now our market.’ We’ve learned even though we want to revolutionise every user manual in the world, that the manufacturing industry has a bigger problem that is easier to solve.

“So we shifted all of our resources in the company, we had to relocate people to different roles and we had to learn a whole new industry. That takes a lot of guts, a lot of focus and it wasn’t easy, but we tackled this by focusing on the value created for the customer.

“For me and Dan, funnily enough, that brought us back to our core. I was brought up in a mechanical engineer’s home, my dad was a technical instruction designer and my brother is a head of maintenance.”

That desire to scale too soon is one of the common mistakes that Willemijn warns of. Another is being afraid of making necessary changes, particularly as your team begins to expand.

“As you scale and you have an influx of people, your culture is dynamic and early-stage teams need to understand when to make room and let in the wind of change. I think that can be difficult because we like what we’re used to, we like our rituals, we like to work with people that don’t cause any friction – but friction is actually what leads to better strategies and better outcomes.

“We all make mistakes on a daily basis and we need to surround ourselves with people who point them out to us.”

Hire talent that outsmarts you

The idea of surrounding yourself with these good people naturally leads to the importance of getting it right when it comes to your hiring process.

“Without excellent people, you don’t build an excellent team. SwipeGuide is only reaching its full potential because of the team that we have.

“Hiring talent that outsmarts you and can add value in a lot of different ways, allowing them to redefine your product strategy and contribute to your vision and mission, I think is vital.

“What to keep in mind when building your team is your self-awareness. You have to be conscious of who you are, what you can and can’t do, what you find important in your life, what your core values are and then understanding what kind of traits you need to bring in to complement that.

“It’s about understanding your own core values and hiring on them. That’s your only opportunity to lock in the culture you need to achieve a sustainable company and to get that into the DNA early on. Any future decision in hiring or process is going to reflect that DNA.

“And I’m not saying that DNA can never change, culturally you need to adapt and core values should always be aligned on. We as a company now need people that have different character traits. So they share the same core values but they will change the culture because that’s what we need as we grow.”

Willemijn warned that not taking the time to find this alignment can have potentially damaging consequences. Getting it right, however, can redefine your business’ fortunes for the better.

“Any technology company is radically human. You see it with any algorithm that’s under fire right now, they’re being programmed by people that haven’t been aligned on DNA. So if you get that wrong, you’re going to get a lot of things wrong in your company.

“Get that right, always hire based upon that and then better decisions and better products will follow as a result.

“For us, it meant we had to redefine our vision, it became better. We understood how to transition this company from digital work instructions to generative AI and a predictive data strategy that helps manufacturing companies automate. Our curiosity for innovation drove us to hire people that brought that to our product and made us a stronger company because of it.”

Confronting bias and other surprises

When we spoke to Willemijn, our chat happened to fall on International Women’s Day, which brought us onto the subject of challenges facing a female entrepreneur.

“I encountered a lot of biased fundraising in the early stages of my business. I got asked a lot of improper questions in regards to my ability and commitment as a female founder, so that was surprising, well, surprising and not surprising.

Willemijn also found it unusual that there was such a gap in the market for what her business actually offered, highlighting how bizarre it was that paper instructions were still the ‘norm’ when it came to manufacturing.

“I have a background in business model innovation and value proposition design. It’s always been my purpose to follow the needs of the customer and design propositions that make an impact around the actual need of a user.

“I found that when we started realising our product might solve a bigger problem in a different industry, surprisingly I hadn’t actually seen it before.

“I found through the connections with my brother and dad that they still use technologies that went live in the 80s or 90s, and that no one ever invests in frontline operators and field service engineers. That’s a very untapped market, which is now just coming of age.

“How can it be that today, digital tools and digital apps in manufacturing are still untapped potential? How can it be that if I go into any factory, they’re using paper instructions and 28-year-old field service engineers are expected to put away their smartphones and go back to manuals printed in huge documents?”

Another surprise stemmed from those earliest days of SwipeGuide and the reason for the shift in approach. “I find it surprising that huge consumer brands are not willing to invest in consumer user experiences enough – but eventually that did lead us to a market with a group of users we felt we could offer more value.”

As a founder, you should be tackling the issues of today, but don’t forget to fast-forward and imagine that conversation 24 months from now, on all the different ways you’ve created value.

Willemijn Schneyder, CEO and founder @ SwipeGuide

The pandemic’s long-term impact

Like so many others, SwipeGuide has felt the effects of the pandemic, and while it has unfortunately restricted the ability to meet in-person, it has supercharged the need for this kind of Saas software.

“The manufacturing industry has changed tremendously in both the short and the long-term. It has accelerated the need for digital tools and the awareness for digital transformation.

“Fundamentally, what changed was how to connect with our ecosystem. Traditionally manufacturing companies don’t get out much, they do a physical event once a year, but you can’t turn them into digital events because they run factories or operations.

“So our ecosystem will change for the better in the long-run. There’s going to be more room for digital transformation and the adoption of digital tools, which will impact sustainability much faster than expected.

“No longer will field service engineers have to fly from one continent to another just to troubleshoot a huge packaging system. They can now do that remotely through smart glasses, through screen-sharing – that impacts not just the business case, but also the sustainable manufacturing environment, so I think that’s for the better.”

The art of saying ‘no’

We asked Willemijn to recall some of the best advice she’d ever been given in business. One bit of wisdom she touched upon was how to get the most from saying ‘no’.

“There’s one that relates very much to me personally. Saying no in a much better way, much earlier on. Getting a constructive no as soon as possible, gets to a far more constructive yes.

“The art of saying, and everything involved with saying ‘no’ – the best business advice I’ve ever been given, was to read a book called Never Split the Difference. It boils down to all of the benefits of understanding a constructive no; how that really improves your product, your business, your company, your operation and everything around it.

“The other piece of advice would be: as a founder, you should be tackling the issues of today, but don’t forget to fast-forward and imagine that conversation 24 months from now, on all the different ways you’ve created value. I think sometimes, we get too overwhelmed with the business of today.”

Willemijn’s three key tips

On the flip-side of that, we also called on Willemijn to offer up three pieces of her own priceless advice for entrepreneurs.

“Perseverance, you need perseverance. Always have the now, near and the future in mind. Your journey’s one big contingency plan.

“Second is, crowdsource your vision. We crowdsourced our vision amongst the first six people and still we do it. If you crowdsource your vision, you’ll end up creating more value than you could ever have imagined at the start.

“Third would be to really, really, really understand who you are, what you’re capable of and what you’re not capable of. That self-awareness of where you can add value, where you cannot add value and understanding your own bias is going to help you see clearly what you need to be doing.”

“Do it together”

Finally, Willemijn gave us an insight into what it was that encouraged her to join the Rise programme, Techleap’s own acceleration programme in the Netherlands dedicated to startup growth.

“I’ve seen Techleap develop from Startup Delta and I saw the immense difference in the quality of people, feedback and programme. Looking at the expertise that they bring into the Rise programme, we felt by joining, this would be the right stepping stone for SwipeGuide.

“We’re going from startup to scaleup right now, a growth spurt so to say. We felt that teaming up with the right expertise, but also the right level of companies around us would accelerate our decision-making.

“If you look at the whole Rise portfolio or any Saas ecosystem, we all tend to fall into the same pitfalls. I think by knowledge-sharing and crowdsourcing those mistakes, you can help prevent others from falling into them.

“Also you feel understood, that helps, to have confirmation. A lot of this journey is about figuring it out and why figure it out individually, when you can do it together?

Join our Rise programme

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