Navid Hadzaad is the founder and CEO of GoButler, a messaging-based on-demand service that operates as a digital personal assistant, using Human Assisted Artificial Intelligence (HAAI) to fulfill requests. After a successful launch in Germany, earlier this year GoButler announced to close down their German headquarters and relocate to the U.S., in order to focus on the American market. Already in New York, we asked Navid where his company is headed, and why New York City is a great spot to be to experience the industrial revolution to come.
GOBUTLER HAS JUST MOVED TO NEW OFFICES, FROM THE HIP AND TRENDY MEATPACKING DISTRICT TO THE CLASSIC, GROWN-UP MIDTOWN. WHAT DOES THIS TELL US ABOUT THE CURRENT STATE OF YOUR COMPANY?
Although we do miss our beautiful Meatpacking loft, we’re even more excited to have the space we need for our engineering and business operations teams to expand. It was an important move for us, as it shows that our company is growing! The area we moved into is home to many other startups, and we are part of a flourishing NYC tech ecosystem. I know more and more startups will begin moving north from Soho, Meatpacking and other more “hip” areas as rents become prohibitively expensive. We’re now in a 3 times larger space, but we’re still in the early stages of the company, making small steps every day to create and design a product our users love.
YOUR MODEL IS FOCUSING ON DATA COLLECTION, THEREBY IMPROVING THE KNOWLEDGE ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMERS. UNTIL RECENTLY ONE WOULD HAVE GUESSED THAT THE SILICON VALLEY IS THE BEST PLACE FOR SUCH A DATA-DRIVEN COMPANY. UBER AND AIRBNB ARE THERE, TOO. TELL US ABOUT YOUR ECOSYSTEM IN NEW YORK?
This is the exact reason why we decided to build up the company in New York. We have been able to recruit exceptional talent here, both on the business and engineering sides, and are one of the most exciting, up-and-coming startups in NYC. Building up a team of this caliber would be close to impossible in San Francisco, given the competitive landscape — both concerning startups, as well as established companies including Google, Facebook and Apple. These companies are able to offer two to three times the salary that any startup can, and we wouldn’t be able to compete on the same level. A few of our senior team members made the move from San Francisco to NYC to join GoButler, which was a huge win for our company, and really shows the power NYC has as a city, and “Silicon Alley” as a community. Many people in the Valley are jumping at the opportunity to move out from San Francisco after spending 10+ years there, and the NYC tech community is more than happy to receive this injection of fresh talent into the ecosystem. We have great office spaces, competitive salaries, fantastic food: what is there not to love about New York?!
YOU RECENTLY CLOSED THE GERMAN BRANCH OF GOBUTLER. YOU DIDN'T WIN LAURELS FOR THAT IN GERMAN MEDIA. INSTEAD THERE WAS QUITE A LEVEL OF MALICE. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WITH THAT EXPERIENCE IN MIND, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND GERMANY?
We received a lot of media attention in Germany when we first started GoButler, so we weren’t surprised that there was a lot of commentary around our pause of operations in that market. It was not a decision that was taken lightly, but it was the right choice to allow GoButler to succeed and the logical next step in our journey, as we focus 100% of our time and resources on the U.S. market. The U.S. is the largest ecosystem in the world for technological innovation, access to venture capital funding and for tech companies as a whole, and we knew that to truly succeed, we had to focus our attention here. The primary difference between press here versus in Germany is that the marketplace for technology companies is much more crowded in the U.S., and most new companies are greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism and are not hyped up by press in the beginning. This allows the company to strategically grow, and leverage relationships within the media to showcase this journey. Digital innovation will decide how humanity will evolve over the next few centuries, and the U.S. has the most supportive attitude towards entrepreneurs trying to drive this innovation. This is something that many other countries can learn from.
IS YOUR IMPRESSION THAT AMERICAN VENTURE CAPITAL WILL BE STREAMING INTO THE GERMAN AND BERLIN STARTUP ECOSYSTEM, OR ARE WE STILL FLYING UNDER THEIR RADAR?
I have noticed over the past year that Berlin is working hard to position itself as the European startup hub, which is very exciting to see, having been a part of it for a few years. Rocket Internet was one of the first to foster this growth, creating a healthy and active ecosystem in Berlin. German startups have been able to attract Series B and C stages of funding from American VCs, and I believe this will increase, as innovation is further promoted and encouraged in the country. The German “do not fail” mentality in business has definitely held the market back from massive successes, but I’m excited for the big players coming out of Europe over the next few years.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND GERMAN STARTUP ENTREPRENEURS TO MOVE TO THE US AND START THEIR BUSINESS HERE? OR IS THIS BASICALLY IMPOSSIBLE DUE TO THE DIFFERENT MARKETS AND CONDITIONS?
It really depends on the product. The U.S. market is significantly more competitive in many ways. When starting a company, you don’t only have the big players, but also many hungry, well-funded startups with experienced tech founders (several who have already gone through major exits). In our case it was the way to go, since the expertise and know-how we needed to build our product is in the U.S. From day one we built an experienced and smart team in our office that has allowed us to grow the company and develop a strong product for GoButler.
AIRBNB, UBER AND GOBUTLER ARE SERVICES FOR THE TRAVELING, MOBILE AND ALERT PARTS OF SOCIETY, WHO ARE READY TO EMBRACE CHANGES. HOW DO YOU SEE THE CHANGES THROUGH THESE COMPANIES FOR SOCIETIES AND THEIR SELF-UNDERSTANDING? WHERE DOES THIS ALL HEAD TO?
If only I knew that… I fundamentally believe that the speed of innovation will increase rapidly over the next few decades, whether in transportation, health or media. The world will change, and I know that all of these innovations will make it a more efficient and convenient place, as long as we can find the right solutions. Look at Elon Musk — the problems he is tackling are not problems for the next five years, but for the next 50 and beyond. If I was to give advice to a graduating middle or high school class, I’d make them think about what they want to do, what excites them, and most importantly, how does that fit into a world driven by technology and AI. We all talk about the many jobs that will cease to exist, but I’m convinced there will be many new ones that will need to be filled. I think we’re all underestimating the level of impact this new industrial revolution will have on the future of the planet. It’s an exciting time to be alive!