9 Questions with Oliver Werneyer co-founder and CEO of Imburse

October 7, 2019

Meet Oliver

Oliver is a co-founder and the CEO of Imburse AG, a Swiss-based SaaS platform that simplifies the integration for large multi-national corporates into the payments world. He has spent more than 13 years leading innovation and strategy projects in the (re)insurance industry with companies like Liberty Life, Genworth Financial and Swiss Re.

Best piece of advice you were ever given?

"Do not be afraid to take responsibility for your decisions and actions." It is a principle that has guided me my whole life and is something my parents instilled in me. The important aspect for me (and one I am looking to impart to my kids) is that the ownership is with me, not with others to hold me responsible.

What books are you reading at the moment? 

Kids books. Really! While running a company that is going through significant growth I need to optimise my time around my family and the company. To that end I am not reading any "business" books at the moment. At most I listen to some podcasts. But, as weird as it sounds, there is a lot we can take away from Kids books that I apply often in my everyday life. Kids books really take one important topic, explain it simply, reinforce the message and find a positive angle to the learning. An example would be a German book called "Nora und das giftige Zeug", which is about poisonous stuff around the house and what not to do. My daughter, who is two and a half fully comprehended the topic and is a champion in knowing how to treat foreign materials. Explaining things simply is a skill we lose as we get into business. We over-explain and over-inform, which not only confuses our clients but also the management and running of companies. To that end I try to regularly centre myself and look for ways to reduce the number of messages in the company and simplify the information around it to foster meaningful discussion and engagement. The other two aspects I take away from these books is the general lack of adversarial engagements and how there is a push to not make assumptions about things or people. I push myself to engage with topics and people on a non-adversarial footing for an extended period, even when first engagements are adversarial. Here you can take any kids story about a knight and a dragon (who inevitably become friends) where their "fight" is based on an adversarial initial engagement because of a misunderstanding of intent and misplaced assumptions. This is particularly true for engagements with investors as well as those stakeholders in companies whose life you are disrupting with your new service of technology. Nearly always the adversarial element disappears after a short while and meaningful engagement takes place. Similarly on assumptions. A book called "Monkey Puzzle"is a favourite of my kids. The essence of the story is that a butterfly is helping a lost monkey baby find its Mother. It shows the baby all kinds of other animals as the monkey baby describes its Mother, everything except a monkey. How would it know the monkey baby's Mum looks anything like the monkey baby as its own babies look nothing like itself (the butterfly). We go into engagements every day with a core set of assumptions which totally distort what can and needs to be achieved. I really try and work on not forming assumptions which unnecessarily impact my engagement with my surroundings. It's hard, but given how regularly I read those same stories to my kids I get regular reminders to do so.

When did you realise you were wrong about something?

This happens often. Being wrong is not inherently a bad thing or something to actively avoid. I have a very curious personality and am passionate about pushing limits and thus find myself regularly pursuing an idea or a hypothesis that turns out to be wrong or off the mark. How you use that lesson is key for me. An example was that in building our company, Imburse, we try to understand our target segments and which industries and companies to go after. What was clear from a couple of chats and some market analysis was that Imburse would not be an interesting solution for E-commerce platforms. We were proud that we had focused our scope and eliminated some verticals that would just be a waste of time for our sales activities. Now, about six months after taking that decision we are being proactively approached by many e-commerce platforms who REALLY REALLY want certain functionality of our platform that we never considered was something they thought relevant. Turns out the industry just does not speak about the topic (payment reconciliation) much anymore because there is not much new they can do. Now, we are really looking at this segment after definitively excluding it six months ago. Good turn of events and happy I was wrong.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path and how did you overcome it?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was realising I had worked myself into a role that I liked and aspired to but could not add any significant value in. This emerged as a stark realisation (and great disappointment) when it became clear that what the manager and team expected from the role was far away from what I thought I had to do or wanted to do (and had the skills for). That situation then made me question whether I really had the required skills to deliver in innovation roles and even harder was deciding whether I would be happy with the "new" role I just learnt I actually had. In my drive to not make too many assumptions too quickly or engage in adversarial nature, I just took some time to understand what was in fact required, what I could offer and what I wanted. I worked in a very mature company so it was easy to have those discussions and evaluate the situation. The outcome was great because while I left that role (with mutual consent), it was the team and my manager that helped me find a better, more suitable role in the same company, which I was super happy with. I just realised, sometimes things do not work out and it is no ones fault. The focus should be to fix it and find the next thing you are passionate about and can get stuck into.

How do you ensure you focus on the right activities?

I use a 2-axis table to group all my activities and to-dos. One axis maps "not important/Important" and the other maps "Not urgent/Urgent". Then I fill in all my activities and to-dos on this map. I really focus on "Urgent/Important" topics for 80% of my day, 10% of my day on things in "Important/Not urgent" and then 5% of my day for the other two categories. In addition to this, every two weeks, I grab the two or three stakeholders in the business I engage with the most to review the list of activities and to-dos, and trim/update these.

What one piece of advice would you give a CIO looking to develop a new modern culture in their technology organisation?

Do not underestimate the shyness and combustive nature of the human element. Technology in relatively constant and leaders in technology organisation sometimes treat their human capital the same way they treat their technical or intellectual capital. They are then completely caught off guard when staff and colleagues totally over-react to proposals or give no feedback at all. So, building a "modern" culture really needs a significant investment on their part in preparing not only the vision but also understand how this relates to their employees and what is important to them. Only this way can you deliver real change that has true buy-in.

What is the most interesting technology to you right now?

I am closely following Lifi developments at the moment. I am really impressed with its potential to change the way we consume data, services and entertainment by changing the way this will be streamed to us. This will, in turn, change how technology interfaces are developed (screens et al), what they can do and how we will use it. Everything from personal use to business uses.

What is the best example you have seen of an organization that has used technology to transform itself

I am really fascinated by the story behind Nvidia. When I was a teenager they represented the pinnacle of graphics cards you could have and the best games with best resolution could be played on these. As times changes and the industry moved more mobile, towards consoles and online, the PC Tower (and their business) was under threat. Yet, they embraced the technology, invested in it and found a new role to play in the gaming world (any beyond). This takes vision, guts and conviction and I am amazed and inspired to see what they have achieved.

What is true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Everyone is so consumed with justifying their existence and achievement in relationship to everyone else out there that they do not have time to step back and appreciate what they have themselves achieved and what to tackle next that will make them a better and happier person.

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