Creating a new search engine is certainly a bold move, considering the monopoly that Google has on the market, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. Steffen Hilgemann felt like the existing search engines just weren’t meeting his needs anymore so he came up with DashFresh, a multi search engine that he hopes people will start integrating into their daily routines.
Steffen is engaging, enthusiastic, and was totally pumped to share what he has going on with us over here at KillerStartups. He took a break from planning his September trip to Vietnam in order to answer questions that include one interesting one about cookies…
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
On a daily basis, like millions of people, I perform multiple searches on various search engines. This is often a time consuming experience and we all have particular sites that we definitely go to for certain searches. I therefore decided to create a search engine which met those needs purely for my personal use. However, in addition to functionality, speed and efficiency I also wanted to keep it visually appealing, clean and fresh, so I wouldn’t mind looking at it all day, every day. So I designed the page first to fulfill that purpose and then after a short session of brainstorming I came up with a name for it that I thought described it well: DashFresh.com. It’s supposed to be a short and memorable version of “fresh dashboard.”
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
I unwrap a sandwich and tuck in – I don’t eat breakfast at home in the morning, and because of my 1-hour commute to the office I usually end up starved by the time I get to my desk, so there’s no holding back!
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
I started it with my girlfriend, Sarah. We are the full force behind the work at the moment, but would love options in the future to grow the business and create employment opportunities, particularly in the current environment where they are few and far between!
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describes the struggle you went through?
Like trying to start any new project, there are always ups and downs. We are still going through those early days and our biggest struggle is finding the time resource to really invest 100% into an idea which we really believe in. Both of us work full-time jobs, so juggling all our commitments can be tough, however with lots of team-work, we seem to be managing to support each other as well as get our start-up off the ground, and really give it the attention it deserves.
If you were a biscuit, which one would you be?
It is important to note that I love eating biscuits, cakes and cookies! A debate me and my girlfriend always have is what constitutes each type (particularly as she is English and the American meanings are different, which of course I am more partial to!) For example, is a Jaffa cake a cake or a biscuit? Not wanting to distress your readers but this type of argument can go in circles forever (or until one side gets hungry enough not to care anymore).
This of course doesn’t even come close to heading down the cracker/cookie and English muffin vs American muffin route.
Anyway, getting off the tangent, if I was a biscuit I would be a Bahlsen Chocolate Leibniz. This is because they are square and let’s face it, kind of nerdy. They may be plain on the surface, but underneath they have a buttery ingredient which highlights the fun and creativity within me.
They have a chocolate covering which makes up the majority of the biscuit, which I see as a metaphor for my bold nature. Chocolate is a fun substance and can melt quite easily in warm weather – the same is true for me when I travel to warm and exotic climates: I simply melt into the experience.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
For the last 15 years the world has become increasingly spoilt by the internet. This is because, before then, every topic required serious leg work by an individual to find any information – and hundreds of years ago, people could never gain access to certain types of information! Parents and grandparents will often say how they spent hours in the library or attending lectures etc. And nowadays, I am sure, that most young people partly owe their degrees to a combination of Google and Wikipedia.
Whilst it is wonderful that we have such speedy access to virtually anything, it also makes us rather impatient and short tempered. So, I often find that on a daily basis I get frustrated with waiting for a page to load, or having hundreds of sites with information to review, or reaching a dead link or blank page.
The most annoying recent experience is trying to book some things for my Vietnam trip in September. Reviews are a great thing, and actually the best form of referral, but when you have 50% telling you one extreme thing (usually 5 stars) and 50% telling you the polar opposite (usually 1 star with the word “rats” somewhere in the review), you often find yourself sat in the middle not doing anything afraid of making a mistake.
The way I like to deal with issues like this is take a step back from the situation, and especially away from my computer, and maybe discuss it with someone; or look to another source for information. Sometimes the best approach is to forget the planning, and just roll up and see what happens (but safely of course). For my Vietnam trip I booked some things and left the rest to fate, giving myself more time to assess the situation and make decisions on options when I am there, after all reviews are a very personal thing and can vary between people! We all like a bit of the unknown as well – it adds to the adventure!
I guess for me, sometimes trying a different approach can help focus my mind and reduce frustration, as my brain is engaged in a completely new way.
What’s your office environment like? Is it the kind of place where everyone is bumpin’ away to house music or is it more traditional?
Whilst we don’t do all the cool things like ride round on bikes or lounge around on bean bags; the office is a friendly, enterprising and relaxed atmosphere. The main thing about working in my office is that creativity and flexibility are encouraged, in order for each employee to fully explore and create opportunities to ultimately propel the business. Obviously not all suggestions are followed through – however, like an internet start-up, when you find the one, you get a great feeling of success on seeing something useful grow into a real concept, and actually help people!
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
Who knows! I’d love to have thousands of users across the globe all of whom use their own local language edition of DashFresh.com. Currently we only have versions for the US and the UK, but other countries will get their own localized versions soon enough!
In the meantime, as the website gets more subscribers and we see some patterns of use, we would love to add loads more website buttons to enable more appropriate customization options for each user (we currently offer around 150 buttons to choose from). This may even lead to themed versions for certain types of need, as well as other potential functions in the pipeline. I would, of course, welcome our users to contact us with their ideas.
Who or what inspires YOU? Role models?Quotes? Running? Video games? Snack food? Give us the deets, dude!
On a day to day working basis, it might sound a bit cheesy but, I often find that I get most of my inspiration from constantly challenging myself to try new things and challenge myself. Of my role models, a person who often inspires such constant innovation and confidence is the world beating investor Warren Buffett. He is a man who acts on his own principles and is unperturbed by what others think. We could all learn a few things from such a strong-willed individual about asserting yourself and putting yourself out there: whether it is having the confidence to start a business; or simply having the courage to approach things differently.
Life isn’t all about constantly striving though, and a very large part of me is inspired by simply being happy. I structure my life around making decisions which are ambitious but at the same time keep me balanced. This means I try to find time to be social and see my family, we are really close and I often seek their support and advice, as well as just some of mum’s home cooking! I love travelling when I get the chance, and I particularly love nature and being in the great outdoors, especially when the weather is good. Natural wonders never cease to amaze me!
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowd-funded? Where’d you get the money, man?
The project is completely self-funded. As many of the readers know, the beauty of some internet start-ups is that they can be initially constructed with a limited budget. As this is currently a new project, my full-time job funds the main costs. In line with this, I always find I need to make sure that my cash-flow can match the changes/needs that the website sometimes requires! It also means that we try to do most things ourselves so that they are free, but this often requires some late nights or working weekends.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
There’s no reason you need a big budget to start a business. Especially if it’s online! If the idea is good, people will come, and when they come, you can raise money if need be. Try using open-source and free programs to achieve what you need to achieve, but don’t save on your server, as connection speedsare very important to the users’ experience on the site.
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend (and you couldn’t spend it on your current startup / projects)
My initial reaction would be to do the happy dance, maybe resembling the truffle shuffle!
My second would be to split the cash into three sections:
- Pot one – I would invest $400,000 into conservative funds to ensure I had a reserve for potential future projects; as well as buy myself the opportunity/option to work solely on my personal projects if that is how I wanted to dedicate my time in the future. Right now it might not be possible, but I have always wanted to work for myself. Maybe then I’d cycle around the office and buy a bean bag.
- Pot two – I would invest $50,000 in my current projects to see if there is any potential to really launch them into worldwide use. It would be great to get a project which achieves thousands of users, and really starts to benefit and impact the world.
- Pot three – I would spend $50,000 on travelling the world. Part of travelling for me is seeing new walks of life and understanding people and cultures. This always gives me new perspectives on life, as well as new ideas for development. Travelling also gives me the balance that I talked about, in being in nature and finding time to relax and really enjoy myself. It is very rare that you get a year off in the middle of your life to literally do as you please with no financial barriers.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
No, not at all. To feel like a successful entrepreneur I’d needto be able to point to having launched and run a profitable startup business for at least 5 years. At the moment I’m at step 1, getting started! But some say this is the hardest step.
Website you couldn’t live without and why?
DashFresh.com of course – I initially built it to fulfill my own needs, so I use it every day, hundreds of times.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
Oddly enough, Google Maps. I love playing digital tourist and going to places I’ve never visited and seeing what things look like there. Street view works best, but satellite images have to suffice for more remote areas. Nevertheless, it can be quite exciting at times!
Dogs or cats?
Dogs, they actually care and are great friends.
iOS or Android?
Android, I prefer the larger screens available on various Android driven models.
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet?
Vietnam – but I’m going very soon!
It is such an interesting country with a huge variety of landscape from calm beaches to bustling overcrowded cities. Its history is very torn, but it will be interesting to see firsthand what the impacts of various events have had on the people and culture. Not to mention eat some amazing Vietnamese food!
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website/idea?
The fact that it’s an incredibly useful start page that helps people save time. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve created something that people are actually using as part of their daily routine, day in and day out, not simply a fad.