Acquired by Microsoft for somewhere between US$100m to US$200m, Berlin-based 6Wunderkinder – creators of the elegant and useful Wunderlist app – is the kind of start-up all European founders should try to emulate.
When we visited its headquarters in Alexanderplatz in central Berlin as part of a whistle-stop tour of Berlin’s start-up scene two weeks ago, rumours had indeed been circulating that 6Wunderkinder could be a takeover target for Microsoft.
It makes sense. If you consider how many of us in the working world of the last two decades grew up on desktop tools like Office and Lotus Notes, the current mobile generation also needs apps and tools that define their work-style.
This work-style is embodied in tools like 6Wunderkinder’s hugely popular Wunderlist app, not to mention other apps de jour like Slack, which is transforming business communications, and Stripe, which is enabling fast, instant e-commerce payments.
In migrating to these new tools and ensuring the survival of Office for decades to come, Microsoft last year acquired New York-based Sunrise and and San Francisco-based Acompli, rebranding the latter as Outlook for Mobile.
Walking into 6Wunderkinder’s operations in Berlin was a little like walking into a neighbour’s kitchen, with breakfast laid out and a nice homely feel to the place. As well as the usual foosball tables you would expect of a start-up, the Berlin-based office has the characteristic large windows and a cool little auditorium-style seating area for briefings.
The impression was that this is a place where design meets function.
We believe the future of productivity is software that just gets out of the way. It is finally time that software works for you
“Wunderlist is a SaaS tool that helps individuals and teams to get stuff done,” explained 6Wunderkinder’s chief design officer Benedict Lehnert.
“The idea is to revolutionise the way people work on their own with their to-dos or with others and in a beautiful, simple, elegant way.”
It was telling that it was a chief design officer who briefed us, because design and simplicity are the hallmarks of this generation of software tools.
6Wunderkinder owes its origins to 2009, when CEO Christian Reber enlisted the support of prominent Berlin seed investor Frank Thelen and together they developed the first versions of Wunderlist for Mac and PCs in 2010, followed by an iPhone version in 2011.
Within the first two years more than 5m users worldwide were using Wunderlist.
Free to download, the Wunderlist app can be bought by companies for US$4.99 per seat and around 90,000 teams worldwide use the app.
Investors in Wunderlist include Skype founder Niklas Zennstrom’s Atomico, Early Bird in Berlin, New York’s Thrive and it was the first Berlin start-up to raise funding from Sequoia in California.
All kinds of Wunderbar
“Christian was fascinated about how well executed platforms like Dropbox were, but there was nothing out there that handled all the things he had or wanted to do, which was his main goal,” recalls Lehnert.
“We decided let’s buid a productivity tool that handles all the things in your life.
“The idea was to create a simple and powerful tool to get stuff done, but also we put a lot of effort into making it as simple and beautiful as possible.”
The strategy worked and Wunderlist outperformed the competition and is now used by 13m people worldwide – 70pc of them in the US, western Europe and China.
“Once people try it, they fall in love with Wunderlist. It isn’t just used for productivity, it is used in terms of lifestyle and stuff like restaurants they want to check out and movies they want to try.”
Lehnert says that on the average day some 1.2m to-do lists are created. In 2015 there were more than 199m to-dos created and overall over 770m to-dos have been generated so far.
We think a lot about how we hold the world’s intentions by creating such a simple, intimate experience
“It’s the difference between pen and paper, white boards and productivity software on desktops – we set out to build a smarter Wunderlist, the productivity backbone of your life.”
The clever thing about Wunderlist is how easily it integrates with other fast-rising social tools like Snapchat, not to mention productivity tools like Sunrise, OneNote and many others, thanks to new APIs just released by 6Wunderkinder.
“For example, in terms of Slack integration we can ensure that all conversations and to-dos are happening in one stream and you can use Slack Search to find conversations without having to go into Wunderlist – you get everything in one condensed view.
“We believe the future of productivity is software that just gets out of the way. It is finally time that software works for you. The hard work should be done in the background, leaving you to concentrate on the work you want to do.
“We think a lot about how we hold the world’s intentions by creating such a simple, intimate experience. In the end they are your to-dos and we don’t want to mess with that.”
Remarkably, Wunderlist has achieved its goal of reaching more than 13m users through an organic focus on various app stores and PR. “It’s remarkable that so far we haven’t spent more than US$500 on marketing. Everything is organic.”
From a start-up ecosystem perspective, Lehnert told Siliconrepublic.com that Berlin has really stepped up its game.
“Berlin is an interesting place at the moment. Four or five years ago when we started there was no ecosystem there. But over those four or five years you saw a tremendous amount of people and companies come up. We always get asked what is the reason and I think it is several things.
“Culture drives activity, and music, and people here are just super-energetic. Also you have the low cost of living. There are lots of beautiful houses but you can still afford to rent, not like San Francisco or New York City. And then you have some successful companies that started four or five years ago and lots of talent. We have created an ecosystem that wasn’t there before and it is thriving
“And in the next 10 years we will see the first rounds of exits and companies go public. I think that will really fuel it and hopefully Berlin will be one of these big tech hubs where creative people come to work.”
Lehnert need not fear. It is already happening.
6Wunderkinder image via Shutterstock