"You always have to stay on the ball and perform the roles the company needs." - An interview with Philipp and Tom

nine Team May 11, 2017

Nine Internet Solutions AG celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Philipp Koch and Thomas Hug, the founders of nine.ch, take a look back and discuss the past, present and future.

#In your opinion, what makes nine.ch successful?

Philipp: Quite simply, it is our technical proficiency. Added to that is the uniqueness of our company, something which we have managed to maintain and which is non-existent in this form on the market.

Tom: We have a strong team with a wealth of expertise, and we can offer this knowledge around the clock. Some companies find this more worthwhile than building their own dedicated team, especially when it comes to server management. An open-source focus also allows us to develop much deeper expertise

#How did you come up with the idea of starting a company?

Tom: At first, it had never even occurred to me starting a company. I was simply fascinated by Linux, which could be used to run free web and mail servers thanks to the open-source model. Back then, as a state-school pupil with a rather small budget per month, I was able to convince a few classmates of my web hosting solution. Word quickly got around and suddenly it was profitable. Then I gradually built everything up with Philipp.

Philipp: We got to know each other at secondary school in Sursee, where we were in the same class together. That was at the start of the 90s. It was the age of computers, and the Internet was still a long way off. Early computer systems were affordable at the time – particularly games – which is what got me into this world. When we were at school, we had to program in Turbo Pascal, which was a treat for a small part of the class but absolute torture for everyone else.

The end of the 90s saw the dawn of the Internet’s rise to success, and Tom decided to give it a shot. Back then, nobody could have predicted all the things that are possible today. It was absolutely crazy – we were just trying something out and then noticed that it was gaining momentum. Then the first websites went online and suddenly there was a market for it. In 2002, we took the logical step of founding the company Nine Internet Solutions AG to be on the safe side from a legal perspective.

Tom was still mainly studying at the time, and we did everything as a sideline. We often worked here in the evenings, and so things evolved step by step. In 2005, when Tom had completed his studies, we were able to acquire our first data centre. Given that everything was much bigger than what we previously had, we suddenly found ourselves playing in a completely different league.

#Did you have start-up support?

Philipp: No, not really. We had someone who gave us insurance advice, and then after we founded the company, we had a tax consultant. The start-up schemes that exist today weren’t around back then.

#Would you have liked to have had a partner with a “Startup-Scaleup” scheme at the time?

Philipp: Nowadays, it’s very convenient that entrepreneurs are offered a wide choice with many exciting schemes and support to draw upon.

The market back then was quite different to how it is today. You could try things out and take the evolution of a company one step at a time. In the early years, there was no need for product releases launched with lots of marketing and investment. As the entire market was still emerging, the product simply developed automatically. People were instant pioneers then since everything was new. Now there are hardly any pioneers to be found because there is much more required in every area than there was before.

#Did you ever expect that nine.ch would be such a success and that, 15 years after it was founded, it would employ around 40 employees?

Tom: No! At first, I didn’t even realise what was happening. I was fascinated by the technology and servers. Later on, when we created sales forecasts, we regularly exceeded them. We’ve since become much more professional, of course, partly thanks to the ISO certifications.

Philipp: Absolutely not! Back then, it was just a huge passion which we turned into our job and which we noticed could effectively generate revenue for us. By day we would work in the office, and by night we would tweak the infrastructure in the data centre. We spent a massive amount of time on this, but it was our passion and so it gave us our drive.

#What are your feelings about the last few years and the milestones you have achieved?

Philipp: Incredibly varied. But things never change so much that you can just sit back and watch how it goes. You always have to stay on the ball and perform the roles that the company needs.

There are enormous differences in how many employees a company employs. A team of four is another league to a workforce of 15, 20 or 30 people. Having 50 or 60 employees is a whole new ball game again. They are just completely different worlds which I adapted to at nine.ch – but each one is exciting in its own way.

Tom: Since stepping back from operational activities in November 2014, I’ve no longer been directly involved in achieving milestones. I’m delighted by every success at nine.ch, although having actively participated in the work is different to having advised the company. Success happens in day-to-day business and not on the management board.

#Philipp, how has the journey been for you, going from direct customer contact in the beginning to your current management position?

Philipp: The journey has been and continues to be good, but the role has completely changed. When we started out, I took care of everything myself and was able to cover it all. That was extremely exciting because I was constantly on the front line and saw all the action, which gave me a very good sense of what our customers wanted.

Now it’s very different. My remit now includes building particular mechanisms into our processes and considering how we can automate systems. I survey and systematically record needs, analyse them, and draw conclusions for improvement. It’s a move from “working entirely as part of the company” to “working on the company”. This process is challenging, but nine.ch and I personally have had support from the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) in this area.

In my opinion, customer contact is still very, very important and should never lose ground. This is one of the core values which we have been able to establish at nine.ch and which have resulted in us having such success in the first place – precisely because we’re eager for customers to be happy in the end.

#Tom, how has it been for you, going from first-hand work to your role now as chairman of the management board?

Tom: It’s been a long road that has taken some getting used to! The day I removed my mobile number from the monitoring system after eleven years is definitely not one I’ll forget in a hurry.

As chairman of the management board, I’ve had to get used to no longer understanding everything down to the last detail. That was a challenge because I was always well informed about everything to do with nine.ch before. Now that I deal with other issues, practice and keeping up with the latest technical developments are lower on the agenda. Because I’m still an engineer at heart, the journey has been a special kind of experience.

#If you had the chance, would you have done anything differently?

Tom: I would have stepped back from operational activities sooner and added an external member to the management board at an earlier stage.

Philipp: Many things. A great many things. But if you answer this question with “nothing”, then it means you’ve learned nothing. Unless you always think about what you could have done differently, you don’t move forward. Ultimately, you need to learn from your own errors and take away something for the future from your experiences.

#What can we expect from nine.ch in the coming months?

Philipp: A completely new structure. And product innovations. Let me put it this way: nine.ch has ambitious goals for the future and will be going full steam ahead. The market is changing, and nowadays competition is highly intense even on an international level. This means we’re no longer pitted against Swiss competitors, but international ones too. The competition today is very different to what it was a few years ago. We’ll evolve from this, and our customers may be surprised.

#What do you personally wish for the future with regard to nine.ch?

Philipp: That the company continues to work as well as it does now, and keeps its informal atmosphere, openness and directness. And, of course, that we maintain the groove that we currently have.

Tom: That I can continue to be proud of nine.ch in the future!