mymuesli

Apple is the perfect ingredient

mymuesli are using Apple software and hardware to develop their online product and transform the staid image of muesli.

“Like most startups, we’re a small team with limited resources. The fact that we can set up and operate all this technology ourselves is a big plus.”

Max Wittrock, Co-founder, mymuesli

Muesli had an image problem. Healthy but perhaps a little dull. That is changing thanks, in part, to the efforts of a startup venture by three young entrepreneurs based in Passau, Germany. Using Apple software and hardware, they’ve developed an innovative online product and given muesli’s staid image a radical makeover in the process. In essence, they’ve turned a nutty dream into an e-commerce reality.

“Since April 2007, we’ve been producing the world’s first custom-mixed organic muesli,” says Max Wittrock, Co-founder of mymuesli along with Hubertus Bessau and Philipp Kraiss. Muesli nuts in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK (of which, it turns out, there are many) can now create their very own fantasy breakfast drawing on 80 organic ingredients.

All customers have to do is log on, add anything from Tibetan goji berries to Hemp to their chosen cereal base, click to confirm their order, and their bespoke muesli mix is blended and despatched to their door. Around two-thirds of mymuesli business is now bespoke, custom-mixed, with repeat business running at more than 50 per cent.

Timeless food, modern technology

Of course, this sort of clever retail idea depends on technology for its success — on the Internet, which makes e-commerce and high levels of customisation possible, plus the Apple technology upon which the entire mymuesli operation hinges.

The three co-founders kicked off with little more than their own, personal Apple computers, €3,500 in startup capital and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit. “We’d all been involved in various ventures during and after university,” explains Hubertus Bessau. “An automated video store, an online community for house builders and websites for small businesses, to name just a few.”

He adds, “Because we could start the company with our own computers, we were cash-flow positive from the beginning.” This placed the business on a firm footing from the off, as no new equipment was acquired until the funds existed to purchase it.

“Choosing Apple technology enabled us to set up our business without having to establish really complex office or company structures.”

Philipp Kraiss, Co-founder, mymuesli

Facilitating growth, easing mobility

The company has grown to a staff of 150 (many of whom work part-time), and has opened three retail outlets in Munich, Regensburg and in mymuesli’s home base, Passau. Office, factory and retail all run off Apple equipment.

For instance, office staff all use iMacs, and those on the road use MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs as well as, more recently, iPads and iPad minis. The company uses Apple software to fulfil the majority of its business tasks. It uses Pages for correspondence, designing promotional flyers and generating invoices. Likewise, Numbers is used for business calculations and accounting, Keynote for all corporate presentations and Time Machine for automatic data backup. “We’re really happy with the setup,” says Wittrock. “We rely on the fact that team members can administer their own machines and the devices are easy to maintain and update.”

The team also regularly make use of Calendar for scheduling, iMovie and Mail, as well as Messages. “We’re essentially a small team and Messages has proved absolutely invaluable,” says Kraiss. The Apple messaging tool that incorporates text, audio and video allows the team to be in constant contact, as well as quickly and easily exchange files. “We really depend on this fast and reliable tool,” he says. “And screen sharing lets us work together as if we’re sitting at the same table.”

The two production facilities are both controlled by an iPad app (“less intimidating than operating a huge machine,” says Wittrock), with mymuesli staff walking the factory floor. The stores in Passau, Munich and Regensburg are all heavily reliant on Apple.

“iPads are the central hub for the stores. We use them as cash registers — using a new app from a German company called orderbird to take orders and, with simfy, to manage music in stores. Again, it’s not an intimidating piece of kit, for customers or staff. It’s much slicker and anyone can get to grips with it in minutes.”

Max Wittrock, Co-founder, mymuesli

Simple but elegant

One of the biggest challenges the company faced was developing the interface for the website. “I started programming in November 2006,” explains Bessau. “It took four months to develop the customer-facing aspect of the site, but now we’re really pleased with it.” The programming was completed by Bessau using his MacBook, though now mymuesli also employs some fulltime programmers and works with freelancers.

The simple but elegant mymuesli site runs off several servers hosted by a third party based in Nuremburg. The company’s quad-core Mac Pro, meanwhile, is at the centre of the Passau setup.

mymuesli achieves this with the help of the server’s own wiki-powered intranet website, which Bessau describes as a “small revolution”. He says: “It’s a very effective way to collaborate, plus it’s fun to use — every day it makes me happy.”

Wittrock says the strategy of the business is three-fold: grow online, develop offline, and broaden the product offering or mix while remaining in the premium breakfast segment. “When we first started, we thought international expansion would be easy: get the site running and then dispatch to new markets. That’s not quite been the experience. Ideally we need a local presence.”

Again, Apple technology is supporting this requirement, with minimal additional outlay for the startup. “Our Swiss branch started out as a one-woman business, with Sarah Kraiss [Philipp Kraiss’s sister] based in German-speaking Basel,” says Wittrock. “The only thing we really needed was the Apple notebook we had in Passau, which we hooked up to a printer.”

Though mymuesli did have a minimalist office space, the Apple notebook served as Sarah’s “portable office”. Wittrock says: “She has access to our entire server via that notebook, so she’s not limited in any way. To other people, it’s a laptop, but to us, it’s mymuesli Switzerland.”

As far as other European markets are concerned, “it’s only our language skills that hold us back,” comments Kraiss. “As far as the technology is concerned, it’s as easy as selecting a different language option on the Mac.” For instance, the company uses all the existing marketing templates for the UK, simply stripping out one language and replacing it with another. “It’s that simple,” says Kraiss. “We can use this model for other countries too.”

New payment options

Offline, mymuesli is looking to open more stores, starting with Germany and Austria. Wittrock says the company is investigating payment and customer loyalty programmes using the iPhone: “A high number of our customers use iPhones. It would be awesome if they could pay via their phone. We also want to be able to recognise and reward customers regardless of channel, say if they’ve switched from online to offline. We’re developing a strong bond with our customers and it would be great to learn more about their habits.”

The final part of the strategy — product extensions — is already underway. mymuesli has launched two new ventures: Oh!Saft and Green Cup Coffee, the former a subscription service for weekly, fresh oranges, aimed at juice fans; the latter a Fairtrade coffee service, where the beans can be traced to a single estate. Green Cup Coffee opened its first store in December in Munich. Wittrock is working with 10stamps, a local startup, to develop an app-based loyalty scheme for customers, where your tenth coffee is free. “It will be 100 per cent integrated with our sales system,” he says.

Ultimately, thanks to its ease of use and the sheer scope of its functionality, Apple technology has helped three young entrepreneurs translate their e-commerce aspirations into a highly successful and expanding business. “We’re growing all the time,” says Wittrock, “and Apple has been a big part of this.”

Company Snapshot

Toolkit

Hardware:

  • Mac
  • iPad
  • iPad mini

Software:

  • Pages
  • Numbers
  • Keynote
  • iMovie
  • Messages
  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • Time Machine