Will Fischer is a funny guy with serious talent. From his position of managing partner at hard-tech prototyping firm Voxdale, Fischer is always looking for talent. Not just for one production cycle, but for the long haul.
Voxdale isn’t part of the thriving Berlin software/e-commerce ecosystem built by the Samwer Brothers at Rocket Internet and Zalando. Fischer and Co. are in the hardware engineering and development biz, which, in conventional thinking, is more a Munich thing.
Conventional thinking is wrong, Fischer says, adding that he’s the guy to change that perception.
“I think Berlin is a really good place to come and do this,” he said in a recent interview. “And I see a combination of things here.”
• First, facilities, such as the giant MotionLab.Berlin where Fischer has his offices exist to do “the crazy shit that I do in a way that I have never found anywhere else.”
• Second, Berlin has the American bold and brash thinking Fischer brings … the willingness not just to go for it, but to go all the way: “There’s some of it already. But when I coach startups, I really try to encourage them to hit that innovation extra hard; to take bigger steps. To think about what’s next and what’s after that and then the next one.”
Doing the contract design and engineering work for Voxdale clients is a unique niche for unconventional people, but it brings with it a lot of autonomy in a dynamic environment.
One of his engineers is from German applied-research center Fraunhofer, “a real star, 27 or 28, really at the beginning of his career when he joins Voxdale,” Fischer said. “When we interviewed him, he was so excited that he wasn’t going to have to go work for Mercedes or a tier-two supplier or some middle shot corporation where he was going to be bored as shit.”
He won’t be bored at Voxdale
Voxdale takes engineers such as Fischer’s colleague and puts them on eight projects a year, working two, maybe three simultaneously. But they shift around as they go. And by the end of the year, they’ve effectively done eight, half of them startups. Depending on where he is in the development lifecycle, the engineer is doing some production work and schematic drawings. “Maybe he’s doing prototyping, maybe he’s doing something kind of in the middle,” Fischer said.
His standout engineer has never seen one product go the whole way. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t, you know? And the result is, he’s going to find stuff he loves, he’s going to learn a bunch of really weird tricks.”
The people who thrive in this model rise based on merit.
“I guaranteed in two years, he’s gonna be a project manager for us. He doesn’t know that yet. But I can see the writing’s on the wall,” Fischer said. “He’s a rock star. And he’s careful and he’s meticulous. And he’s thoughtful about what’s coming next. And he plans.
“I mean, like, he has project manager written all over him.”
Another colleague is gregarious and outgoing. “He’s going to be – if he wants to be – he’s going to be a tremendous business developer. And we’ll open that up to him. ” A third had been working in the nuclear industry in South Africa and had the option to continue working for kind of the public utility space. “This guy was not cut out for that, you know, and I see that kindred spirit in the eyeballs of a candidate from far away,” Fischer said. So, he’s found a new role at Voxdale.
You can’t know success without failure
In short, Europe doesn’t lack talent. But Europe in general struggles with something that America does not and that is failure, said Fischer, who works with startups as part of his role at Voxdale Berlin.
Fischer knows success. He was an early employee at Nano Precision Medical, which just completed a merger with Second Sight Medical to form Vivani Medical on the way to an initial public offering. But he also knows failure, including the company that brought him to Berlin.
“In America, I am a success because I have failed,” Fischer said. “In Europe, failure is unthinkable. And so, people don’t take these crazy risks. When I say I’ve wound down to companies, many people here respond to me with, ‘Oh my god, how did you do it?’ I woke up the next day and it was Tuesday, you know? Like, how do you not do it?
“And so I think that’s a significant part of it. There needs to be more comfort with failure,” he said.
Because in the American approach, failure is just the temporary absence of succes, a learning moment sometimes necessary on the way to achieving greatness.
Voxdale currently has openings in Berlin, Antwerp and Ghent. You can see them all here.