- A founder who sold his last startup to Microsoft has raised $US19 million for a new company… that competes directly with Microsoft.
- Berlin founder Christian Reber has raised the cash from Index Ventures and other backers for Pitch, a presentation software startup that will rival Microsoft PowerPoint.
- Reber was previously chief executive of Wunderlist, a popular productivity app that sold for up to $US200 million to Microsoft in 2015.
- Reber quit in late 2017 after difficulties integrating Wunderlist into Microsoft’s suite of products.
- He said there’s no bad blood with the firm, and that he still gives technical help to Microsoft from time to time.
Christian Reber, the founder behind productivity app Wunderlist, has raised $US19 million for his new presentation startup Pitch.
The Series A round was led by Index Ventures and BlueYard, with new investors Slack Fund, Zoom’s chief executive Eric Yuan, and other high-profile angels joining the funding.
The raise is interesting on several levels.
Reber is the man who sold Wunderlist, a much-loved productivity app, to Microsoft for up to $US200 million in 2015. He quit Microsoft in late 2017, saying that it had been difficult to integrate the app into Microsoft’s services.
In a call on Tuesday, Reber told Business Insider that there’s “no bad blood” with Microsoft, but acknowledged the irony of his new startup Pitch taking on a familiar Microsoft product: Presentation builder PowerPoint.
“It wasn’t our goal to build something Microsoft already built, we’re grateful for what happened [the Wunderlist acquisition],” Reber told Business Insider.
Reber said he was originally reluctant to pursue a concept that competed so directly with Microsoft, not least because it’s tough to take on any of the tech giants. But eventually, he wanted to see where Pitch went.
“Right now, no one at Microsoft is scared because of us, everyone has been wishing us good luck,” he added. “Microsoft has products in every category. Whatever you’re building, Microsoft probably has a product somehow connected to the space.”
Pitch’s pitch is that it’s a more simple and intuitive than PowerPoint or perhaps even Apple’s Keynote. It comes with lots of templates for different scenarios, such as board meeting, investor pitch, and internal company report. It’s also suitable for kids to use for their homework, Reber said. It’s only open to beta testers for now.
Pitch has a good pedigree, with several Wunderlist alumni on its staff including branding boss Jan Martin, and developer Misha Karpenko.
Reber’s goal is to build a multibillion-dollar company like Slack
Reber is wistful when he talks about selling Wunderlist to Microsoft. He won’t confirm the price tag, but said he had always aspired to build a globally successful company, such as Slack.
After joining Microsoft, Reber said, he had worked on integrating Wunderlist into Microsoft’s services, such as Outlook and Office. Trying to integrate Wunderlist was “really challenging,” so the team decided to build something new, called To-Do.
“I realised that I’m not a project manager, I’m not someone who can lead a project inside a huge organisation, it’s not my core strength,” said Reber. He agreed with internal executives to try and build something else entirely new, but inside Microsoft.
He said: “I explored a few ideas, even other acquisitions… but I think Microsoft didn’t have the processes in place to handle a product founder in Berlin. If I had been in [Microsoft’s headquarters in] Redmond, it would have been no problem at all… But in Berlin, nothing was in place, so I felt very alone and disconnected. I tried to build a product inside the organisation, but I didn’t get funding.
“I’m not mad about it – if I asked myself whether I’d fund myself inside an organisation, I would say no.”
He added that he and other Wunderlist staffers had been “sad” to leave the product, and that he still provides technical advice on the new To-Do app, which hasn’t been as well received among users.
“My goal as a German founder is to build something like Atlassian and Slack and Zoom in Berlin,” Reber said. “That’s really what makes me happy. Of course, I was happy about the financial outcome of an exit, but I also kind of felt like I failed personally with what I wanted to accomplish. I’m giving it one more try.”
Given he’s building a competitor to a Microsoft product, could he sell once more to the Redmond giant?
“I’m not naive. In three to four years, I [may] realise an exit is a great strategy, it’s something that makes sense and for everyone involved, and I’m gonna do it. But if I somehow get close to achieving my real goal, a company that’s going to last, I’m going to for sure pursue that direction.”
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