-Resource from EU Business School
Nicholas Boehnlein, a Swiss national, is Co-Founder and COO of Aiisma Inc, which is amongst the first data ecosystems. Nicholas graduated from his bachelor’s degree at EU Business School in 2015, and then from his MBA at EU Business School’s online campus in 2017. He co-founded Aiisma in 2018 and has been living in Delhi, India for the past eight months. Before that he spent four years living in Dubai, where he co-founded one of the first independent record labels in the UAE.
We caught up with Nicholas to find out how his MBA has impacted his entrepreneurial career.
First, can you tell us about your company Aiisma and the need that it’s fulfilling?
Aiisma is a data ecosystem that offers a transparent approach to consumer data. Aiisma’s #mydatamyasset ethos returns the control of data back to individuals and gives users, via an app, various choices to monetize their data. We started the company two and a half years ago with the goal of giving users the opportunity to have more control over their data and to be actively rewarded when they decide to share it. To tackle this we launched our first product, a data marketplace app. As is common in the app space, you try to create a journey for the user that fosters engagement and keeps bringing them back to the app. With that in mind, we kept developing the data marketplace and realized that from an engagement and data sharing perspective, the addition of social platform-like features makes the most sense. Which is how we came up with the idea of creating a social network on top of the data marketplace.
Aiisocial, which has just launched, allows users to socialize and share pictures, videos and textual posts with the community. However, with the data marketplace as a base, the user controls his or her data and has an option to share the data for rewards, making AiiSocial a platform where engaging and spending time socializing gets rewarded.
We founded Aiisma with the aim of ‘assetizing’ data and created a movement around #MyDataMyAsset. Aiisma is an antidote to big tech companies accessing, mining and monetizing data from their users without them being fully aware of it. We try to actively involve our users in a revenue sharing model, letting them benefit from the data they share. Aiisma has shown that people are not afraid of sharing their data, as long as they are rewarded for it.
Why did you decide to launch Aiisocial in India?
As the value of consumer data is increasingly being recognized, India has been working on a personal data protection bill to keep consumer data within the country. It is for this reason that India recently banned over 150 Chinese apps, including TikTok and other very prominent apps, that access user data. The Indian government is also encouraging entrepreneurs in India to create home grown apps and are actively supporting and stimulating the local start-up ecosystem. As a population of over 1.3 billion people yields opportunities for Indian startups to cater to users seeking new platforms, the “user acquisition sprint” has begun. Already established players are gaining hundreds of thousands of new users by the day and startups of all kind of qualities are emerging. Some try to copy the likes of TikTok while others, like us, explore new niches and concepts to offer more to users than traditional platforms do.
As my business partner is of Indian origin and with our previously launched data marketplace app already based in India, it was a no-brainer to continue and expand from here. Alongside the government’s push to creating Indian apps, users are more open to exploring new, nontraditional platforms. Plus, the financial benefits gained through AiiSocial can make a tangible difference to some users’ monthly budget.
How does Aiisocial work?
We are a social media platform that promotes authentic interactions, and helps users to monetize their data and engagements. Soon users will be able to sign up for a business account and select if they are an entrepreneur, influencer, musician and so on. If they select musician, for example, they can choose to upload their music, and if it is approved then any user uploading a video to the platform can choose that person’s music from the music library against a certain amount of Aii’s. The platform uses the ‘Aii’ as a reward currency. Users can currently redeem their Aii’s against vouchers and will soon be able to make in-app transactions directly with businesses and more.
What is your role at Aiisma?
My main role is to consider the marketing and overall design of the platform. I look at how the user can enjoy the app and where the places are that we can monetize it. As I am not a native UI/UX designer, I am approaching this as of course a social media user, but with a strong business development perspective. Simply put: “How can the product be more attractive, more engaging and better?”
Including myself and my business partner, who is the technical expert, our core team consists of 8 people. And with outsourced talent, we have between 55 to 70 people in our team overall. As with every startup, fundraising is a major activity which seems never to end. Therefore, besides the daily work, fundraising is a big part of my role.
What drives you to be an entrepreneur and run your own business?
I have often asked myself this question over the past couple of years, as the entrepreneurial journey is not always rosy! But there are two reasons really. Firstly, I come from a family where entrepreneurship is quite prominent; both my father and grandfather are entrepreneurs and they passed down the entrepreneurial spirit to me. Growing up in a very competitive environment and having competed in national and international sporting competitions, I got a taste early on of what hard work can result in. So, when it was time for me to go to work, this competitive nature drove me to start looking for opportunities. Even though I know in business they often say that the second mover wins, I believe that the first mover has good chances too! With Aiisma we are amongst the first movers in “assetizing” data and potentially creating a dent in how consumer data is treated. That drive to be the first or among the first and to be a leader is what made me an entrepreneur.
How did your MBA at EU Business School prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
I did my MBA directly after my bachelor’s degree and without a professional break in between, which most people have. Most of my fellow students already had professional experience, some already had c-level jobs. And one of the main things I learnt when starting my MBA was that as a young entrepreneur, having one foot in education and one foot in the professional life is an absolute must, especially if you want to compete with seasoned entrepreneurs. I often now interact with people who have far more professional experience than me, so it is important to at least be able to match them on an educational level. So that was the first major advantage it gave me.
The second was the networking opportunities. EU was amazing because we were such a diverse group of students. During my bachelor’s which I did on campus, my dad always told me, “Nick, these connections that you are making now, really try to keep them.” But you know when you are younger you don’t really do that. However, during my MBA I realized that they offer such a diverse platform which is really useful.
So why did you choose to do an MBA at EU Business School?
For me it was actually a given because I did my bachelor’s with EU Business School and I had a great time. In terms of faculty it was amazing and again, what I really liked at that point was the international approach. Even from an academic perspective – they have professors who are hands on, they are working or are entrepreneurs themselves and can give examples from their own, current, professional careers. So, when I found out I could stay on board and do my MBA with them right away, it was a no-brainer for me. And another big driver was that I could work while doing the MBA online.
And while my bachelor’s degree gave me a basis in business administration, the MBA curriculum introduced me to a higher level of knowledge that has been so useful in my business.
EU really prepared me to take the next step in my career.
What advice would you give to someone starting their own venture?
The number one piece of advice I can give – although I would have hated to receive this myself when I was younger! – is that you need to have patience. Things do not happen overnight. And this patience is also linked to monetary aspects, to people management, to experiences and so on.
So, to a young entrepreneur I would say yes, go ahead and follow your dreams, but remember that patience is one thing which needs to be exercised at the highest level. Because if you are not patient you are likely to rush and to make emotional decisions, which I and probably many other young entrepreneurs have done too – I have had my fair share of failures as well.
My business partner is ten years older than I am and when we started working together three years ago he told me, “Nick, you need to know the patience game, especially in technology, it is so important”. And now, three years on with 18 days left until the launch (I have a countdown!), I can say patience has been really important in this journey.