The idea for SMASHDOCs came about through my professional experience in IT project management and software development. The majority of developers are familiar with the problem: before new software can be programmed, an IT functional specification has to be elaborated with the later users.
These specifications are usually thick “tomes” in which a common understanding regarding the project, the required functions and technical prerequisites have to be described. Writing such specifications is feasible – despite the fact that they often run to hundreds of pages.
The difficulties actually begin when complex documents such as the draft of an IT functional specification moves into the collaborative phase, when it has to be agreed upon with a large number of participants in differing departments and functions. To date this has often taken place as follows: the document is passed back and forth between all the project participants and they all make their own changes in their own document version. The problem now is that ultimately nobody really knows for certain which person is responsible for which changes and what this person actually wanted to say, with everything having to be amalgamated in a “new version”.
Frequently a log with all the desired changes and comments has to be kept parallel to the agreement phase (e.g. as an Excel file) or someone has to be prepared to act as a moderator and create a new draft from the many individual documents – for this to then go through the agreement phase yet again. At the end of the day this is not only time-consuming and a waste of energy, but it also leads to a tremendous amount of frustration. I battled with these situations on a daily basis – sometimes it takes weeks to view and document all the desired changes and comments before a new version of the functional specification can be created.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
SMASHDOCs actually came about somewhat later, however. I was in the process of developing a digital marketplace for the insurance industry, on which companies could draft and negotiate their contracts effortlessly with a wide variety of industrial insurers. The challenge lay in the fact that contracts with industrial insurers are extremely extensive and involve highly complex negotiations with a whole range of specialists. Every change to a sum or a comma counts.
Everything has to be documented consistently and in an audit-secure manner. We soon noticed, however, that the existing possibilities for collaboration on offer in Word or Google Docs are quite simply not designed for professional and very time-consuming contractual negotiations. I immediately thought back to the problem with our IT functional specifications and we drew up a long list of documents which likewise pose such a challenge.
It was clear to me that there is an enormous need for simple, professional collaboration in word processing that had been ignored and which the common solutions had not been able to meet to date.
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What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never look for sweeping solutions for your company or to a concrete problem. Try instead to discover what is so special in your business and in your employees and find a way to utilise these special qualities. On no account should you listen to those “advisors” who think they have already done or experienced everything and therefore know of a standard solution. This applies in particular before the product goes from the project phase into the scaling phase.
My big piece of advice to every young entrepreneur is this: do your homework very thoroughly in the project phase and do not reach for the simplest solution, even though this would undoubtedly be easier. Only when the product functions flawlessly should you begin with the distribution and scaling.
This is exactly what we did with SMASHDOCs: we developed our product in a wide range of industries and application scenarios until it was technically mature and we were ready to take the major step and move to a highly scalable development and marketing platform for collaborative word processing solutions. And this robustness is the basis for our success.
What can we hope to see from SMASHDOCs in the future?
We are currently right in the middle of what I call the hockey stick effect: following the intensive development phase, we are now moving full speed ahead with the roll-out of our solutions. At present we are opening new digital sales channels at record speed, above all through our fundamental integration in Microsoft 365 and MS Teams with 75 million users who are active daily.
Parallel to this we are integrating our solutions in many other applications from major software providers such as a number of cloud and on-premises offerings for the legal market from Wolters Kluwer, which are now being rolled out in the first five European countries. At the same time we have created a platform on which we can develop new solutions in a matter of just a few weeks and begin with the marketing.
Such solutions include, for example, the processing of agreement projects, the creation of annual reports, the publication of prospectuses for capital market transactions and funds, solutions for academic papers, for book publishers, universities, law firms and many others. There are also solutions for the public sector and government agencies which are digitalising legislative processes and saving a lot of time and money in the production of their immense number of brochures.
In this respect we are aided by the fact that there is already a healthy base of companies using SMASHDOCs, meaning that we have been able to optimise the collaboration possibilities in line with common practice and the needs of the target groups. On the basis of our initial experiences we see ourselves well-positioned to reach as many as 100 million potential users in the coming years.