Alumni Stories | 03 Oliver Jutzi
The Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship
Every semester, the Faculty of Business and Economics of the University of Lausanne (HEC Lausanne) selects a group of talented students, of which one gets picked for an internship at swissnex in New York. In spring 2016, this lucky student was Oliver.
Oliver had just finished his Master’s in Accounting and Corporate Finance at HEC. Spending some time in New York had always been on his list, so Oliver was more than excited that he was chosen for the HEC internship that year. The deal was: 20% representative tasks for HEC and 80% working on swissnex projects.
He moved in with a Swiss guy on 13th street in Manhattan — the epitome of a prime location. But there was a catch: “We lived above a fire station and the area was pretty noisy. In the first weeks I asked myself why I didn’t move into a more quiet area. Luckily, I got used to it at some point.”
New York is quite the contrast to Lausanne. Restless, noisy and full of people with dreams and ambitions. Being half American, the cultural shock didn’t strike Oliver as hard as others. He knew the culture, the language and even some people in the city, but a city that never sleeps can be overwhelming at times — even for a pro. “In the second week in, Oliver Haugen, the Head of swissnex in New York, was out of office and we had a delegation from the Swiss-Italian part coming in. I had to keep the group in check and coordinate their meetings all by myself. Navigating them through New York City was quite the balancing act. But it was also really, really fun.”
The swissnex office in New York is located in a WeWork co-working space in the Financial District. Being a two-man team, the two Olivers got to know each other rather well, rather quickly. As a Junior Project Manager, Oliver was instantly awarded a lot of responsibility, which he enjoyed. “It’s really up to each intern what they make of their experience. You need to be passionate and ask yourself what you want to get out of your time at swissnex. A lot of opportunities lie in the people you meet and the questions you ask them.”
Turning Ideas Into Companies
Oliver took advantage of speaking with all the entrepreneurs, innovators and investors who came through the doors. The idea of founding his own company has always been at the back of his mind. The time at swissnex in New York gave him the confidence to pursue this path. “Meeting all these entrepreneurs during my six months in New York was a helpful guidance. I wanted to understand the challenges and pitfalls of entrepreneurship and what it means to start your own company. I went on and asked as many questions as I could.”
In the end, he did follow through. After his internship ended, at the age of 26, Oliver came back to Switzerland and co-founded what is now called “vandy studio” — a creative agency that produces commercial films and animations. “My cousin and business partner Nicolas has been in the industry for over ten years. We already worked together when I was still studying and we got along really well. We were always joking around about building our own company. At vandy studio, he’s on top of cinematography and all the technical aspects. I take care of the business side of the company, managing client acquisition and relationships,” he explains. Two years later, the company employs four full-time staff and business is buzzing. “We are growing and want to keep growing. We don’t want to say no to projects or clients, but we are also not obsessed with headcount or revenue. We’d like to be big enough to have an impact and small enough to remain agile and really care about every individual project.”
If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere
Starting your company at such a young age takes a lot of courage. I wanted to know from Oliver, how his internship at swissnex helped him develop the relevant skills. “Definitely having to reach out to unknown people and finding value in potential partnerships. Trying to convince people that you have something valuable to offer,” he lists. After all, New York City is probably the toughest training ground for any entrepreneur. “It’s hard to find traction in New York. Switzerland is a small country — yet you need to land all those meetings with investors, universities and companies. You have to create some kind of momentum. I really learned to be resilient and insistent. I’ll send out a thousand emails if that’s what it takes to put our name out there.”
At the end of the day, Switzerland isn’t New York. Of course there are things that he misses about the city — the food, the diversity, the neighborhoods. Everything is always available and the city has an incredible pace. “There’s so much talent around, in every field,” Oliver says. But what he calls “the New York minute” also has its drawbacks. While things move a bit slower in Switzerland, business conversations are usually a bit more “genuine”. “In New York you often set up meetings with people and they say ‘this is brilliant, we’ll come back to you next week’ and then you never hear from them again. That’s not an unusual experience for Swiss startups who come to the States,” he explains.
It’s 10:00am in Boston and 4:00pm in Lausanne on a Thursday when I’m interviewing Oliver via video chat. He’s visibly excited when he talks about his startup and proudly pans the camera around the office space and introduces me to his team. It’s a cool and stylish office — much what you’d expect from a state-of-the-art creative studio.
Before we wrap up the call, Oliver wants to share one last thing with me. “Although most of the startups I worked with in New York were in the tech and fintech field and not the creative industries, the challenges to start a company are mostly the same: Do you have a paying customer? What are the fixed costs? Etc. These are exactly the questions I asked the people I met. That’s something I like to reflect on, when I think about my time at swissnex. It was not about tech, but the fundamental challenges of entrepreneurship.”
Time in New York: March 2016 – August 2016
Position: Junior Project Manager
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