How does a brand become a verb? Surely by some complex and unpredictable sociological process, involving massive, international usage. But whatever it is, this is what Michael Brecht, CEO of Doodle since February 2014, wants to achieve. If he has his way, in less than five years at least 200 million of us will be doodling monthly – whether business meetings, hen parties, neighbourhood barbecues or children’s football tournaments. He is, I realise, a man with a vision.
The new Doodle office in Berlin Mitte, which opened in January 2015 and where we meet at a date and time set by the Doodle “MeetMe” tool, is part of this vision. Michael became CEO of the world-leading Swiss social scheduling tool when its engineering founders, Michael Näf and Paul E. Sevinç, bowed out and leading Swiss media group Tamedia AG acquired majority ownership. Seeing the potential in Doodle as an on-the-go rather than desktop tool, he wanted to bring Doodle’s app development in-house (it had previously been outsourced to an agency) and, with it, the capacity and market knowledge to continuously develop and improve what he considers an essential part of Doodle’s future business. Berlin was the obvious place to find that level of expertise and engagement.
We leave Doodle’s light-filled office with its white, pop-art decorated walls, smooth wooden meeting table and views over the S-Bahn tracks to find a decent place for lunch. Settling on Pan Asia for its relative quiet, over Thai salmon Michael continues. So how are app developers in a Berlin office part of the process of getting “to doodle” into the dictionary?
Doodle is seen by many as “Switzerland’s digital showpiece”. Before Michael joined, the beautifully simple online platform which lets you survey potential attendees to decide on the best date for an event – or as Doodle more elegantly puts it “rationalises the process of scheduling appointments” – already had 20 million users and was live in 20 languages. What Michael is there to do is build on this impressive start to drive a global growth offensive; that’s where the 200 million come in.
Focusing on Doodle “on the go” by revamping its apps and making them free to download (up until January 2015 users had to pay to download them) is just one part of this growth offensive. Improving the quality of the translations and keeping them up to date with the new iterations rolled out in three-week sprints is another. And there are new markets to conquer. Leveraging Doodle’s viral user growth, the launch of a Brazilian Portuguese version earlier this year anticipates next year’s Olympics, in the hope that all those athletes and coaches and sports fans will bring Doodle into Brazil – huge potential as yet untapped. Strategic partnerships and some brand rejuvenation will also help.
There is something in Michael’s calm, focused excitement which makes these bold ambitions feel achievable. A seasoned entrepreneur, he has a history of growing businesses internationally and winning over masses of new users – first for West Berlin-based IT company, CompuNet, which he joined nine days before the Wall came down and later helped sell to GE Capital, then with the family portal Urbia.com which he founded and is now owned by Gruner + Jahr in 2002. There followed a six-year stint in Australia (he was attracted to the country’s entrepreneurial, go-getting spirit), working, in part, on community and education projects. In 2010 he came back to Germany to set up the German arm of online wine shopping club, 52weine, which he sold three years later. And thus starts the Doodle chapter.
Despite the might of Tamedia’s backing and the scale of Doodle’s ambitions, it retains its entrepreneurial spirit. In Berlin and elsewhere, Michael is doing plenty to plug into the startup ecosystem, including partnering with GTEC | Lab (launched June 2015). By providing all startup GTEC | Lab members with a free Doodle premium account for six months, with features such as a fully own-branded, ad-free scheduling platform, automated emails and exportable invite lists, he wants founders to get a feel for how important the sort of professionalism Doodle enables is from the start. But it’s more than that. As one entrepreneur to another, to give back, to support, to be an active contributor is an aspect of entrepreneurship he cherishes.
As we wait for our coffees, Michael takes out his iPhone to show me the improvements in the newly launched iOS app (the Android app will be released this month). The pleasure he takes in the tool is tangible. “We want Doodle to become more charming, more emotional,” he says, taking me through new messaging functionality which allows Doodle users to message each other within the tool in real time (“Running late, first drinks are on me…” is Michael’s example) and pointing out the brand changes, making it a softer, less clinical white-on-blue rather than blue-on-white. “I get up in the morning and really like what I do,” he says, as the waitress comes with the bill. “I feel proud to be working on something which is so well received and so helpful to everyone who uses it. Our Twitter feed makes for very positive reading.” I check later. He’s right: “Doodle @doodletweet is awesome, we use it to schedule weekly ultimate frisbee.” Replace ultimate frisbee with “football” or “dinner” or “meeting” and you’ll find millions more. Give it a few years and this will read “just doodled our weekly [insert sport of your choice]”.
Founded by: Michael Näf and Paul E. Sevinç
CEO: Michael Brecht
Location: Zurich, Berlin