a few days ago i was invited to be a guest on the your business in munich podcast. it was a rather freewheeling but very enjoyable conversation on topics like my consultancy, interaction with humans & computers, open source and ux. i was especially impressed with the detailed preparation and unerring questions by my host, ryan l. sink.
feel free to listen to our conversation below, on the your business in munich website or read the transcript below.
Welcome to Your Business In Munich. The podcast where entrepreneurs throughout the Munich area share their stories. And now your host, an experienced coach and entrepreneur from the United States, Ryan L. Sink.
Ryan L. Sink: Welcome to Your Business In Munich. Today I'm here with Daniel Siegel, he is a digital product architect in Munich, Germany, but originally from Merano, Italy, which I have learned is a small town in northern Italy. Could you tell us a little more about where you're from? Give us a picture of what it's like to be in Merano, Italy.
Daniel G. Siegel: Merano's actually a really small city close to the northern border of Italy, to Austria and Switzerland. It's located in between the Alps, so in winter we have a lot of snow, in summer we have a lot of sunshine. It has kind of a Mediterranean feeling to it. We have some palm trees in there as well. It's quite funny, especially maybe in April, May where you can see the palm trees there and you still have the mountain with some snow on top.
Ryan: Palm trees in the Alps.
Daniel: Yeah, probably one of the only places you where you can find that setting.
Ryan: I can't even picture that.
Daniel: It's kind of a melange between Italian, a bit Swiss, Austrian and German stuff. If you go back into the history, you can see these people meeting there. It was kind of always a border region, shall we say.
Ryan: Did you grow up with these other cultures as well or languages?
Daniel: Yeah. You normally grow up speaking Italian and German. German is more like a dialect so it's not the proper high German but you learn that as well in school. You normally learn the three languages German, Italian and English of course. There are a few smaller valleys where you have some additional languages, kind of like mixtures between Italian, Latin and German or something like that.
Ryan: Is this the Romance?
Ryan: Okay. Do you speak this as well?
Daniel: No, not at all. I'm from a different valley. [laughs]
Ryan: So it depends on which valley you're from.
Ryan: Which valley you're in between.
Daniel: It's actually quite hard to understand people because every valley has a different dialect. Of course if you go up there, you can tell who's from where but if you're an outsider you probably have a hard time to learn each individual dialect.
Ryan: I bet. You can tell by the type of palm trees they have growing. [laughs]
Daniel: No, those are only in Merano. [laughs]
Ryan: Growing up in Merano, how did you first get interested in digital products?
Daniel: Well I think I was always fascinated by the computer. I can't remember exactly but we had computers back home quite early. My father was building up his own business with computers. He did some consulting, bookkeeping with computers back in the 70s, 80s, which were the first real computers you could bring home and work on them. Well, sometimes he brought his computers back home and we could actually play the early games. I remember friends coming over and we were playing a game together in front of the computer, and that kind of thing. I think there's where my fascination comes from.
Ryan: Even as a kid do you think you were already looking at the usability of it and then thinking of these things?
Daniel: I think I always broke stuff. [laughs] That's where I'm coming from because I was kind of fascinated to see what's behind the scene and how is it working. I tried to get a glimpse behind the scenes. Of course, breaking all the stuff when I was young.
Ryan: I'm sure your dad was happy with...
Daniel: Yeah he was happy all the time. [laughs] But I think that lead me to programming at some point. Actually tried to get into deep stuff and into open source as well. I started to create my first own programs and it slowly moved with that, actually.
Ryan: What kinds of programs have you created yourself?
Daniel: Actually a few. I think the first open source program I put out there was a small driver for a modem which was working with USB I think and there was no driver for Linux but actually I had to get on the internet. It was a small thing and we had a really slow connection. Nevertheless I was working on that thing and actually created the first driver for that one.
Daniel: I put it out there and lots of people were sending me emails and so on. That was actually the first thing I did. Then later on I think a more prominent project was a program for the GNOME Desktop which is one of the most used desktop interfaces for Linux. If you ever heard of Ubuntu for example, they actually used GNOME and a lot of GNOME infrastructure. There I created a small webcam tool similar to PhotoBooth on Mac where you have some filters and you can apply them to your face, and that kind of thing. That was actually a lot of fun.
Ryan: It sounds like it. Obviously there's not a lot of money in open source if you're giving it all away.
Daniel: Actually I was paid by Google at some point for that.
Ryan: Yeah? Great.
Daniel: That was part of the Summer of Code program back in the days. I think I got a whopping $5000 dollars for like three months working in the summer, which of course, being a student, was just like, I've got my whole year settled just by that.
Ryan: Just the opportunity alone, doing it for free or paying them to do it.
Daniel: I also was invited to lots of conferences and so on, it was a win-win experience for me because I learned a lot of stuff, like how to work remotely with people. I learned a lot working with designers. I learned a lot how to create open source programs and how to lead them and how to do marketing for your open source projects as well. I think that was one of my biggest experiences I could actually use when doing actual work later on.
Ryan: When did you start working for yourself?
Daniel: That was actually two years ago. I always did some smaller projects next to what I was doing at that time or point. But for two years I have a small boutique consultancy here in Munich, where I help my clients create effective websites that are able to tell their story perfectly and convert visitors to customers. It's actually a bit more than websites because I always describe myself as bringing sales strategies and sales processes to the digital world. That's also where the term digital product architect comes from because a website is a product as well, as a newsletter, as well as your actual product or service you‘re selling. Especially in these days, you have to bridge the gap between the online-offline world and you have to think about how these things work together and how you can actually reach out to your customers and talk to them and stay in contact and so on.
Ryan: What were you doing before you started doing this with the boutique consultancy?
Daniel: I think my first real job, you can say, ignoring all the stuff I did as a student was creating my own startup back in 2007, which is now the world's biggest platform for young fashion designers.
Daniel: It's called Not Just A Label and I co-founded it with my brother and two friends of ours back in 2007. I was working there as a CTO and building that from the ground up.
Ryan: What's going on with that platform at the moment?
Daniel: It's still the biggest one of the world. [laughs] I did a small exit in 2012-2013. Since then I'm consulting them, we have semi-regular calls and I help them with some issues they're struggling with and so on.
Ryan: Nice, and still with the website as well?
Daniel: Yeah, sometimes. Of course they need a lot of strategy help as well, especially because I built it from the ground up, I know a lot of things which went wrong which the current people don't have an idea about so I can usually help them out with some things. They actually expanded to L.A. last year.
Ryan: It's still based in Italy?
Daniel: No, actually it was based in London, we founded it in London.
Ryan: In London. Okay.
Daniel: Lots of traveling back and forth at that time. Now they have an office in London and L.A. as well.
Ryan: What made you decide to exit because growing and..?
Daniel: Well, there were a few things in there. I'm really interested in the interaction between humans and computers. That's my main vision and my main goal. The Fashion world was just something I saw and I could help the people, but it was not my main interest. I was kind of bored at some point because we scaled up the platform quite big – we had like, 20,000 designers and a lot more daily and weekly visitors. It was a struggle to scale it up but we had a really well laid out structure and strategy. So basically by doing that, I unemployed myself. [laughs] I didn't have much stuff to do anymore at that point.
Ryan: So, it's your fault. [laughs]
Ryan: So, this job is what brought you to Munich?
Daniel: No, actually I was – the first time I came to Munich was in 2006 for studying. I studied computer science and psychology. You see, the same things are repeating themselves in my life. [laughs] Of course you can‘t see it at that point, but looking back, you can always see that computers and humans – that these are two topics which are repeating themselves in my life. And then of course I scaled my studies down while working on my startup, and then I did some exams, and back to the startup. So it was a hassle back and fourth until at some point I was able to finish my studies as well.
Ryan: And with connecting these two worlds, you know the psychology, the human side, and the computer technology side, what do you do to connect these two worlds?
Daniel: I often tell people I do websites, but that's not the entire truth, because of course the end result is most often a website and a let's say marketing funnel, be it a newsletter, email course, or something like that. But in the end, that's not what my clients actually need. My clients need a way to be able to talk to new clients, to new leads, to be in contact with them, and to actually help them to solve their own problems. And that's what I'm enabling them to do. I see my skills as a tool set, and I pick an individual tool to solve exactly that problem. You know, there's a saying that, "You don't need a drilling machine, you need like a picture on the wall." And that's what I actually do with my clients.
I see this trend where people just throw technology at the wall and see what sticks, you know you need like a website, and you need to do SEO, then you need to Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and social media ads, and then you need to buy traffic from there, and then you have to be active on Twitter, and then you have to have a newsletter, and then you have to talk, and then you have to have a YouTube Channel, and then you have to... and so on, and so on. But by doing everything you're actually doing nothing. They struggle, and then they come to me and tell me, "Uh it's so hard to find clients online." And I'm always telling them, "Yeah okay, if you’re doing everything, how do you wanna reach your clients? How do you want to have a meaningful conversation with a person?" You're not able to.
So, niche down, focus on one or two ways to communicate with your clients, and do it really, really well. People are really grateful for that, like if you actually take the time to talk with them, that's a really good thing. I mean we were talking before about calling people on their birthday, and how surprised some people act just by showing them that you take time yourself to talk to them. And that's something you can actually integrate in your business, you know. For me automation for example is a really important thing. I see the website and everything you do online as a digital version of yourself, which works while you are sleeping. So, for example, you're in a meeting with clients, you go back home, go to bed, the client might still think about the meeting, goes on your website, looks at stuff you do, stuff you did, and then makes a decision on whether to go ahead or not.
In that sense, the website has to really talk to your client as if it would be you, right? And that's something which is actually missing. And as far as automation I don't see it as a thing which makes you obsolete, it's more the other way round. It should should enable yourself to scale up more efficiently, but still have a meaningful conversation with each of your contacts. By using all the range of tools today for example – let's talk about a newsletter. You can actually get really, really specific about who you are talking to.
For example if you go to a conference, and you come back with lets say 10 business cards, just take the time to write some notes on them about what you did talk about, what was she interested in, and so on. Put it in there, and then with that data, you can actually craft meaningful conversations. And even if you send it out to all 10 people, but just by adding like one or two lines on like, "Hey it was great to meet you. I especially liked the discussion about online marketing“, or whatever you were talking about – that alone is enough to get some gratefulness out of a person.
Ryan: To show that you were listening there right?
Daniel: Yeah, exactly. And that's something which is missing.
Ryan: Yeah, this human touch, this personal touch on everything you do. Not just the standard, automated emails. I mean, even if they're clever, I've seen good examples. You've probably seen the story of like Derek Sivers first company with the customer's story that he told when they were getting everything ready, sending them their CVs. Even that, it's clever, but it's not personal, right. So you just need these little things that connect you to that other person. Could you tell us about the business card example as well? I thought that was great what you were saying about personalized – you don't have to share if you don't want to.
Daniel: No, I gladfully will, because my old business card had a really cool design on the back side. I had my email address on there, and actually in my email address, you can find my website, and my Twitter handle. And so I made a graphic layout to actually show which part is which part, and so on. It was really looking great, and people were telling me like, "It looks awesome, and so on." But if I look at results, like nobody was following me on Twitter, just because of my card. Nobody was visiting my website, just because of my card. No one was writing me an email, just because of my card. Then again I was thinking like, that's a thing I do with my clients, like bridging the gap between offline and online, so what could I do to create that interaction from a meeting to maybe talk to them about their problems or something like that.
What I added to my business cards was a custom URL for each business card, and if I give you one, you can visit that URL. I obviously will tell you that I prepared a small gift for you, and you can have a look there. And that's a custom crafted landing page, which actually greets you, and tells you like, "Hey it was nice to meet you", tells you some other stuff, what I'm doing, where you can find my stuff and so on. But it also gives you like a small gift, which is individualized to you, to that person.
Ryan: So do you also have to tell them at the same time, "Hey please wait three days, so that I can get the page ready before you use this URL?" [laughs]
Daniel: Well, you can start with the easiest example. So, for example, just take your URL/hello. You don't have to publicize that page, but just craft it to like, "Hey it was nice to meet you." And maybe say something like, "Not many people take action, but you are like one of the few, so this is why I want to give you something in return." And then announce it while talking to that person. That's already enough. Of course you can get much more fancy with that, but just in doing like that little thing. Just that 1% more than other people do, which will propel you in front of let's say 100% of other people, because nobody's doing it. If you go to an event, people just like throw out their business cards, and kind of like playing "I have to throw away 100 business cards today, let's see who's faster" or something like that. [laughs]
Ryan: Really? Yeah, it would almost be the same for some people to just put them all in the trash can away in the door that day.
Daniel: I mean of course everybody's busy today, so if you go home, you have like 10 business cards, what should I do with them? Like okay, I'll probably add them to LinkedIn, or XING, or whatever, and that's it. Then two days later you forget about them, and so on. But what if you could have a process starting there. Let's say, we meet at a meetup, and you tell me, "Yeah I have problems with my website. I don't get enough customers." And I tell you, "Look, I wrote an email course for that, or an ebook, or something like that, exactly about your problem. If you want, just give me your business card, I'll add you to it, and I will send it to you automatically." You probably would say "Yes", right?
Ryan: Yeah, sure. [laughs]
Daniel: Exactly. So, it's easy as that right. Just give your people something. Something that can help them.
Ryan: Yeah, doing something extra, or even creative. Like I have to say again, I love your contact page. [laughs] I think it's the only contact page on any website ever, where I actually laughed out loud while I was reading it, because you have all these great email addresses, if you want to buy you a beer, if you want to I think donate money, or give you April Fools tips, or know your shoe size, all these great things. But another question to that, have people actually used these? Besides just maybe your close friends screwing around with you, have people actually used these, and written you April Fools jokes ideas, or asked for your shoe size?
Daniel: Actually, a few people did.
Ryan: Yeah? [laughs]
Daniel: Yeah, so I think I had a movie request email address at some point. Some people were writing there, beer and coffee is used often, especially by people who – you know those people where you set up a date, and it fails because of some reason and they reconnect a few months later on? Those are the people who will use the beer or coffee email address. [laughs]
Ryan: As a way to say, "Sorry for the first meeting. Not working out, they get you a beer."
Daniel: Actually I had a few clients who contacted me with the "Give me money" address. I thought this was really funny. [laughs]
Ryan: That's really great. Yeah, you should hook up your invoicing systems...
Daniel: Oh yeah definitely.
Ryan: Money@... [laughs]
Daniel: Well you see, it's these small things you can add, to make interactions more... everything's so boring, kind of strict in some way, and I enjoy these little things. Just like having an Easter egg somewhere. I don't know if you're familiar with that?
Daniel: It's basically some small, I don't know, how would you explain Easter egg?
Ryan: Yeah, something hidden, you know, like you're playing a game. It's something that only you could know, or the only way to get it, is really either tripping over it, or actually maybe hearing from someone that it's there. Like the invisible blocks from the old Mario game. I remember a friend told me, I knew where the block was, I jump at the right place, there was my Easter egg, sort of.
Daniel: So, actually when I was working on that webcam tool, it was called Cheese, we had several Easter eggs in there, just to make it fun. Actually, it was so funny because we didn't tell anybody, but then someone probably got an email about people who discovered it. And I remember one Easter egg was, if you made a photo, it was making a photo sound, like a click, or something like that. And if you pressed a certain combination, it would change that sound to – we actually recorded a few voices, making some comments about the people. Like there was somebody laughing at the person, or "Oh you look so sweet." Stuff like that. People were freaking out over that.
Ryan: And they just happened upon these combinations?
Daniel: Yeah, it was not too hard to figure it out, but you actually had to find it. We had several things like these in there. Coming back to your other question about the human side in computers, I think we lost a lot of that, because if you go back to 60s and 70s, when the computer was a really new tool, and people were still discovering what you could actually do with a computer. A lot of people were coming from biology, or literature, or physics, or mathematics and so on. They always thought, "Okay, this is like a machine, and I want to use it for... to make my life easier." We had a lot of progress in that time.
And there were actually, in that time, there were two camps, the one was the AI camp and the other was the IA camp. The Artificial Intelligence camp was thinking about, "Okay lets make computers really intelligent, and we don't have to do anything." And the other camp was Intelligence Augmentation, which was coming from the other way, "No let's make humans smarter, let's evolve computers into tools humans can use. Make humans smarter, and then when humans are smarter, we can actually make even better tools for us." And so have like a continual co-evolution. I actually gave a talk last year in September in Belgrade about that topic called the Lost Medium.
Daniel: Where I was talking about how we lost that thing, and that we actually have to see the computer as a tool to make our lives better. We can see some small examples nowadays, like for example, you're in a foreign city, and you have Google Maps with you. You're safe. You just like look at your phone, and it will guide you to where we need to go.
Ryan: As long as you have a data plan.
Daniel: Do you remember when you were like going on holidays with your mom and pap, like I don't know, 20 years ago, and they were fighting over where you have to go, and like, "You have to tell me earlier...," like it was really stressful. And now look, we have a GPS there, and it‘s like, "Oh okay, we‘re arriving in 20 minutes, and everything's fine and so on."
Ryan: There's no question, just who's app is maybe more correct than the other one.
Daniel: Yeah, and that's a perfect example of like augmenting humans. There are lots of other examples, but we fail in many areas. Like for example, if I want to share an article, and add a comment to why it's important for you, because we were talking about the thing, it's really hard to do. I mean your probably write an email but then it's not really searchable, and you forget about it, and these are not really difficult things. Or the other thing, like before we met I wanted to call you, my phone didn't know your number. Why not? I mean we had a conversation over email before, and over LinkedIn–
Ryan: So it would make sense that we could–
Daniel: It would make sense that my computer's smart enough to figure out we‘re connected, and I mean you don't have to know my bank account number, but you can know my, I don't know, street address maybe, and my phone number for example. And then, let's say we have a drink afterwards, and you don't have any money there, it would be easier to just like give you access to my bank account, you just like transfer money there, and that's it. You could easily create an app for that, or a tool or something like that, and there were many examples of startups doing exactly that. But I think that's not the entire solution, because we have to think...
We have to go a step back, and think about what's the actual problem here. The actual problem is not that I don't have your contact information, it's more about how can I stay in contact with you? That's the main thing. Like for example, if you change your number, email address and so on. And by looking at that you see – you start to notice these small issues all the time. Like for example a few days ago I wanted to send an email to my brother-in-law, and I wrote an email, and just before sending it, I remembered myself that he actually changed his company, so his email address was not the correct one anymore. And I mean it's my brother-in-law, so of course we connected, but why don't I have his new work email?
Ryan: Yeah, and that could have been your only way to get in touch with him, and then there would have broken an entire–
Daniel: Now I have to actually send him a text asking him like, "Hey, what's your email address?" And then he was just like, "Yeah, you can call me as well and we'll talk." It‘s just struggle all the time, like with these small things.
Ryan: Not smooth.
Ryan: So, what are you doing at the moment to fix that problem? Are you creating more apps, or tools like that?
Daniel: The thing that we were talking about is the vision behind my business, which is fueling it, and of course, I'm doing websites, web processes, so that's what I help my clients with. On the side, in my spare time I prepare some talks, some prototypes, the Lost Medium is an example of that one. Just to figure out what's going on, like are there different solutions to that? Then I have a more or less monthly series on my blog and my newsletter called summing up where I try to collect puzzle pieces in that area, and try to put them together, and see what's missing there. Because I don't think that there's a single solution to the problem.
I think the main thing is we kind of lost the idea that – let me put it in another way: We think the computer is on the top of it's game. And if you look back, each year, the computer gets better. A phone gets better, it gets faster, it gets bigger, or smaller, depending on what you want to do, we have more devices and so on. People have the impression that the computer's state of the art, which of course it's not. And I think it's... It's about like sharing that idea that we're not at the end yet.
Ryan: Yeah, maybe just at the beginning actually.
Daniel: Oh definitely at the beginning. I mean the computer is a completely new medium, and if you look at what happened to of course TV and radio, but also the printing press, or cars, they completely changed the whole world. And there is a great saying by Marshall McLuhan, he said, "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." And if you look at cars, it's the perfect example. You see like we have streets everywhere. A city is made up of streets right, 50% is streets, if not more. And this wasn't the case before.
Ryan: Yeah well, it definitely seems like you're on the right path.
Daniel: I hope so. [laughs]
Ryan: Yeah, I mean I've seen a lot of things recently for example showing you know, that the best solution is not a human working alone, or a machine working alone, it's them working together. Especially like in chess, some of these things that they've done, so it seems like in the future hopefully that'll continue to be the best solution. And as you said before, keep making ourselves better, so we can create even better tools and then we'll see how they shape us though. At the moment you got, the entire world with their heads down, 15°, looking into their phones. That definitely has helped out chiropractors for sure. [laughs]
We'll see what other effects it has. So, for someone interested in contacting you, getting to know more about your business, where should they go? What's the best place to check your business out.
Daniel: Definitely my website, it's dgsiegel.net. We probably put it in the show notes.
Ryan: Yeah, it'll definitely be in the show notes.
Daniel: You can find out what I'm doing there. I also got a blog and a newsletter, but for your listeners, I prepared a small cheat sheet, where you can learn how to create the perfect landing page which actually converts visitors to customers, and you can find it at dgsiegel.net/ybim.
Ryan: Thank you.
Daniel: Of course.
Ryan: Yeah, I'll definitely be downloading that myself. [laughs] At least you'll get one from that.
Daniel: There's everything there.
Ryan: Perfect, along with any email address you want.
Daniel: Exactly, choose any. [laughs]
Ryan: Very cool. Well thanks again for taking the time to share your experience, and your business with us.
Daniel: Sure, thank you for your time.
Thank you for listening to Your Business in Munich. For more information, on maximizing your personal and professional potential, go to ryanlsink.com. Have a great rest of your day.