Jorge Alvarado and Lukas Hohl, former Swisscom employees, founded the recently incorporated TrustRelay - a SaaS platform that enables corporates to collaborate on structured data in a privacy-preserving manner. TrustRelay is an alumnus of Kickstart's 2022 Intrapreneurship program via Swisscom, a Global Partner of Kickstart.
In this interview conducted by Fritz Seidel, Intrapreneurship Academy Expert at Kickstart, Jorge and Lukas discussed their journey so far, their motivation behind the startup, and what’s in store for them and their clients.
Firstly, congratulations on the incorporation of TrustRelay! To kick us off, can you give us some history on how the company came to be?
Jorge Alvarado: Thank you so much! Well, it all started when we heard of the Intrapreneurship program, “Kickbox” within Swisscom. At the time, I was working on combining blockchain technology with IoT devices, and I had the idea of enabling a broker of data between them. [My co-founder] Lukas helped me establish some conversations with potential customers - after which we collectively realized that the problem was not the IoT technology, it was the data-sharing process. Once we started to approach it from this angle, we realized the problem was a lot bigger and the amount of governance companies put on the data that they share with others. Following internal discussions within Swisscom, we decided to take the opportunity to apply for the Kickstart Intrapreneurship program to determine the product-market fit of this idea.
Lukas Hohl: We believe there is massive value in data - “the new oil”, as some claim. We truly believe that the importance of data and data collaboration will continue to increase, and we have to break up these data silos among companies so that these datasets can be combined to solve really complex problems, such as sustainability problems, etc. Essentially, it is the idea of democratizing B2B data sharing. Not only for large multinationals but also for startups, and the combination of the two working together.
How do clients benefit from using TrustRelay’s solution?
L: When it comes to data sharing, data collaboration beyond company borders has its challenges - one is legal challenges. Companies are not sure how data sharing works from a legal perspective. When data does start flowing across jurisdictions, this poses the second challenge - technical capabilities - such as interoperability and data formats. Right now, there is no platform, tool, or solution, which truly bridges the legal perspectives of data sharing into dataspace in a trusted, legally compliant manner. Organizations are realizing the internal complexity that comes with dealing with data, which is heightened again when they start working with external organizations. TrustRelay is approaching this exact problem. To put it bluntly, we want to become the Slack of data sharing going forward for startups and large corporates. We want data collaboration through dataspace technology to be as easy as communication via a Slack channel.
Can you provide some further insight into the support of Swisscom & the Kickstart Intrapreneurship program throughout this journey?
J: Swisscom was very supportive, even at the early stage where it was. Going through this process within Swisscom provided a great combination of reduced risk and flexibility to dedicate time to the idea - if we didn’t have this, it wouldn’t have happened due to the 8-5 corporate workday. Also, of course, providing us with the opportunity to join the Kickstart Intrapreneurship program. The content of the [Kickstart] program was very well structured and diverse, deep-diving into topics that employees from the corporate world wouldn’t typically have exposure to. The networking was key, by the way - we are still working with a number of contacts we made through the program (some of who even helped us with the incorporation - shout out to Gabriel from MLL) and introductions to business angels. As we were still in the validation phase, it was so beneficial to be constantly challenged, identifying our USP and the innovation within the solution we are providing. This helped us tremendously in shaping where we are today. This is just the beginning of the journey, but it was instrumental to go through that process.
What would be your #1 tip for fellow employees when it comes to intrapreneurship?
J: Work in an environment where people are striving for innovation. I was lucky enough to work in a unit within Swisscom that was all about innovation, so it was always at the forefront of what I did. I was also working in blockchain, which is an industry that connects all different parties, so it was like a melting pot. I’d also like to add - work with someone who is like-minded and complementary to what you bring in so you have trust in your business partner when you go to the market to test your solution.
L: I agree - I seriously doubt that one person comes up with an idea, validates the idea at one point, and starts to scale it on his or her own. It's not going to happen. It's all about a team effort at the end of the day - it helps to hear different perspectives and be challenged from a different angle. Also, coming back to the Kickstart Intrapreneurship program, it was a great opportunity to start validating our idea, especially coming from the corporate world and needing mentorship, support, and guidance in the field.
Can you share your overall vision?
J: From my side, the vision is to be the brand that corporates, startups, or governments associate with modern, simple data sharing. As Lukas mentioned, we want to be the Slack of data-sharing for people that want to collaborate across company borders.
L: Absolutely. One thing to add to the use case and pivoting exercise we're currently in, we definitely learned from previous experience that we definitely do not want to go technology-first. We understand technology is important, but that is not our go-to-market strategy. We have to speak to the right people in the organizations, in various industries to understand the exact problems they face, and how can we solve them. That is one of our key success factors in the next few months to really execute that approach.
Finally, what’s next for TrustRelay?
L: We have been working behind the scenes, establishing some partnerships with Swiss and
international actors, and are setting up a workshop on data sharing and data reuse together with the University of New York on February 9th. We are also in the process of setting up a waiting list to enable sandboxes for people to test the solution in their own industry. Because data sharing is so general and industry-agnostic, we want to narrow down those industries to focus on those companies where data-sharing is part of their core business, and would benefit from the use of dataspaces to improve their operations. If this resonates with anyone, please feel free to get in touch!