While many companies had to scale down during the pandemic, TESTIFI grew stronger every month of 2020. Dan Burns, co-founder and CEO of TESTIFI GmbH, launched his company in 2017 after his idea for automation had been rejected at a previous corporate role, leading him to decide that it was the right time to bring his vision to the market. Nowadays, he is proven right: TESTIFI successfully offers cutting-edge test automation tools and services to speed up the process of large-scale software delivery in enterprise applications. In 2021, Dan won Silver place in the prestigious AMBA Entrepreneur of the year 2021, a worldwide competition with competitors from over 60 countries for his innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. At the very foundation of Dan´s success lies the Executive MBA program he completed in 2009 at the TUM. Twelve years have passed since he finished his EMBA in Innovation & Business Creation and he was open to tell us how his journey has been ever since and give us an understanding of what it means to start an own business, with all its ups and downs.
The trigger to found TESTIFI
Dan went back to freelancing shortly after he had finished the Executive MBA program in 2009, initially abroad and then from mid-2011 mainly focused in Munich. In 2011 he received his first project offer in Munich and it was one that became formative for his entrepreneurial endeavor. It was a massive Agile project and he was tasked with creating the Agile Testing Approach. He proposed an approach based on automation and integration and was told that they did not see the need for Test automation. “I couldn’t believe it, we parted ways and the project went on to ‘burn’ a huge amount of money and a lot of the wastage could have been prevented if they had implemented some of the measures that I suggested, “ says Dan.
Even though he was disappointed about the reaction, he also felt convinced by his ideas. This was the point in time that it became clear to him if he was going to start a company it would be about bringing these ideas into being. He continued to work as a Test Manager in Munich, first at Wirecard and then at Giesecke & Devrient GmbH. “I was a little disillusioned and considered strongly whether or not I would be able to continue to work in IT. So I started to ‘sharpen’ my own sword. I read a lot, 70+ books a year, I even developed my own self-help program called ‘Fired-up-life’. I tried to find partners to work together on my ideas, but it wasn’t until 2015 when I met my business partner Henning that I found someone with whom I could start a company.”
Dan and Henning worked together on a project before they founded TESTIFI in 2017. It took time for them to build trust and take it in each other to take the next steps to start a company together. Henning is a software developer and the technical ‘rock’ that Dan needed to bring his vision to life.
Initially, TESTIFI was a vehicle for their freelancing work and they worked on their concepts on the side. It was not until 2019 that both finally ‘quit’ their day-job and focused on building their company full-time. “Finding someone that you can trust to build a company together is one of the most difficult things to do, it took us four years of intensely working together before we were finally ready to take that step”, Dan remembers.
At the beginning of 2019, Dan and Henning expanded and hired four more people. In 2020, when Corona hit Germany, TESTIFI even grew the team to 18 people and acquired projects with some significant Blue chip companies and, with a little bit of debt financing to keep going, was able to bootstrap that growth. 2021 has been a strong growth year too: With the support of the BayShield program at the beginning of this year TESTIFI kick-started and grew to 34 employees from 16 different countries. The focus lies on R&D, with two product lines; CAST, their test automation platform and ForeCAST, AI based Test Automation. Dan promises, “Watch this space, we have very ambitious goals for these tools and we are here to shake the industry.”
TESTIFI – the business idea
Software development has three core phases – Design, Development and Test. The more code and the faster it is developed, the higher the need for testing. Modern software techniques require faster delivery cycles and the only way to keep up is through Test Automation. At its core, TESTIFI is about test automation, a ‘next-generation’ test automation framework that makes creating and maintaining it easier, faster and cheaper.
“But this is not the real problem that we are solving. The real problem in software development is the breakdown in communication between IT and the business,” says Dan. Fundamentally, this is a process problem that Dan and Henning address by providing a technical solution to give transparency and clarity to all stakeholders. This makes communication more effective and therefore enables collaboration. Dan further explains, “TESTIFI offers a deep tech solution, technology fundamentally changes the way a business works but is often not visible to users. TESTIFI’s solutions are based on engineering innovation, scientific advances and industry best practices. Their focus is to solve complicated issues. Solving complicated solutions requires first identifying the complicated problem. Therefore, the biggest challenge we have is in educating the customer about their problem. Most companies have massive issues with software quality and testing, they are aware that they have a problem, but don’t understand what the problem really is. If we can educate the customer about the problem and its consequences then we can present our solution. Then we can help them to change and by doing so make them the hero of the transformation.”
How the Executive MBA program supported Dan in his decision-making
Dan Buns reflects on the study program and shares with us his perspective on the Executive MBA by answering a couple of questions and giving advice on entrepreneurship.
Which skills and tools did the Executive MBA program provided you back then to create your own company?
Dan Burns: The goal of an MBA is typically to expose you to a large number of different topics, ideas and schools of thought instead of going deeply into one topic alone. The Executive MBA in particular focuses on the principles of lean start-ups and this is an extremely powerful way to bring certainty to the unknown. I subscribe deeply to the principles of agile development, in software, but also in company building. Small steps, with proper validation.
What is your advice to someone who is considering joining the Executive MBA in Innovation & Business Creation but is hesitant about making the step?
Dan Burns: The Executive MBA is an invitation to change your life. It is not just about the stuff that you learn or even the people that you will meet. It’s about taking a conscious step towards redefining your life. It took me 9 years after my EMBA experience to finally start my company, for many it’s much less. But it also doesn’t have to be so extreme, so don’t feel that you have to come out the other side and throw everything out the door. If you do make the step to do the EMBA, commit to the process. Embrace the uncertainty, be open to knowledge, information, mindsets you will be exposed to and you never know what will happen. You can be sure of one thing, your life will not be the same afterwards.
How involved have you been in the Executive MBA alumni network? Which role did networking played in your journey as an Executive MBA student and now as an Executive MBA Graduate?
Dan Burns: I am a huge fan of the EMBA Alumni network. Indeed, I was the chairman of the alumni club for 7 years. I did it because I believe in the value of building the network, not least of which because it means that you end up being in regular contact with a large number of cool, motivated and interesting people. Regardless of my context (student, alumni, chairman of the alumni association), I have always drawn inspiration from my fellow alumni and in some cases that results in tangible and concrete business growth and opportunities. There is definitely some truth in the saying, your net worth is a reflection of your network.
Now from your point of view, what are the most important skills and knowledge that a founder needs to have?
Dan Burns: There are many paths to success as an entrepreneur, it depends if you have industry experience, or a good idea, or indeed just the motivation to make something up. For me, it is less about a concrete skill and more about having a ‘toolbox’ to dip into. The toolbox then gives you the confidence to deal with unknown situations, to learn new skills and resolve your problems. As you deal with tough situations then you build the kind of grit and resilience that, in my opinion, is essential for long-term success. It’s hard building a company, especially without significant financing, we have as many downs (probably more) as ups. Regardless, I love being an entrepreneur and wouldn’t swap this for the world.
Looking back from where you are now, what three tips would you give to visionaries and future founders who are thinking about taking the first step?
1) Start now – do not wait for the perfect conditions, take a step… even a small one, but start the journey today. Start in your free time, make it a ‘side-project’, don’t make it an all-or-nothing thing… but start. Focus on concrete steps that move you forward. If you have limited time then focus on making sure each day delivers concrete progress. Rome was not built in a day… but they were laying bricks constantly!
2) Don’t be afraid to fail. Those that make no mistakes, make nothing. Failure is only a problem if you stop. Failures are seldom terminal, if you pick yourself up, clean up the mess and keep on going, then the failure is just another learning opportunity. If you have the feeling that you have everything under control, then you are not driving fast enough.
3) Be relentless! Most people massively over-estimate what is possible in the short term, but they will equally massively under-estimate what is possible in the long term, given consistent and persistent progress towards a clear goal. So dream no little dream for they move not the hearts of men. Be bold, shoot for the stars and just get after it.