German-born entrepreneur Toby Ruckert came to New Zealand for six weeks as a tourist. He liked the country so much he relocated permanently. Now, he’s about to launch an online product which he thinks will cater for today’s issues of information overload.
Unified Inbox, currently in beta, will be launched at a conference in Singapore in June. It’s already been well noticed as the only New Zealand company to rank among more than 200 entrants in the 2012 Business Insider Startup international list.
“I began to develop it four years ago to deal with information overload and to help manage my businesses,” he says. “Essentially, you create an account and add to it whatever you want to read from any source.
“It configures, say, all social media so I can deal with any user complaints or have collaborative discussions with my business partners overseas.
“If you start a business today and you haven’t mastered social media, you lose your single biggest opportunity.”
Ruckert is a concert pianist by training. It was his former Swiss music teacher that recommended he visit New Zealand. She was married to international conductor Dorati, who had performed for four US presidents and at one stage conducted the London Symphony Orchestra.
Ruckert spent his initial time on Waiheke Island – he is domiciled there now – helping run the music museum there. He still gets to play Paderewski’s piano every week at the museum.
He got into the online business after a trip to Greece in 1998. “There’s a special kind of light there, and I found the ultra violet helped a skin condition I had. It led me to read a book on light as the medicine of the future, and about how the full spectrum of the sun affects glands.
He set up a site called Viva-lite.com, manufacturing and selling specialist light bulbs originally used in US submarines to deliver the necessary level of ultra violet for good health.
“We manufacture in Germany, China and South Korean and sell into Europe, India and Australia,” he says.
He then established another online, related business, Wellness-shop.com.
“Viva-lite provided the income, and I thought ‘why wouldn’t people want to buy things like water filters?’
“After I launched Wellness-shop, I flew to New Zealand. I was half way here and I already had an order for 600 Euros.
“The lesson is: don’t under-estimate the power of e-commerce.”
Today, he sells New Zealand product, such as manuka honey, back into Germany and India.
Regulation has become a bugbear. “If I had to start today, I’ve no idea how I would handle all the government charges. They kill innovation so quickly.”
Ruckert concedes that there are competitors for Unified Inbox in the social spaces “but none that does what we do across the board”.
He has a German patent on the product and has applied for three more.
The beta programme has 2000 sign-offs in 72 countries.
“The research firm Basex found that in 2010 information overload alone contributed to a $US987 billion productivity loss for companies in the US,” he says. “A typical manager spends around 3.5 years of his life attended to completely unnecessary emails – not counting spam and social media.
“Unified Inbox allows you to manage that information flow. You choose your own backup, and it defaults to either the fastest, cheapest or most reliable delivery – whatever you choose.”
Ruckert says he’s looking for resellers in New Zealand to tie in with the international launch in June.