Alice Kahrmann Interviews Dr. Remo Gerber, UK and Western Europe CEO of Gett, the go-to app for instantly booking a licensed Black Cab.

Some people just have an innate ability to make things seem easy don’t they? It’s the skill of the seasoned entrepreneur, a calm, laid back demeanour, a necessity for anyone working in the high octane algorithm fuelled world of tech, and it’s evidently in abundance where Dr. Remo Gerber is concerned, it helps he’s Swiss originally from Zurich (a defined musicality to his voice), he’s a dab hand at guiding large incumbents through the rigours of world domination (previously he was the COO at Groupon as well as being one of the leading lights at management consulting firm McKinsey, not to mention a scientist in biophysics at Oxford whose discoveries have been instrumental in progressing treatment of Mad Cow Disease). Now he’s tasked with revolutionising the service structure of Gett, previously a black cab provider in a very sleek app, soon to join the queue to provide well everything, food, cigarettes, milk, whatever your heart desires straight to your front door.

‘To keep people engaged’ is his mission statement. ‘With the spirit and momentum to continue with change. One of the reasons why I joined Gett from Groupon is that virtual handshake between technology; the online experience and making sure that whatever is on our platform is of excellent quality.’

At present his time is spent overseeing the implementation of ‘different kinds of technology. Really what’s important is that we already have a user base, a very high end user base; some use us twice or even three times per day, our technology is really an integrated part of their lives. We want to add to their day-to-day user experience. We also have users on an occasional basis. So we look at how do we engage these users more? And then how do we add additional services? The principle of ‘on demand’; getting something within ten minutes. We check all the licenses, we make sure that from the onset you have great quality of suppliers.’ And of course there’s the hallowed rating system already in operation for the black cab that will be rolled out across the platform. ‘If we get bad feedback from consumers we follow up on that and that can actually lead to the termination of a driver.’ You have been told.

I am fascinated by Groupon it has to be said, having used it once or twice I was more than a little intrigued by the business model, did it really benefit the service providers at all? With such low prices could anyone bar the incumbent really win? ‘The basis principle is that when it’s quiet say like a restaurant, you’re still maintaining everything except the variable cost. You still have the same members of staff that need to be paid even if you have an empty table. So at least you are covering your costs even if you are not making profit.’ Groupon of course was an invaluable experience ‘I was running all the operations side for Northern Europe, that was ‘ the deal factory’ vetted, checked, partners were managed and then there was the customer care element, it was a very large organisation. At it’s core it’s ‘a platform in the middle, you have all the local merchants, and then you have a strong customer service, a lot of people did see Groupon as the provider of the service to a degree and there’s a lot of similarities [with Gett]. We don’t employ the drivers, but we are obviously making that connection. At the same time we give a 24-7 customer service to our users. What’s different to Groupon or on top of that is that we are servicing large corporates, consulting firms where we have the entire company that uses us. That adds another level of complexity.’

Gerber's is without a doubt an illustrious career full of experiences for some pertinent do’s and don’ts for those hoping to emulate what he has achieved. ‘It’s interesting,’ he says. ‘Online is a difficult one to say, you cannot do this or do that… If you go into a five-man band, it’s very very different than if you were to apply to let’s say Google or Facebook. At the large corporate end there are great opportunities to get in through a graduate career - there you can basically move into various different spaces. What I generally see of course is the big issue for people to get into start-ups and be part of the value creation is really starting when you join at series A or series B; be part of an early team and then grow. To cut a long story short be a lot more opportunity seeking and less permission seeking and really push the opportunities forward yourself.’

For those seeking investment: ‘Have a very clear plan,' he says, 'know your numbers, the key thing in order to raise a much larger sum is to actually have a credible track record, it’s very important for the investors that I speak to that they see a clear path that they are investing in. Someone who has a very clear concise story and then of course be ambitious but be realistic.’

Speaking of business opportunities what does Gerber think of the recent election win for the Conservatives? ‘It’s extremely positive,’ he says with conviction, ‘They took a lot of different views into perspective and I think being Swiss [Gerber wasn’t able to vote as he is a Swiss national] that is part of how Switzerland governs. I think people see opportunities for plans that probably were being held back are being accelerated and for the UK over the last five years in the situation we were in, it’s probably the best possible outcome. For us as a business a lot of it comes from B2B so it’s important to see that positive business environment; it creates a lot more investment.’

‘Generally I would say, continuing the attempt to get back to a balanced budget is important; giving more credibility to the country than focusing on more spending, that in my opinion should continue. There are a lot of different policies but the country in particular needs stability; creating a great environment for businesses to invest.’ Gerber is also vocal about the need to invest in IT skills. ‘The biggest things that the government needs to start tackling is the education side of things. There’s a huge need in London for these types of skills and there’s parts of the country where these skills are very much in demand. Also really making sure that from an immigration policy we don’t shut the door on highly skilled people... My one hope for the government is that it will continue to have a balanced approach on various issues and I think listening to David Cameron I am sure that is the case.'

With regards to human resources, what is Gerber’s interview technique? Good cop or bad cop? ‘The biggest thing you want to find out,’ he says with aplomb, ‘is whether someone can really add value and bring creativity to the job and actually execute beyond just the completion of a task. An innate ability to push further than what they are being asked to do, it’s not a particular question it’s more about examples from their past where they have exemplified these things.’

Which brings us to the most rewarding aspect of Gerber’s work. ‘When I see people grow. From when I was at McKinsey Group till now; when I actually see young people; they are not entirely clear yet exactly where the journey is going yet.  Sometimes it is sad as much as it is pleasurable when they mature and move onto other adventures that may not be possible in their immediate surroundings, but it’s incredible to see people succeed.’

Gerber’s father is his most influential mentor, ‘he’s still running his own business. He’s retirement age and there’s no way it’s going to stop him so he’s clearly a very key force in my life. There were other people I talked to in the past especially in the McKinsey times, but my Dad is probably the most influential person.’ He must be very proud of you, I venture. ‘Yes!’ Gerber laughs. Which brings us to my final question, how on earth did Gerber get to where he is?! He laughs at the question (a big one!). ‘I was always trying different things,’ he says. ‘I think it’s an innate curiosity and unwillingness to accept the status quo, a kind of nervousness that starts when things stop developing and growing. But also I like to finish things, I like to start something and then really to see it through to completion. That’s probably what led me out of consulting. I don’t think there is a single moment of truth, it’s a lot of different things which came together alongside a willingness to work hard and get started, to keep looking and keep pushing.’

Remo Gerber’s Life Online:
 
His favourite business book:
The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ed Horowitz. It gives a great account of the different stages you go through when running a company.

His favourite website:
I keep reading The Economist, The Journal, the app edition.

His favourite app:
When I look at my phone, Google Maps, I use it all the time and Airbnb. Whenever possible I try to use it.

The last thing he bought online:
I am part of a wonderful wine club which is called Naked Wines, which is crowd-sourced vineyards and I think that was probably the last thing. When I was in Chile we went to visit some of the makers and how the investment comes about, it’s excellent produce.

Interview by Alice Kahrmann

June 2015