How does one go from being an employee of a standard software company to a pioneer in low-code business applications? Why were a large portion of courage and a lot of creativity decisive for professional success? And what does the US Airbase in Ramstein have to do with it? There were many curious stories on the way from the idea to the professional low code business application platform. Learn more in the founder story.
The beginning: Once as always, please!
The story of Brixxbox begins in 2014 at two software manufacturers of ERP systems in Germany. Stephan Krage in one company – employed as ERP Project Manager. Sven Lüttgens and Udo Hensen in another ERP software company – one Chief Operating Officer, the other responsible for sales. At that moment, none of the three would dare to dream that one of them would later become the CEO of Brixxbox, and the other two the CEO of a joint company and co-partner of Brixxbox.
The project methodology in both standard ERP software houses is very similar:
The consultant is responsible for the realization of the ERP project at the customer’s site. If it is discovered that functionalities are missing in the standard software, a nerve-racking feature request circle begins, which causes frustration both for the customer and for sales, consulting and programming on the part of the software provider. Because it costs time and resources. For years, all three had taken the project methodology and the basic principle of standard software for granted. At some point, however, all three came to the realization almost simultaneously: There has to be a simpler way!
The decision: Why be complicated when it can be simple?
As fate would have it, the same realization leads to two landmark decisions: While Sven Lüttgens and Udo Hensen decided to become self-employed and focus only on consulting for the time being, Stephan Krage opted for a different path. Driven by the vision that there must be a simpler way to implement even complex IT projects more flexibly and easily, he finally develops – after many sleepless nights with the help of several liters of coffee – the first prototype of the brixxbox as a windows application and founds Brixxbox GmbH.
While Stephan Krage is still working on the brixxbox solution in the basement, testing and optimizing it, Sven Lüttgens and Udo Hensen and their company GEBRA-IT make the decision to expand their business model to include software implementation. Something modern and flexible was needed – they both agreed on that. They did not want to recommend the rigid solutions of standard ERP providers to their customers. After months of searching, they were disillusioned: all the solutions they had looked at always worked according to the same principle. Innovative is different.
Two companies – one vision: making IT projects easier
Then one morning, Stephan Krage called Udo Hensen: He had developed a software. It should be flexible and super easy to use. Even highly complex IT projects such as ERP systems can be implemented flexibly and scalably using a kind of building block principle. The first reaction: laughter. How is that supposed to work? How can this software do something that other big players on the market can’t? But the three knew each other from before and gave it a chance.
Sven decides to implement a test project with brixxbox: His racing team – he had already been an enthusiastic racer for years – is to be digitized. After a few days, an enthusiastic call to Udo Hensen: “Udo – this really works!” Within a few weeks, Sven had independently configured the racing stable’s yet very individual processes. Finally, they have found the software that they can recommend to their customers with a clear conscience.
The next few months are later to prove to be the cornerstones of a successful collaboration: While Udo Hensen gets involved in consulting, oversees the software selection process of the Protestant Church, and participates in various tenders to keep Sven’s back free, Stephan and Sven join forces to further optimize and expand the brixxbox prototype.
Friday night an e-mail opens Udo Hensen sleepily: “Dear Mr. Hensen, we are pleased to inform you that we have decided to cooperate with you.” Udo can’t believe his eyes: The US Army had commissioned GEBRA-IT through a tender to equip the Defense Commissary Agency’s Central Meat Processing Plant at the US Airbase in Ramstein with an ERP system based on the brixxbox. A project worth millions! Great joy for all three, then great disillusionment: How is the small team supposed to handle this mammoth task?
Small Team, Big Deal: Proof-Of-Concept
The coming weeks and months at the end of 2017 are characterized by a roller coaster of emotions – always somewhere between self-assurance and the nagging question: How are we actually going to manage this? The requirements catalog is several hundred pages thick, not only the software is to be implemented, but also servers and all the hardware must be organized.
Step by step, the three are moving forward, reaching milestones and clearing a number of hurdles. At the beginning of 2018, Stephan, Sven and Udo are invited by the project managers to a one-week workshop at the US Army headquarters in Fort Lee, Virginia, USA. For one week, they listen to the presentations of the contact persons, who explain to them how they implement IT projects in the Army. Quietly, though, they just think to themselves, “All well and good, but can we even do this?”
Back home, the next difficult decision is not long in coming: Since the client does not want to pay for the hardware until after the project has been completed, there is a question of pre-financing the hardware worth several million euros. Where many others desperately bury their heads in the sand, the three look for a solution. Talks are held with banks (“What? Several million euros? Why?”), negotiations with hardware suppliers follow. The rescue: BIZERBA, a leading supplier of solutions in the field of weighing, cutting and labeling technology, agrees to go along with the client’s conditions and makes a complete advance payment. Stephan Krage is certain: “If BIZERBA had not acted in such a trusting and accommodating manner, we would not have made it.”
At the beginning of 2019, the time has finally come: After quite a few months of ups and downs and an attitude somewhere between hope and despair, the brixxbox is successfully put into operation at the meat plant on the US airbase in Ramstein. And we are proud to say that “the Amis”, as we affectionately call them, are more than satisfied to this day.
2019 to date: Expansion and big plans
The budget from the successfully implemented project gives both Brixxbox and GEBRA-IT the chance to expand their teams with many smart and innovative thinking minds. The special thing: Almost all of them have an ERP background and shared the same pains that Stephan Krage, Sven Lüttgens and Udo Hensen had felt.
Volker Thebrath, for example, has been part of the team since 2018. Previously employed as a software developer at a standard software provider for almost 20 years, he is now passionate about the further development and optimization of the brixxbox as Development Lead at Brixxbox. For example, he was also the one who, with the help of his team, developed the brixxbox into a web-based cloud solution.
Or Patrique Lafos: For more than 16 years he consulted customers for a standard provider and implemented ERP projects according to the old familiar principle before he switched to GEBRA-IT in 2019 and, as Head of Consulting, meanwhile implements IT projects that make him happy: “Finally, I go into the conversation with my customer and know exactly: There is no requirement that we can’t realize with a perfect fit.”
In order to make the brixxbox as a low-code tool accessible to other IT consultants and IT decision-makers, the ambitious team has further developed the brixxbox into the Enterprise Low Code Application Platform. In doing so, Brixxbox goes with the trend: statistics from Gartner show that the trend worldwide is towards low-code-based application development and away from rigid, inflexible standard systems. Gartner predicts that over 50% of large companies worldwide will use a low-code based application platform by 2023.