A Q&A with exploreB2B co-founder Susanna Gebauer. The Berlin–based company was founded in March 2010 and launched its English-language version earlier this month.
SUB: Please describe what exploreB2B is and the value proposition you bring to business-to-business networking.
Gebauer: exploreB2B is a content-oriented social platform for professionals. It allows users to write articles about their company, products, innovations, ideas and options for collaboration, or any professional topic. Professionals on the platform connect via comments on each article and a messaging service. The collection of articles written by users creates an extensive professional profile that exceeds that of any other social site. Content is sorted into categories and industries.
ExploreB2B focuses on bringing each user the precise content he or she needs. Subscriptions for categories, industries, individual users and companies allow users to become informed about the newest content; the advanced search prevents old content from getting lost.
ExploreB2B allows users to develop a solid, content-oriented B2B strategy that places the individual as an expert of an industry and/or the markets he or she serves.
SUB: Who are your target users?
Gebauer: People looking for new business connections. This includes business decision makers, sales and marketing people, people in research and development looking for solutions, scientific researchers looking for cooperation partners in companies, people looking for service providers and more. We have seen so many successful new connections and use cases on the site.
ExploreB2B is looking to positively change B2B networking and communication on a global scale.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Gebauer: While many social platforms attempt to connect professionals, none are focused on the specific enhancement of B2B discussion, networking, connection and collaboration through the use of articles and projects in the way that exploreB2B does.
People try to use all kinds of social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Quora for making B2B connections. Basically speaking, all of these networks can be considered competitors. But the fact is, these networks are not really effective in B2B interaction; they were not made for B2B and are only used out of lack of a better solution. We’d like to believe the concept of exploreB2B is a novelty.
SUB: What differentiates exploreB2B from the competition?
Gebauer: The key factors that differentiate exploreB2B from any other social platform today are a content oriented structure where articles allow users to publish a wide range of content; communication then revolves around this content. Using knowledge and expertise to initiate communication is crucial from a business-to-business perspective where content matters more than a personal profile.
Letting users focus—sorting content by category and industry, along with our subscription system, allows users to stay focused only on the content they need. This allows our users to stay on top of trends, innovations and business topics relevant to their profession, without getting lost in the social media noise found on other sites.
Content stays visible—on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook content can get lost within minutes. Content on exploreB2B stays visible even when it has aged, due to our advanced search functions which encourages new and relatively new information to continue to be discussed.
Advanced profiles—in addition to general information about people or companies, the sum of all articles of any member of exploreB2B forms an extensive professional profile that exceeds that of any other social platform. Company profiles allow the same for companies. The exploreB2B profile serves as a personal or company blog or portfolio.
Project Board—the Project Board makes the platforms crowdsourcing aspect even more apparent. Professionals from all over the world can make their current projects or requests visible to potential ‘solvers.’ Users can put a price on the solution to a problem. Projects can be shared, so users can pass the projects onto people they know might be interested in offering a solution. ExploreB2B helps to spread the word to the crowd.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Gebauer: My brother and co-founder, Jonathan Grueber, came up with the basic idea in 2009. By the end of 2009, he and I had a fairly detailed concept and were quite sure this was providing the solution to an existing problem. We spoke to some friends, former colleagues and business people assuring the need for such a service.
The first big step to take was finding developers. By chance, we met the founders of a newly founded web programming agency, which were instantly taken by the concept and soon a close partnership between the two companies formed.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for exploreB2B? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Gebauer: I had previously been involved in business development in a strategic consultancy. I was working exactly with the goals required in B2B interaction: building a reputation, getting to know people from your field of interest, developing relationships with decision makers. However, almost none of the people I met in my professional career were using social media for these kinds of processes. One of the reasons B2B companies are not very active in social media—apart from HR—is due to the wrong processes in the established networks. These people often feel uncomfortable in networks where they have to spam people to get noticed.
Our ‘aha’ moment came when I approached Jonathan so frustrated and he realized my problems could be solved with a specific, B2B networking platform.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Gebauer: Funding is always an issue with a startup. We started off self-funding, but that limits growth and development. We were lucky enough to be able to acquire state funding due to the high degree of innovation involved with the project.
When we first started, B2B was not exactly a hot topic in the tech world. People kept saying ‘why don’t you build something more exciting in B2C?’, or ‘there is LinkedIn, or in Germany Xing, I do not really use it and do not see the benefit. So why do you want to build something like it, when there are already so many large networks?’
As B2B is becoming more of a hot topic right now in startups and tech, and B2B social media becomes more of a priority for companies, we now realize we started at exactly the right time with exactly the right thing.
SUB: You’ve just made your official launch in the U.S. market. Why was this a particularly good time to move beyond Europe?
Gebauer: Quite early in establishing exploreB2B with the German version, we realized the maximum benefit of exploreB2B for companies could only be achieved after expanding to an international audience. A lot of people in larger companies and in science said: This is a great concept, but we need global connections. English is the international language for B2B communication, as well as in science. So going international with an English version was the logical step to take with exploreB2B.
The U.S. market leads in technological innovation—people in other countries like Germany closely watch the US market, and follow suit. Launching in the US was the first step for us to take exploreB2B truly worldwide.
This is a particularly good time for expanding to the U.S. because we now have a proven platform and technological basis. We can apply our experiences from the German market directly to the US and other leading markets around the world.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point? Do you plan to raise more funding in the near future?
Gebauer: We have received state funding from the Berlin development bank—Investitionsbank Berlin—via the Program for Science, Innovation and Technology—ProFIT. This is a special kind of funding, which leaves all shares of exploreB2B in our own hands.
In the future we might decide on raising more funding due to wanting to grow faster, this will then be a strategic decision.
SUB: What are your goals for exploreB2B over the next year or so?
Gebauer: In one word—growth!
exploreB2B – www.exploreb2b.com