Founder and COO at Botfriends
FFM-Team: How did you decide to found a company?
Michelle: I met my co-founders through exchange programs at university. After we had all done internships in large companies, we realized that we simply wanted more speed and more freedom. We then wrote a joint project paper on bots and the underlying technology and used this as the basis for the foundation of our company Botfriends.
FFM-Team: How did your startup develop and what exactly do you do at Botfriends?
Michelle: We founded Botfriends in our last year at university simply as a project-based company without our own product. This gave us enough time to get to know the market, acquire our first big customers such as Porsche and to think about the design and appearance of our own chatbot solution. We started working on the development of our product in the middle of 2019. Currently we are focusing on creating our own chatbot solution and transferring our existing customers to our product. Over the next few months we also want to increase our market share. This means raising capital and focusing even more strongly on the areas of development and sales.
FFM-Team: At the beginning, what were the biggest challenges?
Michelle: The biggest challenge was to find the courage to do it. Our professor for entrepreneurship was an important factor here. He was not only our mentor, he even gave us a private loan so that we could establish our limited liability company – a German GmbH. That meant we didn’t have any financial worries which gave us the final impetus.
FFM-Team: At the moment there are relatively few female founders like you in the startup sector – the proportion of women is about 16%. What could be the reason for this and how can it be changed?
Michelle: In my experience, women are often more anxious about starting a business – especially about financial losses – and are not as relaxed as men when it comes to the general lack of security in this area. These concerns grow when female founders have to take on responsibility for their family alongside their business. If the proportion of female founders is to increase, this lack of security must be remedied; mothers should get more support and balancing work and family planning should be made easier. It is important to create a level playing field for men and women so that family responsibilities are better distributed.
FFM-Team: As a founder in the field of artificial intelligence you are still a rarity. How can we get more women interested in AI?
Michelle: I can only tell you about my time at university: As a woman with relatively little previous knowledge of programming, I was always in the minority. Women quickly start to feel uncomfortable in this environment and don’t want to ask questions. You have to develop a thick skin. Women should network much more closely in these fields and exchange experiences more. I think tutoring programs where you can test your potential are a very good approach here.