Liquid Labs, a new ‘innovation laboratory’ based in Hamburg, has just released its first beta product, an expense management tool called Mavendi. If it takes off, it may validate an interesting approach to marrying innovation with aggressive execution.
The company was founded at the start of February by two prominent and entrepreneurial former VCs — Paul Jozefak and Michael Backes – who decided to eschew the standard VC, incubator and accelerator models for an idea-factory approach that’s slightly reminiscent of what Google Labs used to do. Mavendi is the first result, and Jozefak says the next product will arrive as soon as April or May.
In some ways, Liquid Labs is setting itself up as an alternative to the likes of Rocket Internet, the incubator-slash-accelerator that pumps out clones and, according to many, gives the German startup scene a bad name. Except Liquid Labs is trying to develop its own ideas, not those of other companies.
In common with those services, Mavendi provides a way to scan or photograph paper receipts (or at least it will when the optical character recognition feature and mobile apps have been ironed out), and supplies a dedicated email address for users that can be used to collect electronic receipts.
One difference is that Mavendi encourages its customers to use their Mavendi address while doing their online shopping, and not just for forwarding and storing existing emails.
“Most people have a specific email account that they use to shop, because we know we’re going to get dumped on by all those merchants who want to advertise stuff,” Jozefak told me. “We filter out what you don’t want to see.”
But while most of what it does seems similar to rivals, Jozefak says the real differentiation will come down the line, as Mavendi adds new features to help people break down their spending and square it up with their budgets.
“We want to become the main platform for invoice management, where every other application that does something that requires receipts would plug into us,” Jozefak said.
It’s the speed at which Mavendi arrived that’s most impressive – an almost Rocket-esque eight weeks. Jozefak readily admits the product is still rough around the edges, but says “the whole concept of how Liquid Labs works is to get products out as quickly as possible to see if the market has any need for it.”
If Mavendi picks up a few thousand users then Liquid Labs will consider investing more in it (they’ll put up to €250,000 — that’s €330,000 — into each project’s early stages, although Jozefak says the firm hasn’t spent that much on Mavendi yet). If not, then it will move on.
Perhaps innovation and a focus on speedy execution can go hand in hand after all. Time will tell.