With two failed enterprises and debts to pay off, Jochen Lillich tried a period of corporate respectability.
Much of it was good, but the entrepreneurial urge was tough to bury.
Now working on his third, and ultimately successful, business, Lillich is philosophical about the path he found himself on.
Quoting the famous, American pop painter, Bob Ross, Lillich said, “There are no mistakes. There are just happy accidents.”
Co-founder and CEO of freistil IT (@freistil), Lillich was speaking at the monthly Entrepreneurs Anonymous meetup in Dublin.
Raised in Germany, Lillich was a childhood tinkerer and experimenter. “I’ve been a geek for all my life,” he said.
But his interests changed radically when his parents bought him a PC when he was 14.
Lillich set up his first company in Germany but that failed and he was left €30,000 in debt.
He put that loss down to not knowing the basics of running a business.
Lillich’s second effort, also in Germany, saw him team up with someone who studied business. This was an IT services company. But again, business problems scuttled his efforts.
A pricey phone system and ergonomic lights were among their purchases. “We incurred a lot of costs without a clue how to get any customers,” he said.
That company folded, and nursing a fresh €20,000 debt, Lillich opted for the corporate life.
Initially hired to train, he was soon promoted to manage large high-performance data centers at web.de. The work was challenging and a good learning experience.
But in 2010, Lillich read a book called, Escape From Cubicle Nation. The entrepreneurial bug had bitten again, and soon circumstances would provide another opportunity.
Following a three-week vacation cut off from the world, Lillich came back to find messages from a colleague “on all available channels.” Voicemail, email and even Facebook was urging him to get in touch.
Lillich made the call and was advised to sit down. “Last Friday, your boss presented your replacement,” he was told.
Without a job — but with a severance package — and with an infant to support, Lillich said he thought long and hard about his options.
His two previous experiences figured heavily as did the need to become conversant in taxes, HR, accounting and the whole mess of time-consuming business tasks.
But Lillich went for it. He co-founded freistil IT to serve the need for high-performance, managed web hosting.
The business now employs five, and following successes in the German-speaking market, Lillich decided to move the company to Ireland to expand in to the Anglosphere.
Although the Irish are fond of complaining about their country, Lillich was complimentary. Setting up his company here was easy, he said. “And networking here is much easier than in Germany,” he added.
His advice on networking:
Have the courage to reach out [at events like this] because help might only be a table away.
Enterprise Ireland has also helped by putting Lillich in touch with mentors who are help him build a strategy for expansion in to his new market.
Another observation Lillich had was that the Irish are less risk averse than the Germans. “What we do is get insurance,” he said.