Interim Business Development with the Startup Refinder

Interim Business Development with the Startup Refinder

Startup Business Development


Interim CMO with Startup Refinder


Industry: Internet Start-up, Collaborative tools, semantic technology, full-text search in the cloud, industry solution for tax consultants and auditors.
Project: Interim Management (Marketing Director) and development of the two new business areas (Business Development Manager) Industry Solution for Tax Advisors/Auditors and Refinder Cloud Search.
Company: Gnowsis e.U., Operator of Refinder.
Contact person: Dr. Leo Sauermann (Managing Director), Dr. Bernhard Schandl (CTO)


Refinder is a service of the startup Gnowsis e.U. The founders Leo Sauermann and Bernhard Schandl had successfully completed 3 founding years with their service “Refinder for Teams”. The company, funded by inits, aws and ffg, had built up its first customer base and consisted of 4 employees. To strengthen the management team, Leo Sauermann was looking for a Marketing Director.

An external consultant in an interim role is not a standard solution for filling a Marketing Director. The advantage for the founders was to bring someone into the team who brings goal-oriented, proven processes from his experience with other companies into the startup. This makes it more likely that results will be achieved quickly.

Once we started working together on marketing, two additional business areas emerged that the founders wanted to implement: Refinder Cloud Search and an industry solution for tax consultants and auditors. A pilot project provided the first indications that the demand for the new business areas was there. We started the development of these two business areas.


We have at Refinder

  • analyzed the existing positioning (customer development, insight interviews according to Lean Startup) and
  • started new marketing campaigns based on this analysis.
  • Set up a lead generation process to test the process and the messages within 2 months and then put them on a broader basis for sales activities.
  • Started business models and partner negotiations for two new business areas.

Success factors

A functioning sales funnel can be built and tested within 2 months.

The chemistry must be right. Negotiations with potential partners, customer interviews conducted in pairs, on-the-fly handover of leads only work if the client and consultant really get along well during implementation.

As with many other startups, one of the biggest challenges in this project was to keep the team motivated. The thrust sometimes changes in short intervals, the team still has to be kept up to date and fully behind every change so that the implementation works out well. Communication is very important here, as is not losing sight of the respective goal.


Target group-oriented marketing

In the area of ongoing marketing activities, we conducted numerous analyses on competition, pricing, and positioning. We analyzed the data of Refinder customers regarding needs and use of the service and conducted user interviews, as well as increased blogging. For keyword optimization, we performed numerous analyses and adapted the texts accordingly. This enabled us to launch target group-oriented campaigns.

In the two new business areas, we agreed on around 20 structured customer-depth interviews to obtain information on demand, pain points, product features and price points. The results of the customer development interviews were incorporated into the sales arguments, as well as into product development and pricing for a licensing model.

Development of new business areas

In a further step, we developed a business model, which we discussed with several potential partners in the following weeks. Petra Wolkenstein led the CXO-level negotiations on the partnerships. This allowed us to fill capability gaps in the business model. As an important input for the business model, we created the business case in several iterations, which also became necessary for investor meetings as preparation.

Sales Lead Generation

We launched Sales Leads Generation for both new business areas. We ran two tracks in parallel, cold calling and warm contacting in the founders’ and Petra Wolkenstein’s networks. We set up the Sales Leads Management process with targets and started to research the contacts with the three of us and work through them with predefined messages. We were able to reduce the sales cycle to 2 months to bring leads to closing. This allowed us to make decisions on leads more quickly.

Partner negotiations and management

After a two-week induction period, Petra Wolkenstein took over not only the marketing director’s agenda, but also the management of sales activities. In daily business, she operated as the third member of the management team alongside the founders. For example, she was responsible for the preparation of investor meetings and partner negotiations.

About the collaboration

Dr. Leo Sauermann about the collaboration: 

Petra got marketing for our company on the right track. Her razorsharp analytical skills made her understand our positioning faster than anyone else. Combined with her effective work practice and inexhaustible stamina when getting things done, she set up two major marketing&sales campaigns at Refinder and got the team running along them within a week. Her interpersonal skills, leading skills, and bright cleverness made her a blessing for our team. She got everyone excited and kept momentum and activities up. Having a well-woven network, being responsible, reliable, trustable, and experienced in negotiation situations she brought us high-profile leads and access to decision makers in international companies. Wishing you all the best! Linkedin

Dr. Bernhard Schandl about the collaboration: 

Petra supported Gnowsis over a period of four months as interim marketing director. During that time, she set up a highly efficient sales funnel and managed to run marketing and sales campaigns for three different products. Her extraordinary communication and organization skills, as well as her outcome-driven style of work, made it a great pleasure to work with her. Her „let’s do it“ attitude was a perfect match to the dynamics of a startup team, and her highly effective work style, even under constantly changing conditions, lead to impressive results under very tight time constraints. Her high-grade network and her impressive negotiation skills helped Gnowsis to raise the quality of the sales activities to a new level. Besides all that, working with her was always great fun! I sincerely thank Petra for the time we spent together and wish her all the best for her future. No doubt it will be a good one. Linkedin

Petra Wolkenstein about the collaboration: 

How does online collaboration work in a startup that offers a service that helps teams collaborate in the cloud? In its own service, of course. Refinder for Teams was an experience I would never want to miss. Tasks based on documents; chats that “stick” to documents as well as tasks; a good overview; grouping into topics; full-text search across many, many cloud apps where source entries and documents reside: This is “collaborative wonderland“.

After we started with pure marketing activities, it soon turned out that sales, business planning and partner negotiations also came into focus. The cooperation with Leo Sauermann, Bernhard Schandl and the marketing team was very goal-oriented and accompanied by quick decisions. That’s how a startup full of smart people has to work. I wish Refinder all the best in supporting knowledge workers in the cloud.