EPFL spin-off Nexthink is the next Swiss unicorn
Lausanne-based start-up Nexthink announces a Series D financing round, raising the valuation of the company to USD 1.1 billion. Swisstech takes the opportunity to speak to co-founder Pedro Bados about the EPFL, the idea behind Nexthink and Switzerland as an innovation hub.
It's no secret that entrepreneurship and innovation can lead to great business success. EPFL alumni Pedro Bados, Patrick Hertzog and Vincent Bieri developed the first real-time end-user monitoring technology for computer systems during their studies in electrical engineering and computer science in Lausanne and in 2004 filed the patent that would become the core of the company's success. Sixteen years later, in February 2021, Nexthink has announced a Series D financing round totalling over USD 180 million, reaching a company valuation of USD 1.1 billion. It is the second spin-off from EPFL with unicorn status after MindMaze in 2016 and only one of four Swiss companies to have achieved this milestone.
Celebrating a new unicorn in the Swiss innovation ecosystem does not happen every day. So what does it take to create a unicorn and how did EPFL and Switzerland help on this journey? Pedro Bados, CEO and co-founder of Nexthink cleared his agenda for swisstech readers interested in learning more about the story behind this success.
Pedro, thank you so much for your time. These are exciting days for you. What does it feel like to know that you are just one out of four Swiss 'unicorns'?
It's a great milestone for the team and a recognition of our market potential. On a personal level, I have never been prouder of the great pool of talent we have, along with the number of customers we've attracted – more than a thousand customers with 11 million employees are currently benefiting from Nexthink solutions.
You came up with the idea of detecting and visualising abnormal behaviour in a computer network during your time at EPFL. Can you tell us more about how this idea evolved?
I was presenting some of the research I had done around advanced artificial intelligence at EPFL. One of the outside reviewers of this project was an IT director at a famous watch company, who said the research was so innovative that if it could be turned into a product, he would buy it. And that got me thinking that we really had something here. There has always been an inherent contradiction in IT— employees experience their digital work environments far differently from how IT perceives them. CIOs are understandably hyper-focused on delivering projects on time and on budget, but that doesn't have to come at the expense of poor experiences. This is a near-universal problem. Once we developed the technology that could effectively rectify this discrepancy, we were off.
How did the EPFL support you in your early days?
EPFL was not only a rigorous and stimulating learning environment, but it also provides a network of talented engineers, entrepreneurs and business leaders to connect with, which is crucial to any start-up, especially in the early days of starting a business.
Are you still connected to EPFL? If so, in which way?
Yes, we have many employees from the EPFL and contacts with professors and researchers. We would like to do more together in future collaborations.
When did you realise that you created something that could lead to something big? Did this moment change the way you were working?
Early on we knew we had something that could solve a major challenge for companies all over the world. It was then that we really committed to developing the technology into a product that would offer value unlike anything on the market.
You employ over 700 people in 9 countries. Why did you choose Lausanne as your headquarters?
My years at EPFL played a big part in the decision to establish our headquarters in Lausanne. There is a huge pool of talent, Swiss engineers are among the best in the world, and we were fortunate to be able build an extremely gifted team there. Since then, we have established a second headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, and we plan to hire an additional 200-300 employees in the next 12-18 months. We have more than 120 new job openings right now, so I would encourage jobseekers to check them out here.
Is Switzerland a good location for start-ups? If yes, why?
I believe it is. Switzerland's central European location provides access to a huge pool of talent. But more importantly, I think that that Swiss culture is very valuable for start-ups. It imbues new companies with a sense of corporate social responsibility and concern for the environment. Here at Nexthink, we are deeply committed to giving back to our communities and championing sustainability.
If you had one wish for the Swiss innovation ecosystem, what would it be? What could be improved?
To have more people who have built great companies mentoring and being involved with the next generations. I see too many 'professional' advisers who have never been founders themselves at scale.
A lot of young founders are now looking up to you: what key advice do you have for them?
Don't build a company for the destination; build it for the journey and the people. Success can come or not, but it shouldn't matter as much in the big scheme of things. Everybody has 24 hours in a day and you decide how you spend them.
Nexthink is the leader in digital employee experience management software. The company gives IT leaders unprecedented insight into employees’ daily experiences of technology at the device level – freeing IT to progress from reactive problem solving to proactive optimization. Nexthink enables its more than 1,000 customers to provide better digital experiences to more than 11 million employees. Dual headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland and Boston, Massachusetts, Nexthink has 9 offices worldwide.