An Interview with #GAalumni, Tim Miller, Co-Founder & Managing Director at CERTIF-ID
Tim Miller, Co-Founder & Managing Director of German #EduTech startup CERTIF-ID, successfully graduated from German Accelerator’s Southeast Asia program in June last year. What does it take to make it in Southeast Asia, and how does German Accelerator actively support startups to scale successfully? We spoke to Tim as he shared his insights on the opportunities, successes, and challenges he faced while on the journey to expansion. Read on also to find out what’s next on CERTIF-ID’s agenda. Hint: the beginning of their first significant fundraising round.
Tim, tell us a little bit about CERTIF-ID.
Tim: Our whole business model is driven by the education industry and labor mobility. So we enable people with the right skills to get the job where there is demand and we match people from developing markets with developed markets like Germany. Certif-ID provides its members with a platform to build, develop and showcase technical competence. Focusing on the education sector, educators, recruiters, and professionals can share knowledge, plan learning journeys and search based on verified credentials.
Why did you choose to come to Southeast Asia?
Tim: Certif-ID bridges the gap between education and employment. Our goal is to harmonize educational standards and bring equal opportunity to technical professionals around the world. In line with this, we are focused on building a community of professionals in developing markets and helping them showcase their skills to developed markets like Germany. Therefore, we started our international focus on India, intending to establish operations in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries in 2020.
You were in Singapore when you joined the program. Given the sudden global changes through COVID-19, how did that impact your program experience and expansion journey?
Tim: We initially missed out on large scale pitch events and group coaching sessions. However, the program continued digitally, which was ideal. My family was with me, and without a valid residency visa, it didn’t make sense to get stuck, hence leaving Singapore. Within a couple of weeks of the new restrictions being in place, the program adapted well. When the pandemic hit, we faced some significant challenges and had to think about crisis management sooner rather than later to sustain the business.
How did the German Accelerator team support you during these challenging times?
Tim: The support we received from the German Accelerator mentor network was invaluable during this time. They helped us with scenario-planning where we had to answer difficult questions, which enabled us to rewrite the business plan, financial modeling, market messaging, and investment strategies. It was amazing because we got new customers and partnerships after we remarketed our product to our audience!
What was it like working with your lead and expert mentors?
Tim: We had a great experience with the mentors of the program. Our lead mentor, Daniel Callaghan, was an excellent fit for our team and provided us with a lot of industry and ‘startup’ knowledge that helped us tremendously along the way. We had generous support from several other mentors, who supported us to enter the Philippine market. Tina DiCicco and Joseph De Leon were terrific partners and helped us open doors and fine-tune our offering to the Philippine audience. We are still in regular contact with all of them!
Let’s talk about your successes in Southeast Asia. What were some of the significant accomplishments of CERTIF-ID, and how did the German Accelerator program help achieve them?
Tim: We were able to forge a strong partnership with TÜV Rheinland Philippines and multiple government agencies to enter the market for our blockchain certification solution and our B2C Skillpass product. The Certif-ID business in India has gone from strength to strength over 2020. In just a year, we are now working with over 200 training institutes, have issued around 120,000 certificates, and have over 45,000 professionals using Certif-ID. Finally, we built a partnership with UNESCO that culminated in the co-publishing of a Policy Brief titled, “Using Digital Credentials to keep the promises of TVET,” which has opened several doors to governments and policymakers from several countries in the region.
The support of the German Accelerator mentors and their network was pivotal in the successes we’ve achieved in Southeast Asia. Bringing this progress together, we had excellent help from our mentors to refine our strategy, focus on pitch decks and look at our investment strategies moving forward.
What do you see for CERTIF-ID’s long-term future? What are the next steps for your company?
Tim: We are launching the Certif-ID Discovery platform, which brings together coaching, mentoring, digital learning, and curated content to our audience. With generous support from our partners, we can get thousands of courses to our audience and build our B2C offering. We are working with the World Bank on a Bangladesh project and have launched our business through a partner in Pakistan. Last week, we signed our first client in Dubai and have several options to move into the Middle East. We still intend to grow our operations and believe that Singapore is a great focal point for growth throughout the Southeast Asian region. Finally, we will begin our first significant fundraising round and look forward to sharing positive news on that front in the coming few months.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to break into the Southeast Asia market, and would you recommend joining our program?
Tim: The German Accelerator program has such a strong group of dedicated mentors with a wealth of contacts that will undoubtedly support you on your journey into the region. As a region, Southeast Asia is so diverse, and it is essential to adapt your strategy accordingly. No one size fits all. Be patient and be ready. You never know when that golden opportunity may come your way.
Let’s talk a little bit about the learnings. What are your three main takeaways from your time in the program?
- Network is everything. Your lead mentor will help you open doors, challenge your plans, ask difficult questions and prepare you for the market.
- Be prepared to learn and adapt. You may think you know your business inside out, but new perspectives from new markets will urge you to pick your business apart and reassemble them.
- Seriously adapt. A model that works in Europe and Germany will not work in Southeast Asia.
In your opinion, what makes a good entrepreneur?
Tim: Love what you do and believe in what you do. It is vital to ensure a balance not to get too consumed by what you already know. It may make you miss valuable chances.