The Journey of Tschaina: From Cabinetmaker to twigr Founder

Martin "Tschaina" Lieberherr, founder of twigr, on visionaries as role models, what he learned at Red Bull, and why mindfulness is very important to him.

Marc Bölsterli
Marc Bölsterli

Martin "Tschaina" Lieberherr, founder of twigr, on visionaries as role models, what he learned at Red Bull, and why mindfulness is very important to him.

Hier geht es zur deutschen Version dieses Interviews.

Hello Tschaina, great that you visit us in our office in Zurich. How are you?

Thank you very much for the invitation! I’m doing very well.

You've had many professional stations. How did your career start?

I’m a trained cabinetmaker, but I didn't stay long in this profession before joining the sales department at OPO Oeschger. There I learned the craft of selling. After a few years, I started throwing parties on the side, which went very well and I enjoyed it a lot. After 15 years as a salesman, I got the offer to join Red Bull as a Musketeer in 2005.

How did you experience your time at Red Bull?

It was a very instructive time. I learned how to create desire and trigger positive emotions. As Red Bull Musketeers, we were ambassadors for the brand, not salespeople. The reaction to this job was simply "WOW."  If I called somewhere in the furthest village in the canton of Glarus on behalf of Red Bull, I got an appointment immediately. This was no comparison to my time at OPO Oeschger when nobody was interested in me. I was also able to meet Dietrich Mateschitz, the founder of Red Bull, in person. It was a very nice time.

"When I said I was working for Red Bull, the reaction was often just «WOW»"

Why did you quit Red Bull?

In 2006, I got the opportunity to take over Hotel Kurhaus in Lenzerheide together with Andrea and Giancarlo Pallioppi. Suddenly, I was a career changer in the hotel industry. I was employed there until 2014 and we realized a beautiful success story. Together with our team, we were able to spruce up a dusty hotel. We opened new clubs and bars, set up lounges, and organized parties. Fortunately, because of my experience as a cabinet maker and as a former party organizer, I knew very well how a successful bar had to be set up. I often even helped plan and build the bars myself.

Then you came to the city of Zurich, right?

Yes, exactly. In 2014, I was commissioned by the new owner of the Kaufleuten to make it shine again, just as I had done with the Kurhaus. It was a great honor for me because this location belongs to the absolute top class; for me, it was like a knighthood.

Why did you leave Kaufleuten?

I had to take a 2.5-year break because I was suffering from burnout. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I spent three months in inpatient treatment and then three months in the day clinic. While the inpatient clinic is comparable to a hotel, in the day clinic all walks of life are represented. One of them always wore the same sweater. I asked him if he had several of them and he replied that he only owned that one. He couldn't afford more. This poverty was very shocking for me. It was a very difficult time. Many friends turned away from me, and out of all my friends, eventually, only a handful remained.

"Out of all my friends, in the end, only a handful remained."

How were you able to successfully reintegrate into the job market?

I started working two hours a day. My first task was to fold 4,000 letters and put them in envelopes. That was a big change for me - before my burnout, I was responsible for 350 employees, and now that was going to be my new job. It felt like a punishment. Nevertheless, I started working and after a short time, I developed a system and was quickly twice as fast as everyone else (laughs).

After that, you entered the hotel business once again.

After my reintegration into the professional world, I tried my hand at other industries. However, I was drawn to the mountains once again. I became Vice Director of the Morosani Group, which includes, for example, the Posthotel and the Schweizerhof in Davos. This position didn't quite fulfill me, which is why I went back to the Kurhaus. However, it became clear to me relatively quickly that the time had come for me to leave the hotel industry. I decided to switch to recruitment and was able to build up a large network. I realized that I should use this network professionally.

This brings us to your startup. What is twigr?

Traditional search engines like Google don't show you what you’re looking for, but what they want you to find. I wanted to do something against that and founded twigr, where users can find what they are looking for based on recommendations from our partners and members. The platform has both a B2B and a B2C section. At twigr, we have handpicked partners who are experts and decision-makers in their field. All our partners are connected. On the B2C side, partners give twigr members an exclusive benefit. This could be a discount, for example.

"Google doesn't show you what you’re looking for, but what they want you to find. That's what I wanted to fight against. On twigr, you can find everything you're looking for based on personal referrals from our partners and members."

How did Voa Labs help you implement twigr?

Voa Labs was instrumental in building twigr from the ground up. We first partnered with Voa Labs to build a fast prototype - which was implemented after only four weeks. Subsequently, Voa Labs guided us on the product strategy and built our entire platform end-to-end.

Where do you see twigr in 10 years?

In 10 years, we will have gained 2% of all companies in Switzerland as partners, and that's all we want. twigr is not meant to replace Google, but to become the Red Bull of search engines. In other words, an exclusive product in a seemingly saturated market. But that's only possible with the necessary capital and a good team.

Have you already experienced difficult moments at twigr?

Sure. But many of them were out of our control. Covid was a major obstacle to our growth. In addition, customer acquisition is very time-consuming. In the beginning, I was only on the road with two A4 sheets to present my idea and convince companies of the merits of the idea. We had to constantly look at how we could make enough money to finance our product development.

As a founder, what have you learned from these setbacks and what tips can you give to other founders?

I wouldn't give up my secure job completely again right away, but first reduce it to 80%, then 60%. That way, you have the fixed costs of your startup under control.

Who are your role models?

I have three role models. Reinhold Würth, the founder of the Würth Group. He started out selling screws at the end of the Second World War on the road with a ladder truck. Today, Würth is an international group; last year, it made almost EUR20 billion in sales. His willpower is very inspiring. Then, of course, Steve Jobs, whose technologies accompany me to this day. Third, Dietrich Mateschitz, who invented a new product category with his energy drinks. All three men are inspiring visionaries.

You've talked about your burnout, yet you're working a lot again. What do you do to avoid suffering another burnout?

I am very mindful and listen to my body. That's why I like to just be at home on weekends, enjoy the peace, and consciously turn off my iPhone sometimes. I make a conscious decision about whom I meet with and also cancel an appointment occasionally when I lack the energy to do so.

What talent would you like to possess?

I would like to be able to solve the Rubik's Cube on my own or play an instrument. Preferably guitar or drums.

For further information about twigr, read the case study.

Written by
Marc Bölsterli

Marc Bölsterli is a Digital Communications Intern at Voa Labs. He manages all social media channels, writes blog articles and newsletters, and collaborates on client projects as a communication specialist.

Previously, Marc worked in various gastronomy and hospitality businesses, where he gained his passion for teamwork and customer-centricity.

Marc holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a focus on marketing from the University of St. Gallen (HSG) and is currently enrolled in the Master in Marketing Management also at the University of St. Gallen (HSG).

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