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“It looks like we’re moving in the opposite direction,” explains Brantner, and laughs. “In the beginning, we all sat round one table and everyone knew everything that was going on. Then we got a bigger table and everyone still knew what was going on. Today I have to lead colleagues who then lead their teams,” recalls the Munich-based entrepreneur. His job is to keep track of growth, to develop strategy with the two other founders – Lukas Zanger (COO) and Nikolas Engelhard (Senior Expert Computer Vision) – and to live and breathe the Magazino culture and communication. “It’s not always easy,” admits Brantner. “We’re continuing to develop, but want to retain the openness, the founders’ presence and the closeness, and always tell new employees about the stupid things we did in the first few years. It’s important to us to have a close and honest relationship with our staff.” Does this sound like a family business? “Yes, family businesses are my role models in terms of sustainability, responsibility and a close relationship with our employees,” confirms Brantner. His management philosophy could be described as bringing together the best of both worlds. “In industry, customers want crazy characters but with well-organized structures,” adds Brantner, grinning.

A bit of a cliché

Magazino can do both. Knowledge is shared on Confluence, while internal messages are sent via Mattermost – “Microsoft Office is on the way out here.” Face-to-face conversations are still the most important means of communication, however. Over 110 employees sit in a large room, with headphones to reduce the noise level, and the boss doesn’t have his own desk – it’s hard to escape the start-up clichés completely. Nevertheless, Brantner takes his new employees with him to trade fairs at which traditional industrial worlds still dominate. Mid-size companies are emulating the space and work concepts of the start-ups – a change process that the founders of Magazino haven’t had to deal with. “We’re in the process of transforming from a start-up into a young company. We need to stay alert, meet other young entrepreneurs and exchange ideas. That’s our mission.” And to develop technology.

“When we started in 2011, I thought that industry would be further along with robotics, AI and automation by 2019.

Competition for DTS

Magazino’s main target market is e-commerce. Zalando, for example, employs logistics robot Toru. Toru’s speciality is shoeboxes: the intelligent picking robot picks up individual boxes and takes them straight to the transfer station. And if boxes need to be stored or returned, it takes them back again. Its industry counterpart is called Soto – another Japanese name. The story behind the robots’ names goes back to the early days; the names were intended to be a ‘source of pleasure’ for a technical university professor with a penchant for Japan. Laughing about it today, the start-up entrepreneurs look back fondly at that time. Supply chain robot Soto brings materials to the assembly line just in time and completely autonomously, assure the developers. “We’re using it to replace the tugger train, so aren’t getting rid of traditional conveyor technology, which absolutely has its place in logistics centers. We don’t want to shake that up at all,” says Brantner, keen to clear up any misunderstanding. Instead, Soto is a competitor of driverless transport systems (DTS), which have been enjoying a revival in recent years.

This doesn’t worry the Munich start-up. They have another market in mind for the future – a type of robot operating system for non-deterministic workplace environments. The aim is to create a superordinate system that helps the user to constantly realign robots, their tasks and processes, irrespective of the hardware used. “To do this, we’re using the knowledge we gain with Soto and Toru during operation,” explains Brantner. And this could well have been what convinced Siemens in 2015 to invest in Magazino – an operating system sounds tempting. The Körber Group, Zalando, Henderson and FIEGE Logistik have also been investors in the business since February 2018. Five years after it was founded, the Munich-based company is taking on another major project. The entrepreneurs are aware of the challenges. “We need crazy staff and want diverse teams. That brings us closer to our goals.”