25 years of cyber-Wear
Celebrating cyber-Wear's 25th anniversary. Reason enough to reminisce a bit about the past and share milestones from these 25 years that have become part of our history.
01) How it all began...
How it all began, or as some might ask, "What gave you the idea of selling ballpoint pens?
Actually, I was determined to avoid telling these stories beginning with "Once upon a time." But let's face it, every good fairy tale starts like this and our cyber story is no different: our development over these 25 years has taken a fairy-tale course.
It was a cold, wet Wednesday morning sometime in September 1992. One of those mornings when at our age there were only two types of student: those who were glad that the long vacation and the attendant boredom were over, and those who couldn't wait for the first day of school to be over as quickly as possible. I belonged rather to the second group. After all, the weather was still good enough to go and play tennis. Either way, it may have been a rainy September day, but my memory may be wrong and it was actually perfect summer weather. We sat in our classroom ready for the upcoming year, the 9th grade, waiting with some anticipation for our new class teacher, who traditionally always had any new classmates in tow as well. No sooner had the fight for seats in the back row of the classroom died down than the door opened and in walked our teacher, together with a new guy. Our class teacher was still the same, but the new guy was a new classmate and my first thought was "Please not HIM", immediately followed by "Damn, there's a seat free next to me". The new guy was the big brother of a fellow student from a parallel class and one who was also on the school's hockey team. He was one of the older and cooler ones who at practice always treated us with some condescension.
Okay, I thought to myself, I'll just have to put up with him during this final school year, because of course this irritating character sat himself down next to me and that was the start of this story. For whatever reason, and neither Roman nor I can explain it to this day, suspicion (to put it mildly) turned into friendship, friendship into blind trust and ultimately became the basis of cyber-Wear. Since that first day hardly a day has gone by when we don't communicate with each other in some way.
02) The deal with our German teacher
We were both pretty good at German, and I'm not talking about grammar - that was neither Roman's nor my strength. But we were able to analyse texts and debate with the best. So we negotiated a kind of deal with our German teacher, who said, "As long as you get good grades and keep your mouths shut in the back row and don't bother anyone, you can do whatever you want." And that's how it turned out.
We sat in the back row, it was the height of Chiemsee fashion and big, loud prints. Between Roman and me sat another classmate and friend who was good at drawing, and to our right another classmate from a Turkish family. And so it came about that we started messing around and decided to develop our own fashion brand. After a lot of back and forth we came up with our first design, based on Chiemsee, and named the brand Vangölu after a lake in Turkey. We then printed a handful of T-shirts, just as many as our pocket money would allow, and tried to sell them to our classmates. The resulting interest and success were - well, let's be honest ... virtually non-existent.
But the idea was there and we knew that it would be cool to do something with clothing. So we kept tinkering, developed new designs in the most bizarre versions and bravely showed them off to everyone, but really everyone: classmates, teachers, family, friends, etc. In our euphoria we were then already dreaming of great success, which, however, took a little longer to materialise. But one thing was already certain at this stage, the brand and later company name: "cyber". At that time without the "Wear", but more about that later. Our first small success was an order for 100 T-shirts, which we developed and printed together with a hip-hop friend from Heidelberg, and which Roman would sell at a hip hop contest.
From this idea, we then came up with the idea of selling graduation T-shirts and everything related to the topic of graduation to our older classmates in Grade 13. The second business idea was born! We designed graduation logos, produced T-shirts, sweaters and almost everything that could be printed on. With the results we travelled from school to school by tram or bicycle and offered our services. Surprisingly, this worked really well. But at the same time, since it was a very temporary seasonal business, we had to think about what we could offer to people during the remaining months.
And so the next thing we did was call on acquaintances of our parents, including the owners of a plumbing company or an insurance agency, local clubs, construction companies and others. The five of us developed logos and printed T-shirts, sweaters etc. for employees.
03) Everything cyber
Since we had always tackled everything diligently, the time had come to register our business. After Roman's father had kindly explained to us where and how to do this, we rode to the town hall on our mountain bikes and explained to the lady in the office what we were planning.
She was visibly irritated at the beginning and became more so as the conversation went on. The two of us, one 18 and the other still 17, sat in the town hall and filled out the necessary forms. When it came to the name of the company we looked at her with enthusiasm and answered unanimously: "Cyber". She looked at us and simply said, "That's not possible, what on earth is that supposed to be?" We tried to explain to her that everything was cyber at the time - cyber space, cyber future, everything was cyber and so were we. She simply repeated: "That's out of the question". A company name should say what the purpose of the company is. She then suggested something like "Weiss und Baumgaertner Fashions."
After what felt like 100 suggestions from her and just as many rejections on our part, we made one last attempt and tentatively suggested "cyber-Wear". She - by now really exasperated - agreed and finally registered this name. cyber-Wear was born - almost.
The signatures were still missing and the lady asked for our identity cards, only to find out that I, at the age of 17, was not yet allowed to found a company. So Roman ended up founding cyber-Wear on his own. We didn't care, we were happy and satisfied, had registered our company and could now really get down to business.
04) Our first employee and our first rented office
Our company history has been decisively shaped by the many friends who have helped us, some of whom have gone on sooner or later to work for us in some capacity. Like our first employee, for instance. A former classmate who neither Roman nor I were particularly close to at school.
Said classmate was standing next to me in an evening cinema queue shortly after our school-leaving exam, and so we got into a conversation about what we were both doing and whether cyber-Wear had already grown into an empire. After the movie we arranged to go for a kebab in the takeaway around the corner and decided there over doner kebabs and cans of cola that it would be a really good idea for him to start working with us the following day. The only conditions were that he would have to bring his own desk chair and computer and that he wouldn’t get paid.
He agreed and duly turned up at our new office the following Monday, where Roman and I, having proudly bought desks for one mark from the buy-back area at IKEA the weekend before, had spent the whole weekend assembling desks and cupboards. The new office in Heidelberg-Neuenheim, one of the loveliest and, it should be said, more expensive parts of Heidelberg, actually consisted of two small one-room apartments with a connecting door. It boasted a small balcony overlooking the courtyard and a tram line outside the front door. There were two bathrooms, one of which served as the server room, with the makeshift solution of a wooden board over the shower tray that was supposed to protect the server from floods.
Into this apartment we squeezed four desks, a small meeting table and a blue sofa bed which lived behind the front door. During these early years, the latter item would come in really useful for those late nights we spent working on our ideas until we were just too tired to go home. Everything was designed and budgeted in such a way to enable us to finance the apartment with our two training salaries, at least over the notice period, should we fall on hard times.
But let’s get back to our first employee – when he turned up with an old office chair patched up with brown parcel tape and his computer in tow, none of us really had a clue what he was supposed to do and, more to the point, how he was supposed to do it. Anyway, he set about phoning the whole of Germany from north to south and east to west, promising the earth as he did so – and it worked.
We got orders and fulfilled them; we said yes to customers and delivered. Every single order, no matter how absurd it was. We printed 20,000 white T-shirts for a pharmaceutical company. This job needed our friends and acquaintances to ride to the rescue, and we paid them back with a sumptuous barbecue party for Roman’s birthday which starred his mum’s famous meatloaf. While some of us were partying in the garden, the rest of us would be busy printing in the basement, and then we would swap over.
This job might have been our last, because – for reasons we’ve never worked out – rather than printing and delivering 10,000 T-shirts in L and 10,000 in XL as per the order, we decided to go large and supply 20,000 in XL, which we duly also delivered. I was in my car on the way to the office when the buyer called, and, to be honest, she could have made herself heard from 300 km away without the need for a telephone.
Forgetting the office, I headed straight to the customer’s place where, having watched the logistical drama unfold, I was forced to concede rather lamely that things hadn’t gone entirely to plan and to promise that we would of course reprint, before heading back to Heidelberg with my tail between my legs. In the end, we were lucky in that the customer took the 10,000 incorrectly printed T-shirts from us, and so the story ended well.
And when I talk about absurd orders, I’m not exaggerating. Said employee came back from one of his many appointments and proudly announced that he had sold 100,000 special Markclip paper clips, the minor side issue being that we needed to provide pretty packaging for exactly ten clips at a time.
The idea we had was to go big pharma and to pack the ten clips in printed Petri dishes. A great idea for the customer, but a terrible idea for us. Where on earth were we supposed to get printed Petri dishes from? We did actually manage to get the Petri dishes, but, unfortunately, the dimensions were so tight that every individual clip had to be inserted according to a very special pattern or we wouldn’t be able to close the dish. 10,000 clips in 10,000 Petri dishes once again meant night shifts and lots of helping hands, every one of which had to arrange paper clips in Petri dishes exactly according to our specifications. I can still remember sitting in front of the TV at home watching game shows while packing clips into Petri dishes with my sister and our parents.
This first employee stayed for many, many years – we even managed to start paying him at some point – and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are today. And, at the end of the day, the beauty of it all is that, having left cyber-Wear to study in England and gone through a few changes of job, he finally ended up back with us as a customer – for which we say THANK YOU! Thank you for your dedication, thank you for all the great customers and projects, thank you for the many sleepless nights and thank you for the shared path that we walked together over all those years.
05) Those wonderful cars
At some point we stopped counting, and simply resigned ourselves to our fate. But in any event, there were countless damaged wing mirrors, an engine failure, boots that somehow went missing, defective seats and much more. And that was all because of just one single employee.
We were proud as Punch to finally own our own company car. Together, we configured like mad, calculating and planning what we could probably afford. In the end, it was a VW BORA estate car, a sort of cross between a Golf and a Passat. Nicely fitted out, and unusually for then, also with a completely overpriced satnav. Pure luxury, but a blessing for appointments. At the time, none of us could have imagined – or more precisely, feared – what stories this car would be able to tell umpteen thousand kilometres later. Stories that even today still light up every Christmas party with laughter.
We had barely collected the car and proudly presented it to everyone before if embarked on a long journey. Our colleague had an appointment somewhere in the Odenwald region, and was allowed to drive to the appointment in the new company car. A few hours later, he appeared back at the office, missing two – both! – wing mirrors. Apparently because the tractors in the countryside drive so far in the middle of the road. We didn’t broach the subject of what tractor was driving on the passenger side. If we’d known at this point how significant wing mirrors would later become, we’d have got a job lot of them from VW and kept them in stock.
In short – after that, the car seemed to be always having wing mirror problems, missing its boot, having defective components and much more. But two highlights are worth relating, for good measure: Really early in the morning, the colleague drove to a customer appointment in the Sauerland region. About half an hour after the actual appointment time, the company’s buyer phoned us at the office to ask when our colleague would be arriving. After frantic attempts to reach him by phone, and what seemed like hours later, he got in touch from a car dealership somewhere about halfway along the route, and reported a massive engine failure.
Thanks to the ADAC motoring association, he was brought directly to the garage. Barely after the bonnet had been opened and the ADAC technician had bent over the engine, the oil dipstick shot just a few centimetres past his head at rocket speed, landing a few hundred metres away in the car park. The yellow-clad angel was completely covered in oil from head to toe, and the engine was kaput. That was an expensive appointment.
The second time – and this was only told to me in passing, precisely 20 years later – two of our employees were on the way back from a US Army fair in Heidelberg’s Eppelheim district, when they decided, for whatever reason, to be clever and take a shortcut down a farm track. How that ended up was that the car had to be pulled out of the field by a tractor.
This same employee also somehow managed to write off two brand-new Jaguars within just a few weeks. He bought the first from the fruits of his first big deal, which had been a nice earner for him. He collected it on a Friday, came to our new office in Wieblingen in it, proudly presented it to Roman in the yard and then whizzed off in it to enjoy his evening. Still in wonderment, we watched him drive off into the distance, and I said to Roman, “He’ll come to work on the train on Monday,” and so he did!
On the Saturday evening, after performing an evasive manoeuvre to avoid a wild animal on the road, he ploughed the brand spanking new set of wheels right into the crash barrier, and had to phone a towing service to hook it up and tow it away. But the towrope broke and the car rolled several hundred metres down the hill. The result? A total write-off. After lots of going backwards and forwards with the insurance company and leasing firm, he was then able to collect his second Jaguar. He drove it to his next appointment in Cologne, and really late, just before midnight, the phone rang in my office and the voice at the other end of the line just said: “Can you please come and collect me? I’ve written off my car.”
He’d lost control, aquaplaning on the wet carriageway, and on the A3 near Montabauer, where the intercity express station and shopping outlet are, he mowed over a complete motorway sign, and so within just a few days had already scrapped a second car. Our return journey ended in the emergency department of a Heidelberg hospital, where he had to check in for a few days.
Last but not least, this same employee also practised his battering ram technique on the way back from Cologne. It was January, already dark and the colleague was on a mission in the fast lane on his way home, when a Christmas tree suddenly appeared on the carriageway, which he scythed with his rental car. He looked in the rear view mirror, didn’t see anything untoward, and put his foot down again. For the next few kilometres, he wondered why everyone was flashing their headlights at him, no matter if they were in front of him making space for him, alongside him or behind him.
After due deliberation, he drove to a parking place, got out and found the solution to the puzzle. The Christmas tree was sticking out like a spearhead, or more like a battering ram, with the point facing forwards and the trunk stuck in the radiator grille, protruding a good two metres in front of the car. The colleague pulled the tree out of the radiator, bent the grille more or less back into shape, took the car back to the car rental company the next day and nobody was any the wiser.
06) Return to Shanghai, please
Return to Shanghai, please
It was just before Christmas, everyone was slowly but surely descending into the usual end-of-year frenzy, budgets were still being found everywhere and the money had to be spent. This was also the case for one of our really long-standing customers, the world market leader in headphones and microphones. As a thank you for a successful business year, all employees were to receive fantastic, individual winter jackets. Actually it was all much too late, but well, we're used to doing the impossible. So we created suitable designs, coordinated the material, logo positioning and implementation and placed an order in China with a good, reliable partner just outside of Shanghai.
The first lap dips, i.e. material proofs in the desired colour, as well as embroidery samples arrived and everything went smoothly. Until, about two weeks before delivery, everything that could have gone wrong suddenly started to go wrong, such as a power outage due to a storm. At any rate, the final samples couldn't be sent to us in time and so we had to make a decision: do we take a risk and have the goods put the goods on the plane without seeing a single finished jacket beforehand, or do the final inspection in China. We decided on the latter.
So the very next day I was on a Turkish Airlines flight on my way to Istanbul, from there to Beijing and then on to Shanghai. After arriving there in the late afternoon, I went to my hotel and straight to bed. I checked out again the next morning and went to the production site, made a full check and, fortunately, was able to approve all the goods. Then lunch and back to the airport. Check in, wait for boarding. During boarding the stewardess looked at me in complete amazement and asked me if I was really flying straight back with her. I replied that I had simply forgotten something on the plane and would be gone in a minute, which made her look at me in confusion and then laugh as I finally sat back in the same seat I had been in on the outward flight.
In contrast to the outward flight, this time there was a second passenger in business class who was talking on the phone incessantly and wouldn't stop. Despite several requests he refused to put the phone down, so the pilot came out of the cockpit and gave the passenger a choice. A seat in the last row or out. After a long argument it was the last row and I was alone again, with the entire business class to myself. As it was the same crew as on the outward journey I had a free choice of food and drink and, to top it all off, the pilot came out of the cockpit for breakfast and asked me if I would mind if he had breakfast with me.
After landing in Frankfurt 48 hours later I went straight to our Christmas party in the Odenwald, where we celebrated the year and ourselves with raclette in a small hut with the whole team - yes, we were able to fit everyone into one small hut. I'm told that I fell asleep at the table, but for the life of me I can't remember that. By the way, this trip was my first to China, but of course it won't be my last. The jackets arrived the following week, were delivered, the customer was highly satisfied and we had once again proved that we're not bad when it comes to doing the impossible. Thank you team!
07) Hong Kong forever
Our first trips to Hong Kong were less a duty than a reward, and compensation for the many hours we put into cyber-wear alongside our training and studies. They were an opportunity to combine the useful with the attractive, and to travel to destinations where we would otherwise never have dreamed of ever doing business.
Hong Kong was one of these destinations. The first time we flew to Hong Kong it was to attend the April promotional products fair, where we collected catalogues like crazy. In the end, we had two bags full with about 30 kilos of paper each. We lugged everything back to Germany, where it is probably still in the archives today. We repeated this trip two or three times until the sales manager of a German supplier called us and asked if we wanted to do a bit more business via Hong Kong. He said his CEO was also regularly in Hong Kong and perhaps it would be a good idea for us to get together. No sooner said than done! In April we arranged to meet said CEO in Hong Kong for lunch at the Hyatt, right next to the Convention Center and more or less part of the trade fair.
So we went round the trade fair and at lunch time slowly made our way towards the Hyatt - not knowing who or what was waiting for us. We came into this huge lobby, had no idea where the lunch would take place and what our counterpart looked like. In the end we met two extremely nice people who, as it turned out later, were completely taken aback when they saw us, as they had expected us to be much older and now two such greenhorns showed up instead.
The lunch was relaxed and we came up with some good ideas right away. Today, many years and many projects later, we still value each other as business associates and respect each other's opinions. Even though our own ideas may sometimes be different, we value each other above all as people and manage to be friends as well as professional in our business relationships. It is rare enough and all the more important to maintain and cultivate such friendships.
Hong Kong has now become a kind of second home and when everything goes according to plan I'm there several times a year. Hong Kong is a city that either captivates you or completely repels you - there's not much in between. Love it or hate it. Roman's second home, Miami, on the other hand, is in the other direction and it's not unusual for us to Skype across the world and with a 12-hour time difference - he with clients or in the office in the US, and I in Hong Kong or in the heart of China somewhere.