REPEAT is a special interview series underwritten by CliftonLarsonAllen where we take a deep dive inside the minds of Minnesota’s rare repeat technology entrepreneurs. Repeat means to start a tech company, exit said company, and return start another one.
Lisa Schneegans and Klaus Schneegans are not only unique for their previous start and sale of software company Praxis to SAP in 2006, but also because they operate together in life and in business, married in both respects. Back at it now, their current pursuit is Buzz360, a platform for SMBs, conservative campaigns, and similar organizations who want to connect with constituents.
The Schneegans are among our guests of honor at the Founders Respect and Recognition event tonight, 6pm.
When and where were you both born?
Lisa: I was born in Moorhead, Minnesota, 1950
Klaus: I was born in 1955, in Düsseldorf, Germany
Were your parents together and did you have any siblings?
Lisa: Yes, I have an older sister and an older brother, I am the youngest.
Klaus: Yes, I have two younger siblings, I am the oldest.
What did your parents do?
Lisa: My father was a firefighter and an insurance agent on his off days, while my mother was a homemaker.
Klaus: My father was a business person who owned an export business, specifically steel products used in automotive. I come from a family of independent business owners for generations. Always small business, but always entrepreneurial none the less.
Lisa, was anyone in your immediate family entrepreneurial or into business like Klaus’?
Lisa: Not really…my uncle was an electrical contractor, but honestly my family seemed to skew towards the safe and secure lines of work.
Klaus: Literally everyone in my family was in business for themselves in one form or another…
Lisa: I remember at one point, my mother wanted to start a pastry business and she went to the wealthiest person she knew and asked him for a loan to start the company….he asked her for a business plan, and she did not know what that was. She did not start the business.
What was the attitude like around money growing up?
Lisa: I don’t remember very young, but in late grade school and junior high…it was clear that we weren’t affluent at all and there were times that my parents struggled to pay bills…discussions…even arguments.
Klaus: There were no discussions like that about money in my family growing up, money itself wasn’t really a conversational thing, but business and its aspects was always talked about.
Did the family business, or lack thereof, rub off on you?
Klaus: We would go to my uncle or grandparents house for the weekends … the factory was literally built around their house on the property. My dad would bring business clients to our house all the time too, it was very formative.
Lisa: That’s so different for me…there was a lot of discussion about education and an emphasis on grades, but not so much about jobs, employment, especially business. Education was really important to my mother because she didn’t have it.
Are any your siblings entrepreneurial like you nowadays?
Lisa: No, my brother was an election at the VA and my sister was an office worker for a large company.
Klaus: One is an engineering manager for a big company, the other is self employed as a consultant.
What is the first thing you remember doing in exchange for money and/or your first jobs?
Lisa: I started receiving an allowance in grade school – 4th, 5th, 6th grade – in exchange for doing chores and things at home. My first actual real job at 16 was as a waitress at the Holiday Inn of Moorhead. I also became an elevator operator at a different hotel in town.
Klaus: I don’t remember anything before my paper route for the local church…delivering news and collecting money. Then I worked for a local electronics repair shop fixing electric razors. When I was 16, I helped my dad build his new house in exchange for the money to buy a motorcycle.
What was high school like for you?
Lisa: I would say average – Bs and Cs – and I was also into gymnastics, cheerleading, and swimming…and I was very social, boys were probably my favorite subject.
Klaus: I was terrible in high school, I failed a lot…there was just so many more interesting things to do! But I was still a class president and on the student council, though I didn’t play any sports. By the time I went to college the expectations were completely different. One time I got reprimanded for earning a C grade…That was the last C.
Where did you go to college and what did you study?
Lisa: Moorhead State University. I went in an art major and came out a business major
Klaus: I attended the Aachen University in Germany and I obtained an MBA. I was a much better student in college, finishing in the top 1%…by then my father was very clear with me about his expectations and I guess I finally got it.
How did you finance college?
Lisa: I paid for it myself by managing a retail shoe store throughout college years.
Klaus: In Germany tuition is free and my father was covering my cost of living expenses. I used the summers to learn French and travel.
Lisa, how did you start in art and finish in business?
Well, most of the females at that time either went into nursing or teaching, neither of which I am a fan of…I really loved painting in high school…and that was the idea. But I realized that I would need to go into something that could earn some money. I really became enamored with accounting and economics and decided to make the change from an ever failing starving artist to a businessperson.
Klaus, why did you choose business studies?
My goal at the time was to run my father’s company eventually. I enjoyed that, especially the accounting aspects, which is kind of sick.
When did you first visit the US and what did you think?
In 1976 as part of a student exchange program around age 21. I absolutely loved it…people were incredibly friendly…there was a lot of open space…and the feeling of possibility was real. I went back to Germany, finished college, and ended up marrying an American woman, my first wife, which led me permanently moving to the US.
What happened after you graduated from college?
Lisa: I had my first marriage which brought me to Syracuse New York. There, I managed a furniture store, before we moved to South Carolina and I started doing real estate. Eventually we moved back to Minnesota and I picked up an office job while I was raising my two children.
Klaus: After working for a huge Chemical company for about a year, I joined my fathers company in the customer service and sales department for our French customers. He later put me on a special assignment which was to run a manufacturing company that he wanted to take over. I remember this muffler company, it was such a painful experience because I had to restructure and let 30 people go. Following that, I moved to the US, starting with South Dakota and working for Daktronics as their export manager.
When and how did you get into technology?
Lisa: I was with American Crystal Sugar as a liaison to the IT department, interpreting business needs between sugar farmers and technologists. We needed to replace our home grown computer systems, so I started the a lengthy process of evaluating solutions and came across SAP’s products…it was a $13m deal. One of my best memories is being out in the fields and on the combines talking to our farmer board members about business and tech to get their approval in the Boardroom.
Klaus: I had started an SAP consulting and software installation business with some partners from Germany, which was my second business. What was my first business you ask? I imported a skateboard on skis product a few years earlier, that lasted for less than a year – largely because of quality issues with the product – we had 90% returns!
Is that when and how you two met?
Lisa: Yes…we hired IBM as our consulting partner on that project and they sent Klaus and company over to us in Fargo, North Dakota as the subcontractors on the project.
Klaus: We knew each other professionally for about five years before we started dating and eventually became married.
Lisa: and following that is when we doubled down and joined business forces. In 2003 we started our first software company, a commerce platform called Praxis Software Solutions that we wound up selling to SAP in 2006.
Klaus: Nothing like a little commitment!