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think-cell: Conversation with Markus Hannebauer

Tuesday, December 22, 2009
posted by Geetesh on 10:47 AM IST



Dr. Markus Hannebauer Dr. Markus Hannebauer is think-cell’s Managing Director and in charge of Marketing, Sales, Operations and Finance. Markus has studied computer science and business and holds a doctoral degree in Artificial Intelligence from the Technical University of Berlin.

In this conversation, Markus talks about how think-cell chart can help PowerPoint users create effective charts.

Geetesh: Tell us about think-cell, and your PowerPoint add-in products.

Markus: While working for a well-known consulting firm, my colleague and co-founder Arno Schödl faced a lot of problems in creating data-driven charts using PowerPoint. The consultants often struggled with small details like integrating graphical elements into charts and getting label-placement right. Arno and his colleagues were also frustrated because at that time, there was a dearth of decent tools which would alleviate this daily grunt.

Eventually he asked me if I was interested in building something to make the consultants’ lives easier. Arno is my friend since school and we knew each other very well; besides this, his idea sounded really convincing to me. Thus in the year 2002, think-cell was born.

After carrying out experiments at various partner firms, we launched our first product called think-cell chart. The users were happy with the fact that they could create various PowerPoint charts like Gantt, Marimekko, waterfall and many more within their well-known working environment with minimum effort. What they appreciated most was that after chart creation, it was really easy to edit them and to share them with colleagues and clients. Presently, we are working on a new tool to automate the entire layout of conceptual slides, where the layout is automatically calculated by understanding the user requirements and constraints.

We have come a long way since 2002. An excellent development, support, and sales team is responsible for think-cell’s spectacular growth. Over the last three years we have continuously been featured in Deloitte’s annual Technology Fast 50 ranking, securing the fourth place in 2009 with a revenue growth of 3,154% over five years. Four out of five top consulting firms and a majority of the companies in the Fortune-100 are think-cell’s customers.

This journey has been our reward and the best satisfaction is helping people solve real world issues with our software. think-cell’s users are our greatest assets since their feedback helps us craft our products to a high quality. Arno and I believe that supporting students and non-profit organizations is a good way to give back to our user community. Moreover, this also prepares students for future consulting and related career paths. Licenses of think-cell are available free of charge for students and researchers.

Geetesh: How easy is the think-cell chart product to use, compared to creating the same charts in PowerPoint or Excel alone without using think-cell chart? Explain more.

Markus: The main difference to traditional PowerPoint charting is the user interface and the degree of automation. This is where we put all our efforts, because it makes our software easy to learn and quick to use. A very influential customer once desired some changes in a particular user interface component of think-cell chart. We had to alter and field-test the respective component at-least five times, but finally we achieved the perfect solution. Experience gathered by our users is taken really seriously and we always try to go the extra mile to help them enjoy their work with think-cell.

Claims do not carry much value unless there are measurements to support them. So we conducted case-studies with some of our customers to see if think-cell really improved the users’ PowerPoint experience. A test set containing business data visualization tasks in PowerPoint was supplied to a sample group. Using PowerPoint with templates and macros alone required more than ten hours of work. Less than three hours were invested to finish the same tasks using PowerPoint with think-cell chart.

Consequently, after six months of experimenting, it was confirmed that even PowerPoint veterans achieved efficiency gains by factors of 3 to 5 by using think-cell chart as compared to their chosen existing methods. Today, thousands of users trust our products in their day-to-day work and we intend to continue the tradition.

You can start using think-cell and get proficient using the program even if you are using it for the first time. Making a chart with think-cell chart is like scribbling the same on a piece of paper or whiteboard. The documentation and screen-casts on our web site will help you quickly in getting started with think-cell chart.

I can only invite your readers to try think-cell themselves and see their productivity go up while creating PowerPoint charts. Once at a party in Berlin, Arno came across a consultant who really liked an add-in she was using to create charts in PowerPoint. He let her talk about it for a while and then responded with a smile: "Glad you liked it, that’s us!"

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