Henrik Schiffner | Founder of Professor Excel

Introduction

Success leaves clues

Finance Strategists recently spoke with Henrik Schiffner of Professor Excel. He shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the company, as well as insight gained from running the business.

Who is Henrik Schiffner?

Q: Who are you and what’s your background?

My name is Henrik Schiffner. I’m the founder of the internet platform Professor Excel, which provides knowledge, apps, tools, and training for Microsoft Excel. I graduated from university with a diploma degree, which is similar to a master’s degree, and began my career at a strategy consulting company in Hamburg, Germany. After several years in consulting, I started my own projects. It was the golden time of iPhone and iPad apps, so I bought an old Mac and began developing apps for Instagram as well as two apps about Microsoft Excel. This led to me founding professor-excel.com. 

In the beginning, the apps didn’t quite take off as quickly as I had envisioned, so I went back to consulting. Eventually, I transitioned into a full-time role at a software company. It was there that I founded a Data Intelligence and Controlling team, but I continued Professor Excel as a side business, and it has been growing ever since. And now, that growth has enabled me to step back from my full-time job with the software company to focus more time and energy on my own projects and my family.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you?

(Laughing) That would be my wife. I ask her advice on every major decision I make. My next biggest influence is everyone around me as well as my interactions with visitors to my website and customers. Their messages, chats, comments, and calls significantly affect me by encouraging me to strive for excellence, which keeps this job so interesting.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have told your younger self?

I would tell my younger self that what you always hear and read is true: Being successful takes a lot of time and hard work. It would also remind me that failure is part of this process. In fact, looking back I wouldn’t even call them failures, but rather learning opportunities.

Looking back, I think I would tell my younger self to proceed exactly as I did. Don’t be afraid of trying things and testing business ideas over and over. Remember to be confident and not dwell on the doubts of others.

Business

Q: What is Professor Excel?

Professor Excel is the fictional character I chose to represent a Microsoft Excel-focused web portal. The respective website, Professor-Excel.com, offers everything having to do with Excel: More than 200 in-depth knowledge articles, a book about Excel, several Excel add-ins to boost productivity, Excel group training, a popular monthly Excel newsletter, and so much more.

In terms of revenue and popularity, the main product is the Excel add-in “Professor Excel Tools.” It helps every Excel professional increase their Excel productivity.

Q: What makes Professor Excel standout from its competitors?

The biggest difference between my competitors and me is that I am incredibly close to my product and customers. Basically, I live the product and try to make it the best it can be. Let me explain that a bit.

Whenever I create an article or Excel tutorial or add a new feature to the add-in, I ask myself if it’s really useful. I don’t bloat “Professor Excel Tools” with unnecessary features, but only those which I would use and need myself. I have seen other competing add-ins that are full of functionality but that I would never use in real life.

Or another example, when it comes to the knowledge articles on the website: When I publish a new article, I try to make it as easy to understand as possible, even if that means only keeping a visitor on my page for a couple of seconds. I believe in quality versus quantity – it’s the quality of information I’m putting out there for my visitors and customers rather than the amount of data just to keep them lingering on my page longer.

And what most likely makes me stand out from the competition is that I am a hardcore Excel user myself. I experience all the same problems as my customers. At the same time, I can quickly integrate this knowledge and experience into the articles I write about Excel and the add-in.

Q: What led you to start Professor Excel?

That’s a good question… One day during my first job with the consulting company, somebody asked: “Henrik, since you are an Excel expert, can you quickly help me here, please?” Now, I was still a rookie at that time and far from being an “Excel expert,” but word spread quickly that I knew and was good at resolving Excel-related issues, causing me to really grow into my role. The more problems I helped solve, the better I got. Eventually, another colleague asked me: “Can you e-mail me one Excel tip per day, please?”. And that was that. It became the idea for my first iPhone app about Microsoft Excel – a quick (and free, by the way…) Excel tip each day.

Next, I founded the website.

The add-in, “Professor Excel Tools,” came about a little bit differently. I was annoyed at having to spend so much time and so many clicks on stuff that could be automated. Thus, I started programming the new ribbon with everything that could help me in my professional consulting role, like controlling and data analysis. And it has been growing that way ever since. It now has more than 125 features.

Q:  What has the experience of building the business taught you? 

It has taught me three things:

First, success doesn’t come overnight, and it takes a lot of time and effort. And that’s not only true for me, but for the people closest to me as well. So, a special thanks to my family for their patience! The good part is that if what you do is something you’re passionate about, then it doesn’t feel like work. It feels a lot more like fun and pleasure. And that’s important!

Second, and this one is probably not a surprise, it feels as if 9 out of 10 ideas won’t be successful. Although it’s hard to stop with a product that you have spent a lot of time on, it’s crucial to be flexible and able to change direction.

And finally, because I handle all the business functions myself, I learned a lot of tasks and responsibilities that I would never have thought I would eventually do.

Let me give you an example. At the beginning of 2021, I developed a custom Excel add-in for a client in the United States. I am based in Germany. Everything went exceptionally well, and the customer was happy until I sent my invoice. The problem was that international money transfers are surprisingly complicated. I eventually resolved this, but it took more time to figure out the payment than the actual development of the add-in. 

So, in conclusion? It’s not enough to have a great product or to only have outstanding marketing. All functions of a business are important and contribute to its success.

Q: Where do you see things headed for you in the next 5 years? Other future projects, the future for Professor Excel, family, retirement, etc.

Retirement is extremely far away, and I love working on Professor Excel so I will definitely continue for a while. I find it amazing that I am able to help thousands of Excel users every single day.

At the same time, I want to continue helping other companies with consulting, data analysis, Microsoft Excel, and other project work. To make a long story short, I am incredibly happy with the way things are going right now. So, in five years I hope things are just as they are today.

For more information, please visit Professor-Excel.com.

Professor Excel

Published on: January 17, 2022