Interview with Simon Marqua
"A pure computer science degree would have been too dry for me"
Simon Marqua is an alumnus of the WiSo faculty and founder and managing director of the Cologne online marketing agency TrafficDesign. During his studies in the field of business informatics, he already supported companies on a freelance basis in the area of search engine optimisation and programming, before TrafficDesign GmbH was formed from this, whose team now offers online marketing services for its own customers.
Establishment of an own company
Mr Marqua, you are the founder of TrafficDesign GmbH. How did you come up with the idea to found and why in the field of online marketing?
In the early phase of my studies I was lucky enough to be able to support a successful entrepreneur on a freelance basis in the field of online marketing. At that time I found the field incredibly exciting and the independence of this entrepreneur fascinated and inspired me so much that it was clear to me early on that I too would like to take this path.
How did the foundation go? Were there any difficulties that you first had to overcome?
My company was already established during the last phase of my studies, so it was not easy to reconcile the two. It also led to the fact that I had to write my diploma thesis parallel to my work in my still young company. This was really not an ideal situation, it would certainly have been easier to finish my studies first and then concentrate fully on being self-employed.
To what extent did your business informatics studies help you with your start into professional life and with your current job?
My interest in computer science started when I was young, I liked programming at school, long before I started studying. That's why I came to the Business Informatics course of study more through the field of computer science than through business administration. A pure computer science course would have been too dry for me, but the interdisciplinary approach seemed ideal to me. As an "ITer" I therefore took a lot with me, especially from the business lectures. Even though I can't remember most of the topics very well in terms of content, this time had a lasting influence on my business thinking - that helps me today.
In addition, I got to know the PHP framework symfony in a project work during my studies. It still has an excellent reputation among programmers and has been the basic framework for all our internal IT projects ever since.
The most important argument for the foundation was for me the freedom to make all decisions myself.
Everyday work and fun at work
What does your current working day as managing director look like?
In the first years of TrafficDesign, I worked a lot of operational work on clients, creating and implementing concepts. However, as the company grew slowly, I had to learn at some point to relinquish responsibility and change my focus, otherwise every new client would only have meant more work for me. In the meantime we have 12 employees and additionally interns and freelancers. My tasks are now almost exclusively in the area of company development and employee management. One of my favourite authors, Stefan Merath, calls this necessary change of own tasks the step from "self-employed" to "entrepreneur" - I find this very fitting and have taken this step very consciously.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
For me, the most important argument for founding the company was the freedom to make all decisions myself. To open up to new business areas, to determine priorities myself and to develop the company in a targeted manner is motivating and fulfilling for me. In addition, we have a great team with flat hierarchies and a distinctive corporate culture with clear corporate values that we act upon every day. When all this comes out of nowhere and I see at the end of each year how much progress we have made in terms of our service quality and our customers, it is an incredible sense of achievement.
I have already recommended the Business Informatics course to some of my younger friends as a demanding but very good option.
What are currently the most important trends in the field of online marketing?
When I started out, it was not unusual to simply sell a single online marketing channel to a client. Often this was a direct sales channel such as paid ads via Google Ads, as these promise a high, directly measurable return on investment. Today, this would be unthinkable in most cases and does not work without further ado, the market has become more complicated and demanding. The early retention of potential customers e.g. via content marketing and social media plays an even more important role today. This is also referred to as the customer journey. My diploma thesis was also about this topic. Another major challenge for online marketing will be the ePrivacy Regulation planned for 2019, which, at least in its currently planned form, could render many online marketing techniques useless and present the industry with a major challenge.
Among other things, they deal with search engine optimization. Why is this something that clients should consider when designing their websites?
Every operator of a website has a concrete goal with his website, for which he needs as many website visitors as possible in almost all cases, the so-called website traffic.
I can buy this traffic for a fee, for example through ads on Google, but then pay money to the search engine for each visitor on a permanent basis. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this if my return on investment is high enough. However, if you deal with the topic of search engine optimization from the very beginning, you have the possibility in the medium term to achieve good positions in the "normal" search results of Google and to get a part of your website traffic for free. In my opinion, this channel is an indispensable component for a successful online business.
A small example: We have been supporting the provider kölnticket.de for several years now, both in the advertising area and in the SEO area. In 2018 kölnticket.de will reach an increase of almost one million additional free users via Google search results. I don't need to explain that there will be a great financial value.
This time had a lasting influence on my business thinking - that helps me today.
Review of the studies
In retrospect: Would you decide to study Business Informatics again, and why?
Of course, I can't say for sure whether another course would have prepared me better for my future. However, I have noticed that the interdisciplinary nature of the course helped me tremendously and I am still very satisfied with my choice at the time. I felt well prepared, was able to take a lot out of it and have already recommended the Business Informatics course to some of my younger friends as a demanding but very good option.
To what extent has your time as a student in Cologne shaped your life?
I grew up in a small village near Cologne and it was already clear to me then that sooner or later I would want to move to this city. During my studies I also made friends with whom I studied for exams during the day and made the streets unsafe at night. To some of them I still have good contact today. Cologne is simply an incredibly liveable city, that's why I decided to found my own business here!
Did you have a favourite place at university?
Since I always felt more attracted to computer science than to business studies, I also worked for a few years as a student assistant at the computer science chair of Prof. Dr. Speckenmeyer at the Pohlighaus at the Südstadion and spent a lot of time there.
Decide on what interests you the most, this is the only way to find topics for which you can develop enthusiasm!
Valuable tips for students
What three tips can you give our students to take with them?
Above all, I would like to give the students one thing in particular: We had some students back then whose top priority was to finish their studies in record time. This not only shortens one of the most memorable and beautiful parts of your life, but also means that you miss out on gaining experience in companies through one or two internships. Internships are very important for your own development and for me as a managing director they are an important factor in the initial selection of applicants!
Another point is the selection of specialisations - to select them after a short time or a low effort for good grades is also a bad idea in my opinion. Decide on what you are most interested in, this is the only way to find topics for which you can develop enthusiasm!
Finally, I would recommend not only to passively attend lectures, but to actively seek contact to your lecturers. Develop your own ideas, show them to your lecturers and seek support. I have had good experience with this in the Business Information Systems course.
Thank you very much for the interview!
Interview: Sarah Brender