x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Swiss entrepreneur helping to clear the air

The Life: Just seven years ago he watched his airline end in failure after a risky business plan failed to fly. But Hans Schwab is not a man to give up easily.

Hans Schwab is developing an array of innovative mobile phone applications, one of which is targeted at cigar lovers.
Hans Schwab is developing an array of innovative mobile phone applications, one of which is targeted at cigar lovers.

About seven years ago Hans Schwab watched the airline he founded go under as a result of a risky business decision.

But Mr Schwab is not a man to give up easily.

He has just co-founded his sixth venture, a company that produces mobile phone applications for business travellers. "I'm an entrepreneur at heart. I have created several companies throughout my life," says Mr Schwab, a Swiss national who lives in Abu Dhabi.

His most successful venture was a video communications company he co-founded, which attracted investors including Intel and Microsoft.

His biggest failure: an airline for business travellers that agreed to issue shares for a deferred payment to an investor. However, the investor went bankrupt, leaving the otherwise healthy firm with a hole of almost 10 million Swiss francs (Dh39.6m). "I think (the judge) gave us a week (to find the money), and I said I don't think that I'm going to need that because I'll need a month to even explain to the potential investor how we even got there," he says.

"We had to shut down the operation and it was a really, really neat project."

Mr Schwab then worked for a company that manufactures ink for banknotes, which was one of the former airline's clients, before leaving last year to spend more time with his family. And it was during a trip to Geneva in January that he came up with the idea for his first app.

"The day before flying back to Abu Dhabi I went to the Davidoff store and bought a box of cigars to bring back here," he recalls. "I got back to the hotel, took one out the box and went down to the bar of the hotel and was just about to light it when [someone said,] 'wow. stop, stop, stop. What are you doing'?

"He said 'there are new laws. You can't do that'. I kind of missed that. I knew they were passing a law but I didn't know how severe they would be," says Mr Schwab.

The hotel employee said it was building a terrace for cigar smokers and the idea for Terrace-Apps, Mr Schwab's new company, was born. It has produced two apps for iPhones so far. The first, which was released only three weeks ago, displays locations for cigar sellers and smoking lounges in cities around the world and the second finds spas. They each feature about 2,000 locations and cost US$4.99 (Dh18.32).

Mr Schwab originally wanted to create a social network based on clothing brands that people wear, but he was told by a media adviser based in the US that nothing great would be developed outside of Silicon Valley. "I said 'you know what, thank you very much but I can show you that it is possible somewhere else'. Abu Dhabi is a great place to do that, first of all because of its location, because of manpower and because of the cultural diversity," he says.

Terrace-Apps is trying to find a sponsor to make the next app free, which will complement Global Agenda, a website Mr Schwab created. From the online portal www.gagenda.com, the site displays details of events run by organisations such as the UN and World Economic Forum, which is where Mr Schwab once worked, as well as major sporting tournaments such as Formula 1. "What I have experienced [is that] suddenly you read in the newspaper that a conference just finished today and you should have been there," he says. "You could have networked but you just didn't know about it."

Experts say Mr Schwab is a serial entrepreneur, much like other individuals such as Amazon.com's founder, Jeff Bezos, or the founder of Easyjet, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

"These entrepreneurs are interested in creating, the buzz, energy and excitement that goes with it, even the long hours and the adrenaline pushes, and this is something that managing an established company cannot give them," says Stephan Schubert, an affiliate professor of entrepreneurship at Insead business school in Abu Dhabi. "As a result, their urge or drive to create will lead them from venture to venture."