To kick-off our Women Who Inspire Us series, where we share the stories of inspiring Swiss women in tech, we met with Anastasia Hofmann and talked about her career path into the tech industry. Her company Kitro which was co-founded together with Naomi MacKenzie implements solutions that are pushing sustainability in the hospitality industry to new levels. Learn why Anastasia would have wished she had learned how to program years ago, and why it is so important to bring interest in technology and coding into tech – even if your background is rooted somewhere else.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background, and your current role.
My name is Anastasia and I am the co-founder of Kitro. I am Swiss and 28 years old. I originally studied hospitality management in Lausanne, so my background is not at all in tech. During my studies, I met my co-founder Naomi and we came up with the idea of a product that measures food waste in the hospitality industry, helping all players from luxury hotels to school canteens. Kitro is an AI-based product, that recognizes & measures food waste, and based on the measured data it provides a food waste analysis to our customers.
I originally chose to study hospitality management because I was interested in traveling and getting to know different cultures and languages. The hospitality industry is a challenging environment where you need to be flexible and adapt to different situations. Every day is different, you need to solve problems & find solutions quickly. And depending on where you work, you are constantly pushed out of your comfort zone, which attracted me to this industry.
What brought you into the tech industry?
It was not at all planned for me to go into tech. When I grew up, I never thought of working in tech, maybe also because I had no one around me that was working in that industry. When I was around 12 or 13 years old and had to start thinking about a future job, a profession like software engineer was really not on my radar. I grew up in the countryside where there weren’t many jobs in the tech industry at the time. The focus was definitely on other industries.
The reason I ended up in tech was more of a coincidence. We realized there was a big problem in the hospitality industry around food waste. When we went looking for a solution, image processing as a technology happened to be the key to solving this problem. So that’s how I ended up in the tech industry.
What aspects of your work are you proudest of?
I am very proud of how we have built up our team. Naomi and I started Kitro without a background in tech & needed to find people with technical skills that either join our team or support and consult us along the way. The journey wasn’t always easy, but we managed to find the people that have the skills that we were lacking. Today we have a very complementary team with very diverse skills.
What has been the toughest challenge you faced while working in tech? What did you learn from it?
Hiring someone for a job that you don’t know how to do was definitely a challenge. We faced this problem especially around technical roles for the development team. Now we have people in the team that can check technical skills, but at the beginning, we really had no idea what we needed to check for. Fortunately, we had people in our network that were able to provide us with information for example for job descriptions or interviews. We also made use of job platforms specifically for start-ups, such as earlyhire.ch.
Looking back, most of the hiring experiences were actually quite positive, we never had any big changes in team members so far. We only had one occasion where the technical skillset did not match after hiring and one occasion where the cultural fit was problematic.
What we learned from this challenge is pretty clear: Never hire fast. Even if you might be stressed or under pressure from investors to fill a vacant role, don’t rush it and really check for technical skillset and team fit. Especially in a small team like ours, the team fit and motivation is even more important and needs to have its weight.
Kitro is an AI-based product, that recognizes and measures food waste in commercial kitchens.Learn more
What advice would you give other women in tech?
I would advise this not only to women but to everyone without a tech background that happens to work in tech: it helps a lot to read up about topics, learn about what languages and tech stacks there are, and so on. Basic knowledge and interest in coding are important. It helps to understand what you are talking about with your team & creates a shared language.
Is there anything you wish you had known earlier or would advise your younger self?
I wish I had learned how to code when I was younger. I think I would not necessarily want to study computer science, but it would have been beneficial to spend my free time learning how to code, especially when I was a teenager and had a lot of free time. I think I would have enjoyed it because of its logical nature & I would benefit from it today. When we started Kitro, it was already hard to just build a simple website. Nowadays, with all the website builders, this has become much easier.
It was frustrating to have an idea with a lot of impact potential – but you cannot build it yourself. You basically rely on other people to build it with you.
We didn’t really know which technology to use at the beginning. Through research and looking at other tech developments at the time such as self-driving cars, we thought that image processing and machine learning could do the trick. So we started working with Unicorn Labs – we were actually their first client – and had brainstorming sessions, thought about different other possible technologies but ended up with IP (Image Processing) and ML (Machine Learning).
The good thing was that due to our prior experience in the hospitality industry, we had relatively clear requirements. For example, we knew we could not have any buttons on the device that would classify the waste. There is no time for that in a kitchen, we cannot outsource this to the user. We knew from the beginning that everything needs to be automated for the end-user.
It was frustrating to have an idea with a lot of impact potential – but you cannot build it yourself.
What is your next upcoming challenge at Kitro?
At Kitro, we have two upcoming challenges ahead. We are currently in the process of replacing our previous scale provider with a swiss manufacturer, so we are updating our hardware. Additionally, we also want to certify the hardware in order to be able to export it to other European countries. We are still seeing a lot of potential for growth in Switzerland, but have also registered the interest of countries around us.
Expansion into other countries of course also comes with certain challenges, for example, different laws or strategies regarding food disposal, separation of food in restaurant kitchens, etc. But overall, we are seeing many opportunities for Kitro to be used all over the world.
What are you hoping to achieve for your personal career in the future?
I never have a concrete answer for what I am hoping to achieve for myself in the future. I think I will just continue being curious and make sure I am getting out of my comfort zone regularly. Currently, there’s no risk for me to get too comfortable though, there are many challenges ahead.
At the same time, I believe it’s also important to recognize early on when you need to take a break for yourself. Even though you are passionate about and committed to your company’s mission, you can overwork yourself quite easily. So much so that you are not having fun anymore. At this point, it’s always better to take a break than to keep spinning around in the wheel until you can’t get out of it anymore.
How do you envision Kitro developing further?
Our vision for Kitro is to have a measurable impact world-wide. We have started the company with a real-world problem in mind that we want to solve for as many customers as possible. One big goal is to be able to quantify the social & environmental impact that we are having on a global scale.
We would like to thank Anastasia for her time and this insightful interview. We wish her the best of luck for her personal future and for Kitro. Thank you for being a woman who inspires us! 💛
P.S. If you want to learn how to code, check out our blog post series Decoding Tech on Medium.
Author: Lisa Stähli