Living in Colombia
I was born in 1984 in Eutin, a peaceful small town in northern Germany. When I was three years old, my parents decided to move to Bogotá, Colombia. While living in Colombia, my sister was born.
Besides working, my parents traveled with me and my baby sister across South America for the next several years. It was an awesome adventure.
Although I was quite young, I still remember the delicious grilled corn cobs at the roadsides, riding the soapbox cart my father built for us and the long distance Lufthansa flights when visiting Germany.
- Colombia is a land so beautiful and rich in almost everything. Sadly there is a lot of crime and injustice, too.
- Carrying infant formula powder as a foreigner in South America will cause you permanent trouble.
- Don’t fear foreignness. Appreciate every nuance of diversity instead.
Back in Germany
After five years we located back to Germany, which had changed a lot in the meantime. The Berlin Wall had fallen, Germany was reunited again. I finished school, then studied Media Management and Economics in Cologne.
While I was still in college, I attended a speech of Ibrahim ‘Ibo’ Evsan where he explained the market, strategy and business model of his startup Sevenload by only using one single slide. I was impressed! After graduation, I applied at his company. During the job interview, he asked me tough questions to which I didn’t know the answer to. I replied “I don’t know. I have to think about it”. That answer got me the job. Little did I know what was coming.
- One little word (or sentence in this case) can make all the difference.
- Even as a German-born you can feel like a foreign person in your own country sometimes.
- People have prejudices on things they don’t know. They like to stick to what they know. If you want to do something new or different, you will have a hard time.
Sevenload, at that time the biggest video platform in Germany and being called the “German YouTube”, expanding internationally, was heavily venture-funded and had eager ambitions.
I worked as a product manager for Ibo, improving the web platform, launching mobile and TV apps while learning a lot about management, software and web development.
Over time the management team had disagreements about the company’s strategy and finally Ibo and his co-founder Thomas Bachem left the company taking me and some co-workers with them.
- You can work on the right idea with the right team at the right time but still fail.
- Choose your management carefully. Never put managers in charge when you need leaders.
- Sometimes you have to abandon your baby (e.g. product/company).
- Work with people you love. Leave those you don’t.
The new venture was Fliplife, a social browser game with a freemium business model. We got a nice funding, moved into a spectacular duplex office in the center of Cologne, but had to reach heavy milestones in return. There’s no such thing as a free lunch!
We had some success in the beginning, built the product atop of a strong community, but we never reached the desired product/market fit, although we worked our asses off and tried so many things to get there. It didn’t help.
In the end, the market we were successful in was too small to justify additional investments or scaling. Management bailed out and the company was sold to one of our investors KaiserGames. A handful of employees – including me – stayed.
- Sometimes you just can’t fix it. Especially for me as a product guy who believes in improvement, this was tough to cope with.
- Involving a strong user community into the development process seems legit, but as soon as you have your back to the wall and have to make harsh business decisions, that community can backfire at you.
- Venture capital has two sides to it and can be a real pain in the ass.
While doing maintenance on Fliplife, we were working on a new product for KaiserGames, a promising real-time multiplayer online gaming platform. The product was technically challenging because of real-time communication via HTTP in the browser. The remaining Fliplife team worked on the platform and a Dutch game developer studio was producing the games itself. But in the midst of development, the market changed. Browser and social games had passed their prime and mobile gaming became the new rising star. We decided to shut the new project down. At the same time, I got a call from Ibo: “Let’s start something new.” Sometimes karma is a saint.
- Time to market is critical in this fast-paced world.
- Every defeat brings an opportunity. It’s all a matter of perspective.
- There are countless thrilling projects to work on. Choose the one you are willing to commit to for the rest of your life.
The idea behind Social Trademark is pretty straightforward: Nowadays everybody can build a giant network and communicate their message to millions of followers. We want companies and business people to use this chance for their benefit, but at the same time take responsibility for society and turn thought leaders, doers, and young talents into value ambassadors.
What can I say? Bootstrapping the company was fun. Ibo and I spent countless hours discussing, concepting and drawing on a roll of wallpaper to get everything sorted out. To this day we keep looking back at this roll and smirk when we are reading what we already thought through in the beginning.
Then things moved on pretty fast. We got our first customers and hired our first employees. Amir became our seed investor. We worked in a shared office in a co-working space, then moved into our own offices. Dr. Heraeus funded in series A. Our staff grew to 28 people, our customers to over 100 – and counting.
While Ibo became a sales machine, I took care of the product. Easier said than done. We had to switch the whole development team three times until we caught up with former devs of us. Good people one can trust and who get things done. Some management partners were not operating as expected, too. We parted. Besides that everyone constantly had to adapt to the fastly iterating business model. It’s a venture, you just can’t expect everything is going to work as expected and planned.
So what’s next? Scaling the product while growing the company to stabilize our cash flow, expanding internationally. Stay tuned!
Lessons learned (so far):
- VCs are crazy about the hockey stick. Even if your start-up makes good money from the get-go, they don’t care. They rather take the odds and bet on the scaling mighty unicorn with zero revenue nor business model so far.
- Stick to your guts. Make mistakes. Learn. Prosper. Never stop believing.
- Reunite with old friends and colleagues. They are part of your family, too.
- Don’t be a manager. Become a leader.