After two crazy years I had built three companies for Rocket Internet literally around the globe. It was clear that I did not want to do another sprint to build up a company and then leave it – which was the model I was employed for at Rocket. And I wanted to go back to Europe.
WTF is a VC?
Just before I left New York, I sat with Rainer Merkle from Holtzbrinck Ventures at a small burger joint in the West Village for a good two hours. He was the first one who explained to me what he was doing as a VC. At least he tried: Meeting the brightest people who work on the edge of innovation. Literally on issues and technologies that push boundaries and society step by step.
I had no idea what he was really doing. It sounded awesome. That’s what I wanted to do.
It was Alexander Kudlich and Matthias Müller from Rocket who wrote the first introduction to Ciaran O’Leary, who later became my mentor at Earlybird.
My first job interview with a VC happened while I was sharing a falafel plate at a place called Yarock on Torstraße in Berlin with Ciaran. I thought it was odd but down to earth at the same time. It became a place where I had many more falafel in the coming years. These guys seemed to be great to hang out with.
It took Earlybird a good two months and eight interviews in two cities to make up their mind. They had told me to come by the office to give me feedback on my last chat. I stumbled into the 5th floor office in Berlin Mitte, it was 30 degrees and raining heavily outside. I was soaked. Jason opened the door not to tell me if I mad the cut or not, but to have another interview. I hardly remembered any of my answers when I left a good 60 minutes later, yet sure that I had just screwed up.
Still no clue!
Three days later Ciaran called me and told me they wanted me on board. I was very nervous and excited at the same time. I started working with Max Claussen, Christian Nagel and Ciaran in the Berlin office, Hendrik Brandis and Jason Whitmire in Munich. I had never built a cap table, designed a term sheet or read a full investment agreement. I knew hardly any VCs or what to do first. Nevertheless these guys gave me one of their three meter desks in the Berlin office. Boy was I nervous, my learning curve was more than steep. Christian and Ciaran simply threw me into meetings and events. I had to catch up quick. I was not sure if I ever had the chance to survive in this job.
I remember a private equity event in Frankfurt where I had to represent Earlybird and explain the current fund strategy in front of roughly 200 bankers on stage. I was maybe 8 weeks into the job. I don’t think I have ever been so scared, I actually considered not getting up on stage when they called my name.
This was one of many examples where the folks at Earlybird simply trusted me. They let me do. I am sure the mistakes I made where countless, but nevertheless they let me take on responsibility, termsheet negotiations, board seats and work with our portfolio companies quicker than I had imagined. I considered myself more than lucky. After two and a half years I was chairman of the board for a 100m$ company and the current star in the Berlin Startup scene. Not because I was the smartest guy in the Earlybird office, but because the guys put trust in me. I really appreciate that.
I am not sure I could have taken over so much responsibility at many other firms. Not many firms would have allowed me to manage the complete investment process the way that Earlybird did.
Looking back on the last two and a half years that I spent with Hendrik, Christian, Max, Ciaran and Jason – and the whole back office team – things happened so quickly it is almost surreal. Not a single time did I go to work not being happy about what I am doing. Let’s face it, its a dream job in a city that is booming like no other in Europe. Perfect place perfect time. I consider myself to be super lucky to have worked among the guys and with the entrepreneurs I was allowed to support financially. With other peoples money. And that’s what we are doing as VCs. That is something I try to keep in mind all the time. Some people put trust in us that we do smart things with their money.
Overall, I worked with 8 founders and their respective companies.
I could write complete posts about how it was working with Valentin and Max from Number26 – having my most intense deal negotiations. Spending time on fairs with Fredrik from Enevo. Discussing open data with Javier and Miguel from CartoDB. Trying to understand the inner details of code repositories from Marcin from RhodeCode. Simply being stunned how illiterate I am every time I meet Bruce and Trent from ascribe. Seeing pure pashion for what he is doing every time I talk with Goran from Bonagora and Robert from Cashboard. And finally being stunned how Basti, Chris and Finn from Movinga can build a 300 people company in less than a year with revenue and margins other companies dream of after ten.
No post would do justice to the excitement I had in the last intense years meeting and working these guys. Thanks!
Love it. What’s next?
With Ciaran and Jason leaving Earlybird to run Blueyard, and Christian and Hendrik focussing on later stage deals, I was approached by a couple of funds in Europe about my new plans. I did not know I had any until that point. I was sure that Venture Capital is my passion and that the decision I made three years ago to make the move into this industry was a great one. And I was sure I wanted to continue work with early stage startups.
A common friend put me on the radar of the folks at Creandum, and I had followed them ever since I started in this industry. I was excited to learn that Creandum was expanding into Western Europe and was looking for someone to cover the German speaking market for them.
I decided to take on the next challenge and join a fantastic team of likeminded investors, entrepreneurs, data scientists and simply smart people to help build the next level European venture capital firm. Something I have been looking forward to for the last months. In February 2016 I will be joining Creandum.
And boy am I nervous and excited again! Very nervous. And very excited.
Also, my time in Berlin comes to a temporary end. My family and I will be moving to Stockholm for some time before we return to Berlin next year. I look forward to both. Stockholm is known in the tech scene for its design and product driven innovators. Sweden is known for its friendly people and beautiful nature. I want to enjoy all of it.