The greatest value we bring to the table isn’t our capital, but our experience. We’ve been building tech companies for over 20 years and have been through the highest highs and lowest lows. When I started my first company back in 1994, I knew nothing about how to run a business. But I was passionate about technology and wanted to build the best possible product. I worked very hard, made many stupid mistakes, had to face private insolvency. In the end, we succeeded to build a global market leader in photo service software and sold it to Fujifilm in 2008. And even after these tough learnings, I still made mistakes while tackling a bigger problem: digital documents. Great launch, great product and team, early phase of AI, but we couldn’t get enough traction for 100M+ valuation. After a re-focus on B2B, the scanning and document technology is now used globally by leading insurance companies and banks and serving over 50 million customers. These are just two examples of my journey as a founder.
Today I focus on passing this experience and the knowledge I’ve gained on to outstanding tech founders in Europe. It is a privilege to work with so many visionary founding teams to create unique technologies, and build extraordinary teams and brands to set them on the path for exponential growth. Due to our co-founder approach, we get to work closely together with our founders on the most challenging questions of growing a business. In order to be able to offer 360-degree support, we’ve decided to only do 1-3 investments a year.
This allows me to dive even deeper into product development and branding with our teams, and apply what I’ve learned over the years, which I’m about to share with you.
Don’t neglect the importance of branding
From my experience of talking to hundreds of early stage tech startups, I feel like they are often 100% focussed on the tech and the product. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely agree that your product should always come first - but in the end, building the best product - especially in tech - requires substantial funding and hiring the best talent. And in order to get the right investors and people on board, you will need a unique brand that represents you well and manages to spark excitement for your mission. That is why it makes sense to invest some time and effort into branding early on.
When we join a startup, we try to get an idea of the bigger picture and the end goal as early as possible. We also want to really get to know the founders in order to get a feel for what the company’s culture will look like and what excites us most about their idea. Then, we aim at emphasizing those features and key messages and creating a brand that is fitting not only for the current moment in time but also for where we are headed. Rebranding is almost always a painful process, so ideally you want to think long term and create a brand that can take you all the way through your IPO.
Storytelling is key
Especially in Germany, we often neglect the importance of good storytelling. We’re excellent engineers but generally-speaking not as good at communicating big visions as for example US-founders. Tech can be very complex, yet the challenge it aims to solve is often actually very simple. Kraftblock, for example, has the potential to enable the global energy transition. So instead of trying to explain the nanotechnology behind the granule that Martin developed, we aim to communicate the bigger picture - our mission to become an enabler for the transition to sustainable energy. One of our key learnings would be to focus on the Why.
In addition to that, building up a strong community around your product through storytelling can be of tremendous value. Take Peloton for an example - they are basically selling a stationary bike with a screen attached to it. Building up a strong community that people want to join is what is setting them apart from their competitors and surely one of the key drivers of their success.
Create a product that is superior in performance, UI and UX
Saving the most important thing for last: designing a superior product. No matter how well you tell your story, in the end you have to deliver on your promises and provide a product that works well and feels good. I’m very passionate about UI and UX, so when we invest in a team, I dive deep into the product development process and look at every tiny detail. How does the product feel? Is it intuitive? Is it enjoyable?
When we designed the air up bottle, one big challenge was to make it 100% intuitive and false-proof so that the end user would actually taste something other than the pure water they were drinking. A lot of thought and prototyping went into the final design, a long process in which I was heavily involved.
As we invested in Wunderlist back in 2012 and are now also invested in Pitch, I get to work with one of the brightest minds in UX/UI I know - Christian Reber. The precision and love he puts into every single detail of his software products is what makes them stand out. Every icon, every hotkey, every feature is designed to create an outstanding user experience and to help individuals as well as teams work more efficiently, faster and with more ease.
In the end, we want to create products that make our world a better place, our lives easier and more sustainable. I firmly believe that with innovative technologies, you can achieve all of these things. It is my mission at Freigeist to support founders who have the potential to create products that can both solve the most pressing global issues of today’s world AND create unique, outstanding experiences.