WHU General

Learning from the Best!

Successful start-up founders hold series of entrepreneurship lectures at WHU

From Enpal’s Mario Kohle (BSc, 2008) speaking on how to make a company more attractive to customers to Zalando’s David Schröder giving tips on how to best diversify a product portfolio, the WHU Founder Lecture has it all. This series of lectures was started a few years ago by Dr. Marco Vietor (DR, 2010), alumnus of WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, Chairman at the alumni network In Praxi, and founder himself of Brain Capital and Hear.com. And what’s so intriguing about these lectures, 16 in total, is its take on the academic approach—instead of professors, it will be successful founders, all of whom are WHU alums themselves, to address the students.

One prerequisite for holding a lecture as part of this series is to be the founder of a company that turns over €100M yearly, a feat only 0.2% of all start-ups achieve within their first decade of life. “Scaling a company is a marathon, not a sprint,” said Dr. Vietor at the start of the event. “In most cases, it takes about seven years to reach the €100M mark.” Word quickly spread that hearing from these successful founders could be beneficial: Although the series is aimed in particular at students enrolled in the Master in Entrepreneurship Program, the event received a staggering 170 registrations.

The WHU Founder Lecture is designed to give students, particularly those with goals of starting their own companies one day, exclusive and practice-oriented insights. Notably, even the mistakes made by those who came before them also act as useful learning aids. The founders were able to tell exciting stories about their entrepreneurial journeys, remaining approachable and giving the students practical tips. Roman Kirsch (BSc, 2010), founder of Casacanda (purchased by Fab.com in 2012) and Lesara, for example, reported on how it was beneficial to him and his co-founding partners to be involved in all areas of a growing company right from the start. Doing so gave them a better understanding of their employees and their needs later down the line. Kirsch also spoke of the best way to develop and vet a start-up idea and how to scale the business from there. His takeaway for the up-and-coming entrepreneurs before him was simple: “The founding team and the culture at the company are crucial.”

Christian Gaiser (BSc, 2008), founder of KaufDa and Numa, discussed his exciting experiences building up and maintaining his customer network. He sent his audience home with the realization that anyone should make themselves appear larger than they may be and that they should try over and over again to turn contacts into new customers. “You need to have endurance, because you are going to hit several walls before you reach success.” Participants of this year’s WHU Founder Lecture—a series that assumes a unique form—gained this and many other insights into the entrepreneurial world.