10 start-ups, 2.5 days. Expressed in two figures, this perfectly describes this year's SmartUp! Tour in Berlin, where 25 WHU students had the opportunity to talk to young entrepreneurs and learn about different perspectives for starting a successful start-up.
SmartUp! is an initiative of WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management, which organizes three to four tours a year to German start-up hubs. In cities like Berlin, Munich or Hamburg, the participating bachelor and master students have the opportunity to visit young companies and gain expertise during workshops and interactive presentations. The tour always focuses on the direct contact with the founders as well as on the individual approaches of the different companies.
The youngest company visited on this SmartUp! tour was Colabel. In the living room of the two founders, Thilo and Gero, the participants experienced first-hand what it is like to set up a tech start-up and what the major challenges are during the first few months after the launch of the venture. One piece of advice the two founders, who founded Colabel right after graduating from WHU in the summer of 2018, gave to the SmartUp! participants was that one should never be discouraged by competition. Rather, an increasing number of competitors is a sign that the market is growing, and the product has relevance.
How a former start-up can become a successful company was shown by the example of Audibene. Audibene is now the fourth-largest supplier and marketplace of hearing aids in the world and is with over 1,000 employees active in ten markets. In contrast to Colabel, Audibene is no longer only engaged in developing a product, but rather in expanding into other countries.
Young start-ups such as Colabel, which are still in their early stages, are dependent not only on manpower and expertise but also on the support of external investors. For this reason, the SmartUp! tour also visited two venture capitalists, including Cherry Ventures. Cherry Ventures was founded in 2013 by Filip Dames and in the past has invested in companies such as FlixBus or the Cologne-based PropTech start-up Homelike. The best time to start a tech company is now, says Cherry Ventures. This statement finds legitimation in the fact that there are currently over 60 Unicorns in Europe, 17 of which have reached a market valuation of over one billion US dollars alone in this year.
But how do you actually found such a successful start-up? Each founder on the tour answered this question differently. Julian Stiefel, founder of the travel start-up Tourlane, stressed that it had been extremely important for him to have a passion for the product right from the beginning and at the same time to solve a problem that bothered him himself in everyday life. Julius Bolz, co-founder of the online office furniture rental company Lendis, took a completely different approach. He described a very structured approach, where he put together over 100 start-up ideas in an Excel spreadsheet and weighted them by ten key categories, until he decided together with his co-founder to found Lendis after months of research.
Consequently, each start-up founder had his own recommendation, which he gave to the group. In some cases, the recommendation was even contradictory to the ones of other founders, but there were still some similarities: One should not be afraid to make decisions and take risks, yet always focus and experiment as much as possible.
Thus, the most important insight for many participants was that there is not one right way to start a start-up and scale it, but rather that it is a combination of many factors. Depending on the product a different approach should be chosen and even with the same products different approaches can lead to success. And who knows, maybe in a few years one of the companies visited by the StartUp! tour will be Europe's next Unicorn.