Each year, the US business magazine Forbes honors influential young people under the age of 30. In this year’s edition, Forbes has included a WHU alumnus in one of its European “30 Under 30” lists. WHU Bachelor’s and Master’s degree-holder Kurosch Daniel Habibi was honored, together with co-founder Pascal Stichler, in the “Finance – Influencing Global Money Flows” category.
Habibi and Stichler launched “Carl,” the Berlin-based FinTech start-up, in late 2016. At www.carlfinance.de and www.nachfolge.de, “Carl” offers an online sale platform designed specifically for small and medium-sized enterprises with annual revenue of up to 50 million euros.
Five questions for Kurosch Daniel Habibi
Mr. Habibi, what is the business idea behind “Carl,” and how did you become aware of this market niche?
We are essentially a closed platform for the sale of small and medium-sized companies. We are not an advertising platform. What we do is assist the entrepreneur along the entire process of sale. We rely on our large network in the effort to bring together entrepreneurs, investors and the right advisors. Despite our large reach, with more than 500 verified prospective buyers and more than 150 partner consultants throughout Germany, we guarantee the greatest possible confidentiality. This is unique in Germany. Over the long term, we are pursuing our vision of establishing a capital market for small and medium-sized enterprises and gradually leading the sector in the direction of digitalization. To date, industry has overslept this trend, and sales of businesses are a completely manual process. My co-founder and I each became aware of this in the course of various internships, notably at J.P. Morgan and McKinsey & Company. Because we were also personally familiar with the problem of business succession and sale, we decided to bring about changes in this area. Access to the market for the sale of businesses is reserved almost exclusively to larger firms. Our goal is to close this gap with our digital platform, making it much easier for small and medium-sized enterprises to organize large-scale financing, business sales and succession arrangements.
What was indispensable to you when you established your company?
Probably the most critical factor in launching a business is the team. It paid off that I had known my co-founder since high school, and we had experienced a lot together. You know and respect each other and can rely on one another. All of these elements are crucial when putting a team together. We also had the benefit of excellent consultants early on – including our Advisory Board, who assisted us with guidance and resources. Then you just have to stay on the ball. Perseverance and patience are essential.
You have enjoyed tremendous success with your start-up within a year. What was the moment when you realized that your idea would be a major business success?
When we went online, we only needed a few months to crack the threshold of 200 million euros in corporate value on our platform. Soon after that, we had cleared the 500-million hurdle. It’s numbers like these, but also the overwhelming feedback we’ve received from small and medium-sized business owners and investors, that give us a clear sign that we are solving a big problem here. If you can accomplish this to your customers’ satisfaction, the success comes by itself.
Have there been any obstacles thus far along the way with “Carl,” and how did you manage to overcome them?
Certainly one of the biggest challenges we faced for Carl was to persuade our very first clients of our business and our service. We are still relatively young, and particularly in this B2B market, with CEOs who are often twice as old as we are, of course they look you over very carefully. So we had to rely on a certain leap of faith. But because we were able to deliver quickly and point to our first successes, we then quickly gathered speed. The first transaction we facilitated, for instance, was one that the previously contacted M&A consultant had already written off in his mind. We were then able to successfully conclude the transaction within eight weeks. Things like this generate attention and recognition in the industry.
What are your plans, and where will the journey with “Carl” lead you?
Right now, we are devoting most of our energy towards achieving the best possible outcome for the owner(s) in the company sales we are involved in. So we’re taking a very long-term view in our thinking. Our stated goal is to continue to establish ourselves in the market during the next few years, and to become the number one in the sale of small and medium-sized businesses. To do so, we need to increase awareness of us among owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, but we also have to get the attention of prospective buyers. Hand in hand with this, we would like to secure the countless jobs that depend on orderly business succession and strengthen the German economy, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.