Team Europe has just announced that Markus Fuhrmann, the co-founder of Lieferheld and Delivery Hero, is to be made a partner in the firm. He’ll join Lukasz Gadowski, Kolja Hebenstreit and Steffen Hollinger at the Berlin-based company builder . Fuhrmann joined Team Europe (a shareholder in VentureVillage) in 2010 and co-founded Lieferheld.de and Delivery Hero as a venture partner – Delivery Hero is now the company-builder’s fastest-growing business, expanding 84 per cent in Q1 2012. “This success is largely due to Markus’ work, who built the team and has driven the expansion abroad”, said Hebenstreit. The Vienna Business School graduate also led Delivery Hero’s expansion into China and most recently has overseen the launch of Yogiyo, a Korean version of the service. We caught up with Furhmann to find out where his sights are set next…
Congratulations on your new role. Apart from a change on your business card, what will being Partner mean for you?
MF“We have already worked very closely together in terms of how to build Team Europe and what our long-term vision should be. As partner I will be even more involved in helping to scale Team Europe geographically as well as human resource-wise. It will also include heading new initiatives like we just started with the expansion into Asia.”
You have strong links to China/Asia – what led you to an interest there? What opportunities do you think the territory can offer Western Investors?
MF“I actually just wanted to get as far away from Europe as possible and Asia seemed like a place to see and experience something completely different. Little did I know that I would stay in Shanghai for more than four years. I had no idea about China when I first arrived and paid for that by getting ripped off by the first taxi ride I took. But you get smarter and better organized and China also teaches you to cope with (many) problems and find solutions in novel ways, which also feels like working in a startup.” I think that China is a quite difficult and challenging environment for Chinese as well as foreign entrepreneurs and investors. It requires a strong personal and business network and great partners. The abundance of opportunities in such a huge and growing market as well as the dynamic nature of it create endless ways to distract you. The regulatory environment and the intense level of competition also contribute to making it one of the more difficult markets I have seen so far. But I am sure that if you are able to crack the code you can build super-fast growing companies and you can find and work with impressive entrepreneurs.
You studied in China too – can you speak Mandarin?
MF“I studied at an IMBA program where all of the courses were in English. But I went to Chinese classes and by being in a country for more than four years you also learn your fair share of Chinese. So I would say I am fine in conversations but I wouldnt want to negotiate a super-important business deal. But being able to write and read well is a completely different story ;).
Will Team Europe’s have to change its name to Team Asia soon, given its new focus?
MF “We have been historically focused on Germany and Europe as the markets where we initially rolled out our business models. Then we started to internationalize those models in several markets by having an office and key managers in target markets. And with Delivery Hero we started to go truly international by having strong entrepreneurs on the ground that build their own local companies. “All the companies we are building now are being designed to go internationally at a faster and faster pace and Asia is just one of many more regions we are a looking into. Our goal is to foster entrepreneurship worldwide and create a structure that allows us to launch companies with great local people in a very efficient and fast way. With Yogiyo we have a business model that we understand very well and a great team in Seoul and I am very much looking forward to where it will lead us. The more we learn and the better Yogiyo is doing the faster we can roll out other models in the region.”
What makes a successful founder and investor?
MF“I have not been the most active investor in the past and I am sure there are better people out there to talk about investing. I also invested more in a way to get my foot into the door of startups I believed in, to later spend a lot of my time supporting the team. So the money was more a trust-building measure for teams that didn’t know my impact beforehand, to show that I am serious and not just talking the talk. “But I do love true founders – the enthusiasm and drive, the wish to create something that people will use and the almost complete ignorance of statistical odds concerning success. Its a great feeling sitting with super smart and mentally quick people in a room to solve problems together. The character traits that I usually look for are honesty, openness, analytical thinking and the will to win. I also like if the founders already had companies before. Even if they didn’t work out, it shows that they don’t give up and I strongly believe that you get more out of failures in terms of experience than out of first-time successes.
What has been your most expensive or important lesson learned?
MF “The most expensive one is definitely the first company we built in Austria and had to close down. Together with two friends, we started an online gaming company in 2001, that in total got around €1.5m in funding from angels and government subsidies. We had close to 30 people in our team at the peak. But we did an awful job of managing the organisation and when we got a hold of it in 2004, we haven’t been able to raise the necessary funds as it was a) in the middle of the nuclear startup funding winter. Raising €4m back then was something we didn’t manage to pull off.
“I learned a lot about people and dynamics between founders back then as well as about management and technology. And I also got a good glimpse at myself and how I behave under stress and uncertainty. That was definitely one of the best learning experiences but also one of the hardest. So I really liked when I later went to China and read one of Confucius’ quotes:
By three methods, we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
How or where do you relax?
I like to work out and go swimming and running. I always did a lot of sport when I was young and found that it helps to shut off stress. I also enjoy it to sit with friends and talk about new business ideas or chat about the Singularity [the emergence of greater-than-human intelligence made possible by man-made technology].