25. February 2016–
Friedrich Neuman has been starting companies since 2005. As a serial entrepreneur and CEO/founder of MAKERS, he has a wealth of experience that he offers to the companies he helps build.
After three major ventures across different industries, Neuman, “an entrepreneur at heart”, found he still had many ideas but not enough time to execute them. By this time, however, he had entrepreneurial experience, investment power and a wide-ranging network of startups experts to form MAKERS.
MAKERS is an important Berlin-based company builder with the idea to “execute and bring ideas into life”, collaborating at the earliest possible stage with startups.
We interviewed this inspiring “maker” to find out what he does and how he does it.
How does MAKERS work?
Supported by Friedrich Neuman, Marius Schulze and the core team of MAKERS the company builder wants to build and test a product until it’s ready for the market. Start-ups benefit from an experienced team, who are often the start-up’s first investor. When ready, MAKERS collaborates with angels and VCs with the goal to build “sustainable category leaders”. In other words, the company builder helps founders turn their vision into reality.
How are the companies selected?
“We have two models: inside-out and outside-in. The inside-out model is when we come up with the idea together with the entrepreneur and build in-house. The outside-in model is when we are approached by entrepreneurs, looking for investment and support.”
When this happens Neuman says he looks for a heterogeneous team of founders.
What do you look for in founders?
“Ideally, the founder has had some experience with start-ups. Even better, if she has already started something on her own,” he says.
“We are spending a lot of time with the startups and see ourselves more like coaches rather than mentors. What we cannot do is a lot of hand-holding, showing the founders the ropes. We are spending a lot of time with them but we can’t afford to make the basic mistakes of starting a startup.”
“Most important is the mix inside the team,” he adds. “If you have a founding team that is very homogeneous, with only business people, it might be tough to build a technology product, for example. I think a mixture of someone with experience in sales and business and someone who is very technology-driven, like a developer [is important].”
A good first impression is also essential. As he says, decisions to add a company to their portfolio are usually made “during the first meeting.”
"...There isn’t a trajectory of how to become an entrepreneur..."
Once a deal is made, the company moves into the MAKERS’ Mitte office. This face-to-face time is ideal for moving the company forward. Neuman explains, “Ad hoc meetings and coffee breaks help to get things in tune and in sync.”
Once a company grows to a certain size, the companies “move out and have their own office, to establish their own DNA and culture.”
On being a Berlin-based company
“When I started ten years ago, Berlin was evolving. We definitely didn’t have this ecosystem that we have right now. There is more money in the market. You can raise funds easier. Talents are here. ”
At the same time, Neuman expresses some hesitation about the boom, saying, “The competition for talent is very, very high.”
“All in all, Berlin [to start your company] is one of the best cities in Europe, if not the world. The cost of living is increasing but it is still quite cheap compared to other cities in Germany or other hot spots in Europe.”
Working across industries
I asked Neuman if he has advice for serial entrepreneurs and people looking to start a second or a third company. Specifically, I wanted to know what he thought about moving between industries.
“It definitely helps if you already have experience in a specific market. It is easier to move in the same industry and figure out business opportunities inside this industry.
However, he understands the desire to move between industries. “You start something new because something is bothering you or you think you can make things better. Entrepreneurs are usually enthusiastic and tend to get bored fast. I like to constantly be learning about new things and I am very curious. I always try to look for new opportunities in different businesses.”
Starting out as a founder
Neuman fields many candidates for MAKERS and has met with many eager founders. I asked for his advice on starting out.
“Usually great ideas happen from your daily life, problems that you see. Or you think you can do things better and you brainstorm business opportunities.”
On waiting for the right time, Neuman says you shouldn’t. “Come up with an idea and give it a try. There isn’t a trajectory of how to become an entrepreneur.”
That said if you know you want to found something, it is great to be part of a start-up team. “It’s tough to be a solo founder,” he says.“What would be interesting is joining a startup in an early phase, where you have responsibilities. You can learn a lot. You see the startup growing. After six months, one year, you are more than ready to start your own venture.”
What inspires you? What are you driven by?
“We like to help entrepreneurs bring ideas to life. There is this gamification attached to it. ‘Can we prove that the ideas that we have are products that people want? Are we solving problems that people have?’”
“It’s about being able to develop ideas and turn the ideas into businesses and solve problems. It’s having the freedom to be able to decide what to do every day. If tomorrow I would like to start startup X, I can do it and there is no one in the world saying ‘you can’t.’”