“Founding isn’t a marathon, but an infinite number of consecutive sprints,” says Carsten Maschmeyer, investor, coach for aspiring founders, and jury member in the German TV show “Die Höhle der Löwen”. On Friday, March 19th, he joined our Dean, Prof. Dr. Gunther Friedl on a visit to our TUM Campus Heilbronn. Some of our students that are aspiring founders themselves got the rare chance to listen to an inspiring and motivational keynote by Carsten Maschmeyer and engage in a Q&A session with the investor.
This past Friday, we were honored to welcome the well-known “Höhle der Löwen” investor Carsten Maschmeyer to our TUM campus in Heilbronn. After taking a tour of the facilities of the modern Bildungscampus, some of our students that are aspiring founders themselves got the rare chance to listen to an inspiring and motivational keynote and engage in a Q&A session with the investor.
Carsten Maschmeyer begins his presentation with a question for our TUM students: On average, how many companies go into insolvency in Germany every day? The answer is 285 each day, while around 1,500 new companies and start-ups are founded on that very same day. “On the road to success for any start-up,” says Carsten Maschmeyer, “there are five key factors that I think can’t be emphasized enough.”
The Idea and the Founding Team
The idea, the degree of innovation, the patent depth or the so-called first mover advantage is mandatory, that’s simple. “In my opinion, a start-up isn’t a start-up if it doesn’t have an innovative idea or solution,” says Carsten Maschmeyer. But whether a good idea then becomes a success story depends first and foremost on the founding team. “When I take a look at the founders of a company, I’ve got to see their vision: Do I see enthusiasm, passion, optimism?” says Carsten Maschmeyer. “If I had to choose: first-class team with second-class product or vice versa, I would always choose the first-class team.” Why? Because a bad team quickly loses the innovation advantage they might have had at the beginning, while a great team turns an average product into a better one. “I am convinced: there are no good companies. There are only good entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial people.” As an investor, coach for aspiring founders, and juror on the TV show “Die Höhle der Löwen” (The Lion’s Den), Carsten Maschmeyer has surely heard several thousands of pitches to date. “For me, the founders are the reasons to invest,” he says.
One of the most common problems in this context is probably the composition of the founding team, i.e. founders who do not complement each other well, for example if all team members studied the same or have similar professional experience. More promising are interdisciplinary founding teams, where the skills and qualifications of each team member complements those of the others and everyone brings different skills and experience to the table that can advance the startup.
Sales, Sales, Sales! & You Are Who You Hire!
“Founding is funding” and “the difference between a good company and a great company is sales,” says Carsten Maschmeyer. Once an innovative idea and a great team are in place, sooner or later every start-up reaches the point where everything has to be paid for. So once the business model has been finalized and the product has to be sold to customers, it’s all about convincing sales arguments. “My principle is: In every founding team you need one great sales person – selling your idea to the press, to investors, to applicants, and to the team.” Sales is always also a pitch, where it’s not just about making the right arguments, but also about presenting these arguments in the best possible way. And that requires talent and expertise. A sales person who talks about the product with passion and inspires the audience: “What is important in a pitch? Excitement from the very first second. A pitch is like an airplane flight: The takeoff and the landing have to go perfectly. In between, there can be some jolting,” says Carsten Maschmeyer.
One last component is especially important for the success of any start-up: mental strength. At the beginning when just starting and for long-term success: it takes self-reflection, courage, perseverance, communication, and stamina. “You are always learning and you are never really finished. Whenever you think you know how to do something, you’re probably in a new phase where you have to rethink everything all over again.” And that only works with the right mental attitude, with courage and stamina. “I’m a firm believer that it takes two hugely important ingredients: courage and stamina.” Courage, Maschmeyer explains by means of various scenarios, is needed in many ways: courage to start in the first place instead of waiting, courage to approach customers and convince investors, and courage to make difficult decisions confidently and take responsibility afterwards. “I would say that founding isn’t a marathon, but an infinite number of successive sprints.” Which is why it’s all about stamina, even in the face of failures, from which we can only learn and achieve long-term success after all.