1988 – 1993

The Beginnings

I was born in 1988 in a country that doesn’t exist anymore today: The Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The family on my fathers side had German ancestors, whereas my mother is of Russian origin, both ending up by historical coincidences in this very remote place.

After the fall of the Soviet Union plenty of new countries emerged, which provided in theory vast opportunities, but in practice meant also some chaos and uncertainty in their first years of existence.

My parents tried to thrive and survive business-wise (my father) and academically (my mother) but frustrated by corruption and lack of opportunities packed a tiny fraction of their things to move to Germany and start from scratch. The first years haven’t always been easy, but very exciting for sure.

1993 – 2010

First Entrepreneurial Attempts

Growing up in Hamburg, Germany meant living between worlds: Reading books and having piano lessons at home while going to school and playing in a soccer team with nice kids who however didn’t see education and getting somewhere in life as first priority. 

Hence I also became a difficult student in school for teachers: While getting good grades I was also just very loud and distracting. Today doctors would have certainly opted for diagnosing ADHD and pumping me up with medication. Back then my teachers found a different way: I was allowed to skip school-years twice (with the hope of being less bored and more attentive), luckily stopping short of being kicked out of school.

After school and on weekends I still had plenty of energy to start with my first entrepreneurial endeavors: Selling my personal childhood merchandise on flea markets in winter, being the newspaper boy in my neighborhood and washing dishes in a restaurant.

At the age of 15 I started with friends at school a company that imported wooden clocks from Asia which we re-configurated into hanseatic-themed clocks and sold to souvenir shops. It wasn’t a success by any objective standards: We didn’t sell too many of those clocks and family & friends bought up the remaining products to allow us to recover at least our investment.

However, those experiences had the great effect of teaching me the value of hard work and staying on the job, no matter how painful it may be. 

I got hooked on doing business.

University was a big game changer for my career dreams: A completely new breed of young entrepreneurs, all pursuing crazy sounding ideas in the space of internet, returned regularly to our WHU-Otto-Beisheim School of Management to pitch their businesses, in the hope of scoring a few interns who would work for free in the summer and beyond. Their passion and relentless pitching worked on me – during my 3 years in university I interned and worked with several small entrepreneurs who became personal mentors,  learning on the Do’s and Dont’s on how to build and scale companies.

Above all I realized, that all you need to get started is courage and a bit of luck.

2011 – 2012

Casacanda and the quickest exit ever

So in 2011 I moved to Berlin with my 2 friends Christian Tiessen and Sascha Weiler to start Casacanda, a shopping club  for furniture & design products. 

We offered customers the chance to buy designer products at huge discounts. Brands loved us because they were able to reach new customers on the internet and sell-off their overstock.

Nothing can prepare you for running your first company – you just have to do it.

And so we did everything by ourselves: Hiring & firing our first team members, answering customer requests on weekends, shipping out products from our improvised warehouse before Christmas. It helped us understanding every bit of the organization, but also totally didn’t scale. So we learned a lot on the job and compensated our naivety with long nights of figuring things out. Failing a lot, failing fast and trying again.

In February 2012, only 7 months after incorporating our company and 5 months of operations, we were approached by US-company Fab.com with an acquisition over. We decided to go for it and take over the world together. This was one of the quickest exits accomplished in Europe and on top of that by one of the youngest Founding teams. At the age of 23 I was on cloud #9.

Soon I realized that running a company as a manager with somehow limited freedom of making decisions is very different from running it as an entrepreneur.

Instead of being thankful for taking responsibility for 150+ team members at a company that is valued at $1bn at such a young age I was becoming quickly frustrated and depressed. 

Fab.com & I parted ways not even a year after the acquisition.

2013 – 2015

Amorelie and Love is in the Air

A few weeks after leaving Fab.com I met with Sebastian Pollok, a close friend from university who just returned from San Francisco. We brainstormed new business ideas, but nothing really sticked. One day during lunch I mentioned incidentally that one of the best-running campaigns during my time at Fab.com was the sale of design vibrators to women  – what about creating a female-friendly online-brand for love toys & lingerie.

This must be an idea that sounded so crazy that it just had to work.

We started working on it right away – initially naming the business Lucy Sparks (see our very first pitch deck on the left). Fortunately we asked a few of our female friends for feedback and subsequently changed the brand to Amorelie.

I decided to go all-in and invested almost all of my savings into the company as Co-Founder & Founding Investor.

Little did I know that a few days later google and Facebook blocked us from doing any form of advertising and all institutional investors declined to invest into the company due to compliance reasons. Before the business was able to take off it already almost came to a full stop.

The team around Sebastian Pollok and Lea Cramer turned this drawback into a strength, turning Amorelie into one of the most cost-conscious companies in the ecommerce-space.

3 years after launching the company, European media company Pro7Sat1 acquired Amorelie in 2015 and currently values the business at €100m.

2013 – 2018

Lesara and Learning from Challenges

After furniture and love toys I was eager to go after the biggest segment in retail: Fashion. The industry looked ripe for disruption and that’s what we aimed for with Lesara.

The idea was to automatically recognize trending fashion items and produce those popular styles in a handful of days, selling it for affordable prices. A next-generation H&M model that we called Agile Retail. By many measures Lesara has been the best company I had the privilege of running: We won awards for company culture, our innovations in supply chain, marketing and technology. The company had been the fastest growing by revenues in Europe for two years in a row. I was surrounded by people smarter and more experienced than me, which helped me to grow as a leader myself.

However, despite all of our initial successes in the first 5 years of business the company eventually did not succeed.

The asset sale & winding down of our business was with no doubt the mentally most difficult task I experienced so far in my life. We were fighting so hard, but still didn’t make it. 

At the same time I was humbled by the support that we as team and me personally received during those times. It made all of us better leaders and better individuals.

“Life is not about how hard of a hit you can give. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward” by Rocky Balboa sums it up better than I ever could.

This experience made me a better leader & entrepreneur.

2015 – 2019

Fitvia & Riding the Waves

And moving forward is what I did. In 2014 Sebastian Merkhoffer, who I met as an intern in my first company, started Fitvia as a side-job next to his role at a VC. Things started going well very quickly in 2015. I received a call from Sebastian around that time, asking me to join the company as supporter and advisor. While not being 100% sold on the business opportunity of selling tea on Instagram back then (Sebastian was way smarter in this regard), I was captivated by his drive and raw willingness to win, no matter what. I was the first investor in the company and joined as supporter, working very closely for 4 years with Sebastian on building this success story.

Fast forward to 2019: The company has been profitable every single quarter since inception and growing like crazy across countries and verticals, becoming one of the leading healthy lifestyle brands in Europe. Stock-listed Dermapharm acquired the company in 2019, one of the biggest non-VC backed exits in Europe. 

Rapid Pioneers Group: Supporting and Empowering Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs

I am an operator at heart – and at the same time love to promote entrepreneurship and new groundbreaking ideas. That’s why I started supporting entrepreneurs to win and execute upon their vision since 2013. 

I currently continue to co-found and invest into consumer brands via my holding Rapid Pioneers Group.

We foster entrepreneurship by matching capital, great business ideas and ambitious founders.

The portfolio includes businesses such as Sunshine Smile, FlowerChimp, CarPrice, Kayzen, Yepoda, OnVacationClub or Vertere Berlin.