Interview with Ferdinand Mühlhäuser
Director @ Founder Institute Berlin

Founder Institute is the World's Premier Idea-Stage Accelerator and Startup Launch Program, having helped launch over 3,300 companies across 180+ cities and six continents. Leaders of the world’s fastest-growing startups have used the Founder Institute to raise funding, get into seed-accelerators, generate traction, recruit a team, build a product, transition from employee to entrepreneur, and more.
Hey Ferdinand, could you tell us more about your work with the Founder Institute? What led to your working with the company starting last year?
As far as understanding my life story until this point I've been trying to help others in a multitude of settings throughout my life. In my professional life, I've been doing this in a consulting mode and lately in a corporate setting. When deciding to leave that corporate setting I told myself the most help that companies and people need help is when they start something. So the startup scene was the logical decision to go to. I did that on my own by coaching startups and founders for about two years and then got the opportunity to join Sasha and Derek to lead the Founder Institute: Chapter Berlin. This is where help is given in a very structured and professional manner to a multitude of founders and just coming up with great ideas for a lot of different topics.
When presented with a new startup, how does the Founder Institute assess how to best use their assets, networks, and ideas? How does the Founder Institute help startups scale and launch new products?
It's actually very interesting because the startups that come to The Founder Institute are way early in their thought process. So typically they just start focusing on their idea and finding out where it applies. So in general what we do is we help the startup with a very structured program to refine that idea, focus on it, to find out where the clients are or what revenue they can expect to look for, also branding for legal questions and for all the surrounding topics that are relevant to build that startup. While we go through this 14-week program we see how the founder develops and help them with a lot of mentors and new network connections that they can use to further improve their startup offering. When they actually finish their program they are offered financing and we help them by introducing them to the most suitable investors. And even after the program ends the relationship between the founder and us does not end. So we accompany the founder throughout this startup life and make all intros, which makes sense for the specific startup.
The Founder Institute is an international accelerator and launch program. How involved is the Founder Institute in Berlin with the international network of Founder Institute hubs?
We have quite good connections to the headquarter in Silicon Valley. We actually talk every week several times and through the FounderX events which happen every year. We're also connected to the rest of the chapters throughout the world. So what does that mean to the founder that takes part in the program? In the very beginning, I would say the impact is not so big as the founder will have to find his focus in a very local dense setting. But as he goes along and the company grows that opens a lot of opportunities, especially when the company is about to internationalise because we have the contacts to all the chapters in the whole world. Basically means that we can open up a little door into pretty much every city and this wonderful world.
What role did the Founder Institute have in making recent graduate HugAPet the company it is today? How has the company grown since it joined the Founder Institute?
Recent graduate HugAPet joined us with an interesting business proposition and a very clear understanding of the problem they want to solve. The Founder Institue supported by working on the team, equity distribution clarity of what belongs to the MVP and what does not, revenue projections, adding additional structure to the customer and partner acquisition strategy and last but not least in the pitch delivery. The company has published the first landing page with our support during the semester and has been signing customers and partners ever since. Currently, we support very actively in investor readiness intros. I think without being overoptimistic chances for closing the first investment round soon are very good.
What is one major mistake that early-stage startups make when establishing their service offerings and growth projections? What are a few key processes used by the Founder Institute to take projects from ideas to reality?
Tens of thousands of startups have been built and abandoned in the past 10 years. Institutions all around the world have put in uncountable hours of research and millions of pages of books that have been written on the subject of startup success. The most common and usual biggest mistake still remains is not understanding the client's problems and needs and in consequence being unable to extrapolate meaningful growth projections that is based on a misinterpretation of the target group, the addressable market and a willingness to pay off the target demographics. All of these topics are addressed in The Founder Institue program in various ways. As an introduction into each topic, each participant is given a sound set of perspectives from senior experts which is then followed up by real-world idea focused assignments that are constantly challenged by peers and mentors where specific topics that need to be looked at in greater detail or with subject matter experts. We support the founder with mentor office hours and introductions into our wider network.
What's next for your work with the Founders Institute? What key projects will you be focusing on for 2019?
Being proud of what The Founder Institue can offer to founders and companies in early stages, we aim to make the founder institute more known both in Berlin and in Germany. We started to partner with the most well-known startup events, renowned business universities and entrepreneurship institutions, and with online and offline media partners to increase awareness for our program where it can be most helpful. We will continue to broaden our reach with these partners and we will also start to engage more with corporates to serve Germany's corporate innovation agenda. While these activities allow more people to know of and to join our program, we also constantly work on improving the program itself. We are currently working on increasing mentor and investor support and are looking forward to being one of the first Founder institutes globally to receive automatic funding for our graduates. All in all, we're looking into a very exciting near future of The Founder Institute Berlin in Germany.