Interview with Tim Schumacher
With the help of an international community of volunteers, Eyeo
develops open source software that millions of people use every day to have a better online experience. Their solutions such as Adblock Plus
, which, having amassed over 300 million downloads, is the most popular add-on ever, put users in control over the kind of content they see online. Beyond that, they build software that encourages positive, informative advertising and privacy protection practices.
and Adblock Plus are changing a billion-dollar industry!
Hi Tim! Could you please introduce your work with Eyeo and what led to your becoming a chairman with the company 2013?
I started the company Eyeo together with my co-founders, Till and Wladimir back in 2011, when Adblock Plus was still a small plugin, just on Firefox. But still, even back then, the biggest extension out there with a few million users. For those of you, by the way, who don't know what Eyeo or its flagship product Adblock Plus are doing it's very simple - it's an ad blocker. So you install it once and then it blocks all annoying ads. And so, since the founding of the company in 2011, I worked very closely with my co-founders to do the first steps, which every company does. We got a little bit of funding from me and a friend of mine, really never raised any venture capital but all of that was work to be set up. We started out to find the first customers, to increase the user base by offering the product on different platforms, most notably Chrome, Adblock plus originally was just on Firefox, and tried to grow the company, hire the first people, get the first office and so on and so forth. And so essentially I have been working with the company from the very beginning. Just in back in 2013 we officially made me chairman, which has been my role ever since. My co-founder Till, he's the CEO of the company, he manages it on a daily basis and I kind of have the luxury to take a little bit of a step back. But yeah we work super closely together and super well together.
Tim, since you sold sedo.com - one of the the world's largest domain market places - you have started investing in startups as well. What is your main criteria when investing in a company?
If I look at startups for investments, I look at two things and the idea is not one of them, of course, the idea should be fine and it shouldn't be complete bullshit, but I wouldn't say it's the top criteria because a good team can work with any idea and it will pivot, and it'll make something out of it, and that's the first thing: the team. I'm looking for a team which is complementary, so has complementary skill sets, I don't just want business people or just developers. I want developers and business people mixed. The team should be obviously super smart, and super driven, and hands-on, and pretty much a good team obviously works well together and then they can pretty much achieve anything. The second thing what I'm looking for, i'm looking for people that are passionate about their topic. I don't want people who just fancy being a startup founder and they couldn't care less about what the idea is. I want to have people who really believe in their idea and they want to go through with this idea for years and just because they love this idea, and that just makes it a better team.
How should startups approach you, if they want to win you as an investor?
If startups want to approach me to win me as an investor the first thing is actually to get something done which they can show. Many people believe that you can just be an investor, and I'm not alone here, with just an idea or a PowerPoint, but that's rarely the case unless you're a serial entrepreneur and you have a track record. The first advice is build something, build a nice website, generate the first traction, go the first few steps on your own until you have to show something. And if you can show something then it'll be much easier to convince outside people to give you money. And then once you've done that, try to get a warm invite, try to find friends in your network who can make an intro, in this case to me. Do some research before, do some research into what I invest in and ideally find someone from your network then who fits and who can introduce you. And that's the best thing because that pretty much guarantees that I will look at this. If you can't do that, going through LinkedIn or through Xing, or just through my Website, Schumacher.me works just as well but yeah try to build something first and try to do a warm intro if you want to maximize your chances to get funded.
How did your work with Sedo Holding AG influence the work you do today? Would you say it defined your career?
Sedo was my first real company. I started Sedo right out of university. I did have an entrepreneurial experience before, in fact, I've been an entrepreneur since a teenager, and actually with the same team which then later founded Sedo.
But Sedo was obviously my first company where I hired people, we scaled, we opened international offices, and we got funding and all of this stuff which kind of really makes a company.
So, of course, Sedo was for me, my most defining factor of what I am today in my business life, I worked at Sedo or it ran that company essentially together with my co-founders for over 10 years. The first years the usual struggle just to kind of meet revenue, get to profitability, hire the first people, then at some point we had to take a phase, we opened offices, we scaled internationally, I moved to the United States, to Boston where we had our U.S. headquarters for a couple of years, and then we went back and took the company public and so I learned a ton, good stuff, bad stuff, everything, and pretty much everything that I learned about, being an entrepreneur myself I learned during that time and so without that experience I couldn't truly help companies in my portfolio right now because talking entrepreneurship is one thing, but really having been in the trenches is something different and that's why it was a truly great experience which I would never want to miss.
What are some of the main challenges facing Adblock Plus today, and how is the company rising to these challenges?
Adblock Plus, or the company behind it, Eyeo, is not a startup anymore it's a scale-up, so obviously, a scale-up has very different challenges than a startup. We're not struggling for funding anymore, in fact, we're very profitable and have been for many years, so there is a stable income base.
The challenge is a company of that size and we're 150 people right now, distributed all over the world, so we have a really good remote first culture which allows us to hire the best and brightest people across the world, has its own challenges. So one of the challenges when you grow and it's really kind of starts when you are like 50 people or even little before, you start kind of having to formalize processes, formalize leadership, build a second level management team, improve the management team, so there is a lot kind of as a founder going from just doing stuff to having to delegate more, having to communicate more, having to do more strategy and that's a huge challenge for us just like for any other company which is at that size, and we're still trying to figure this out.
On the product side, of course, there are challenges on its own. The browsers are developing their own ad blockers, with a success there's always competition. So when we started really had no competition, now there's a ton of competition, and so it used to be just enough to be an ad blocker, now of course, we have to be better than a lot of competitors and that's normal in the industry which is a little bit more mature, but it's certainly something we're adapting to as well, and so every state of a company has its challenges and we'll try to meet them.
What's next for your work with Eyeo, as well as your other ventures and projects? What does 2019 hold in store for you?
In 2018 we laid a lot of the groundwork. Legally, one side, with Eyeo we won the Supreme Court case against Axel Springer about the legality of ad blocking. Also, the antitrust authorities, they tossed out their case against us, which is great. And we also did a lot of internal work in scaling the company. So in 2019, we really want to improve the product a lot. There's gonna be a very shiny new mobile browser for both Android and iOS, where we hope to really deliver a great ad blocking experience for mobile phones soon. Then, in general, we're trying very hard to improve the experience of ad blocking even further and make sure that even more people can benefit from it. In terms of other projects, as always, like every venture has its own fun things. With Ecosia, you mentioned that it's not a venture of mine, it's my non-profit product or non-profit project. We we turned it into a non-profit company last year. We're going to celebrate that we planted 50 million trees. Next month, we're going to hit the 50 million tree mark. I'm going to be really proud of that and from that, we are going to try to hit the 100 million mark sometime within this year, if things go really really well. So yeah, as always exciting projects. Check them out and I am looking forward to hearing from you if you have anything, any idea or have a venture on your own.