Interview with Hendrik Brandis
Founded in 1997, Earlybird
invests in all growth and development phases of a company. Amongst the most experienced venture investors in Europe, Earlybird offers its portfolio companies not only financial resources, but also strategic and operational support as well as access to an international network and capital markets. Earlybird manages different funds with focuses on digital technologies in Eastern and Western Europe as well as health technologies. With over EUR 1 billion under management, seven IPOs and 22 trade sales, Earlybird is one of the most successful venture capital firms in Europe.
Hello Hendrik! Could you please introduce your work with Earlybird and what led to your co-founding the fund back in 1997?
Good morning. Earlybird is a pan-European venture capital firm investing in outstanding entrepreneurial teams who aspire to found and create emerging young technology, scaling young technology companies in the space of digital and health tech. I co-founded Earlybird back in '97 because I was always fascinated by the new possibilities, opportunities opening up through new technologies. I'm an aerospace engineer by training and had always a close relation to tech and on the other hand side, it is great for me to see how young companies can be built on the base of technology which often contributing to change the world for the better. Creating jobs, creating wealth and doing good things like reduction of CO2 footprint and so forth. So the hope and the vision I had back in 97 actually came true.
What has been your proudest moment as an investor? Is there a particular company Earlybird invested in that exceeded all expectations?
My proudest moments have always been related to the successes of outstanding portfolio companies which we have backed. Most recently I would say it is related to the stunning success of the team of Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayenthal with N26, or with Daniel Dines, on the other hand side with the success of UiPath. In the past it has been related to the impressive successes of Tipp24, Peak Games and smava, what have you. A lot of companies which really made their way to category leader in their particular sector creating thousands of jobs and disrupting industries, becoming more efficient and more successful. So, when I was becoming aware of these successes, I think these were the proudest moments in my professional career.
Why do you believe that constructive collaboration is a prerequisite for real influence and value creation? How do you exercise this in your work every day?
I actually understand our role as a non-executive co-entrepreneur, if you want. We want to be non-executive team members helping our entrepreneurs based on a trust-based relationship to create the best possible companies. That only works not by demand and control, it only works by constructive collaboration and respective methodologies. I can only really help to build something great if the entrepreneur calls me up at night and says "you know that keeps me up and these are the concerns I have, I don't really know whether to go left or right". And then I can contribute with my perception, with my experience, with my judgment to help. And also with our network to find the right way. I think only if the relationship between investor can be shaped in that way it is really constructive and can be material to create the best outcome. And yeah, it's like within a marriage and it really needs to have this trust-based constructive collaboration dimension.
In your opinion, which are the most intriguing and innovative sectors today? Are you seeking to invest in a particular sector?
That's always the question, what are the hottest sectors to invest in? First of all, I don't believe in technology sectors. There are many new technologies coming up and actually most recently in an even higher frequency thinking about blockchain, AI, VR, cloud computing, quantum computing, what have you. At the end of the day, it's not about investing in these technologies, it's about investing in interesting industries which are right for disruption based on these new technologies. We have seen a lot of disruptive startups in the space of fintech and we were looking at a lot of startups in the area of new mobility and logistics. The same thing happens in enterprise productivity, maybe with some delay also in retail and in other sectors. At the end of the day, I truly believe that all industry sectors will be affected by new technologies, not everything in every industry at the same point of time but one has to be prepared to see when disruptive concepts are coming up for certain industries and then we are hopefully there and able to invest.
What's next for your work with Earlybird? What are the main projects, partnerships, and markets you'll be focusing on throughout the year?
I think the main point is that we will continue doing what we're doing. There are no individual projects which are first or the only priority, we will continue to seek the most promising entrepreneur within Europe in order to back them with our capital and to help them to succeed.
The other hand side, we continue working with our current portfolio companies trying to develop them in the best way possible and at some point of time facilitating an exit which we always need in order to change, in cash again since we are trustees of other people's money which invested in our fund.
So there are no single outstanding projects we pursue. There's actually trying to improve what we are doing and getting even more professional, even more effective and to support entrepreneurs and becoming better every day. That's our passion and our mission and that's what we're working as hard as possible.