10 Berlin-based VCs discuss how COVID-19 has changed the landscape
A breeding ground for European entrepreneurs, Berlin has a knack for producing a lot of new startups: the city attracts top international, diverse talent, and it is packed with investors, events and accelerators. Also important: it’s a more affordable place to live and work when compared to many other cities in the region.
Berlin ranked 10th place in the 2019 Global Ecosystem Report, trailing behind only two other European cities: London and Paris. It’s home to unicorns such as N26, Zalando, HelloFresh and pioneers of the scene such as SoundCloud.
Top VCs include Earlybird, Point Nine, Project A, Rocket Internet, Holtzbrinck Ventures and accelerators such as Axel Springer Plug and Play Accelerator, hub:raum and The Family.
To get a sense of how the novel coronavirus has changed the landscape, we asked ten investors to give us an insight into their thinking during these pivotal times:
- Jeannette zu Fürstenberg, founding partner, La Famiglia
- Jorge Fonturbel, associate, Target Global
- Luis Shemtov, founding partner, Lunar Ventures
- Mike Lobanov, founding partner, Target Global
- Ludwig Ensthaler, founding partner, 468 Capital
- Mathias Ockenfels, partner, Speedinvest
- Axel Bard Bringéus, partner, EQT Ventures
- Eckhardt Weber, managing partner, Heal Capital
- Joerg Rheinboldt, managing partner, APX Axel Springer Porsche GmbH & Co. KG
- Christian O. Edler, partner, Christianedler.com
Jeannette zu Fürstenberg, La Famiglia
What trends are you most excited about investing in, generally?
Generally, we believe in a future in which we can leverage technology to free up humans from repetitive and tedious work and to empower them to shift their focus to what they consider more meaningful and impactful: that is creative and interpersonal activities. Thus, we are excited about founders working towards that future and finding answers across multiple industries, such as manufacturing or logistics, across all working-classes, and across different eras – before, during and after COVID.
What’s your latest, most exciting investment?
One of the recent additions of our new fund is Luminovo, a Munich-based company that develops a solution in the electronics industry to reduce the time and resources needed to go from an idea to a market-ready circuit board.
Are there startups that you wish you would see in the industry but don’t? What are some overlooked opportunities right now?
So far, we have only scratched the surface of the kind of efficiency gains that can potentially be achieved – particularly in industries that were considered to be boring and sluggish in the past, such as insurance or logistics. Even small improvements driven by technology can have a massive direct impact on P&L.
What are you looking for in your next investment, in general?
In general, we love to back visionary founders in the seed-stage that tap into giant industries with a high potential for digitization across Europe and the US.
Which areas are either oversaturated or would be too hard to compete in at this point for a new startup? What other types of products/services are you wary or concerned about?
COVID has sprung a myriad of companies in the communication and collaboration space into existence. While we believe in a future in which products and processes will be inherently remote-first, we will see a consolidation of that space that only allows for an oligopolistic market structure similar to how there is only one Zoom and Google Meet in the video communication space today.
How much are you focused on investing in your local ecosystem versus other startup hubs (or everywhere) in general? More than 50%? Less?
We have always considered ourselves as one of the few funds in Germany with a significant investment footprint both in Europe and the US. COVID has emphasized that we are able to invest entirely remotely and hence we will continue and even increase our activities across multiple hubs, such as Munich, Paris, or London.
Which industries in your city and region seem well-positioned to thrive, or not long-term? What are companies you are excited about (your portfolio or not), which founders?
Germany’s economy relies on wealthy traditional companies sitting on top of capital to be unlocked which new entrants can make use of. This has been true before 2020, and COVID will only demand more and accelerated innovation across these traditional industries ranging from automotive, manufacturing, to the chemical industry.
How should investors in other cities think about the overall investment climate and opportunities in your city?
Berlin and other German cities have consistently proven to develop and grow new leaders across multiple categories such as banking (N26), mobility (Flixbus and Lilium), or data analytics (Celonis). This is certainly driven by a mix of talents coming out of world-class educational institutions, the relative low cost of living in tech hubs, and large local incumbents with massive capital to invest and spend.
Do you expect to see a surge in more founders coming from geographies outside major cities in the years to come, with startup hubs losing people due to the pandemic and lingering concerns, plus the attraction of remote work?
While COVID has accelerated remote-first products and processes, we still believe that people will flock back to startup hubs such as Berlin or Munich, especially given the relatively low cost of living compared to other tech hubs like San Francisco. Nevertheless, we will continue to see an increasing number of companies scattered across multiple time zones building products that are inherently remote first, regardless where the general work environment will shift into.
Which industry segments that you invest in look weaker or more exposed to potential shifts in consumer and business behavior because of COVID-19? What are the opportunities startups may be able to tap into during these unprecedented times?
We are lucky in that our investment focus has been on sector verticals such as Logistics, Supply chain, manufacturing or the future of work, which have all captured significant tailwind from Covid.
How has COVID-19 impacted your investment strategy? What are the biggest worries of the founders in your portfolio? What is your advice to startups in your portfolio right now?
While our investment strategy on a high level will not change, we are putting longer sales cycles into consideration as potential customers of our portfolio companies now are focusing on capital efficiency which also holds true for our founders. Thus, we advise them to focus on extending the runway both by increasing capital efficiency as well as taking on additional funding.
Are you seeing “green shoots” regarding revenue growth, retention or other momentum in your portfolio as they adapt to the pandemic?
As our economy is still in the midst of dealing with the effects of COVID, it is too early to tell, but we definitely see positive indications driven by efforts of portfolio companies that could adapt quickly and shipped features catered to the current needs. One example is Personio, which extended their HR offerings with features that solve the need of customers who shifted to short-time work.
What is a moment that has given you hope in the last month or so? This can be professional, personal or a mix of the two.
What gave me hope was the cohesion of the German economy that fought together for solutions and support during these difficult times. One positive example was the German Startup Association that helped achieve additional governmental financial aid for German SMEs.
Any other thoughts you want to share with TechCrunch readers?
Similar to how the past financial crisis allowed companies such as Stripe or Shopify to become ubiquitous parts of our daily life, these unprecedented times now will also give birth to new forms and shapes in which new ideas will grow into large businesses and we are excited to partner up with founders willing to take a bet on that future.