A2X Interview Fabian Heilemann on entrepreneurship in logistics

copyright Earlybird

copyright Earlybird

Fabian Heilemann is a serial founder and investor from Berlin. Together with his brother Ferry, Fabian founded the couponing platform DailyDeal in 2009 and the logistics start-up FreightHub in 2016, which is now called Forto. Today, Fabian is a partner at Earlybird, one of the leading venture capital firms in Europe, and is a founding member of Leaders for Climate Action.

Fabian will join A2X on April 28 for a Fireside Chat. But first, he’s answered some questions for us.

What did people say to you back then when you founded your first start-up? 

Fabian: People in my private and business circles reacted rather cautiously and skeptically at the time, because in the years before 2010 a career as an “internet entrepreneur” was anything but mainstream. The market was still very small and immature. It was much more difficult than today to even find financing in the early stages. 

What advice would you give to young people today who are considering starting a business? 

Fabian: I would advise to take some time and think about two things before starting a business: First, you should be clear about your own motivations. Secondly, one should consider if your personality fits the requirements of entrepreneurship.  

The former means above all that it is important to have an intrinsic connection to the industry, the product and the problem you want to solve as an entrepreneur. It is not a good motivation to only want to be financially successful, because then there is usually a lack of stamina when the company gets into rough seas, which happens sooner or later with almost every start-up.  The second means being able to deal well and healthily with the permanent uncertainty and high responsibility of an entrepreneur. This also includes the willingness to critically question one’s own assumptions and decisions again and again and to correct them if necessary.

“First, you should be clear about your own motivations. Secondly, one should consider if your personality fits the requirements of entrepreneurship. “

What does a founder need to be successful? 

Fabian: Successful entrepreneurship requires a combination of a high level of energy and stamina on the one hand and an analytical and strategic mindset on the other. Also, crucial are empathy and the ability to inspire and lead people. Finally, it also takes a high level of integrity of character to build a long-term successful business.

What was the moment when you knew you had made it? What triggered that moment? 

Fabian: The first big success – and an important entrepreneurial moment – for my brother and I was the sale of DailyDeal to Google in 2011. Later, we founded Forto and built it into one of the leading logistics tech companies in Europe.  Today it has over 450 employees and has raised over $125 million in capital. But our entrepreneurial journey is far from over. Entrepreneurship means lifelong learning and constant personal development – you could say: entrepreneurship keeps you young.

Why did you decide to invest in start-ups? What was the most emotional moment in your time as an investor? 

Fabian: I am attracted by cooperating with other entrepreneurs with whom I can share my know-how. It’s exciting and intellectually challenging to move in different markets, business models and companies in parallel and to have to think your way into them. Even as an investor, you never stop learning. For me, the successful merger of our trucking platform Everoad with its main competitor Sennder in May 2020 after a marathon negotiation lasting several months was particularly emotional.

Fireside Chat with Fabian Join us on April 28th

Where do you see a need to catch up for the sustainable development of a strong start-up scene in Germany? What is already in place, what is missing? 

Fabian: With regard to access to capital in the early phase of startups, we are now well positioned in Germany; in the growth phase, however, we are still dependent on funds from the USA and Asia. This is a location-policy problem that also calls on politicians and the traditional financial industry (banks, insurance companies, pension funds). I would rate access to talent in Germany as good to very good; Berlin in particular attracts well-educated people from all over the world.

Should corporates work together with start-ups? And if so, why? 

Fabian: Yes, they absolutely should, because cooperation offers numerous “win-win opportunities”. These range from proof of concept, technical development partnerships or strategic partnerships to M&A deals. Moreover, start-ups can learn a lot from established companies about professionalization, for example of processes. Conversely, startups can share their knowledge about agile development methods and flexible collaboration. 

“Cargo drones for inner-city parcel deliveries on the last mile probably still fall into the category of “science fiction” for many people – but they will be reality in a few years.”

What innovations do you see in the logistics industry?  

Fabian: The potential for the collection and evaluation of data, data-driven optimization of processes, transport and supply chains in the logistics industry is far from exhausted. The same applies to automation and digitalization of processes. Platform models or B2B marketplaces are also readily applicable to many segments of the logistics industry.  

The craziest innovation in the logistics industry was? 

Fabian: Additive manufacturing or 3D printing will, in my opinion, still mean major upheavals for the logistics industry in the coming decades. Cargo drones for inner-city parcel deliveries on the last mile probably still fall into the category of “science fiction” for many people – but they will be reality in a few years.