“I’m out”—at least that was Frank Thelen’s response to his previous website provider. Thelen is one of the investors from the German version of the TV show that you may know as “Shark Tank” or “Dragon’s Den”, depending on what side of the globe you live on. He is also one of our Jimdo users!
Many of you are entrepreneurs or have played around with the idea of starting your own business. You believe in your idea and are deeply involved in the development of your product. You want it to be successful and fun! Maybe you have already considered the idea of bringing venture capital into the fold, to give your project a real boost. But have you ever wondered how an investor assesses a product idea and what is the decisive factor in making someone invest?
We have the answers straight from the shark’s mouth—Frank Thelen.
“Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you should be a lone wolf! Seek out people who complement you and your skills perfectly, share your passion, and who you enjoy working with long term.”
Have an idea for a project, but just waiting for the right time to finally get started? I can tell you one thing: there is no perfect time—just start! You can just begin with small steps and first test your ideas with friends and family. Nevertheless, I advise you to build a website as soon as possible, to put yourself out there in the world. The best feedback comes from your target audience, or from your customers. This feedback helps you to develop and improve the product or service constantly. You might even come across ideas you had never even considered!
Passion vs. schooling
As a teenager I was a school dropout—school just wasn’t important to me. My two passions were quite different: skateboarding and programming. The latter of which I taught myself, day and night with a lot of sweat and tears. Fun makes that possible: pleasure and passion are stronger than any university or ‘chalk and talk’ teaching.
Just like everyone else, as an investor and entrepreneur, I have also made wrong decisions and even more mistakes. But I am a skateboarder and skateboarders are fighters. They know despair and pain but learn to get up and keep going. So don’t be afraid to make your own mistakes! You get thrown off? Stand up and get back on the board again.
Starting from zero
At the age of 24 I learned what it was like to hit rock bottom after the bankruptcy of my company Twisd AG. This was shortly before my own personal bankruptcy. I had no money in my bank account, debt, and had to move back in with my parents. What did I learn from this? You can sell your car, live off cereal and ketchup on pasta, move back in with your parents, that’s fine… However, as an entrepreneur, you should never go into personal debt.
Frank Thelen is a well-known entrepreneur, tech investor, and TV star. Just like the Jimdo founders, he began his career at a young age—with his first company “Softer Solutions” (1994). Meanwhile, he has gathered a lot of investment and startup experience, many of them successes (such as MyTaxi, kaufDA, Wunderlist, Little Lunch), but also a few setbacks. In the TV show, he likes to share these experiences with aspiring entrepreneurs and budding talents. As well as support them with the help of his team and starting capital.
Being an entrepreneur is exciting, but it’s not just about fulfilling your dreams, it’s hard work. Potential investors consider every detail—and I mean everything! We want to see that the entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team really stands behind their idea and are 150% committed to implementing it successfully. We like to see full commitment and how far the project has already progressed. Entrepreneurs who throw out an astronomical business valuation without even taking the time to analyze the competition, are out immediately. It’s about dreams, ideas, and vision. But it’s also about hard reality and pragmatism.
Following the ‘Mother Test’
Sometimes entrepreneurs spend several minutes explaining to me, in a thousand words, what their business model actually is, then want to bring me on board as an investor. But sometimes even with follow-up questions, I often still don’t understand what they do and how they expect to attract customers. For every product or offer, I have to put myself in someone else’s shoes and think, who would buy or use this product? Why would my mother, for example, want to buy this product?
It’s not just the product that plays a role in my decision for or against an investment. What also interests me is the team behind it. Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you should be a lone wolf! Seek out people who complement you and your skills perfectly, share your passion, and who you enjoy working with long term. In short, make sure that the expertise and chemistry work. Sometimes a good team can win me over even if I’m not 100% convinced by the idea.
It’s about more than money
If the motivation behind an idea is to make money and get rich quick that is just not enough for me as an investor. Someone who is only driven by the desire for wealth won’t be successful in the long-term. I know many successful entrepreneurs, and they all have one thing in common: they are not driven by money, entrepreneurship is in their DNA. They stand behind their idea with passion and enthusiasm and want to implement it at all costs.
At the age of 24, I had my first million. Unfortunately, it had a minus sign in front.
Never forget your roots
I only recently paid off my first debts. Not because they were too high, but because I always wanted to remember where I came from. I don’t want my success to make me forget just how it all started. My monthly debt repayment of € 500 was my personal “memorial”, or reminder, of when I was starting out during my early days.
Remembering where you come from will help any entrepreneur reflect on the basic idea of staying close to the customer and not losing your enthusiasm. It also helps to visualize what path you have previously taken, and everything you have already accomplished!
… and what does Frank Thelen have to say about Jimdo?
Jimdo, for me, is currently one of the best website builders out there. Primarily, because it has been recommended to me by many friends and business associates. I realized very quickly that Jimdo was easier to use, more modern and flexible compared to my previous provider—and ultimately it’s also more fun. That absolutely hooked me and made the difference in changing my provider.
Do you watch Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den? What do you think about Frank’s tips? I look forward to your comments!