Co-founder and ceo of ZenMate
What do you do?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Berlin / Germany based ZenMate, a consumer internet security company. We have 36 million registered users around the globe and a portfolio of products to protect the end-user's online life. We are most famous for our Core-VPN product family through which we bring privacy, (WiFi) security & freedom of speech / unrestricted Internet to most countries around the world, including Turkey, Russia and South Korea where we are market leader for example.
We are a Venture Capital financed company and have raised 7+ million Euro from leading VC’s in the USA and Europe such as Bessemer Venture Partner, Holtzbrinck Ventures, T-Venture, Project-A Ventures and others, in several financing rounds. However, after a very successful restructuring we are now on a growth path to cash-flow break even; meaning we are building a company to last.
In many startups co-founders split up their responsibilities by functional areas. In our case it’s a bit different and the company developed a structure where all functional managers report to me, as the CEO. During daily business I am therefore usually context-switching a lot between Engineering / Technology, Product, Marketing, Support, BI, HR and Finance, alongside other external representational work and stake - & shareholder management. The great part of this that I have a much broader exposure to every business area. The downside is however, that I am not always able to dive as deep as I wish I could. My greatest passions are for HR, BizDev, Fundraising & Product, where I usually spend a bit more time in than in the other areas.
How did the idea for your business come about?
One of my best University friends is Khanh (a Vietnam born, German national) – since 4 weeks now also a new EYES Member! (yay!). During our Studies of International Business Administration we both had to spend a semester abroad to work; I was in Malaysia, Khanh in Vietnam. When I flew to Hanoi / Vietnam some day, I had some travel tips in my Facebook messenger chat from him which I wanted to access. I therefore got a new SIM at the Hanoi Airport and put it into my cell phone. However, Facebook didn’t load and was not accessible – I really didn’t get at first what the problem was. I found out quite quickly: Internet restriction and oppression by the government. This annoyed me quite a bit and was the first time I was confronted with such an issue…. and this is basically what got the ball rolling…
Over the next 2 years the idea of ZenMate developed over countless discussions and ideation meetings with my co-founder Markus and gradually we expanded our product family.
To what do you most attribute your success? What would you say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
The Richard Branson quote says it all :-)
Thats for me the key for running a business. The „getting out of the way“ part I am slowly getting better at, after having build a senior management team with an average age of 45 years of age.
In regards to starting I’d say a really rigorous market assessment is key (and I have never been too good at it to be honest but I am improving). Fundamentally I think by now: Market > Team > Idea, and therefore a lot of time should go into analyzing the market of your future business first.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
1. Richard Branson
2. Vishen Lakhiani
Describe/outline your typical day.
· By now I have the pleasure to get up only around 8:30 / 9 am.
· I start working from my home office at 9:15 am – making a day plan + quick emails or external calls .
· I leave for the office around 10:30 am after having gotten my priorities straight and have my first meeting at 11 am.
· 11 am – 1 pm Meetings (One on one’s with my direct reports).
· 1 pm – 2 pm Lunch meeting with business partners or employees.
· 2 pm – 4 pm Project - Kick offs / - Reviews / Emails – lot’s of decision making and giving of guidance.
· 5 pm – 6 pm discussions with employees / meetings / Board calls or Management Meeting (2.5h every Tuesday).
· 8 pm – 10 pm Syncing with my co-founder => every day; Strategy discussions, product ideation, technology discussions, discussion HR calls (promoting, hiring, firing etc) etc. pp.
· Around 10 pm I leave the office and walk home from the office to my apartment for exactly 5 km.; It takes my pretty exactly 1h and I do this every day, Summer, Winter, sunshine, rain or snow – doesn’t matter. Its my daily exercise and it helps me to calm down after work, sort my thoughts, have alone time and relax.
· At home I try to briefly speak to my girlfriend and see how her day was.
· 11:30 pm – 1 am After she goes to bed I usually start working again on conceptional and high focus matters by myself in my home office. This is the time for me when I can still do „hands on“, non-managerial work or other things that are dear to me (like writing this EYES newsletter after Yana has not given up on me thankfully for months :-)
In one word, characterise your life as an entrepreneur.
What makes you happy?
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Happiness must come from within. (not from outside winning,… getting there)