Christian is co-founder and CEO of COSI Group, a VC backed business rethinking the travel and guest experience through automation. Previously, he founded kaufDA (later Bonial Group), a drive to store platform he led to >25m users in 10 countries and sold to Axel Springer. He is an active business angel with over 40 investments.
On the best learning from his family.
For the first 19 years of my life, I grew up in my parents' business: a hotel. There, you can never split family life and business life. All-day. It taught me two things. One: Every day, something unforeseen can happen. To react to any crisis, you need to have calm and peace of mind. Two: A mindset of humbleness and service by learning guest relations. Both helped me immensely, in business and life.
On his evolution as a CEO, over the years.
Over time, I became much calmer in reacting to issues of all sizes. Company-wise, I don’t look at the 2008 economic turmoil and COVID-19 in crisis terms. When these events happened, we had started Bonial and COSI, respectively. We had the opportunity to shape our mindset accordingly. We learned cost discipline early. Big topics you hadn’t anticipated happen every week or month, even when you have come a long way as a company. Keep your calm, take a step back, look around. Focus on what you can control for yourself now, then in a week's time and in a month's. It’s my mantra.
On learning from things that don’t work.
At Bonial, we invested a substantial amount of resources to enter the U.S. market. Initially, we met our targets. Then retention metrics started to deteriorate.
In hindsight, we had entered the U.S. too late and should have prioritized an earlier market entry versus expanding to Spain, France, or Russia.
Four years in, the US market needed more and more capital. My business partner Max and I made the tough decision to pull back from the US and focus our resources on the profitable European business. We flew overseas to explain this to the local team ourselves. After sharing the news, almost every member came to us to thank us for the opportunity. I'll always remember it. I had approached the decision feeling very uncomfortable and finally felt relief in sharing it. It was very emotional and shaped my personality. You learn from the things that don’t work, not the things that do.
You always have to ask yourself what risk are you really taking.
I like to remind those making a call between a big name company like Google or McKinsey and starting a company of their own. Truth is: we don't really take career risks in our industry. If things don’t work out, you have still made yourself and your CV so much more valuable by going through the founding experience. It's a tremendous difference.
On his profile as an angel investor.
I value diversity: the team doesn’t have to be like me or share the same philosophy. Some traits I seek in a personality. First: the ability to deal with frustration. Then product, mission, and founder fit. An analytical mindset in approaching decision making. A capacity to attract talent is crucial. The companies that didn't work are often those who failed to build a second or third team layer. Ultimately, it’s about the right mix of confidence and humbleness.
On the hardest company stage.
Every two to three years, you need to adapt your organization’s team and processes. Finding proof of concept is relatively easy compared to building an organization. The tricky part is identifying these decisions early enough that sustain both the company’s growth and your own balance.
On maintaining balance.
I try to meditate for 10 minutes every morning. I don't manage to do it every day, but it still helps me keep a calm mind. I try to work out five times per week. When I didn't do sports for five years at my previous company, I hit a wall, both physically and emotionally. Now I am fortunate to have a sport and life coach: he was in the special forces. Founders tend to under-invest in their coaching. Sports athletes benefit from these giant support systems around them. Yet we also perform an extreme sport, but often do too little to work on our "personal foundation".
On his productivity hack.
Making meetings as efficient as possible. First, as short as possible. If I’m short on time, I tell the participants that I only have 60% of the meeting time available: That forces everyone to be efficient. Think of all the time we spend in meetings. Especially in the early stages, everyone comes to you for decisions. I learned to push the ball back in these cases. I ask: let’s imagine you had to make this decision yourself. What would that be? Usually, that helps already. If not, we always have this philosophy that It's better to make the wrong decision fast than to wait and not decide at all. Waiting for decisions in the hope of better information is a huge productivity drain. In most cases, you can still revert your decisions afterward, if so required.
On books everyone should read.
Extreme Ownership. It's written by two former U.S. Navy SEALs. They describe how the organization runs on a day to day basis. Plenty of actionable learnings on decision making, dealing with failure, and improving communication quality. Of course, it deals with life and death matters, but there are significant learnings for startups as well.
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