In the vast landscape of entrepreneurship, Boris Manhart stands as a beacon of inspiration, his journey marked by a profound connection to his roots, a passion for psychology, and an innate entrepreneurial spirit.
In this interview transcript, we delve into the life and experiences of Boris Manhart, tracing his evolution from a psychology student to a serial entrepreneur. His story unfolds against the backdrop of a changing digital landscape, offering valuable insights into the challenges, triumphs, and crucial lessons that have shaped his remarkable career.
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Roots and Beginnings
Boris paints a vivid picture of his upbringing outside of Zurich, Switzerland—a picturesque haven with sprawling landscapes, lakes, forests, and mountain views. Born into a family of teachers, he reminisces about the freedom of his childhood, marked by extensive European travels.
The charm of his hometown left an indelible mark on him, eventually leading him back to raise his own children in the same nurturing environment.
A Twist of Fate – From Psychology to Entrepreneurship
Motivated by a desire to understand himself better, Boris embarked on a journey into psychology at the University of Zurich. However, the traditional academic path didn’t resonate with him, prompting him to seek alternative avenues.
A chance encounter with the world of entrepreneurship occurred during his university days, setting the stage for his first venture—Pulp, a pioneering concept that predates the social media era. This was the time when, as young students, they didn’t have the money to pay for drinks at clubs and weren’t even allowed entry.
Boris’ solution was to go into the clubs to take pictures of the party crowd and put them on the website the next day. While some of the visitors enjoyed seeing themselves on the internet the next day, others were not so happy about the pictures.
Boris recounts how he was able to sell the website to a large corporation that intended to use it for the purpose of advertising. His first exit was during his early 20s, and he enjoyed the experience.
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From Pulp to eye media – Unintentional Entry into Entrepreneurship
The Pulp venture, initially a fun project capturing nightlife moments and selling them to a corporate giant, marked Boris’s entry into the business world. The unexpected success laid the foundation for Eye Media, an online agency born from the acquisition of Pulp.
Boris reflects on the challenges of leadership during this phase and the transformative lessons learned from the burst of the Internet bubble. He also talks about his first introduction to the full lifecycle of a company, starting with building, fundraising, scaling, and exiting.
Starting the ad agency, eyemedia/Compresso AG, also helped him hone his skills in building effective distribution channels and getting people in the door. And that too at the best price for the day. Although the company had a rocky start, it eventually acquired prestigious clients like Microsoft, Nestlé, BMW, and other big names.
Boris recalls learning the value of a great product market fit during the course of starting this company. He talks about how founders make the critical mistake of developing products that they think customers might like. Next, they start to market it and then realize that customers are not interested in it.
Boris suggests that founders first understand their customers and their problems before building and creating products they might need.
Lessons from Numbrs – Navigating the Fintech Landscape
Boris shares the exhilarating experience of Numbrs, a fintech venture that predated the mobile banking era. From the thrill of pitching to banking executives to the subsequent challenges and triumphs, Numbrs became a unicorn, marking a pivotal chapter in Boris’s entrepreneurial journey.
When Boris joined the company, his job was to restructure the agency and build a team capable of creating ventures. Although the company had customers, it needed to be in better shape. Boris was tasked with completing three projects and delivering them. However, they were also waiting for another agency to take over and work on them.
The objective behind the projects was to aggregate different bank accounts around 2012, before the era of mobile banking. Boris ended up creating the first mobile bank, which was basically a mobile banking app that could aggregate all different banks.
Regardless of whether users had a Deutsche Bank or Post Bank account, they could use the app to operate their accounts. The app gave them recommendations and a detailed overview of their spending.
The app was released at a time when Switzerland was still the center of banking. Boris remembers the exciting experience of pitching for funding to the top guns and big executives of the sector. He learned a great deal from Numbrs founder Martin, who he considers a great salesperson.
They ended up raising $130M for the company. At its peak, the company was valued at an astounding $1B.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Boris Manhart was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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CodeCheck – Merging Commerce and Sustainability
After leaving Numbrs, Boris took some time off to start an organic cosmetics brand in the luxury niche. During his research, he landed on a website that catered to a small community of consumers.
Any person who wanted to know what was in their food or cosmetics could scan the barcode to find out the ingredients in them. This facility was especially helpful in a time when the stress is on sustainability. Boris was so impressed with the site that he met with the founder a couple of times and soon became a managing partner.
The CodeCheck episode unravels Boris’s foray into sustainability within the shopping app space. As the CEO, he led CodeCheck to become a prominent player in the German-speaking markets, offering insights into the challenges of sustainability in an era when it was still a niche concept.
At one time, the app had around five million active users and was one of the most downloaded free apps in Germany.
Reflections and Growth Unltd.
The interview takes a poignant turn as Boris reflects on the challenges faced during the pandemic at CodeCheck and the realization that the business model needed a reevaluation. This introspection became the catalyst for his latest venture, Growth Unltd.—a platform aimed at providing founders with structured support and guidance.
Boris remembers writing a book that was never published. In it, he explored everything he had learned about venture building. Boris identified two main areas where he could have used more help, such as methodologist frameworks.
Founders’ Challenges and the Role of Growth Unltd.
Growth Unltd.’s mission is explored in-depth, emphasizing the importance of methodology and operational guidance for founders, particularly in the European startup landscape. Boris underscores the need for early-stage support, stressing the significance of achieving product-market fit quickly through a deep understanding of customer needs.
Boris talks about how founders lose a lot of time on things that don’t add value to their projects. That’s because they lack the money to get consultants and find it hard to stay on track. Getting help from someone who knows the ropes can be super helpful for the iteration of their ideas.
Attempting to be an expert at every aspect of the business they are trying to build is an extremely challenging aspect that founders try to pull off. They also lack expert guidance, which can be a crucial asset for success.
Boris also recommends that founders base their decisions on extensive customer data, not just assumptions. And that starts by talking to and interviewing customers and researching information from their responses. The objective is to understand their problems and then design products that can be potential solutions.
Navigating Personal and Professional Challenges
Boris concludes with valuable advice for budding entrepreneurs, advocating for a balanced approach to life and work. He opens up about personal challenges, emphasizing the profound impact of health and the importance of cherishing moments with loved ones.
Boris Manhart’s journey is a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the continuous pursuit of growth. From the vibrant energy of his youth to the intricate world of entrepreneurship, Boris’s story unfolds as a source of inspiration for aspiring founders.
The lessons embedded in his experiences pave the way for a new generation of entrepreneurs, encouraging them to navigate challenges, prioritize meaningful connections, and embrace the journey toward building impactful ventures.
Listen to the full episode to know more, including:
- Boris Manhart’s connection to his Swiss roots shaped his entrepreneurial journey, emphasizing the impact of upbringing on one’s professional path.
- The transition from psychology student to entrepreneur revealed Boris’s instinctive drive towards unconventional ventures and paved the way for his diverse career.
- The accidental success of Pulp and its subsequent sale led Boris to establish eye media, offering insights into the challenges and transformative lessons of the early Internet era.
- Boris’s journey through Numbers showcased the highs of fintech entrepreneurship, including pitching to banking executives and the subsequent realization of unicorn status.
- As the CEO of CodeCheck, Boris delved into the challenges of merging sustainability with commerce, highlighting the company’s impact in the German-speaking markets.
- The challenges faced during the pandemic prompted Boris to reflect on CodeCheck’s business model, leading to the creation of Growth Unltd.—a platform offering support to early-stage founders.
- Boris’s candid reflections underscore the importance of work-life balance, personal health, and cherishing moments with loved ones, offering profound insights for aspiring entrepreneurs.