We spoke with Konstantin Mehl. The serial founder puts an end to the long-standing rumor that his startup Foodora had already been sold two years ago. But: there was an exit early this June! We are certainly interested in seeing what the future will bring after Konstantin let us know about his plans to invest in Munich-based startups.
“We did not sell to Rocket”
Konstantin, you have already turned several business ideas into reality. After founding a florist startup, you launched Foodora. After selling it to Rocket, you founded Kaia Health. Do you believe in an “entrepreneur gene?”
First off: we did not sell to Rocket, but rather to Lieferheld, and that was early this June. We know that, according to the internet, we apparently already exited in 2014. We find that interesting, but it is not what actually happened.
The entrepreneur gene
To answer your real question: I like to build products and to work with friends. Founding a startup is one of the few options available to combine the two. My brother Bernhard is also building a company — kisi, in New York. That would then support the entrepreneur gene theory.
A lot of people have ideas, but not everyone is able to successfully implement them. Which characteristics does a founder need to turn a vision into reality?
I think there are three fundamental factors:
- Relentless resourcefulness (I stole that from Paul Graham). There are so many obstacles you do not know about or underestimate beforehand. If you are not simply able to remain unfazed and keep on going when those obstacles arise, or even turn the situation into something positive, you might quickly lose interest. You can also end up being disappointed quite often, for example when marketing or product hypothesis are wrong ten times in a row. If at that point you are not ready to try out ten more hypotheses, you will quickly fail.
- Complementary co-founders: I always start companies with Manuel since I am not a techie, and also because I enjoy it. From a different perspective, Peter Thiel said that one of the most common reasons startups fail is due to incompetence on the sales front. That is what I take care of. If you are missing one of those two puzzle pieces in your founding team, it will be difficult. I have seen that often enough.
Choosing the right employees as a success factor
- A vision that attracts extremely intelligent, pragmatic and reliable individuals. No matter how hard you work as a founder, it will never be enough. I spend a lot of my time looking for people who believe in our mission and have a crucial skill that the team lacks. The significance of this factor is often underestimated. Companies hire people because they are nice, or generally do not invest enough time in hiring. That is something I have to remind myself of regularly to make sure we do not neglect how we select our employees.
Your latest startup, the Kaia Health app, helps ease back pain. Konstantin, you have also suffered from back pain. How important is it to have your own “pain” involved in the idea for a startup?
That has been the fundamental requirement for me so far. If I had a serious problem myself, that makes me the perfect critical first user, and I know the pain points exactly. That speeds up product development.
Taking risks? That’s business as usual!
What key experience have you gained from your previous startups? What do you do differently – and better – now?
I really enjoy the fact that taking risks seems completely normal to me now. With my first startups, that sometimes worried me. Now it is just business as usual.
It is also exciting to see how different companies can be, particularly when it comes to operations. There is a huge difference between Foodora and Kaia. Foodora was extremely intensive in terms of operations and capital. Kaia is a 100% digital product. That of course has significant advantages and we consciously made that decision.
Experienced entrepreneurs almost always relate that they have gotten much better at hiring. You just develop a much better instinct for the process, for knowing who just wants to do their time as opposed to individuals who actually want to change things and are ready to invest their time and energy accordingly.
You already founded Foodora in collaboration with Manuel Thurner. How much do you agree with the statement: “Never change a winning team?”
“Connect with people with a good product”
Had you planned to exit Foodora from the beginning? And how is it when you build a startup and then sell your company – how did you come to terms with only having a limited influence or none at all?
For us, it is always about building a super product that allows you to connect with as many people as possible. That was perfectly implemented with Foodora. It is a super product with an incredible global presence. We never expected that. For certain entrepreneurs, power, influence and money are important. That kind of entrepreneur is called a ‘King’ in an interesting book. The other kind is called ‘Rich.’
Book tip for first-time founders
I would highly recommend the book “The Founders Dilemmas” to every entrepreneur. In the book, a Harvard professor writes about things you often have no one you can ask about, especially as a first-time founder.
What future visions do you have for your current startup Kaia Health?
We want to develop a pain reliever for back pain that is used as often as Ibuprofen. Like Ibuprofen as an app.
In the long term, we want to create a digital pharmaceutical company composed of several apps for different chronic diseases. With our ‘AI Lab for chronic diseases,’ we are researching to find out which kinds of technology can help to improve digital treatment. That will play a major role for a long time at Kaia.
The Munich startup market is seriously underestimated
What else would you like to achieve? What else do you have planned for the future?
I think we have enough planned for now, don’t you? Having exited from Foodora, I am now thinking about investing in a few startups in Munich. I think the Munich startup market is seriously underestimated, and I know so many super interesting people here.
Wanted: pre-seed and seed ventures with super founders
So: who is looking for money and needs a relaxed investor?
Last but not least: you went to college in New York and were in Berlin with Foodora. What brought you back to Munich? And from your perspective, what makes Munich a good location for startups?
In Munich, we have two of the best universities in the world AND an extremely enjoyable culture. A developer from TUM is just as qualified as one from MIT. We also both went to CDTM (Center for Digital Technology & Management). With Foodora and Kaia as well, we almost exclusively recruit students and alumni from CDTM. They are our Munich family!
In general, you can also easily fly from Munich to anywhere in the world. That means you are positioned well geographically to reach both the US and Asia. Plus after you travel around a lot, it is nice to pay a relaxed visit to a Munich beer garden. After all, the Samwers live on Lake Starnberg and not in New York.
Thank you for the interview, Konstantin! We are already looking forward to learning about your future investments in Munich startups!