What did you want to be as a child?
I had two childhood dreams. One was to save the rainforest and the other was to be a banker. I haven’t managed to save the rainforest yet, but I did complete a diploma in social entrepreneurship and I’m now involved with foodsharing.de, a grassroots co-operative dedicated to stopping food waste. However, I quickly discovered I wasn’t cut out to be a banker after doing an internship at Citibank.
What was your first job?
When I was 17 and still at school, I started building my own websites in the entertainment and music space. I’d fill them with decent content, generate users and monetise the whole thing through online advertising. This early experience gave me an invaluable insight into the digital marketing world, which led to my first real office job at peer-to-peer lending start-up SMAVA.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone starting out in business now?
Benefit from the life experience of others. When you’re starting out in business, the most important thing you can do is test the market by talking to as many people as possible until you discover a path that feels right for you. Once you’ve found it, you need to focus all your energy on making it work every single day.
Who has influenced your career most?
I’d have to say Florian Heinemann, who was the Managing Director at Rocket Internet for a while during my time there. He was a brilliantly dynamic boss and mentor, and his leadership style was spot on: he’d give you enough freedom to develop, but also be there to guide and advise when needed.
What’s the best and worst thing about your job?
The best thing is that I have so much creative freedom and get the opportunity to meet interesting, dynamic people nearly every working day. The worst thing is that, with so many exciting things going on all the time, you’re always being pushed on to the next challenge. There’s not too much breathing space.
Which business leader do you most admire?
There are plenty of individuals I admire. But as an investor, I’m more concerned with understanding how the companies we invest in are put together – that includes everything from getting a grasp of how the staff function best as a team to getting to know the company culture.
What has been the most positive change in the remittance market during the last decade?
The emergence of online money transfer players such as Azimo has had a hugely positive effect on the industry. The ability to send money home faster and more cheaply has helped to improve the lives of migrants and their families, and the competition has had a beneficial impact on the market as a whole with traditional transfer companies having to lower prices to compete.
Why did your company invest in Azimo?
We made an early-stage investment in Azimo because we believed in founder Michael Kent’s vision and were struck by just how much the fledgling start-up had already delivered with so few resources. Personally, I was also struck by the positive social impact that low-cost online money transfer can have.
Who would you like to have dinner with?
I’d love to have dinner with Mahatma Gandhi. He was such a powerful defender of civil rights and his campaign of non-violent resistance influenced the whole world. I’d ask him how he was able to cope with the extraordinary pressure on his shoulders and stay true to himself.
What’s your life motto?
There are two sides to every story. I strongly believe in the benefit of weighing up every angle, whether it’s a news report, an investment proposal or a debate in the pub, because you learn so much more that way. I try to read newspapers of every political stripe and talk to as many people as I can outside the business community to get a rounded world view.
Is there anything that keeps you awake at night?
Luckily I sleep pretty well, but if I woke up worrying about anything it would be the ongoing issues of global inequality and injustice.
Finally, what’s your favourite city in the world?
Berlin, of course! I’ve seen so many cities during my career, but I always love coming back to my home town. It has everything the likes of London and New York have in terms of lifestyle, but it’s far more affordable and far less busy. From a business perspective, it’s also one of the world’s major emerging tech hubs – in 2015, more VC money flowed into Berlin than London, making it the start-up capital of Europe.