How to build an International Startup under 30
In our interview series we are speaking with Janis Zech, one of the co-founders of SponsorPay, an international oriented startup with it´s residence in the middle of Berlin. In the year 2009 he co-founded the company and grew it to one of the leading mobile ad monetization platforms in the market. The company grew offices in Berlin (HQ), Paris, London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo.
Q: Janis, how did you choose the right business model in the early beginning?
Already during high school together with friends we started to work on various business models, looked at different trends, always screening the market for new opportunities. After launching two ventures during university I decided to join Team Europe, a Berlin based company builder.
At that time we saw a major change in the game & app industry: moving more and more from a paid towards a freemium based business model. As an outcome game developers faced the problem of monetizing their users, making it more difficult to ask money for their content. With SponsorPay we wanted to solve that problem and provide developers with a new monetization solution, making their life easier, adding more value to the existing ecosystem. There were already some companies undertaking similar activities in the US, but due to the local reach of advertisers it was difficult for them to expand their solution to Europe.
It took us 2 months to elaborate the whole business model, talk to potential customers and get the necessary resources on board. Then, as a second step, we build our first prototype and launched the beta version of our product. And the further progress looks like a storybook: within the next few years we managed to expand our business within Europe, the US and Asia – employing over 180 employees nowadays.
Q: What were the hardest difficulties founding the startup at a young age?
Looking back I didn´t realize the speed we progressed with the company, what we were doing right and wrong. Therefore I had to iterate very fast, always try to validate our assumptions as fast as possible, build the right product, make the right business decisions. Personally I couldn´t compare my actions with previous experiences, which made me apply the principle “learning by doing”.
Before starting SponsorPay I didn´t really know the advertising market, didn´t launch a fast-growing business by myself. While scaling, we focused on building a very strong team – and talented people always have high expectation from their founders. Therefore I tried to be really honest with all of our employees: I admitted that many things were also new to me, but promised to do my very best to make the company a success! During that time I learned a variety of aspects that are essential for an international and fast growing company: how to develop a (product) strategy, get the right people on board, establish a winning culture, lead teams etc. Most of the time the age doesn´t really matter as long as you strive to make your company better as a whole, work hard on yourself and don´t abuse your power as a managing director to justify your own faults.
Q: What is your personal advice to all young founders?
Starting a great company has nothing to do with age, but rather the founding team, the product and how big the problem is you’re (hopefully) trying to solve. Besides it is very essential to have the necessary funding and strategic resources already in place (networks, clients etc.), which allows your company to scale fast afterwards. Being young can also be of an advantage, often you have nothing to lose after university – no big salaries, no need to support a family (in most cases), no fancy stuff (you might not need anyway). You cannot learn to be an entrepreneur by reading about it, you just have to do it. After your Bachelor degree forget about the MBA, rather try and start a company yourself – I bet you’ll learn more, even if your startup fails.