Felix Plog (foodpanda) | Scaling to 40 Markets in Two Years (Part 2)
Missed out on Part 1? Start reading here!
Similar to a sabbatical, you just spent a year in New York City. How did that come about?
There were a few lucky coincidences that played out well so that my wife, my two kids, and I could take this sabbatical. My wife got a position here at the United Nations for some time and I was finishing 4 years of foodpanda and 2 years of DeliveryHero. I needed a reset to figure out what I wanted to do going forward and I felt like New York would be the perfect setting to get this process rolling. I always believed it to be a very inspiring city and it turned out to be true at all levels.
My time here was very exciting. I worked with an NGO involved in saving rainforests, did some investing as a business angel, and met a lot of amazing people overall. I tried out different roles, markets, and industries – and of course, it was very rewarding to have a lot of family time, something which I did not have in the years before.
Talk a little more about some of the projects you did during your time in New York. How was working here different from working in Berlin?
The NGO I worked with, Coalition for Rainforest Nations, is a bit like a startup in that they help find funding solutions for countries that need support maintaining healthy rainforests. For the last 15 years, they have been leading these negotiations on behalf of emerging countries. The initiative is supported by the United Nations, so we are talking about a big scale project.
It was interesting for me to see how they are very different from your typical German or European NGO in terms of the pragmatism they bring to the table. Rather than creating a moral case, they simply say ‘ok, let’s find a solution that works’. It’s about getting together the money and finding the right technologies that can help reduce carbon footprint. Bill Gates, for example, is now exploring innovations in nuclear energy – a topic that is totally taboo in Germany nowadays. Unfortunately, irrational fears often limit the discussions to only one, or few, ideologically valid options.
That’s an interesting observation. I agree with you in terms of pragmatism among nonprofit organizations in the U.S.. I’ve done some work in the space myself and encountered really bright analytical people who, similar to startups, optimize their product-market fit, crunch the numbers, and get in as much money as they can.
Exactly. We were on a mission to bring in funding from the private sector to secure sufficient funding for the rainforests. If you can excite companies to decarbonize, you’re talking about a totally different scale of funding. We launched an exchange, for example, where rainforest countries could sell their UN-approved carbon credits. In Germany, the dominant belief is that we should not get private companies involved because they have too many commercial interests. So they basically only work with government money and miss out on the many other money sources they could be tapping into.
So now you are wrapping up your time in the U.S. and heading back to Germany. What’s next for you?
I’m going to join a company builder in Hamburg and Berlin called Truventuro. It’s a great team of entrepreneurs that have successfully built and sold several companies. I’m passionate about building companies, scaling, and taking something to the next level. It’s a partner role with an interesting twist, because it involves both venture capital and operations. I didn’t want to let go of the operational side of things entirely because I feel that’s where I can add a lot of value. And frankly, I get a lot of satisfaction from getting things done.
That sounds like a perfect role for you. That means you will be going back to raising money in some shape or form. You raised $310M for foodpanda at the time, an astonishing amount of money. What are your top tips for fundraising?
Raising money at an earlier stage is pretty straightforward. I think you just need a great product that is doing extremely well and generates loyalty. Often, too much focus is on expansion and customer acquisition, but personally I think retention is much more important. I’ve found that when we did acquisitions the best companies were the ones that had been sitting in some niche for the last 4-5 years with a low burn, passionately optimizing and iterating around how to build a really fun and engaging product or service. We found amazing companies that were just kind of hidden under the radar and at a closer look we’d find things like retention rates in food ordering of 30% after 12 months. And they had never even done paid marketing, only iterated with organic marketing.
Obviously, not everyone can afford to spend such a long time figuring out their product, but I like to tell people to focus on product-market fit first. Take your time and don’t rush into building a crazy big team. For a marketplace model, for instance, you can easily work with 8 to 10 people. Investors like to see healthy metrics when it comes to customer engagement and customer acquisition cost. For the seed round, and even for series A, I would allocate up to 80% of the budget into the product. If you have the right product, investors will throw money at you.
At the level where you start raising $50M or $100M it seems that money gets very international, whereas you are probably better off raising a seed round or series A locally. When you raised the larger rounds for foodpanda, did you approach investors or did they approach you? How did you decide which type of money to take?
The Rocket Internet network was very helpful throughout. Leveraging the contacts and network you already have is a very obvious thing to do. If you don’t have contacts with investors, make sure you get angels on board who have those connections. You don’t need that many, usually two or three well-connected individuals are good enough to trigger a ripple effect. They will know a guy, who knows another guy, who knows another guy. I would always do a seed round with strong angels because they usually have more time to allocate towards your needs compared to a VC. Basically you would get more value out of an angel at an early stage. I would onboard a VC for the series A or B.
So are you going to be available as an angel investor for startups?
Yes, I am an active angel investor. It’s very rewarding and I love doing it!
About Felix Plog
Felix is an experienced tech entrepreneur and active angel investor based in Berlin. As part of TruVenturo, one of Europe’s largest company builders, he supports a wide range of companies in different stages of their lifecycle. Felix co-founded the foodpanda group that acquired $310M in funding and successfully exited to Delivery Hero AG in 2016. At the time of the exit foodpanda was the leading food ordering service in the emerging markets.
After exiting the foodpanda group, Felix worked as SVP of Operations at Delivery Hero where he was responsible for scaling marketplace operations.
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