Interview with Florian Heinemann, Co-founder and Managing Director at Project A

21st January 2016  

The U-Start Team carried out an exclusive interview with Florian Heinemann, Co-Founder and Managing Director at Project A Ventures since 2012. Dr. Heinemann is responsible for performance marketing, CRM, and business intelligence at the firm. Prior to this, he was a Managing Director at Rocket Internet GmbH from 2007 to 2012 and was responsible for marketing, CRM, and business intelligence.

You have founded the Berlin-based company builder Project A Ventures. Tell us a little bit about how and why you founded the company.

I founded Project A, an early-stage investor and company builder with my three co-founders and friends Uwe Horstmann, Thies Sander and Christian Weiss three and a half years ago. Project A Ventures is an early stage investor with a 100 million US Dollars fund. In addition to financial support we provide startups with operational expertise. With a team of 100 experts, particularly in the fields of product/IT, Marketing/CRM, Business Intelligence and Organization Building, we help our ventures to develop their own competencies. Because we are convinced that it takes more than money to build up successful businesses, and that you need know-how in success critical areas at an early stage to make sure, a companies grows sustainably and successfully.

What type of start-ups do you approach and what are the major sectors and business models you look for?

We follow an investment approach based on themes and theses, with the occasional deliberate exception. As operational VC, we invest in incubation as well as acceleration projects focusing on business models in three areas: e-commerce & marketplaces, software as a service and infrastructure solutions.

You worked at Rocket Internet, where you were responsible for the areas of marketing, CRM, and business intelligence. You defined yourself as the co-CMO of Zalando. Tell us about your experience at Rocket Internet, Zalando and what are the credentials of such a big success?

First of all, the Zalando success is very unique in Germany’s e-commerce ecosystem and hard to reproduce in exactly the same way. I think the biggest success for me is the very industrialized and data-driven cross-channel approach we implemented. The unique combination of IT and data led to a very well designed marketing process including the people who worked within these processes. This knowledge, how to make marketing more efficient and better, by building a solid IT- and data-driven infrastructure, is for me one of the key success factors of Zalando.

Why did you leave Rocket Internet and what did this experience teach you?

As entrepreneurs, we were excited to start something new, bringing in our experience and our knowledge.

What growth expectations or major developments do you see in the digital marketing field? What are the general trends, in your opinion, that will affect the future?

There are currently several parallel developments in the digital marketing field: First of all, the increasing use of smartphones and tablets will definitively have a huge impact, as mobile devices provide ubiquitous internet access. Along with this development, comes the growing “share of attention” for media consumption, mainly driven by social platforms. Another development which is especially led by mobile apps is the importance of CRM.
Furthermore, the power of high and deep reach login platforms such as Google, Apple, Alibaba, etc. is continuously growing, which leads to heavy challenges for publishers, who themselves are too weak on the data side, for advertisers, who become more and more dependent on these platforms and for media agencies, for which these developments is a nightmare.
Thus, the relevant level of analysis and action is shifting more and more from the channel, respectively the context to the user. By the increasing use of multiple devices and the login as an identifier is getting becoming more and more crucial.
Furthermore, the digital divide between “haves “ and “have nots” in terms of performance marketing infrastructure and knowledge deepens.
At last, the digital advertising ecosystem will resemble to an increasing extend of the financial markets. Additionally, more advertising formats turn digital and programmatic. The consequences are the rise of integrated, biddable advertising products combining media and data and the automatization of buy-side and sell-side systems.

Tell us a little bit about your experience as an angel investor of more than 40 companies. Why and how did you get started as an angel investor? What is your personal experience in investing in early stage companies and what would you say you have learned from your mistakes as an angel investor?

My interest in entrepreneurship started at university and I was involved in startups since. From 1999-2000, I was co-founder and MD of JustBooks/AbeBooks, afterwards I was responsible for building up Online Marketing at Jamba! and iLove. In 2006 I started the marketplace as a co-founder. In total, I am involved as a business angel in more than 60 startups.

You operate as a company builder in Germany. Tell us about the German ecosystem, the strengths and weaknesses of the country compared to other tech scenes.

Berlin has a vibrant startup scene, which attracts international talents from different fields, from the tech scene as well as the creative space. This combination is unique and has a lot of potential.
In the last 5- 10 years, the German ecosystem has developed a lot. Although there are many fields where Germany is highly innovative such as automotive, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, Germany’s entrepreneurs need to gather experience and learn to think more international and which investment themes are interesting for international investors and how venture capital works. On the other side, the investors themselves are much more hesitant than in the US, and need to think bigger.
Currently, we see a third generation of founders, who are providing their know-how and their experience to the younger generation. Especially the Berlin startup ecosystem is continuously growing and more and more investors and international VCs are attracted by Berlin-based startups. We lately had a bunch of success stories, such as the 6Wunderkinder exit, Rocket’s and Zalando’ IPOs and also our fourth exit of Treatwell some days ago.