Q&A with Lars Hinrichs at HackFwd’s Build 0.10

By David Knight |

Lars Hinrichs is one of the biggest names in Germany’s tech scene. The veteran entrepreneur, who co-founded business networking platform Xing in 2003, was the driving force behind the recent talks between leading technology figures and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

His current focus is the European pre-seed investment company HackFwd, which recently held the four-day Build 0.10 in Berlin. Silicon Allee caught up with Lars as the event.

SILICON ALLEE: What do you think you and the startups in your program (known as Hackboxes) have learnt from the event?

LARS HINRICHS: That’s a hard question to answer. With these four days from Thursday evening to Sunday morning, we go from private stories, getting to know the other people there, into the deepest technical things. Like working with Chris Boos; he’s one of those guys who is the reason why we can still use the Internet. He reengineered the entire routing system and sold it to Cisco and thanks to him we have 2.2 billion people online. So the range of learning possibilities at Hackfwd is just insane.

SA: When you look at the Hackboxes at events like Build 0.10, can you see the progress they are making?

LH: It’s amazing what small teams can do in three months. As someone mentioned onstage, sometimes you just ask someone something like “what do you think about A and B?” and the next day you have a solution. But as a company gets larger, two things happen: management diverts from the engineers – and this is a sad thing because the engineers are the engine of the Internet business – and the second thing is that companies get slower and slower and suddenly you have unproductive people.

SA: What did you think about the pitches from startups outside of HackFwd? Did you see any potential future Hackboxes?

LH: Absolutely. More than one.

SA: How do you hope HackFwd will develop in the future?

LH: Actually we don’t know. It all depends on the success of our Hackboxes and so far we haven’t had an exit. We have achieved really nice valuations so it could potentially make sense that we continue. We only take companies where we think what they have built is great. Then we can help make them more successful. We are not tied to any funding so we don’t have constraints like ‘the fund must be invested as of 2015.’ We are a very small investment company, we believe in what we do, and we try to get artists, or our view of artists, to be successful. And the best thing is that over there you have Rocket Internet, the biggest clone company on the planet, and we’re doing innovative stuff here just 50 metres away. [Ed’s note: The interview took place at Build 0.10, which was held at the Kalkscheune – situated, like Rocket’s offices, on Johannistrasse]

SA: Unlike previous Build events, you opened this one up to external people. What will you take from this one? What was missing this time around?

LH: I don’t know – I always say that right after an event because I have to digest the weekend. And there are a few small things that I can immediately say we should do differently, but there was no major breakdown. Some presentations could have been better, let me put it like that, and the stage design could have been improved… but they are small things. I think by opening up HackFwd to over 200 people really made a difference, and the energy in the room was great. The people here enjoyed it and we are looking forward to what comes back from the feedback forms.

SA: When are we going to see the first HackFwd exit?

LH: We could have already had exits but we support the entrepreneur if he says ‘I don’t want to sell for x million, I want to grow the company.’ I ran Xing before, a subscription-based business, which is fantastic. People pay upfront and you just do the service over time. You have all this working capital, an insane cash flow – fantastic business. Venture capital investment is the opposite: You give out lots of money, you wait and wait and wait and you hope that something comes back. But I’m quite positive that the value that we create will show that HackFwd is a valid business model.