We often get so absorbed in our own world or industry bubble that you start to see things only one way – your way. I always had the feeling that talking to people outside of my world was keeping my mind fresh and open for new and different ideas or ways at looking at certain challenges.
Tobias has been running companies ever since he was a student at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. He founded his first company, Business Associates Europe, in 2007 while in university. The company developed an innovative model of delivering strategy consulting services to corporations by bringing together experienced consultants with university students who provided in-depth research support to a portfolio of leading companies in and outside of the Netherlands.
After graduation, Tobias dove into the e-gaming industry and partnered with a leading Poker player to establish StrategosPoker – an online platform teaching casual Poker players on how to play on a competitive level and generate a significant personal income.
To continue his business activities in Europe, Tobias became the Managing Director of another venture, entrepreneur academy, which has provided personality empowerment courses to leading entrepreneurs all around Europe and the Middle East. It has always been a personal passion of Tobias to explore how personal empowerment techniques, such as those developed by the leading figures of the industry can be applied to design a prosperous life leading to peak personal and professional performance.
In early 2012, Tobias was offered an opportunity to transfer his skills to the entertainment industry, a playing field he felt drawn to for many years. He joined Swiss initiative ‘Thought For Food’ and developed a documentary and conference about how the next generation of leaders is reshaping the food industry by using the latest technologies to develop new business models to feed the world. The documentary, which was shot in Kenya, India, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the USA has reached the hands of investors and decision-makers around the world who have then decided to support the initiative and the next generation of leaders taking part.
Since then Tobias was instrumental in launching AXIOM Pictures, the first entertainment equity fund of its kind based out of Europe. Through his work with leading media entrepreneurs and innovators, the idea for AXIOM Venture Capital was born to service an abundant need to connect the world of media & entertainment and the world of finance. As its Managing Partner, Tobias runs the M&A advisory as well as Corporate Finance arm of AXIOM Venture Capital. The firm helps media & entertainment entrepreneurs find the right investor and vice versa.
In 2006, after his service with the German Armed Forces, he co-founded “Support German Troops” – a non-political, non-governmental citizen leadership initiative to create awareness and accumulate support for the troops of the German Armed Forces. The initiative raised donations in the hundreds of thousands of Euros and has activated more than 50 thousand fans on social media providing support to countless armed forces families in Germany.
Tobias is an avid traveler and people connector. He has lived, worked, visited, and studied in over 43 countries on 4 continents and speaks German, English, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. He is a natural networker and is excited to continue applying his expertise in running companies to the entertainment industry and help shape the face of the global entertainment business.
Where did the idea for AXIOM Venture Capital come from?
AXIOM Venture Capital started more out of an unplanned opportunity. When we were working on our entertainment fund AXIOM Pictures which had a clear film focus we noticed that there were many film and TV companies that were setting themselves up to be proper entertainment firms rather than focus on a single project or single product strategies. They were looking to build or extend their solid footing and thus had a very different investment profile than your average production company. They were in it for the long run and they were looking for stable relationships rather than one-offs. You have to keep in mind that the entertainment industry is very fast paced and that anyone able to get long term commitments from a buyer has a reason to celebrate. So, these companies were looking for proper corporate finance rather than project finance and I felt that is something we could get behind of.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I love about my job is that no day is alike. The process is fluid and something unexpected is always happening. That makes staying focused quite challenging sometimes. I try to keep the list of things short and focus on the highest priority activities – things I know will have an impact on the project at hand. I find that I stay a lot happier that way. For me, productivity is not only getting a lot of things done but getting the right things done and sometimes that requires a bit of reflection and thinking things through. On some days though I rather just jump in. Get down and dirty and grind it out. On a ‘typical’ day I spend a lot of time on the phone or in face to face meetings with people. Other times I am spending the whole day stuck behind the screens. These days I get quite a few invitations for conferences and industry events and I find they can be a great opportunity for research, connecting with old acquaintances, and staying on top of industry developments. I usually meet someone for lunch from the neighborhood to stay in touch. I don’t really like doing business over lunch so for me it’s mostly a social affair.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am a big fan of research and grounding your decisions on evidence rather than guesswork. This doesn’t mean I don’t rely on my gut. It has served me well so far but big decisions require some insight. From my consulting days, I know that nothing beats an expert interview. I love to chat to people that work in a field I want to know more about. Just like any other business initiative I like to “qualify” ideas step by step and see where they go. This has prevented me time and time again from pursuing something that might be a great idea and sound nice but nobody was willing to pay for.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
As a consumer, I have really enjoyed everything becoming more on-demand. For a business that can make it tough to predict or scale but it also makes sure everyone keeps an eye on efficiency. Waste is never OK and it is great that with the help of on-demand solutions collective resources can be used more efficiently. Obviously, some of them are quite disruptive but that is what it takes to move industries and businesses forward. In the entertainment industry, many people are freelancers. Experts in their field that are for hire for whomever needs their skills for a certain period of time. Often, this also means that people stay experts and evolve their skills as they continuously work on the latest projects, companies, and teams. I think if we can apply this sort of thinking and setup to more industries we will see lots of jobs and opportunities created.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Over time I noticed that nutrition has a stark impact on my productivity so I try to eat healthy snacks and a light lunch. Often my craving for something hearty is just amplified by the fact that I notice I am hungry late. One thing I try is to keep a tight schedule and not neglect the fuel part. Exercise and nutrition are I think often the first two things that go out of the door when you encounter a busy period or complex project. With frequent travel the grief only grows. Hotels are often equipped with great gyms or pools and at airports, including airline lounges, the food options have improved. That has certainly worked in my favor but whenever I am on the road I try to get the most out of the trip so I would sacrifice a workout for a client meeting. Over the years I have realized that I am, too, getting older – a real shocker. Nowadays I am making it a priority so the better I feel the more productive I am. Sometimes less is more.
What advice would you give your younger self?
As a younger, less experienced entrepreneur I was sometimes weary of trusting my gut. It has always served me well to trust my gut. I think most of us are pretty good with getting good feedback from our gut but we are conditioned to work with the facts and figures. To apply reason and thought. I started the first company while I was still in university and I think that influenced me quite a bit. I would try to find one of the frameworks from the coursework to interpret information or to build a model in my head. Often that worked out just fine – after all these frameworks aren’t just coming out of the blue. If I had a chance to talk to my younger self I would strongly urge him to trust his gut more and take decisive action. Too many times we try to keep options open, see how events unfold and by the end of it we cannot do much anymore. Since our hindsight is usually 20-20 it’s easy to say “I could have done this or that” but for me personally I have to admit that my gut was seldom far off from what I thought people would do and what they ended up doing. As great as it feels when you are right as painful it is when you are wrong.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I love talking to people – even if they are not in my field or industry. For many people, this might sound like a waste of time. Why talk to someone that can’t help you in business? I am not sure when this obsession started by I always enjoyed the serendipitous encounters at airports, in hotels, or on the road in general. I have met some amazing people this way and I was always curious what they were doing, what they were working on, and what made them tick. We often get so absorbed in our own world or industry bubble that you start to see things only one way – your way. I always had the feeling that talking to people outside of my world was keeping my mind fresh and open for new and different ideas or ways at looking at certain challenges.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
This is going hand in hand with the previous question. Over the years I have noticed that referrals and recommendations can come from anywhere. Every time you grow your universe of contacts and acquaintances you increase the chances of getting a great referral or introduction to potential clients or business partners. I have made it a habit to always ask people who else they thought would need to know about what we are doing. Likewise, I always ask people whom I should send their way. This is very helpful also in understanding what people do and how I might be able to help them with their venture, project, or career. Some great opportunities have come out of this in the past and I feel it’s a great way to give and be given.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I am not sure if there was anything I didn’t fail at. As an entrepreneur, you rarely have someone handing you a playbook. Sure, there is lots you can read up on but doing things often differs from the clean, reflected advice in books, blogs, or from people. When I did fail at something I tried to analyze the mistake or what had gone wrong and determine which factors really influenced the result. From my university days, I remember a guest lecture we had in an accounting class. A supervisory special agent from the FBI gave a talk about white collar crimes and she was asked how come with all the governance, compliance, etc. white-collar criminals managed to either commit a crime or even sometimes get away with it. Her response was quite impressive. She told us about the rule of 5 that her husband, an airline captain, was confronted with often. Apparently, in aviation the result of a near-crash or crash investigation by the NTSB would yield that the accident happened because of at least 5 failures in a row. Meaning when something goes wrong it’s never just one thing that went wrong but a sequence of failures. Someone didn’t check that, someone assumed this, someone didn’t pay attention. It’s preventable events that pile up until they become an unstoppable chain of events. For every failure, I encountered as an entrepreneur I found that usually it was the same. It wasn’t just one thing, it was a chain of events that lead us to the ultimate failure or a product, a service, a person, a contract, a deal, you name it. Whenever something doesn’t go “according to plan”, I ask myself: is this an isolated event or could this relate to something else going wrong. If I think it’s a little stone that could set in motion a bigger rockslide I will try to stop it right away. It’s never easy to make these calls because usually you will also not have all the information and you have to go with your gut.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I believe in continuous education and I spent some money on an online course at edx.org. I love the site and the hundreds of courses you can do. I am always amazed with the number and quality of educational institutions that the site manages to partner with. It has definitely allowed me to learn from some of the greatest universities in the world. Many of which I would never have had the chance to visit otherwise.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Since a solid decade I am a huge fan of Highrise, which is a very lightweight, email-based CRM. For pretty much every venture I was involved in we have been using Highrise. I appreciate the simple design and functionality. The team that built Highrise have always had a focus on creating something lean, something that barely does all the things you want it to do (they have a great blog about it, too). It was never meant for huge corporations, who would probably go for its much, much more complex counterpart, Salesforce. As an entrepreneur, I have also never been involved in large, corporation-like ventures that required complex tools.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One book that has been a treasure-trove of good ideas, anecdotes, laughter, and inspiration for me is “The Richard Burton Diaries” which were edited by Chris Williams. The book is a compilation of diary entries by Richard Burton, who, to say the least, has had an interesting life. An icon even during his lifetime he describes all the ups and downs in his own words. It gives you an insight into the mind of a prolific public figure as well as his many exploits that come with global fame and vast resources. The paperback version, which is the size of a brick, will give you hours, if not days, of entertaining moments and intelligent observations.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.