As CEO of Speedinvest, Oliver Holle not only helps building startups, but also has to grow his own company. After being an early startup entrepreneur in Austria, he now sees his role in troubleshooting and dealmaking and wants to foster international relationships beyond the US.
Oliver is the face of venture capital in Austria. Not only did he appear as a judge and investor on the TV show “2 Minuten 2 Millionen” (the Austrian version of Shark Tank), most importantly he is the the founder and CEO of Speedinvest. Still, Oliver is far too humble to see himself as the representative of a community, mainly because he knows of the entrepreneurial struggles and is grateful for the opportunities he got. And no matter how busy he might be, he doesn’t seem to be distracted but genuinely involved in any conversation he finds himself in. Oliver’s partners praise his appearance: “Oliver is a genius when it comes to trouble-solving. When all others would give up, he will present a creative approach as way out. His respectful attitude is doing the rest”, Marie-Helene Ametsreiter says about her colleague.
The VC was part of the Austrian startup scene before it even existed. In 1998, Oliver founded Sysis, a provider of interactive simulations. As CEO, he pivoted the business in the early 2000’s to what would later become 3United, one of the earliest mobile startups in Austria. Oliver served as a CFO at 3United before it got acquired by Verisign in 2006. Following the acquisition, the founder moved to Silicon Valley to oversee the company’s integration. It was then that Oliver took a closer look at the local venture capital system. “There wasn’t really a VC community back in Austria. It was a white space and I discovered a market opportunity”, Oliver recalls. So when he returned in 2008, he decided to help build one. He founded “The Merger”, a predecessor of Speedinvest that focussed on M&A consulting.
Doing lots of research and talking to experienced venture capitalists in the US and Europe, Oliver tried to find a business model for venture that was more inline with his personal experience as a founder in a fringe market as Austria. “In our region at seed stage, the common VC model is not working, because what startups are lacking is not only money but experienced operators that can quickly take a company to the next level”, he says and eventually came up with the concept of “Work for Equity”, which is now what Speedinvest is well-known for in the tech industry. Rather than only investing money, Oliver and his team join the founders in fully operational roles to help startups grow and expand internationally. Founders pay for this not with cash but with incremental equity for the fund – an innovative model that proved to be a win-win-win for investors, early stage entrepreneurs and the Speedinvest team.
With that in mind and and the help of his team, including from day one, US partner Erik Bovee, Oliver founded Speedinvest and started raising money for his first fund. A quite challenging, as he says: “There weren’t really any angel investors in 2009 and 2010. One of the first investors Speedinvest got on board was Austrian publisher Eugen Russ. Having a big name subsequently helped the VCs to convince more and more investors with the “Work for Equity” approach. “250 meetings and creating a feeling of inevitability” led Oliver to the first fund with EUR 10 million.
Five years into the business, fundraising is still one of Oliver’s main responsibilities at Speedinvest, while still being highly involved with his portfolio companies and their founders. He describes his role as “troubleshooter”, who’s there to solve conflicts within startup teams and get back on track or find new product strategies. One of the early Speedinvest companies is Finderly, which pivoted from an electronics platform to a marketplace app called “Shpock”: “They went from a dead end to finding the sweet spot and creating a service people love. It’s exciting to experience all these transformations that new startups go through”, Oliver remarks while also talking about the challenging parts, one of them being the international expansion of Kochabo, a food subscription service. Right now, Oliver is very hands-on with Hitbox, a livestreaming service that’s competing with Amazon-owned Twitch. Apart from helping with strategy and team setup, he refers to himself as “deal maker” who is supporting his startups through finding new investors and partnerships with other companies.
Reflecting on his work, Oliver describes Speedinvest itself as a startup: “We’ve grown from 7 to 18 team-members in the past year. And we have a lot of responsibility, not only on the startup side but also towards our investors.” This should also explain Oliver’s empathy for young entrepreneurs. Right now, Oliver has no interest to transform Speedinvest into a later-stage-fund: “Our main expertise is seed stage”. Of course, he does think about new opportunities for his very own startup: “I firmly believe that our model could be a blueprint of how seed stage investment can work in a number of emerging markets such as Asia or Africa. There’s a lot of potential to build further bridges.”