Cédric Bollag runs a video project called “Global Tech Box” and we sat down a couple months ago to discuss living with 64 things and building startups. Dive in to see what we discussed!
Hey guys, a quick intro: this is a video that I shot some months ago with another Cédric. He runs a startup tech show. We talked about all things decentralized, my 64 things and various projects that I’m engaged with. And back then my full-time business was still Sendtask so this video is not 100% up-to-date. Still, here’s my conversation with Cédric. I hope you enjoy!
As you already mentioned, my name is Cédric. I’m also enthusiastic about startups. I started my first company when I was 14, mostly by accident. And since then, I’ve been really fascinated with the idea of how do you get from an idea that you had at the bar last night to something that does 1 million. And 1 million could be a million dollars in revenue or a million users or a million packages shipped.
How I became “homeless”
Over the last few years, I’ve dabbled in various startups, as an investor and as a founder. And it just so happens that I’ve traveled so much that I decided to give up on having a constant home and live out of it bag because last year I’ve done over 120 flights and it was not sustainable to have to travel back to my flat just to be there for the night.
I probably started thinking about it four or five years ago. And it started as one of many experiments that I like to do. One day I kind of… I was fascinated with the question “how much stuff do I actually own?” Which sounds like a simple question but it’s hard to put a number to it unless you count it. So what I did is I started to walk through my flat and I collected everything on a spreadsheet. At that point I realized, I don’t know what the exact number was, but I realized I own 700 things or whatever it was. And I already felt like I live a somewhat minimalistic or simple lifestyle when it comes to things.
So I was a bit shocked. And of course, as soon as you have a number, you can start optimizing it, right? And then I started thinking if I could only own one pair of shoes, which shoes what I own? If I could only own one type of t-shirts, how many t-shirts would I need and what type of t-shirt?
And that’s how I started to think about it. And then about two years ago I decided to completely give up on having an apartment. At that point suddenly I reduced everything that I have to just 64 things at the time.
Is it cheaper to live in a decentralized way?
So I think it’s not a cheap lifestyle. So a lot like… travel is expensive – flights and hotels. For me, probably right now it’s cheaper because most of those trips would happen anyway because I have to travel so much. On top of that, I will be paying for a flat and all the costs that are associated with that. But I don’t think it’s cheaper than in general living in one place and settling in one place.
Cédric B.: Right, but in terms of stuff that you own, let’s say, excluding the apartment?
I very rarely make an impulse purchase, right? So I think I’m pretty immune to discounts and like the typical things that the media throws at us to make us buy stuff. So I don’t waste a lot of money that way. Usually, I think quite a long time before I buy something. Usually, it takes me two weeks just to buy like a new pair of pants or whatever because I want to be sure the material is better than what I’ve had before and it offers some pragmatic benefits.
So yeah, I definitely spend less money on things than a lot of other people that I know but I probably spent more on experiences and travel.
Tell us a little bit about your experiences as an investor
I started investing in startups, mostly in Switzerland and Berlin, about four years ago with my company Tenderloin Ventures. It’s me and my friend who put money together with the idea to invest in companies and then be very active with them. Both to provide value to the startup because they basically get an additional workforce, get my inputs… and on the other side, I learned a lot about the process of what goes well and what doesn’t go well in that early stage of a startup.
So that was the approach. We invested in kind of two types of companies. One is Swiss e-commerce and niche markets and the other is companies that scale really well. And the criteria there usually is… the way we think about is: at scale, you can add a thousand to ten thousand new members or users without adding one single staff on the company side. So there’s for example, one of the investments that we’ve done is Jodel or Frontify is another one. Just like applications that scale really well once they’ve reached a certain point.
Beyond scalability, what do you look for in a startup?
Because we invested so early on, usually within the first year – more often within the first six months of the company’s existence – it’s all about the team and trusting the founders. Finding founders that we believe in and which I wanted to spend so much time working with.
So yeah, I’d say team because the idea in almost all cases has slightly or not so slightly changed since that point, right? Because you figure out what the problems are… Even if it’s not a 180-degree pivot you very often have to change or adapt to market and your learnings. So I think the team is the number one thing that I try to assess.
Berlin vs Zurich as a startup hub
Cédric B.: Which ecosystem beyond Switzerland do you feel most comfortable with? Maybe you can compare them?
Cédric: I would probably pick Berlin because that’s where I’ve spent a lot of time as an investor. I think one key difference is, or one key difference that I’ve seen in the examples that I’ve seen is that in Berlin it’s much, much easier to start something because it requires less money and also I feel there is more venture capital for that initial first phase. But the downside of that is that people also seem to give up a bit quicker. So I feel it’s quicker to get started on something in Berlin but then it’s also easier to let it go.
Whereas here in Switzerland, I often feel people think more about an idea or work on a prototype while they still have another job until they reach some sort of product market fit and only at that point they raise money and then very often things play out. Now that could also mean that it’s less, like the projects that happen here, are often less risky. Maybe that’s the case. But I think both ecosystems have their advantages.
The other thing that I’ve noticed is I feel in Berlin it’s easier to hire people from anywhere in the EU and have them move to Berlin. Berlin seems to be very cool and people generally like to move to Berlin or give it a try. Whereas Switzerland, again, it’s a bit more of a… a more serious decision. Because people think of it as a very expensive place and it’s just because we’re not part of the EU I feel in my experience it’s not been as easy migrating people here as in other places.
Do you prefer being an investor or entrepreneur?
Cédric B.: It’s interesting. I mean, that’s also, by the way, what the mayor said. That he can’t do anything on a city level which is interesting – that the canton level needs to decide about the visa. You know, what’s interesting, just to wrap up, I’d say, the first part of the show, about like you sat on both sides – is there a preference for either one of them? And why?
Cédric: For me, I definitely like to be on the entrepreneur side – at least for now. Like no one knows what changes. But I enjoy being in the driver’s seat and being able to influence and build a culture and work on product and really get involved with all the day-to-day decisions. Yeah, so I I would definitely say I’m very happy on the side that I’m at right now. But that being said, being on the investor site is also extremely interesting because you see many different companies at once and you can see patterns. So I think there are advantages to both.
Cédric B.: I have five questions ready. Usually, I have two pools of questions – one for investors and one for startups but here I mixed it because I thought it would be interesting to see like these differences between an investor and startup in the same person. So ready for five questions?
What’s most important to you in an investor?
For me, it’s the smart money part. So not the money that they’re contributing but the value that they can bring into the company besides money. Usually, that means connections but in the best case, it means experience in the same field as the company that we’re building.
What’s most important to you in an entrepreneur?
A certain thirst for… or hunger for success. Because I know there will be tough times and I want to believe that that person will see everything as a challenge and not as a problem.
As a challenge and not as a problem. Can you maybe explain the difference… the differentiation between these two words? Yeah, because I guess most people who are not entrepreneurs would say they’re synonyms. I think I understand you but…
So for me, a problem has a negative connotation. It means “I’m sad” or it makes me feel… it doesn’t make me feel good. Whereas a challenge is an opportunity for me to grow. It’s something that I might not have expected. But if I have an adventurous mindset or a curious mindset, I can see what other people might see as a problem as an opportunity to grow and that’s what I call a challenge.
What would you like to see in the next five years in your ecosystem?
I’m kind of hopping between different ecosystems right now. So one thing that always bothers me but I don’t really believe that it will change is how many lawyers are involved in very simple processes in the US. That’s something that’s frustrating for me as an entrepreneur because it just delays stuff, it costs a lot of money… So that would be one thing.
If I think about Zurich, I think bringing more talent here would be one ask that I have. Like making it easier for other nationalities to move here and work here would be a big advantage for a lot of the tech startups that I see here in Switzerland.
One thing you learned the hard way as an investor?
I think a lot of people lessons and negotiations. I’m aware that while we’re still an investor and an existing company and we haven’t invested yet, we’re kind of not sitting on the same side of the table. Negotiations are going on and you have to do due diligence and things might be portrayed a bit better than they actually are. I think that’s part of the game. But I feel as soon as you’ve combined and you sit on the same… or as soon as I have invested and I sit on the same side of the table, I think openness is extremely important. I believe in having very open and unstructured discussions and just focusing on what’s most important for the business and the entrepreneur instead of any KPIs and metrics or discussing a certain number.
What’s one parting advice you can share?
Cédric B.: It’s your time now to shine, especially if you say like “this is going to be my legacy” and you say like this is something that you feel yourself or like you see yourself or everybody sees you as an expert. You have now about 60 seconds to give over like one advice that you would say is everything combined let’s say in one sentence that you would say you can give my audience on the way.
Cédric: So I’m gonna use something that applies to all areas of life. Live very consciously. Like “live consciously” would be my advice and what I mean by that is the only thing that we’re never gonna get back is time. What I always try to avoid in my life is regret. So all bigger or smaller decisions I try to make very consciously, I think about them. Because then even if it turns out that it was a mistake, at least in the future I’m not gonna have regret. I’m not gonna look back and say “oh, I should have spent more time thinking about this” or “I should have considered more or been more open to the emotions that I felt”.
Yeah so what I do is like every 90 days I take a day off and I sit down and I write about 12 areas of my life. I write about an introspective of myself like how do I feel about each area. I become very conscious about where I feel good and where I feel I need to change something and then I try to implement those changes within the next 90 days.
You can listen to the audio version here: