According to Axel and Boris’ LinkedIn account (they share one), they are based in Berlin, Copenhagen, Liechtenstein, Stockholm and Monterrey. Neither are they merely entrepreneurs, but ‘visionaries’, keen to inject their particular brand of hyper-positivism into the tech industry. They even have an Instagram alter-ego, ‘The Yesssmen’, ‘Green Super Heroes for the fight against climate change.’
Even away from social media it’s difficult to separate Axel and Boris. They finish each others’ sentences, espouse the same business principles, and even dress similarly. In many ways they embody a new generation of German investors–a generation untethered from the big industry, banking and corporate sectors that, until lately, have dominated the nation’s economy.
That’s important, they told Red Herring, over coffee at Berlin’s Michelberger Hotel, a glossy, hip paean to the global style capital Berlin has become. No longer is the city “poor but sexy”, as its former mayor once declared (it’s still cheap compared to London or Paris, though, but where isn’t?). Neither one of the founders of Yesss Capital have designs on the moniker, either.
Yesss Capital (no that’s not a typo) was conceived in September 2015 after a collaboration between its founding duo that goes back to building homepages together as friends, aged 14. It has made investments in Swiss driverless tech company BestMile and VR firm Advir. They are partners in the Mumbai accelerator ScaleMinds, and advisors to the FundTonic angel network in Mumbai and Delhi’s Jaarvis Accelerator. Two things are certain: their passion for emerging tech and markets, and a hefty airmiles account.
Nowadays “everything merges with tech,” says Boris, the more talkative of the two men. “We love to create synergies between lots of different industries.” Around 80-85% of Yesss’ investments are tech-related, he says, and many are in green energy–especially in developing markets such as India, where the pair sees a huge potential.
“The mentality to do business is to find the right markets and get the time to market right,” says Boris. “Now it’s the right time to do something in India. In a couple of years it will be the world’s biggest economy. They’re moving very fast. They’re hungry to establish something, and to reach a goal. That was China a couple of years ago. Now it’s India.”
That hunger is one of the principle reasons Axel and Boris prefer to take a backseat, strategizing rather than micro-managing their portfolio. They hate to spend lots of time in the same place, and find it tiring trying to motivate people who don’t have the same 24/7 drive as them. “We prefer talking to investors, and other stakeholders in the economy, and finding out where the greatest ROI is,” says Axel.
That said, entrepreneurship is all about people–their visions, their passions–and Axel and Boris are well aware. It’s one of the biggest things singling them out from other investors in Germany, they say, whose VC landscape is dominated by corporate ‘old-guard’ businesspeople who oftentimes fail to see a risk worth taking.
“Back in the day banking was sexy,” Boris says. “Then all the banking guys became VCs, and looking at numbers and spreadsheets. But it makes no sense, because it’s all about people and their mindset, and their ability to execute.”
“It’s getting better because you have younger people in the VC landscape, who have made money with their companies, have seen a lot of stuff in the US and work together with US people,” Axel interjects. “But many people are only looking at returns on investment and not sustainable topics. They want to have a copycat of this and this, but they don’t look at the wider industry.”
That is partly why Yesss Capital has focused the lion’s share of its business outside Germany, preferring to leap on markets before they mature. Now, however, that might be changing slightly. Fintech is challenging the domestic banking sector, Industry 4.0 is digitizing everything, and Brexit could soon cause thousands of tech professionals to leave Britain for Germany.
Having two heads rather than one helps too. “We’re always tools,” says Boris. “You can talk to each other, ask what you should do. You should exchange ideas every day.” Above all, say the duo, their ethos has been to “try lots of stuff and find what you love…We didn’t have a lot of mistakes investing because we have principles and an open mind,” he adds.
With that in mind, Yesss Capital’s brand of cheery, Instagram-friendly language will help them weed out the most positive and go-getting individuals with whom they can work to change the tech landscape. Boris says, “Of course we’re looking at economies and ideas. But in the end it’s people executing this stuff. You invite people on the ship, then you can better sail through the weather.
“But we like to meet people at night, over a beer,” he adds. “Then they tell the truth!”