That is why Picus Capital invests in start-ups early on

Robin Godenrath

With the help of self-developed computer programs, Picus Capital wants to identify company candidates as early as possible.

Munich Alexander Samwer provided the capital for the venture capital firm Picus Capital – but the youngest of the three Samwer brothers only has one vote among the six partners. “We use his wealth of experience,” said founding partner Robin Godenrath to the Handelsblatt, “but he has no special position in investment decisions.” Unanimous agreement is required for investments, everyone has a right of veto.

Alexander Samwer, one of the three Rocket Internet founders, founded Picus five years ago together with Godenrath and Jeremias Heinrich. So far, the company has invested clandestinely in young companies very early. Around 80 million euros have now been invested in more than 60 start-ups.

According to Godenrath, a further 150 to 200 million euros are available for the next five years. “Basically, our possibilities are unlimited.” Because the proceeds from successful exits should also be reinvested.

Picus Capital invests very early in the so-called seed or pre-seed financing rounds, but then also has the capital to call in later rounds. Picus was with the software company Personio from the start, which has become a kind SAP for HR in medium-sized companies. In the most recent financing round, Personio was valued at a mid three-digit million amount. Picus holds around three percent of the shares.

“As an investor, we want to be as agile as a business angel, but with greater financial strength,” says Godenrath. With the help of self-developed computer programs, Picus wants to identify the company candidates as early as possible. On the LinkedIn career portal, for example, they search for founders who had already successfully founded or were employed by exciting companies.

Corona makes raising capital difficult

With the help of this filter, the team takes a closer look at around 100 start-ups a week and speaks to around 50 founders, says Godenrath. “Sometimes we get in touch before the company is even founded.” Picus wants to get the “absolute top companies”.

In order for this to work, you have to set yourself apart from the competition, after all, there is a lot of capital on the market. Picus then offers help – without the start-up committing itself to anything. “We support and hope that the companies will honor that later.”

If a start-up then decides in favor of other investors, Picus has not delivered enough added value. But it has already succeeded more than ten times in the first month after founding a start-up.

For the start-ups, financially strong venture capital providers are currently particularly important. During the corona pandemic, some investors preferred to hold back. In the most recent German Start-up Monitor (DSM), 43 percent of companies said that raising capital was challenging. In the previous year it was only 38 percent.

Godenrath previously worked at McKinsey. It has always been his goal to found a company himself, he says. So when he met Samwer and Heinrich, Picus Capital was born – it is also a kind of start-up, with 20 employees now.

The Samwers are probably the best-known German internet entrepreneurs. Oliver Samwer still leads the incubator as CEO. The withdrawal of Rocket Internet from the stock exchange also caused a lot of criticism this year. The mandatory buyback offer of EUR 18.57 was well below the issue price of EUR 42.50 from October 2014.

The young companies are attracted by foreign countries

The brothers invest in start-ups and real estate with various companies. Alexander Samwer is also active in the field of renewable energies with the project developer Pacifico Energy Partners and the company Pacifico Renewable Yield.

The investment focus of Picus is, among other things, in the areas of proptech, fintech and insurtech – i.e. on digital specialists in the real estate, finance and insurance sectors. Picus’ more than 60 holdings include, for example, the artificial intelligence specialist Genius AI, the factoring service Billie, the digital real estate specialist Casavo, the solar energy company Enpal and the job search engine Joblift.

All of the 14 most recent pre-seed investments are on a growth path, three of which are valued at more than 100 million euros, says Godenrath. He doesn’t want to name bad investments. Above all, he regrets that Picus did not get on the Hopin event platform, which is currently benefiting greatly from the corona crisis. “Our early detection radar didn’t work, so we didn’t even start talking.”

It is important that there are also investors in Germany with greater financial strength, says Godenrath. “We want to do our part to strengthen the start-up ecosystem in Europe.”

Also eCapital founder Paul-Josef Patt recently complained that Germany was still a “venture capital developing country”. For young companies in the early phase there is sufficient capital thanks to the high-tech start-up fund.

But after that it will become more and more difficult, especially in the deep tech area, which requires a lot of patience from investors. Capital for further expansion in the later rounds often comes from abroad. With young companies there is a risk that the technology – or the whole company – will migrate abroad.

Picus Capital has the patience for long-term investments, says Godenrath. “We don’t have to think about the exit right from the start.” Alexander Samwer’s venture capital firm still has big plans for growth.

In the pre-selection of possible investments, Picus relies on computer support. In the end, however, the personal impression is decisive, says Godenrath. The entrepreneur needs a passion to convince the best talent to move to his company. “In the first half hour of talking to the founder you learn more than in a day of research.”

More: The silent exit from Rocket Internet – the Samwer brothers dedicate themselves to new investments


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