Dream job for founders: no nine to five – business

At the beginning of February 2004, a 19-year-old psychology student put a platform on the Internet – developed together with friends. Students at the elite Harvard University can put a photo of themselves and some personal information on the site. The small start-up quickly turned into a network that gradually opened up to other universities and schools, and then to the whole world. Today, Facebook has three billion users and is the world’s dominant social network. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is one of the richest people in the world.

In 1994, Jeff Bezos started a small online bookstore in a garage in Seattle and named the company after the world’s largest river. He’s still packing the books himself at first, but soon the business grows fast. Today, Amazon is by far the largest online retailer in the world, with sales reaching almost half a trillion dollars.

Elon Musk founded several companies at once: with his brother, a Zip software specialist, from sales proceeds, then the Paypal online payment system, thanks to which Musk became a very rich man. But the South African doesn’t stop there: he sets up the space company Space-X and then makes the electric car maker Tesla big. Musk is one of the most controversial and successful entrepreneurs in the world.

Bastian Nominacher (right) with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (second from left) at the German Future Prize, together with co-founders Alexander Rinke (left) and Martin Klenk.

(Photo: Gregor Fischer / Photo Alliance / dpa)

These three are certainly the most famous, but there are many such success stories. They make starting a business an important goal for many. You dream about the success of a budding entrepreneur, about uniqueness and independence – and of course about big money. And this is possible not only in the Silicon Valley. The number of start-ups in Germany is also growing. Despite the corona pandemic, almost 3,350 new start-ups were added in 2021, according to research by the analytical company Start-up-Detector, an increase of 11% compared to 2020. However, becoming a founder is not a certain success. Since the danger of failure is enormous, many people are unaware of it. Experience shows that 90 percent of all startups fail, many in the first year. Not everything works like Facebook, Amazon or Tesla.

“You have to be passionate if you want to be a founder,” says Bastian Nominacher, 37. He’s sitting in a small conference room, and he got a coffee just around the corner. The office building is located in a courtyard in the best downtown location in Munich, just a few hundred meters from the city’s two main universities – LMU and TU. People from Allianz worked here, and then it was rebuilt. Nominacher’s company has already taken up six floors, the top floor is also to be leased soon, and new employees are being hired all the time. Lots of glazing, open conference rooms and a large terrace where you can party every Friday. In the kitchen, the refrigerators are full of drinks, the staff can help themselves.

A dream job - that's what it really is: Celonis' headquarters on Theresienstraße in Munich: right in the middle and close to the universities.

Celonis headquarters at Theresienstraße in Munich: right in the middle and close to the universities.

(Photo: Celonis)

Nominacher did it. Together with his fellow students Martin Klenk and Alexander Rinke, he founded the Celonis company in 2011. Today, with 2,800 employees worldwide, it is one of the most successful and valuable software companies in Germany. In the last round of financing, the company was valued at eleven billion euros. The startup was one of the first in Germany to exceed the value of ten billion euros. Celonis creates software that uses data to analyze and improve company processes.

“When we started in 2010, hardly any of my studies started a company,” says Nominacher. – Meanwhile, the interest is growing, universities are actively supporting the founders with many initiatives. I am very happy about it – he says. That’s right: LMU and TU, but also many others, now have their own programs to support students on their path to self-employment. Celebrities such as BMW’s main shareholder Susanne Klatten are heavily involved. Young founders who want to know the secret of success are still in contact with the founders of Celonis. Celonis’ success was not clear for a long time, and the path was not easy. “There are ups and downs, a lot of setbacks and disappointments,” says Nominacher. And: “You often think you can fail too. To be able to go on, you have to pursue this idea. “

While it can be difficult, successful start-ups are also important to an economy like Germany. “I want Germany to become a founding republic,” said Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner recently. The traffic light coalition wants to “create the best framework conditions for financing innovative new companies”. To this end, it has now published the federal government’s start-up strategy. “Start-ups are paving the way for economic and social renewal,” says Christian Miele, chairman of the board of the Federal Association of German Start-ups.

But that requires founders – such as Nominacher. “In the beginning, my goal was not to be a founder,” he says, quickly adding, “Now that’s my dream job.” At first, there was little suggestion that he would one day become one of the most successful founders. He comes from a country east of Munich, his family has been running a bakery for 125 years. However, neither he nor his brother wanted to enter the family business, and the bakery is now leased. Nominacher’s passion was rather computers and software. Even as a boy, he tinkered with computers, attended high school, did an internship, and worked in a computer shop. On the second educational path, he catches up with high school diploma, then studies business computer science and mathematics at the Technical University of Munich.

The godfather of this name was Zelos, the Greek god of pursuit

There he was involved in student management consultancy, one of the first projects was an order from Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR). There, IT service processes should be accelerated. It then took up to five days to reset the password or repair the printer. The students were able to help, also because they used existing data. The business idea was born quickly and the company was founded in 2011. The name was inspired by Zelos, the Greek god of striving and zeal. To make it sound better, “ni” has been added. It was only on the way to the notary that the founders soon decided to replace “Z” with the letter “C” – so that the company would not always be the last on the alphabetical lists.

A dream job - it really is: Bastian Nominacher comes from a family of bakers, but he did not want to take over his parents' business.

Bastian Nominacher comes from a family of bakers, but he did not want to take over the business of his parents.

(Photo: Celonis)

Celonis is a model example: companies are often founded by universities and research institutions: according to the German Start-up Monitor 2021, every fourth company established comes from this environment, more than a third of all respondents met with their co-founders at the university. Most start-ups are created in the ICT sector, followed by the food and food and consumer goods sectors.

In addition, start-up founders are often young. According to research, the average age is 36 years, which is significantly lower than that of the working population (43). Four out of five founders have a degree, most of them have studied economics or one of the mint subjects, ie maths, computer science, life sciences and technology. It is striking that there is still a shortage of women among the founders. According to the monitoring of start-ups, the percentage of female founders is currently 17.7%. – not even a fifth.

We also work on weekends, public holidays and evenings

In any case, the time it takes to start a business should not be underestimated. Regulated working hours? No. “Starting a business isn’t about nine to five,” says Nominacher, adding that that wouldn’t be for him either. “I also work on weekends, public holidays and evenings – but I don’t consider it a burden,” he says. Nominacher starts at eight in the morning and often moves on to evening. He rarely has a vacation, sometimes a long weekend is enough. The pressure as a co-CEO is high. “I do what I like and can often plan my day myself,” he says. He never gets bored.

Nominacher got rich too, at least on paper. The founders still have a “very substantial” stake in Celonis, although the amount is unknown, so they are likely to be billionaires. But this is an “abstract value,” says Nominacher. In addition, there was a long drought at the beginning, which was not easy. Initially, the founders paid each other a monthly salary of 2,000 euros.

“It’s important that the founder looks for suitable mentors or role models,” says Nominacher. And you have to develop a culture of error. Much also depends on the circumstances and on your luck: “You can only make a limited number of mistakes, you have to take care of them.”

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