Hannes Richter

i5invest - Young Austrian Entrepreneurs and the World of Internet Start-Ups

Hannes Richter

The growing number of young entrepreneurs in the world of communications and the internet and the recent success of internet start-ups that attract large numbers of users and visitors indicate that unlimited opportunities exist for the future. Although ideas for start-ups are plentiful, success requires young entrepreneurs to seek professional support. Recognizing this was a niche to be filled, Austrian Markus Wagner assembled a group of young Austrians with strong expertise in launching successful internet start-ups in the past who are now using their knowledge and experience in helping others. His company i5invest, based in New York, has assembled a core team of twelve young experienced professionals who offer their services by evaluating ideas that have the most potential for becoming solid ventures and developing them into lucrative business models. The focus is on those internet models that are essentially designed by the users, much like Wikipedia, or social networking sites, such as Facebook or MySpace, along with a few recently created start-ups like 123people.com or Tripwolf.com, which have demonstrated great popularity in Europe and the U.S. within a short period of time and have high numbers of visitors.

Viennese born Markus Wagner sold his company, 3united, for 55 million Euros and started a totally new concept. Believing in the adage, ‘creating is greater than the finished result,’ Wagner admits his desire to experience this ‘start-up feeling’ that he had when creating his first company ten years ago. Together with Martin Stemeseder, a former colleague and technical guru, he established his new business in New York City providing new start-ups with money to invest, know-how, infrastructure such as accounting and legal advice and the necessary contacts. After a few months of developing and programming, the project enters a test phase, followed by establishment as a company and then the subsequent search for sponsors and investors.

Creating a new start-up begins with an idea. According to Wagner, “it doesn’t matter where the idea comes from, as long as it is good,” and in the end the selection process happens rather quickly: Although eighty percent of the ideas have been already thought of, to succeed one needs a strong innate sense, experience, expert opinions and a business personality. “Out of 7,000 potential young entrepreneurs in Europe, perhaps 10% make it.”

Based on his many years of experience with 3united, Wagner took with him his expertise, understanding of technology and capital earned to create i5invest in New York City with the company’s headquarters serving as a bridge between the U.S. and Europe. “We have a powerful network that reaches from New York to Vienna, Boston and Silicon Valley,” claims Wagner. “This is ideal for European start-ups that want to become international and are searching for global partners.” At the same time, it serves to strengthen Austria’s position as a center for hi-tech expertise. When creating i5invest, Wagner assembled a team of some fifteen experienced and internationally-oriented entrepreneuers, including some of his former work colleagues. The name i5invest stands for innovate, inspire, incubate, invest and internationalize.

Tripwolf.com - An Online Travel Guide
An example of a recent start-up, launched in June 2008, is Tripwolf.com. The goal is to become Europe’s leading online travel guide, much like a travel Wikipedia. Founded by Austrian-born Sebastian Heinzel, Tripwolf combines professional travel information on 200,000 or more travel sites throughout the world with tips from knowledgeable online users and content taken from Wikpedia, Flickr and YouTube. Replacing the published travel guides of the 1970s, Tripwolf’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it includes the current generation’s trend toward social networking by integrating social networks such as Facebook. Users can design their own trip from the tripwolf online community and print out the information free of cost, creating their own travel guide. Site users share tips from friends and family, photos and videos, allowing for a more individualistic travel plan based on trustworthy suggestions. “Everone loves to tell about his travels,” says Heinzel, “and most people trust the opinions of their friends and acquaintances. So this is exactly the mechanism we use.”

Sebastian Heinzel began nurturing his love for travel by touring the Mediterranean with a rucksack at the age of 18, followed by travels to India, Cuba, Morocco and Vietnam. His work as a journalist and international correspondent for renowned news media such as  Austria’s “Die Presse,” and “Profil” or Germany’s “Die Zeit,” and “Tagesspiegel,” continued to fuel his interest in globetrotting. He met Markus Wagner when writing about Austrian companies in the U.S., 3united, among others. A friendship soon developed and while driving through the countryside of Costa Rica in a Jeep, Heinzel told Wagner about his idea of a travel Wikipedia which he had been entertaining for many years. Wagner was immediately enthusiastic. What was once a fantasy became a business idea, and in June Tripwolf was launched, exactly one year later.

With the help of i5invest, Heinzel was introduced to potential investors. The German travel publishers, Mair Dumont, one of the most successful market leaders in the field soon came to endorse the new Tripwolf start-up; in addition, “they offered us their entire travel content from popular guides such as Marco Polo, Dumont or Baedecker, which was an enormous advantage over other competitors,” said Heinzel.

Today tripwolf consists of a team of ten to twelve people, based in New York, Vienna, Budapest and San Francisco and is run by Heinzel and his friend Alexander Trieb, who had gained broad start-up experience in the U.S. and Europe. The New York office handles the substantive content while the European office manages all technical requirements. From the beginning the idea was to have the site serve as an international platform which reaches as many users as possible. Tripwolf went online the middle of June and is currently available in German and English, and will soon be available in Spanish. Currently 60% of the users are German-speaking and the remaining 40% are primarily Americans, but this can change quickly. As Sebastian Heinzel reports, “we were recently on French-Canadian television and within days there were some 500 new users from Canada. And as one blogger from South Africa reported, we soon had new South African users as well. Within a period of one-and-a-half months, Tripwolf managed to attract 10,000 registered members. Moreover, Tripwolf remains open to all internet users; in the month of July alone 80,000 visits were recorded (65,000 of which were new visitors).

Extremely positive magazine reviews and comments from bloggers refer to it as the new “Facebook for Travel.”  The opportunity for expansion appears to be limitless, and soon flights and hotels can be booked through the site using iPhone applications.

123people.com and Other Projects Hatched by i5invest
Today i5invest is promoting five other projects, three of which are from Austria. One success story is 123people.com, a free people search engine site that has millions of visitors. It was designed to improve the quality of searching for people by allowing users to access information from global databases and networks as well as country-specific websites and includes photos, videos and social networking profiles, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. This allows users to combine profiles into one centralized hub. Partnerships with the yellow pages, telephone companies and investors provide additional perspectives.

Another start-up, Emailcharity.at, is a fundraising tool that allows users to raise money for a favorite cause simply by sending emails on a daily basis. With a professionally-designed email signature, the user outlines his support for a certain charity initiative, thereby generating attention and donations. Emailcharity can also help non-profits and government organizations to advertise easily and efficiently.

In today’s highly dynamic IT sector, internet sites emerge and develop quickly. Sometimes they are born “overnight.” At the same time, they easily disappear as fast as they arise. Knowing that, Markus Wagner has tailored his new company i5invest to offer Web 2.0 projects and business ideas the stability necessary to plan and work for long-term success, thus avoiding the short-term failures experienced by many.