"I was making my $50,000 salary, and I realized, this is craz. I've made more money with flipping things, during university, and now I'm working 14 hour days, in an agency. Nothing against working in agencies, it's also fun but that made me realize that, I think I'm probably made to be an entrepreneur." -Milan Reinartz
A serial entrepreneur and CEO operator with a track record of 0 to 1 growth and a strong focus on building healthy unit economics early on in a venture's life-cycle.
He founded Postr, a leading lock screen advertising SDK in 2014 (exited to Play2Pay in 2021). He currently works with MonksHill Ventures and Kickstart Ventures, building out ivs.tv, SEA's largest B2B video player and advertising delivery platform, serving over 120 million unique users, across over 1.2bn pages per month.
This episode was produced by Kyle Ong.
Jeremy Au (00:00): Hey Milan, good to have you on the show.
Milan Reinartz (00:31):Hey, Jeremy. Thanks for having me.
Jeremy Au (00:33):
Well, I'm excited to bring you on board. You're someone who I respect as a founder, and as someone who is always very savvy, from zero to something, and I'm excited to share your journey with everybody here.
Milan Reinartz (00:48): Sure yeah, let's get going.
Jeremy Au (00:50):So for those who don't you know yet, who are you?
Milan Reinartz (00:54):
Yes. I'm just a German kid, running a startup in Singapore. But essentially, I'm currently the CEO of IBS, ibs.tv. We're one of the largest online video platforms in Southeast Asia, serving publishers like Compass, KapanLagi, Datech, ABS-CBN, Savant Media in the Philippines. So essentially, what we do is, you see me right now on a video player, we provide a video player for large publishers, where they can host their content, and also monetize through advertising, essentially.
Jeremy Au (01:26):That is amazing. And how did you get started? Were you entrepreneurial as a kid? Tell us how you got
from the age of zero, to where you are today?
Milan Reinartz (01:39):
That's a long story. I think I was always somebody who had projects. I remember as a kid, I was always the guy who was rallying the troops, for doing something, like even just little projects, like going to the lake, or building a tree house. But actually, I come from a family of scientists and artists, more so, so my mom and her mother were artists. And my father is a science professor, or both of my grandfathers were science professors. So actually, I find a little bit just obligation for me to go into the high sciences, or metro sciences, in my youth. And then I went to New Zealand, when I was about 15, 16 years old, for a student exchange, and ended up staying there for 12 years, maybe subconsciously to run away from getting pushed into sciences.
Milan Reinartz (02:25):
No, I don't know, but ... So I just really enjoyed New Zealand, and then studied design there, because design, to me, seemed like a healthy mix of science and art, because I was always the creative type. And I still do some design actually, even for my company, and my product manager is very happy. So I studied design, and while I was studying design, I didn't have much money, I was a young student, and I started to try to figure out ways to make a bit of money. I was working in a café first, and obviously you don't make lots of money working in a café. And I started to look at other things to do. And I started to trade phones, for example, the early iPhones, iPhone one, iPhone two, and also laptops. So I just figured out where I can I buy them cheap, and learned how to fix them a little bit and sell them for more.
Milan Reinartz (03:10):
And then it actually started selling flipping cars, second hard cars like Toyotas, Hondas, Subaru Legacy. There's a lot of backpackers, that come to New Zealand and put a mattress in the back of the car, and then they drive around New Zealand, for half a year or a year. And their flight is booked in advanced, and when they have to leave, they're in a rush to sell. They don't have much time, so they're usually willing to sell it at a much lower price, and then I'd have to time to sell it slowly, and make decent margin on it. And I think that was my ... maybe subconscious, or at least not on purpose, path to becoming an entrepreneur. I think it started there. And then I finished my design studies, and was then working at Saatchi and Saatchi, and BBDO, and Young & Rubicam, which are some of the big creative agencies in Wellington, in New Zealand.
Milan Reinartz (03:56):
And I was making my $50,000 salary, and I realized, "This is crazy. I've made more money with flipping things, during university, and now I'm working 14 hour days, in an agency." Nothing against working in agencies, there's a lot of good things about working in agencies. I learned a lot, it's also fun, but that made me realize that, I think I'm probably made to be an entrepreneur. So it kind of took all that 360, to realize that. Yeah, that's how it started, I think.
Jeremy Au (04:25):Wow, amazing. What was it like to flip cars? How did that happen?
Milan Reinartz (04:29):
Yeah, funny story, as well. It started, just me, buying a car for myself, and I was looking around on the web. There's a site called Trade Me, in New Zealand. Trademe.co.nz, which is kind of like an Ebay, but they have everything. It's like basically the large classified site, of New Zealand. I was looking around, and this was when I was 17 years old, so I already had $1000, or $1500, or something that I'd saved up. And I wanted to buy a car, and I was trying to find one, and I couldn't find one that was decent, but I found was decent enough, and all banged up.
Milan Reinartz (05:06):
And a friend of mine said, "Well, you should go, check out the backpackers, because in the backpacker hostels, they have these ride outs, with a piece of paper, where you grab the number, where people are selling their car. And usually, they sell cheaper, because they're in a rush." So I went, and I bought my first car that way, and then I drove it for about a year. In New Zealand you can make your license quite young, so you can start driving at 16, 17, which is nice. So I drove it for about a year, and then sold it, and sold it for almost twice the price that I'd bought it. It wasn't planned. I just realized, this is what people were telling me, "You can probably get that on Trade Me." And I realized, "That's crazy. I just made more than $1000." And also, getting to use the car for a whole year, and adding 20, 50,000 kilometers to the wheel.
Milan Reinartz (05:54):
So I think that for me, something clicked, and I was like, "Maybe I could try that again." And then, I just did it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. So it just started with a one-off, and then I realized it works, and then just did it over and over.
Jeremy Au (06:08):
How do you feel to worry about money less? I guess, you were starting to flip, and before that, you were worrying about ... because you were saying that you didn't have enough money. And then, instead of flipping cars, I assume ... Do you feel like you stopped worrying more? I'm just curious, how did the emotions change, around money at that time?
Milan Reinartz (06:31):
I started to have more money, so for sure it felt good. It felt good to have more money, because you just have that freedom, that you're not so dependent on your parents. Before that, it was my dad, sending me ... it was 100 bucks a week. New Zealand Dollars, so it was 400 bucks a month. It was pretty tough to live off 400 bucks a month. And just starting to have some really, more serious money was ... I think it made me feel very independent, and in control. And I think there's also this ... Naval Ravikant talks about this a lot, in his podcast, that people say that, "Money can't buy you happiness," but money can make a lot of things, that make you unhappy go away. So I think there's a sort of truism in that money can make a lot of things go away, that make you unhappy.
Milan Reinartz (07:19):
And I think, yeah for me, for sure. I realized money is important to me, and I enjoy being in control of my money. Maybe a rite of passage, as well for me. Funny enough, some were accidental. You probably know this yourself, when you grow up, some things that happen, you feel like it's happening to you, rather than you are doing it. So with this car thing, it was more like that. I didn't feel like it was me, purposely becoming a second hand car salesman. It just developed, it just happened. And then I think, yeah this become a rite of passage for me. And my relationship with my parents changed a lot, as well, because I wasn't relying on them anymore. And I think my father started to respect me more, as a friend, or as a peer, rather than just as his son. Yeah, it changed a lot for me, I think.
Jeremy Au (08:06):Was that his secret plan, by only giving you $100 a week, for you to go figure it out, do you think his plan, or was it just unintentional?
Milan Reinartz (08:15):
No, I think so. I think you're right, I think there was always his thinking is ... Well, his thinking was, it was like, "I'm not going to make your life easy, because life isn't easy. You've got to go figure it out yourself," so yeah, I think so.
Jeremy Au (08:30):
So what was it like? Obviously, you grew up in Germany, and then you're New Zealand. Was it a big culture shift, or was it cool, was it fun? I'm just curious.
Milan Reinartz (08:41):
Yeah, so interesting for me, it was actually, maybe in the first four, five months, is what people call a culture shock. I didn't speak English that well, I was hanging out with people I didn't know what they were talking about. They were talking so fast, I couldn't keep up their thick, New Zealand accents. But then, I think pretty quickly, I realized that I'm ... Funny enough, I was meant to only go there for nine months, and I ended up staying for 12 years. I have three Kiwi kids now. I have three New Zealand children. They're here, in Singapore now, with us.
Milan Reinartz (09:12):
So I think the interesting thing is that, actually I think my nature is more suited to New Zealand than to German culture. You might have noticed I'm sometimes late, to meetings and stuff, which is not a very German trait. I think you might as a tardy German, maybe not. So I think in Germany, Germany is generally very strict, and structured, and conservative, I would say, in general. Of course you have everything on the spectrum, but in general, society leans more towards conservative structure thinking. And people are very on time, and it's more black and white. There's certain ways to do things. People can break friendships, over political opinions.
Milan Reinartz (10:01):
And my parents are very liberal, almost hippy-ish, so my upbringing was very un-German, actually. My father is from Cologne. Cologne is one of the most liberal cities in Germany. And I grew up in Munich, which is probably the most conservative city in Germany. And so I grew up ... my parents were also a contrast to the rest of my environment. My parents were very non authoritarian, and I could almost do whatever I wanted, when I was a kid, and there weren't many consequences, so I wasn't being told off about anything, other than violence. They would let me do whatever I wanted to do, as a kid. And then, that didn't really work with schooling, and so forth.
Milan Reinartz (10:43):
So almost, I actually didn't really feel at home, in Germany, funny enough. And when I came to New Zealand, I really felt I fit in, because New Zealand it has this very, very open culture. And I think comparatively ... no place is perfect, but comparatively, very low racism, very low classism. I have this one story. I saw a businessman, and I guess a road worker in a bar ... This is a true story. It sounds like I'm making it up. And they were having a beer, so they were standing at the bar at a watering hole. And they were drinking together, and they were arguing about politics.
Milan Reinartz (11:20):
And clearly, they didn't know each other before, they just randomly started talking. And I remember observing this, when I was first in New Zealand. I thought they were going to fight, and I probably would have enjoyed that. As I was a kid, I just wanted to watch what happens there. But funny enough, after a while they said, "Ah, you were right, mate. You were right. It doesn't matter." They really agreed to disagree, essentially. And that's a thing in New Zealand, where that's very okay, where people can hold opposing opinions, and still be cool with each other, which is very, very common. And I think that for me ... Yeah, I think that maybe is an analogy for why I like New Zealand better than Germany for myself. I actually feel it's my spiritual home, in a way. So I think I'll retire one day, in New Zealand, not in Germany.
Jeremy Au (12:02):
Wow, what a story, but also what a ... I think it's very clear about how you felt different, and the difference between the two places. So it's interesting how culture is such a huge part of our everyday life.
Milan Reinartz (12:16): Totally.
Jeremy Au (12:17):
So I'm just curious, so there you are in New Zealand, and then you didn't spend your entire time, flipping cars, so what else were you doing out of New Zealand? I already know the answer to this, to say, but I'd love to hear, in your own words, what else you were doing during that time.
Milan Reinartz (12:36):
Doing my studies at the OZ, and just obviously hanging out with friends, and having fun, and being free. New Zealand is also a very, very beautiful place. For anybody who's visited, they know it's just picturesque and amazing. You drive 100 kilometers, and it looks completely different. You have all different types of terrains, and it's a beautiful place, a lot of travel. And then I obviously, on the professional side, I started working at creative agencies. And I enjoyed that, but I realized that I'm not really made for the nine to five, and then started to get involved with start-ups.
Milan Reinartz (13:10):
So I started by moonlighting ... which actually, I think is a good way for anybody to start ... Not moonlighting, but working with start-ups, so if you want to be an entrepreneur, and you don't have that background, maybe if you don't come from a family of entrepreneurs, and go on a very structured path to go there, I think a good way to learn, is to work with other start-ups, work with existing start-ups, in the operational roles. So I started by doing design jobs for a ticketing company, for several companies. One of them, I actually got a little bit of shares. They gave me a little bit of ESOP, and then two years later, the company sold, and I got like 20 grand. And I was like, "Wow, that's cool."
Milan Reinartz (13:46):
So I learned a little bit of ... and I also saw the management team, sometimes fighting a lot. It was interesting. It was a really interesting experience, very, very different obviously culture than a big creative agency. There were just these two guys, and their five employees, building this company, and that was pretty cool. I think that for me, gave me the inspiration as, I thought I wanted to be a tech entrepreneur, but I hadn't don't an MBA, I haven't done any coding. So I was still also trying to figure also, "How do I fit in? What am I meant to do here?" And so, I started the first company ... I was the third wheel, chief product officer, co-founder for ... it was called Chariot. Chariot like a horse chariot. Chariot.co.nz.
Milan Reinartz (14:32):
And basically, what we did was like, "If you know ... car ... " We were sort of like a Lyft or Uber, but for long distance commuting. But the issue was, eventually we realized ... It was very cool, it was a lot of fun. I was the product guy, so I was basically coordinating the developers, and the CTO with the business vision, and also designing all the app myself, which was really fun, to design an Uber like app experience. I enjoyed that a lot more than doing advertisements for Burger King. That was also fun, but I think designing a ride sharing app was cooler.
Milan Reinartz (15:13):
But then what we realized ... and I had no idea about P&L, the CEO was looking at that. And then eventually I had this kind of insight that, we got to I think about 200 rides a month in New Zealand, just people going from one city to another, or going from their hometown to work. So they travel an hour to work every day, to go to the major city. And the margin per ride was something like 60, 70 cents. And so, it occurred to me that was my little first P&L moment. It kind of occurred to me, "This is going to be really tough to scale, because even if you have thousands here, we're never going to make enough money to pay ourselves salaries." And so essentially, I left the company at that point, and so started to think about, "Actually ... " And concurrently I was already thinking about "What other ideas do I have, that might make sense?"
Milan Reinartz (15:59):
And then a friend of mine, in Germany, over a call, pointed me towards this Korean company called [Buzbil 00:16:06], and they were called [Latascreen 00:16:07] back then, I think. And basically, what they were doing is, they were putting advertising on Android lock screens. And if you accept the advertising, you get points, or you can get discounts in malls, and so forth. And I thought that was really cool, and I didn't see a lot of companies around doing this. Definitely none in New Zealand, so I just went about and started that. The CPO was actually the father of a mentee of mine, a younger developer, designer, who had I'd help out sometimes. So his father then ... I pitched it to him, and asked him if he knows any java developers.
Milan Reinartz (16:41):
And so he said, "Actually, my father is a java developer, if you want to speak to him," so I ended up then co-founding the company, with my mentee's father, which was quite funny. He was fantastic. He built the whole thing from scratch. So that was my really true entrepreneurial experience. I was the CEO in the company, and I would say it was also like an MBA in itself, for me, to really understand how building a company works, and how a company is run. And I made a ton of mistakes, and hopefully learned from most of those. Yeah, so that was really my major start-up experience, prior to what I'm doing now, was this company, it was called Poster. It was just actually, two months ago, acquired by Play To Pay, by an American company.
Milan Reinartz (17:22):
Yeah, so essentially we started building this, we had a weekly meeting at the pub, in the evenings, where we sat together, and talked about what are we doing. And essentially, started building this app. First it was an app, where you just got actually cash for accepting ads on your lock screen. Eventually, we realized that the charge was too high, so theratio didn't make sense. We were then looking at what else can we do. We were pretty sure it's about the reward, what is the reward for the user, that's meaningful, but it doesn't cost too much? "If I give you $2 a month, would you look at 100 ads on your lock screen every day?" Probably not, right?
Milan Reinartz (17:59):
But we were thinking, "What can you buy with $2, that's meaningful," and so we came up with this idea one day. It was actually my chief operating officer, back then, Roger. He was like, "Why don't we talk to the telcos and see if we can give people data?" Because data is there already. It's a sunken cost, so when Singtel gives you an extra gigabyte, they don't have extra cost, they have cellphone infrastructure ... yeah, cell tower infrastructure, and through that, they provide you with connectivity. And for them, it's actually a sunken cost, and they can make additional money.
Milan Reinartz (18:31):
So we did our first deal with Skinny, which is part of Spark New Zealand Telecom. And it just worked extremely well, immediately. From memory, our initial ... we had something like 70%, 30 day retention, or something, and turn curves flattened out, so we had really, really great retention. The was basically zero, or just business development work with the telco. So these were wide level apps, and the telco would communicate and market it to their users. And so then, we started to get some investment, we raised about, in total $5 million US, in three tranches, and then expanded and did deals with Optus in Australia, Singtel, and here in Singapore, Telkomsel and Indonesia, O2 Germany, Portugal Telecom, and several others in the pipe. Yeah, so that was exciting.
Jeremy Au (19:23):
What was it like transitioning? Because before that, you were working on these smaller things, and then suddenly you're raising venture capital, you have a full team now, you have the COO. It was a big change, right? I can't even imagine, because before that, you must have been pretty flat, and now you have #COO, you have engineers. What was it like, during that transition, as a leader?
Milan Reinartz (19:50):
Good question. When we started it, we both did our day jobs, so we started to build this thing, while we still had day jobs. We would talk about the cash model first, where people were earning cash. We launched all that, while we were still having day jobs. Luckily, I had very cool bosses, so I talked to them in the design agency, and they were okay with it. I would spend my lunch breaks outside, walking around in the streets, and calling media agencies in Auckland ... I was in Wellington, to see if they wanted to book advertising, and they did. So we made like $10,000, $20,000 a month. It was cool, I could see we were starting to really make a little bit of money, and we got some traction.
Milan Reinartz (20:28):
It was still just him and me, and we had a marketing manager, who we paid with ESOP, or paid with shares. A good guy, a friend. We had a little team, two or three people, who were mostly just inside of us with shares. And then we started to raise money from angels. And that was kind of exciting, because it was the first time I'd dealt with investors really, and I was pitching ... New Zealand has quite a rich angel investment scene actually, surprisingly, given what a small country it is. If you think about like Zero, there's quite a few big companies actually ... BENT, coming out of New Zealand. And that money, I guess gets circulated, and there's a number of people, who very, very actively angel invest.
Milan Reinartz (21:11):
So I was pitching to them, and I had a few people like, "Yeah, I'm in for 20." Another guy, "Yeah, I'm in for 15," and, "I'm in for 30," and suddenly we're like, "Wow," and we raised our first I think, $250,000 or $300,000. I felt confident enough, at some stage, that we can raise some money, and then I basically quit my day job, and moved into full-time doing this. Similarly, to the time, I guess ... as you asked me earlier, when I first started to make a bit of money with flipping cars, it was a good feeling. It was a feeling of being in control.
Milan Reinartz (21:45):
I think with start-ups, there comes ... I think Elon Musk says this, "Being an entrepreneur is like eating shattered glass." There was definitely also spew moments, where I was shit scared that things don't work, and struggling to fall asleep. Yeah, there were definitely scary times, but I think that the good times outweighed the bad times, and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the thrill of it, and all the learnings that came along. Acknowledgabley, I think I was not a great manager, in the beginning, because I had zero management experience, and never read about it, or anything.
Milan Reinartz (22:20):
And I think the one thing that is quite German about me, is that I try to be very efficient, and get a lot done, but also I'm very direct, which works pretty much in Germany, maybe in the US, but not any many other places. So in New Zealand, New Zealand people are much more gentle. If you don't like something you say, "Maybe that could be done differently," but you don't say, "I don't like it." And so, I think I didn't do great at people management, because of that, partly because of my German nature, of being extremely direct. Secondly, because of the real lack of experience. And I think that gave me the most headaches. I'm getting better at it now, but it's been a journey.
Jeremy Au (23:01):
So Milan, I've got to ask, I think the journey for someone being new at managing, and the transition from being a founder ... finding the product market fit, and that is an awkward transition, to you raise capital, and now you're raising a team, and you're leading the team. I'm just wondering, how did you get from point A to point B? Were you struggling, what books were you reading, were there any role models? How did you get from someone who hadn't officially led a team, to someone who was, and how were you trying to learn how to do so?
Milan Reinartz (23:37):
Yeah, good question. Just being honest with myself, I think I definitely made a lot of mistakes along the ... especially the people management side. I think I was pretty good at inspiring people, and getting people excited about what we were doing. And that made a difference, because we managed to attract pretty good talent. Of course New Zealand, having a much smaller talent pool than a country like Singapore, a city like Singapore, or major cities in the US, or Tel Aviv. But we managed to hire some pretty good people, and I think that made a huge difference.
Milan Reinartz (24:19):
One thing for me was, I did know that I'm obviously not a coder, and that I'm not a finance guy, so I did bolster those positions pretty early. I'm pretty good at BD. Not transactional sides, but really product led, consultative sides. I think that's my thing, my soft ... is it a soft skill, or a hard skill? A soft skill, I guess.
Jeremy Au (24:47):
It's soft for some people, experts, and it's hard skill for the start-up world. Anyway, keep going.
Milan Reinartz (24:58):
Yeah, exactly. So I was pretty good at BD, so I actually did quite a lot of the BD. And in retrospect, that's also ... For me, I think that you can lead from the front, or you can lead from the back, but in Poster, I definitely was more leading from the front. Towards the last couple of years, I've spent 70% of the time on the road. I remember I had this app, that was tracking all my flights, and I remember, I think in 2018, I spent 750 hours inside the plane. Which is, if you think 72 hours is three days. 750, that's more than 30 days. I spent more than 30 days inside the plane, which means probably like in total transit, I spent two months of hours in transit, which is crazy.
Milan Reinartz (25:43):
And then of course, took its toll, I think also on culture, and on viability. And so, that's something I'm trying to do very differently now. Not just because I'm forced to by COVID, but to lead more from the back. It was interesting, that's probably my biggest learning. In the beginning, I just wanted to go 100 miles an hour. I wanted to do everything fast, and if the others can't do it, then I do it myself, sort of thing. And then seeing what worked, and what didn't work, I think that for me was the biggest learning in Poster, my first company. And now, I'm trying to do that very differently. But at the time, you're often ignorant to your own mistakes, while you make them, obviously.
Milan Reinartz (26:30):So at the time, I think I was just having fun, and I just thought it was great to be in control, and to do things by myself, rather than for somebody.
Jeremy Au (26:40):
Did you do any reading, or books? I'm just curious, because I went through that same transition, for my first company. It was just like, "Okay, I'm learning from mistakes.", maybe the first time around, I didn't know enough, that I should be learning from someone else. I was just learning from mistakes primarily. And then only after experience, maybe then I was intentional enough to be like, "Okay, I should start reading books about leadership." I don't know, what was it like for you? Were you sharp enough to start learning about this stuff earlier, rather than later? I'm just kind of curious.
Milan Reinartz (27:21):
Good question. I think I probably wasn't sharp. I should have read more, but I read Lead Start-up. Actually, I read of UX books still, because it was an app based business. Or, Don't Make Me Think, is a great one actually, for UX, for those listening, I highly recommend. Yeah, I probably didn't read enough, in general, actually. I read a lot more now.
Jeremy Au (27:51):
No, it's true, because if you think about it, it's like yeah, at the time, my first company, I was primarily reading functional skills, like financial stuff, like I said, leader start-up. It's funny that you mentioned it that way. Okay, so since then, you mentioned that you've been more intentional about reading, and learning about leadership, and things like that. So how has it changed? What are you reading these days, versus last time?
Milan Reinartz (28:21):
Yeah, good question. I now really read quite a lot, and listen to a lot of podcasts. I'm a big fan of Naval Ravikant, and his learnings. There's a guy who put all his Tweet storms into a book, which is pretty good. I read like Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow, and Bill Campbell, The Trillion Dollar Coach. I think it's amazing. Yeah, those are some of my favorite books.
Jeremy Au (28:55):What do you like about Naval Ravikant, what do you like about what he writes?
Milan Reinartz (28:55):
I think there is this kind of holistic way of thinking about life, as an entrepreneur. It is about health, wealth and happiness, and without health, you can't have any of these things. And it's also no point being rich and miserable, so yeah I think he has a very holistic view of the world, and how to take care of yourself, in it. And of course, some very good insights on angel investing, which I've recently started to get more active in. So yeah, I think Naval, for me, is quite an inspiring figure.
Jeremy Au (29:31):
Yeah, that's awesome. To be frank, I feel like Naval ... It's interesting, because I think it's only recently that people are really talking about Naval. I think he was, for a long time ... not low key. He is always tweeting, and he was always out there, but I don't know. It just feels like it's recently surfaced, and the public consciousness of the founder-VC world, maybe relatively over the past two years.
Milan Reinartz (29:58):Naval talks a little about specific knowledge, and about how to do things from your point of view. It's
almost like self-help, do you know what I mean?
Jeremy Au (30:09): Yeah.
Milan Reinartz (30:11):
For entrepreneurs. Whereas, I like some of the leadership writings from, for example The Trillion Dollar Coach, Bill Campbell. It's really great about how it's always a team that achieves things, and hiring the best people and so forth. In terms of leadership, I've really changed to leading from the back, rather than leading from the front. That's probably the biggest thing I've learnt from reading.
Jeremy Au (30:35):What would you say is the difference between leading from the back, versus leading from the front, in your own words?
Milan Reinartz (30:40):
Good question. I've got practical examples in my head, so maybe I'll just give one of those. So for example, in Poster, in my previous company, I would do the sale to the telcos myself, the big sales. And there's also an ego thing in that, because I find like, "Hey, I closed that deal." And everybody can see it was me. Emotionally, in your head, you put yourself on this pedestal like, "I did that." But really what happens, at the same time, is that all that focus, and energy and time, that goes into closing deals, or being the chief sales guy, is not going into building culture, and building up your people, and figure out if there are product challenges. So there's the external and the internal. And I think now, I might open doors if I can, if I have the ability, if I know a C-Suite and a publisher ... we work with publishers now, then I'll open doors, but I really just trust the team to do that.
Milan Reinartz (31:38):
I hardly focus on the external side, aside from investors. Of course, as a CEO, you always end up dealing with the investor side. But on the operational side, I really let the team handle that, and let the team take the credit. And I focus much more internally. And also, one thing is culture. I think culture eats strategy for breakfast. Is that Andreessen? Yeah, I can't remember, Marc Andreessen who said this, but I think it's very true. The fact is, if two of your leaders are engaged in some political battle between each other, because they have conflicting views about something, and you don't deal with it, it can have a tremendous negative impact on your company. Whereas, you might not even notice that, if you're out in front, and leading from the front.
Milan Reinartz (32:29):
So now, I spend a lot more time on alignment, on just getting people aligned, just making sure we all see the same goalposts. I think in my previous company, we could have done a lot better, and grown faster and bigger, if I had done things that way. Would have, could have, should have, but going back, for sure, I think that's also very big learning for success. And I can see it now, in my current company. You spend the time on the internal stuff, on culture, and on alignment, then everything else just kind of works. And you're also less stressed, because you have more time. You're kind of, in a way, delegating some of the requirements, for sales and so forth, and for people management, that maybe if you're leading from the front, you're trying to do yourself, to be a micromanager, or take the credit. Does that answer your question? Long winded answer.
Jeremy Au (33:24):
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think it's less about the downmoral of the story, but it's more like, yeah we both evolved as the years of our time, because if you don't have time, and experience, it's hard to learn from it. I'm just curious, you obviously spend a lot of time, without doing the culture alignment, you spent a lot of time on self work. We know a lot of start-up founders were transitioning between the founder role, to the CEO role, and that the founder stage is ... You have that early stage, where you're just trying to find out whether this product works or not, whether it's even worth doing. Is it worth 10 grand of revenue a month, possibility? Is it even scalable. You talk about your Chariot experience. That's the earliest founder stage, and how for your last two companies, you've made that transition from that early product market stage to the dirt road, of building a start-up. What advice would you normally give, to someone making that transition from point A to point B? Is it like, "Read Naval"? How would you think about it?
Milan Reinartz (34:36):
I angel invest quite actively now. So funny enough, I'm observing people going through it. I don't know if this is true, but I have a feeling that it's very hard to tell people how to get there. Everybody has to get there themselves. A few tips that I give to new founders, or first time founders ... We're both not first time founders, so you can ... There's a saying, "The more well aligned you are, the less words you have to use." So we can just look at each other, and be like, "Ah, yeah." You know what's going on. But then for first time founders, I think on one hand, you just have to go through, but there's I think maybe a couple of frameworks that help. I think one of them is leading from the back, and paying a lot of attention to culture, and being very purposeful about culture.
Milan Reinartz (35:32):
And there's values, and people talk about this a lot. You can have a value that's written on a noticeboard, written on a wall, on a poster, but really what values are, is more how you operate internally. And I think being conscious and purposeful about it, is really important from the early stages. Because when it's just you and your body, or when it's just two or three people, starting a company, then it's kind of easy to have a culture, because you probably know each other for a while, you get along well. But then, once you have staff, how do you cascade that culture across other people, and everybody feels like an owner, and that you have very, very close alignment? Because I think one trap that a lot of people fall into, is that they end up wanting to stay control of everything, and then end up hiring basically, extensions of their hands, to fulfill all their thoughts, and it's just their brain that's responsible for everything.
Milan Reinartz (36:39):
And I think this is also in start-up myth ... It's a start-up myth, that's it's like the Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk, and they're just doing it all by themselves. But I think the reality is, that's not really how it works. In these great success stories, there's always a lot of great people involved. And I think the CEO's job, or the founder's job really. It doesn't have to be the CEO. The founder's job is to set up structures, that can foster and support growth. And I think one big thing is, getting your head out of just execution mode all the time, and taking a step back, and thinking about, "How do I have to set up the pieces here, on the chess board, to make sure I win the game?"
Milan Reinartz (37:29):
And I think that's something that a lot of founders that I meet ... I invest in companies, where a few of the founders are already thinking that way. And I probably would stay away, if I feel the founder is not thinking that way. More so, because I feel it's just so important to be very thoughtful about culture, and about team, and about how to set up your internal playing field.
Jeremy Au (37:55):
Yeah, I think there's a lot of truth to that, which is the one level, at the end of the day, some people are ready to move to the next stage, and some people just need a bit more time. And it's very hard from us, on the outside ... well, sometimes making an accurate judgment about that, sometimes we make inaccurate judgements about that timing. But regardless, we have another role. We're never going to be the person. And I think that's one thing I often think about is like, you and I, we know about a local angel investing scene, et cetera, we've looked at companies. And I remember joking with you, I was like, "This is how I would have pitched it. This is how I would have framed the problem," or, "This is how I would have answered the problem, based on what this other person asked." And then I would be like, "Okay, I'll just put that on one side," and say, "What is their approach?" Because they are successful to this point, because of the way they approached the problem. And it's interesting to have that duality, if that makes sense.
Milan Reinartz (39:03):Yeah, totally. And then, when you come, people are going to do what they're going to do, so ...
Jeremy Au (39:04):
Yeah, you have to invest in the founding team, because they're going to make all these micro decisions every day, that are going to be totally different from Milan, or Jeremy, so you've got to invest in their instincts, and their ability to learn then, and grow. I'm just curious, you've also done two things, you saw the active angel investing scene in New Zealand, and now you've been angel investing in Singapore and Southeast Asia. So I'm just curious, what have you found the difference, and how has your approach changed over time?
Milan Reinartz (39:45):
I think New Zealand is quite small, and insular in a way. Physically, I have to say it's a small island, at the end of the world, behind Australia. And so, I think New Zealand is ... in a way, it's very founder supportive, in terms of the ecosystem, the people around. One thing I've heard, from quite a few people ... and I don't want to say anything bad about anybody, but I think New Zealand is pretty tough on the cap table, because a lot of the valuations tend to be very, very low, in the early days. To some extent, I'm conflicted a little bit, because of course, as an investor, it's nice when the valuations are lower, because you get more of the company, and you get a higher upside, if it's very successful. But on the other hand, the challenge is also that it can dilute founders too much, too early. And then the company actually becomes not VC investible.
Milan Reinartz (40:49):
So there's, I think a lot of companies in New Zealand, that never get to the point of VC investment. And there's also a lot less VC investors. I think there's only two, [Movak 00:40:56], and one other, it's coming out, that really are serious aim VCs. Whereas, you can get valuations of like $1 million post money in the first round, and people give away 20%, 30% to a couple of angels, who gave them fairly small checks, comparatively. But then on the other hand, I think there's this group of entrepreneurs, as well in New Zealand, multiple time entrepreneurs, like Rod Drury, who started Zero, and they know how to do things.
Milan Reinartz (41:32):
But then the general start-up scene, I think it's, in a way, not as mature, and not as well educated, as in Singapore. By educated, I mean we also talk ... everything is in relativity. I guess, we generally talk in relativity to Silicone Valley, where you have the largest amount of venture funding pouring into start- ups, the largest amount of exits, and so forth. And I think Singapore's ... here, it's basically $500 SAFE note. Every dealer is a $500 SAFE note, so sometimes I feel a little bit like, "Yeah ... " and then it's weird, because some founders you're like, "Okay, you can justify it. You've done something before. That's cool." And then others, you think like, "Yeah, you have zero traction. So far, it's just an idea. You haven't done anything before. Maybe you should be a bit more humble about the valuation."
Milan Reinartz (42:22):
Yeah, that's the flip side of the coin, but then I think in a way, definitely Singapore is more mature, and you also know that if the company does well, it has a much, much higher chance to get VC investments here, because there's just a huge amount of VC activity in the region, in Singapore, and Indonesia, and Philippines. I'm staying here for probably another 10 years plus. I definitely would not, for me personally, go back to New Zealand to start another company, just because the ecosystem, I think is still much more mature here, and especially on the VC side. So a little bit like serious A, B, C, stage. I think much easier to operate from a market like Singapore.
Milan Reinartz (43:10):
One other thing is market excess, so Southeast Asia is just a huge market, and growing very fast, economically, which provides a ton of opportunity, compared to New Zealand. In New Zealand you generally have to look outward, you can't really stay just in New Zealand. There's four million people, and 80 million sheep. So unless you're in the business of sheep or timber, you have to go to other markets.
Jeremy Au (43:39):
When you say that, it reminds me of Settlers of Catan, all the wood, and the sheep as resources. So when you're thinking about all of that, you obviously also made the move to Singapore and Southeast Asia, so I just wanted to ask, why did you make that move?
Milan Reinartz (44:01):
Yeah, good point. I actually had raised some money out of Singapore, at that point. So I had several super angels, I would say, and also NBI Telkom, Indonesia's CDC had put some money into my previous company. And so at some stage, they were all ... I was here all the time anyway, because Indonesia was the largest market. I remember doing the first call. I was on my balcony in New Zealand, and it was late at night, because five hours ahead ... or six hours ahead of Indonesia, actually. And it was late at night, it was 11:00 PM, and I had a call with the guy who helped me Telkomsel deal, and he got excited about it. And I was very excited, it was like midnight. This is, I think a good example for why it became untenable, like you don't want to be doing your BD calls at 11:00 at night all the time.
Milan Reinartz (44:53):
I already one kid at that time ... Two kids when we moved here, so I had two children already. And it just became untenable. I was just on the road all the time, I hardly saw my family. Clients were in Europe and Southeast Asia, so it just didn't make sense anymore. And so at some stage, my investors were saying, "Come to Singapore." So we had some conversation about salary, because cost of living is much higher here. But yeah, luckily for me, they took care of me and helped me to move to Singapore. It was meant to be more like for year or two, as was my student exchange to New Zealand. And I think now, I'm here for a wee while.
Jeremy Au (45:39):
You and I, we've had some chats about what's so exciting about Southeast Asia, and opportunities. Why don't you share, maybe in your own words, what you think about the future for Southeast Asia technology?
Milan Reinartz (45:54):
Good question. I think one thing that's interesting is, if you look at the unicorns, the big that are unicorns, there's a lot of stuff happening in logistics, and transport obviously. And then there's a lot happening on market places, which maybe is a little bit of a reflection of ... and I think this is probably ... it somewhat leans on what happened in the US, but it's still, I think different. Southeast Asia has its own way of doing things, because also, people operate differently.
Milan Reinartz (46:28):
For starters, you have different languages in the different markets. And on the other hand, it's obviously the developing market, so GDP per capita is still much lower, but it's growing. I think it's the fastest growing GDP, globally, in this region now. Don't quote me, but I read a report. And I think there's huge opportunity in a number of areas, I think. And sometimes, I think there's probably areas that ... it's almost the non-sexy areas. So Ninja Van, for example, I know is one of your portfolio companies, as well. One of the portfolio companies as well. I wouldn't have thought of that. I wouldn't have thought of like, "How do I get parcels to be delivered faster?"
Milan Reinartz (47:15):
But it leads then, on the market place hype, or movement that we have here, with Tokopedia, Shopee, and so forth. So I think there are quite a few verticals, that are going to really blow up, over the next 10 years, and a lot of them, we may have not even thought about yet. It might not be in sure tech, or leader tech, or biotech, like many people might think. Or, as is the case in the US, and Israel, it might be quite a different set of areas. Maybe not so sexy spaces, but that really, really had the people, that are meaningful to the people. Many people say this, "The value that you give to society, you get back." Most people who get extremely wealthy, get extremely wealthy, because they provided tremendous value to society.
Milan Reinartz (48:15):
There are some bad actors, maybe who just stole it, or took it, but usually, you add tremendous value, to get tremendously wealthy. And I think that's maybe where founders should look, is to see where there is a need for value creation, for a large amount of people, or a large amount of companies, or SMEs or corporates. And I think that there is still a huge opportunity in Southeast Asia, compared to US, which is a much more mature market, and it's probably more about nudging, nudging, nudging, forwards. Whereas, I think in Southeast Asia, you can still go leaps and bounds further, in a few.
Jeremy Au (49:00):
Yeah, that's so true. I love what you're saying, because I think a lot of people in Southeast Asia, the founders are saying, "Okay, these are all the American unicorns. They're all very amazing, and very advanced. And then, these are all our Southeast Asian unicorns, and they're all very logistics, and basic, and fundamental." And then it's like, "What is the difference between these types of unicorns?" But I like what you're saying. It's like, "Hey, let's forget about that." I think they use this phrase in America, which doesn't make sense in Asia, but they say, "Let's skate to where the puck is going?" That's a very ice hockey thing, like you should go where the ball is going, you don't run to where the ball is currently.
Jeremy Au (49:46):
And I think there's a lot of truth to what you say, where just I think founders have to be like, "Hey, what does the region need?" And worry a bit less about the current number of unicorns, or what we're doing currently.
Milan Reinartz (49:58):Yeah, totally. If you want to create a new one, you have to really think about it, right?
Jeremy Au (50:02):
Yeah, you got to go to where the ... I don't know what the Southeast Asian version of what keep to
where the puck is going. Sale to where the fish is going, I don't know.
Milan Reinartz (50:14): Maybe.
Jeremy Au (50:17):Maybe. I don't know what the Southeast Asian version of that is. Wrapping things up here, Milan, 10
years ago, it's 2011, where are you, and what were you doing at that time?
Milan Reinartz (50:30):
I'm terrible with dates, in general, but I'm just trying to think. I was 22 years old. I was working in an agency. I worked in design in an agency. Frustrated with doing a nine to five job, and hoping I can one day be an entrepreneur. Yeah, I think that's where I was.
Jeremy Au (50:55):
And what advice would you give yourself back then, if you had a time travel machine? You pop out, young Milan is in a bar somewhere, a pub, and then you pop out in a time travel machine, like Terminator, you walk over, and what advice would you give yourself, over a beer?
Milan Reinartz (51:14):
I know it sounds really basic, but I think it would just be like, "Don't worry so much. It'll be fine." I used to worry a lot, and I used to be so stressed out about things, and generally, it ends up being fine. You don't have to worry so much. I think generally, a lot of founders, we over worry, we stress ourselves out, and we think it's part of it, but you don't have to. I think you can be more efficient, by being more relaxed, being more calm. Do yoga.
Jeremy Au (51:42): That's new, right?
Milan Reinartz (51:43): Yeah.
Jeremy Au (51:43):That's your new pandemic hobby.
Milan Reinartz (51:44): I think 22 year old Milan would have laughed at me, if I told him to do yoga.
Jeremy Au (51:50):You'd be like ... you're still too German?
Milan Reinartz (51:53): "Whatever dude."
Jeremy Au (51:58): Awesome. Well, thank you so much Milan, for coming on the show.
Milan Reinartz (52:00): Thanks for having me, Jeremy.