20VC Wunderlist & Pitch Founder, Christian Reber on His Personal Relationship with Risk, Money, Whether the Sale to Microsoft was a Mistake, What Great Product Designs Means Today & Why Founders Investing External Capital is a Distraction

Summary Notes


In the latest episode of 20vc, host Harry Stebbings interviews Christian Reber, founder and CEO of Pitch, a modern collaborative presentation software. Reber, who previously founded Wunderlist and sold it to Microsoft, discusses his entrepreneurial journey, starting with his early tech experiment Muchelli, which led to his first company sale, and eventually to the creation of Wunderlist and Pitch. He emphasizes the importance of instinct in product development and the balance of ambition with a sustainable work culture. Reber also touches on his approach to board management, angel investing, and the potential he sees in Pitch to accelerate decision-making processes across various sectors. His narrative is interspersed with Stebbings' promotions of AngelList, Letter banking, and Terminal's tech team-building services, highlighting the dynamic ecosystem of tech startups and investments.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Pitch and Christian Reber's Background

  • Christian Reber is the founder and CEO of Pitch, a collaborative presentation software for modern teams.
  • He has raised over $52 million for Pitch from notable investors and was previously the founder of Wunderlist.
  • Wunderlist was acquired by Microsoft after raising $35 million.

"Christian is the founder and CEO at Pitch, the collaborative presentation software for modern teams. To date, Christian has raised over $52 million for pitch from some of the very best in the business."

This quote introduces Christian Reber and his current venture, Pitch, highlighting his successful fundraising efforts and the nature of the software.

Startup Journey and Founding of Pitch

  • Christian Reber began his entrepreneurial journey in Berlin at 18, creating a music playlist site using YouTube's API.
  • He sold his first company shortly after starting it, using the funds to start an agency business.
  • Reber transitioned from the agency business to software as a service, starting Wunderlist as an appetizer product before moving to project management tools.
  • After selling Wunderlist to Microsoft and spending two years there, Reber founded Pitch to improve the presentation creation and sharing process.

"I accidentally started a company when I moved to Berlin at the age of 18... I had like 200,000 users within a month... I sold the company... and start my next company, which was an agency business... I started Wonderlist... sold it five years later to Microsoft... I just never felt like I'm finished with what I really wanted to accomplish... So I came up with the idea of pitch."

This quote details Christian Reber's entrepreneurial path from starting a music playlist website to founding and selling Wunderlist, and eventually creating Pitch to address the inefficiencies in presentation software.

Feature vs. Product in Startups

  • Reber addresses the debate on what constitutes a feature versus a full-fledged product.
  • Drawing from his programming background, he accepts the transient nature of code and products in the tech industry.
  • Reber relies on instinct and a belief in the market potential when determining whether an idea is a feature or a product.
  • He also uses instinct when making angel investments, focusing on the founder's understanding of the market.

"In terms of figuring out whether something is a feature or a full blown product, that is a really tough thing... I try to really mentor my team in that way. We need to think fast, react fast, and always be open for new ideas... I only trust my instinct."

This quote reflects Reber's philosophy on product development and investment, emphasizing agility, openness to new ideas, and instinctual decision-making regarding the potential of a feature or product.## Investment Decision-making

  • Harry Stebbings discusses the challenge of conveying the intuitive aspect of investment decisions to an investment committee.
  • Investment memos require more than just a feeling to be compelling.

"The only trouble is I actually have to write investment memos and saying I feel it isn't quite compelling for our investment committee."

This quote underlines the need for objective and detailed explanations in investment proposals, as intuitive feelings are not sufficient for formal investment decision processes.

Selling to Microsoft and Regret

  • Christian Reber does not regret selling Wonderlist to Microsoft despite initial health issues and deep regret at the time of sale.
  • Believed in the potential of Wonderlist to become a massive company.
  • Reflecting back, sees the sale as the right decision at the time.
  • Disappointed with Microsoft's handling of Wonderlist and other acquisitions like Yammer and Skype.
  • Started Superlist with the former Wonderlist team but is not actively building the company, serving instead as a board member and investor.

"I think Microsoft has screwed up multiple acquisitions like Yammer or Skype, and they promised me when we sold it that they will try their very best not to screw up Wonderlist. And I think they did."

Reber expresses dissatisfaction with Microsoft's management of Wonderlist post-acquisition, feeling that the company did not fulfill its promise and did not capitalize on Wonderlist's potential.

Relationship to Money

  • Post-sale, Christian Reber went through a depression and did not celebrate the exit with the Wonderlist team.
  • Money provided Reber with freedom, which he values more than happiness.
  • Maintained a modest lifestyle post-exit and reinvested 50% of personal wealth back into venture capital.
  • Views money as a tool for freedom and enabling work on passion projects.

"Money doesn't buy you happiness. Money buys you freedom."

This quote encapsulates Reber's philosophy on wealth, emphasizing that financial resources are a means to achieve personal freedom rather than direct happiness.

Angel Investing and Founder Focus

  • Acknowledges angel investing can be a distraction for founders.
  • Advises against running a seed fund while building a business.
  • Balances time between angel investments, Superlist, and Pitch.
  • Believes in committing fully to a company when starting it, but sees value in contributing to the ecosystem through limited side activities.

"I think there are a lot of founders who do this for fame or personal wealth. I think if you commit yourself to something, starting a company, you should commit your entire life to it."

Reber suggests that founders should be fully dedicated to their ventures, cautioning against pursuing side investments for personal gain or fame.

European vs. U.S. Startup Ecosystems

  • Observes rapid growth in the European startup scene, with Berlin becoming a hub for unicorns and decacorns.
  • Despite progress, Europe still lags behind the U.S. in terms of ecosystem size and talent pool.
  • Emphasizes the responsibility of the current generation to develop the tech industry in Europe.

"Our generation has to create that industry, otherwise the generations after us will really struggle, especially in Germany with the car industry, if that might be gone at some point."

Reber stresses the importance of the current generation's role in establishing a robust tech industry in Europe to secure economic stability for future generations.

Fundraising Strategy for Pitch

  • Initially opposed to raising VC funding for Pitch, preferring to self-fund and maintain control.
  • Accepted an unexpectedly high seed valuation offer, leading to subsequent fundraising rounds.
  • Emphasizes the importance of the funds to develop Pitch ambitiously, integrating multiple product functionalities and a developer platform.

"We raised 50 million in total. Exactly that way. By not fundraising, but the money we kind of need, if you think about it, we have to build the next generation of PowerPoint, which is hard on its own, but then we kind of integrate something like docsind and slideshare right into the product."

Reber explains the unconventional fundraising journey for Pitch, highlighting the necessity of capital to build a complex and innovative product that aims to revolutionize the presentation software market.## Scaling the Company

  • Christian Reber plans to scale his company from 100 to 170 people by the end of the year, which requires significant financial investment.
  • Rapid scaling often accompanies startup culture, which traditionally involves a high-intensity work ethic.

"So we are currently 100 people, and I want to scale the company to 100 and 6170 people by the end of this year. And that just requires cash."

This quote highlights the need for capital to support the growth and scaling efforts of Christian's company.

Work-Life Balance

  • Christian Reber had a belief that extreme dedication and long hours were necessary to succeed in startups, but this led to burnout.
  • He now strives for a more balanced approach, working around 10 hours a day and ensuring quality time with family.
  • Christian aims to be a role model for his employees, promoting ambition without sacrificing well-being.

"I work 10 hours a day or something like that, roughly. So it's a lot, but it's not too crazy. I eat breakfast with my kids, I eat dinner with my kids. I do that every single day. I play games like Minecraft with my kids."

Christian describes his daily routine, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a balance between work and family life.

Building a Sustainable Culture

  • Christian believes that the CEO sets the tone for the company culture, and employees will take cues from their behavior.
  • During COVID, the company provided support for parents to work less during lockdowns.
  • Christian doesn't communicate a detailed philosophy but tries to be a "normal human being" and provide an environment that supports autonomy and family.

"I think if you're the CEO, everyone kind of looks up to you. Your team members can smell and see if you're killing yourself and if you are just working in an unsustainable fashion."

This quote underscores the influence a CEO has on the company culture and the importance of leading by example.

Identity and Work Separation

  • Christian admits to not having a strategy for creating company culture; it develops naturally by hiring the right people.
  • He has learned to emotionally protect himself by viewing the business more as a project and less as an extension of himself.

"I don't, is the honest answer. So at Pitchware, eight founders in total. I think every new hire asks me the same question, like how do you create culture? The answer is we just don't. It just happens."

Christian reveals his approach to culture creation, suggesting it's an organic process influenced by the people hired.

Emotional Attachment and Business

  • Christian experienced a profound sense of loss when selling his previous company, Wonderlist, to Microsoft.
  • He now consciously maintains an emotional distance from his work to prevent burnout and protect his well-being.

"To emotionally protect myself. So like I said, when I sold wonderlist, it felt like I'm selling my child to the enemy. I didn't want to get bought by Microsoft."

The quote reflects Christian's past emotional challenges with selling his company and his current approach to prevent similar experiences.

Product Design and Creation

  • Christian believes instinct for product design comes from extensive experience with technology.
  • He identifies as a "nerd" who is deeply engaged with all aspects of tech, which informs his product design decisions.
  • Christian emphasizes that while he provides the idea, it's the collective effort with designers and co-founders that creates the product.

"What I mean by instinct, I don't think you get born and just have a good instinct. I think if you are building software like I am, you have to spend an enormous amount of time with software and hardware of all kinds."

Christian discusses his perspective on instinct in product design, highlighting the importance of experience and knowledge in the field.

Board Management

  • Christian's approach to board management has evolved since his first company, Wonderlist.
  • He focuses on having a good time during board meetings and partnering with board members who appreciate product thinking.
  • Christian values the pattern recognition that investors bring from seeing many companies, but also acknowledges that founders can still make their own decisions.

"I do board meetings every three months and I'm just trying to have a good time and explain everyone exactly what I'm planning to do on the product side, tech side, business side, marketing side, and that works really well."

This quote illustrates Christian's current approach to board management, emphasizing communication and alignment with the board on various aspects of the company.## Relationship with Board and Learning

  • Having a good relationship with the board is crucial for success.
  • Learning from the board can set one up for success.

relationship with your board and you kind of try to learn from them, you are set for success.

This quote emphasizes the importance of a constructive and educational relationship with the board of directors for the success of an individual or company.

Communication Style

  • The way information is relayed can be as significant as the content itself.
  • Using humor or light-heartedness can sometimes soften the delivery of bad news.

I think it's also the way you probably relay the information, lying on the floor and pretending to be asleep instead of a Runway.

This quote suggests that the manner in which difficult information is communicated, such as financial challenges, can be mitigated by the approach taken, in this case, using a humorous anecdote.

Impact of Literature

  • Reading influential books can shape one's perspective and career path.
  • "Rich Dad Poor Dad" is highlighted as a formative book for Christian Reber.
  • The book provided valuable lessons, such as prioritizing learning over earning in the early stages of one's career.

As a kid, I picked up this cheesy business book. It's called rich dad, poor dad... work to learn, not to earn was a really good quote from the book.

Christian Reber discusses how "Rich Dad Poor Dad" deeply influenced his youth and career philosophy, particularly the advice to focus on learning rather than earning.

Challenges of Leadership

  • Being a CEO can be a lonely experience, especially when making critical decisions.
  • Support from co-founders and building relationships with other CEOs can alleviate the loneliness.

I think the hardest aspect of being a CEO is often feeling lonely with the toughest decisions you have to make.

Christian Reber explains that the isolation felt when making difficult decisions is one of the most challenging aspects of being a CEO.

Coping with Loneliness and Decision-Making

  • Founders often support each other in making unpopular decisions.
  • Trusting one's own judgment can be critical when making decisions that others may not believe in.
  • Support from friends, angel investors, and new social platforms like Clubhouse can help mitigate feelings of loneliness.

Building relationships with other ceos, very, very helpful, because every founder feels the same.

This quote highlights the value of peer support amongst CEOs and founders in dealing with the loneliness and challenges inherent in their roles.

Parental Influence and Risk

  • Christian Reber values the skill of fearlessness taught by his mother.
  • He believes in trusting oneself and not being afraid of taking risks.
  • Science and self-trust are cited as reasons for not fearing risk in startups.

I was lucky that my parents teach me to never be scared.

Christian Reber attributes his fearless approach to risk-taking and decision-making to the lessons taught by his parents, particularly his mother.

Board Member Relationships

  • Kieran O'Leary is mentioned as a respected board member.
  • The relationship is based on mutual respect and friendship.
  • All investors are respected, but some relationships stand out due to their collaborative nature.

One I really love working with is Kieran O'Leary.

Christian Reber speaks highly of Kieran O'Leary, expressing appreciation for their working relationship and friendship.

Vision for Pitch

  • Christian Reber sees Pitch as having the potential to be a massive company.
  • The goal is to improve the efficiency and quality of presentations, which play a significant role in decision-making.
  • The next five years are envisioned to be spent building the product and potentially creating one of Europe's most successful businesses.

I think pitch has the opportunity to become a massive company... I accelerate humanity.

This quote reflects Christian Reber's ambitious vision for Pitch and its potential impact on enhancing decision-making through better presentation tools.

Personal Aspirations for Children

  • The primary desire for children is their happiness, regardless of career path.
  • Teaching children to be fearless and trust in themselves is considered a valuable skill to pass on.

I think I want my kids just to be happy, nothing else.

Christian Reber expresses his wish for his children's happiness and the importance of instilling fearlessness and self-trust in them.

Future of Pitch

  • Pitch aims to enhance leadership decision-making through improved presentation tools.
  • The focus is on product development and potentially revolutionizing the presentation software market.

The next five years I will spend on building the product that I'm envisioning and my co founders are envisioning.

This quote outlines the future goals for Pitch, focusing on product development and the aspiration to influence leadership decision-making globally.

Acknowledgment of Influence

  • Christian Reber jokingly credits the book "Rich Dad Poor Dad" over his parents for his approach to business and risk.

I don't want to thank my parents. I just want to thank the author.

The quote humorously suggests that the book had a significant impact on Christian Reber's life, even more so than his parents' influence.

What others are sharing

Go To Library

Want to Deciphr in private?
- It's completely free

Deciphr Now
Footer background
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon
Crossed lines icon

© 2024 Deciphr

Terms and ConditionsPrivacy Policy