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Was it a clear choice for you to study computer science in 2001?
Well, I’ve been doing stuff with computers and hardware since around 10 years old. As kids we would deconstruct the family computer while our parents looked on in shock. But I was also interested in music and drawing, and actually I wanted to study architecture. But people encouraged me to study computer science, and it was a good choice.
Why did you use Ruby on Rails for your early projects?
Ruby on Rails introduced some light weight ideas at a time when software development was still very cumbersome. Back then, there was a community in Germany of maybe 60 people, but in the following 10 years it became super popular. Newer programming languages better serve the specific needs of today’s world, but Ruby on Rails opened the door for an entire generation of web developers.
After graduating university in 2008, you founded a software engineering consultancy, and grew it to 27 people. Did you always want to start a company?
Well, it just kind of happened that way. I was doing freelance projects, and as the projects became bigger, we started doing more with more people. We built all kinds of things: an entire content management system for a travel company, a streaming backend for Red Bull music academy radio, lots of projects that were non-standard.
You must have learned a lot about business from scaling that company?
At first, I did everything from coding to management, but I figured out that it's easier to find engineering people than it is to find people who can sell new projects the right way. I became more focused on management related stuff including recruiting, sales, etc.
In 2014 you started at the company builder HitFox / FinLeap as Chief Development Officer. What’s the difference between a company builder and an accelerator?
A company builder not only gives money and mentorship like an accelerator, but also a workforce that builds prototypes and helps with finance and recruiting. Solaris started as one of these projects - once the company found a management team and co-founders, I was able to move in there and keep building it from the inside.
What was the idea behind SolarisBank, at the beginning in 2016?
The first Fintechs were being founded back then, but they all needed to find a partner bank with a license and infrastructure, which was super expensive. At Finleap we thought it would make sense to have our own license and infrastructure, if we wanted to keep building Fintechs. So we started to get the license and build all the interfaces to do SEPA, KYC, etc. Today, SolarisBank is behind German Fintech apps like Penta, Samsung Pay on Android, and KYC at Coinbase Germany.
So SolarisBank was like a ‘tech company with banking license’?
Yes, and we really wanted to have a tech startup culture, instead of a “banking” one. We wanted at least half our people to be tech people, focused on doing great engineering. Otherwise there are too many business people selling a product that isn’t getting built fast enough. ;-)
And eventually SolarisBank started to support crypto startups, too.
After 2 years, the organization was running smoothly, and the blockchain topic started. I wanted Solaris to pursue the crypto route, to be able to offer services to blockchain companies. I have fun building stuff from scratch, so I changed roles and started the “blockchain factory”, pushing forward integrations with partners like Nuri and Boerse Stuttgart.
So you were working with Börse Stuttgart before you joined them in 2019?
Yes, I was working already with them on integrations with Solaris. I had been at Solaris for a while and wanted to do something new, so when I was asked if I wanted to help build a crypto exchange, I was “in”. BSDEX was the first regulated crypto assets exchange in Germany. We ported the XETRA market model to crypto and built our own trading system. This was exciting work.
Did DeFi come onto your radar while you were at BSDEX?
Already in my entry speech at BSDEX in 2019, I was saying that “5 years from now, we will have self driving exchanges.” But it was already in 2020’s “DeFi Summer” when things tons of protocols popping up and showing what’s possible, and DeFi really started going through the roof.
And then you thought about founding Ultimate?
Max, Omid, and I thought “this is a big opportunity, DeFi is finally bringing blockchain to the masses. How can we join that journey and accelerate it?” Starting Ultimate was about creating an easy-to-use frontend, which addresses the needs of people who are new to DeFi. It’s also a starting point to develop future projects: once you have a storefront window, you can put interesting things on display.
At Ultimate you have a unique CTO role, which is in contrast to Omid’s work as Director of Engineering.
In companies, people work in three “time zones”: the past, the present, and the future. The “past” relates to tasks like bookkeeping, the “present” is about building the product, and the “future” is thinking about the long-term direction and pioneering opportunities.
The temptation for founders is always to work in the present, but your product doesn’t become big if you don't work enough on your future. For us, working on the “future” of DeFi means making sure regulations don't kill it, so my role is to go that route and start building connections with politicians and regulators. Furthermore we recently announced to found Europe’s first DeFi bank. Bringing it along and making it happen will become my primary task for the upcoming months.
So your job is to advocate for DeFi in places like the Digital Finance Forum, and elsewhere?
Bringing DeFi to the masses requires improving not only its usability but also its image. That involves talking to journalists, catching stones that are thrown toward our industry, and generally being an evangelist.
The Digital Finance Forum is a way for the German Federal Ministry of Finance to gather expert opinions. Being proactive and trying to shape regulation is more productive than staying ‘anon’ and trying to hide. DeFi regulation is coming. If nobody in crypto gives their feedback, poorly-thought out rules will be applied to us very soon.
Do you spend much time investing or trading?
My primary projects have always been my best investments. If you are very close to a project, building it up, earning shares, you have the influence to make it into a big thing. I occasionally make angel investments, but I don't spend much time farming more of them. You have to more carefully consider where you want to invest your time, since time is limited. You have your primary job, you want to do some sport and recreation, you want to spend time with the family and kid, etc.
What kind of sports do you do?
I’ve always enjoyed running. Climbing back in the day but not so much anymore.
You’ve built a lot of companies already, but you’re not done yet: What keeps you motivated to keep building new things?
This is what I'm good at - it’s the only thing I can do, I can't do anything else! :-)
You recently became a dad, how do you juggle that with your co-founder role?
It's good. We are lucky to work from home almost 100% of the time. That makes it so much easier. You’ve seen Felix running around me in meetings. I am very flexible, I can catch up with work in the evening if I need to suddenly help with the kid in the afternoon. It’s just great to see the boy growing all the time, much better than a Tamagotchi which was my only reference point.