Not one company: But two handful. The HitFox Group is a company incubator. How Digital Gaming and FinTec made the startup from Berlin profitable: And how working for the group gives you the opportunity to “fastforward” your career. Immigrant Spirit spoke with Sarah Hoffmann (Head of HR) and Oliver Kanders (Head of PR) about fun and work at HitFox Group.
IS: Sarah, what was the biggest kick that you got out of working with HitFox?
Sarah: With me it was looking back on how much we had achieved in one year: How we recruited, how we internationalized and how I was able to build my own team.
IS: And for you Oliver?
Oliver: For me it was when our founder Jan and I were on top of the Deutsche Bundestag (German Parliament) shooting a portrait of him with a big German TV channel recently. I just stood there in the fresh air with a view over Berlin and I was proud. It was not because of the TV airing our story soon, but rather all the small big things we had done together to stand there smiling in this moment after only 8 months of working together.
IS: “Pride” is a good talking point. Hit Fox gave itself an ambitious mission…
Oliver: Our mission is to build successful and sustainable companies that have meaning. Our approach towards this goal is to choose a growth market instead of a single idea, build the best team for that market and unleash them into a system that equally supports them and lets them build their own baby.
The underlying conviction being this approach is that if we have great people on a common mission – that might be as unspecific as “Let’s conquer the FinTech opportunity” – then those people will build great products, and great products make successful companies. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
IS: HitFox is now 3 years on this mission. Where do you see yourself at the moment?
Sarah: Looking at the three years: In the beginning we pivoted twice to find the right starting point within the game advertising market. Our team had grown strong and was full of ideas after this phase – this is how we organically grew to a company builder with two handfuls of successful and very new promising companies in such a short time. We went from user acquisition for games to other verticals, from online to mobile, implanted a data-driven DNA in our companies and started to move into the FinTech & Big Data markets.
IS: Your first focus as a company was on the digital gaming market – and there you have been very successful…
Oliver: Our success is really based a lot on our approach to start companies. When everyone focuses on building solutions for a market rather than for a restricted isolated problem, entrepreneurship and idea generation are lived throughout the organization. We use a business idea we believe in to enter a new market, get a great team onboard, gather capital and explore the market opportunities. Given the uncertain nature of entrepreneurship, you need to have an hypothesis about that the market needs, but once you will dive in there, you will know better. It’s vital to be open to adapt.
IS: And what were the results of this approach for HitFox?
Oliver: The outcomes made us happy – both financially and in terms of our colleagues outgrowing what they had imagined for themselves in many cases. Within three years we have seen a lot of people gaining positions of leadership that they never thought they could achieve.
Secondly we are also very proud that we could make our companies profitable so quickly. Last year we had profits of 15 million EUR. It is a great feeling if you can grow new companies based on sound financial inflows from the successes you have built.
IS: You have built two handfuls of companies already. They are in three different markets: Digital Advertising, Big Data and FinTech. When you look at the best people both in these markets – how are they different from each other?
Oliver: The difference is really in which markets they are playing. The Game Advertising market for example is a very playful market. Our customers are mostly game developers and they are living in the games.
For example: If we acquire users for a game like Jelly Splash or Candy Crush: they are very playful games and the people who develop these games also live this culture. And we live it with them – we are very close to our customers, so the culture spills over and we love it.
In contrast to that – when we speak about FinTech for example – we have to be a bit more versatile. We are partnering with the entire spectrum of potential customers – from a young and playful StartUp to established banks and their senior management.
Additionally, if we talk about B2C businesses where we want people to entrust us with their money, we take full responsibility to build companies that we would recommend to our families and friends.
IS: Despite these different accents, both your groups of colleagues also share common traits – and I see both of you smiling already – tell us about it.
Sarah: All colleagues really enjoy this community spirit. If we have company events we don’t differentiate between the markets or industries. If we watch the world championship or have a kicker tournament – everyone is equally competitive and fun – regardless where they come from. They “buddy up” far beyond their direct colleagues.
IS: Let’s have a look at the kind of people that you want to hire. If you look at your own top people: What common character traits do they share?
Sarah: One of my colleagues started as an intern. After he finished his studies he came back to work for us. He worked in a role where he needed to be good in several functional fields, because he was supporting the setup of one of the international offices.
So he needed to give support in recruiting, sales and business development. Then he shifted from Mobile Game User Acquisition to the FinTech Markets.
IS: What made him successful?
He doesn’t have a fixed mindset, but is open and always up for a challenge. He is always fully awake and attentive. He will seamlessly discuss any kind of behavior he cannot make total sense of without judging and uses the feedback he gets to grow. I frequently still discovered a thing or two about how I was working through him – now that’s great. Besides being extremely curious about new developments, this is what really made him very successful.
IS: How did this help his career with HitFox?
It was great to see how he progressed within HitFox: He started as an intern in my team here in Berlin. Next thing you know he was leading a team. Then he was one of the few Foxes sent off to build up our San Francisco office from scratch. His key achievement is that he was one of the main people who made HitFox and AppLift a brand in the Silicon Valley.
IS: Hiring professionals in Silicon Valley must be a great challenge for a startup from Germany?
Sarah: Our people are our multiplicators and the ones who get new colleagues on board and help them make the most of the challenges and grow. Excellent people always look at their potential employer and develop a feeling for that. We sent some of our best people to the US and it was just a question of time until the right applicants would know we had a great platform to grow and build something.
IS: This seems to be one point that is really ingrained into HitFox culture: You like to give people new challenges…
Oliver: First and most of all, we give people a hundred percent of trust. We grow very dynamically and on a global scale. There’s no time to align on everything and no need if people bring their potential and passion. So, when made sure people fit with us, they can start building what they want to be building once they are on board. We expect that some things might go wrong – and then we work them out together. This trust is very empowering.
That is also why a lot of the companies that we started here, dare to use the global opportunity. They could really develop a global fooprint very fast – because the entrepreneurs on board felt empowered right from the start.
IS: Trust is a great foundation to start with. How does HitFox help their employees to reach their full potential?
Oliver: Let’s say we are moving into the FinTech market. And we are building several companies simultaneously. There are a lot of things that can be done, that will add value to the entire company builder. Usually we have more opportunities and challenges than we have builders and shapers. That keeps us concentrated on the right things. Everyone can take on more challenges as long as they want to.
And the great thing about HitFox as a company builder is that we build company clusters in one market. Of course you cannot guarantee that there is always the right challenge in your specific company, but within a company cluster in the same industry and with a shared culture there is almost always a great next step for you within the Group.
IS: If you would have to pick three profiles – that could really help your company move forward at the moment: Which positions would that be?
Sarah: We are constantly looking for Co-Founders, Ruby Developers and Marketing Experts.
Looking at Co-founders: They need a visionary mindset, industry and knowledge depth and the right attitude towards leading and enabling their teams. As we are currently looking into the FinTech market: They should have a background and success record in the finance market or analytics-driven fields. Banks, other FinTech areas, VCs, private Equity companies for example.
IS: What is your ideal developer?
Sarah: Someone who is capable of developing in Ruby, but still has learning ahead. We are willing to teach and enable and help our colleagues become an expert in the area. More important is really the curiosity about new technologies. This is really what we are looking for.
People who, when moving to Berlin, are also curious about the tech community here. Engineers can be very active in the ruby community in Berlin. We want people who have fun in participating in this.
IS: And the last position is in marketing and PR?
Oliver: When you ask me about what differentiates a Marketing or PR person at HitFox from someone who does the same job maybe somewhere else: It’s really more about substance than form. It is about a communication-driven perspective on the world and creating stories that stick and making the many noteworthy things we build and do visible.
For me it’s not about producing as many press releases as you can or talking to as many journalists as possible – but to be an integral part of the organization and looking at the seemingly disconnected information in the company – and tying it together to a story. Very much like a journalist or detective and with an eye for the beauty in life and work.
I mean, we have great stories: We have nearly 300 people working with HitFox. One is a doctor who is now an entrepreneur. We have an HR lady at ad2games who speaks six languages. These are all things that are interesting. You can use these stories to communicate that it’s very exciting to work here.
IS: Last question: Three years from now – when you sit in a nice cafe here in Berlin and you look at your new colleagues – what do you think, looking at them?
Sarah: I think I will be proud of what these people have achieved in those three years. That they have been able to use all their skills. Maybe they started as an expert and now lead one of our portfolio companies.
Oliver: I see myself saying: “Wow, I would have never thought that you would lead a team of a hundred people so soon.” And we would probably smile and continue eating our noodles.