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Fabian von Heimburg

Founder Hotnest Technology

2020 was “personally his best year” for his start-up Hotnest, says Fabian von Heimburg. The 32-year-old Munich-based marketing technology provider does not want to give exact figures. However, he says that sales increased by 200 percent. Like many other digital companies, Hotnest benefited from the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitization. “We offer data-based solutions for consumer brand growth in China,” says von Heimburg, “that’s what everyone wants right now”.

After studying at the London School of Economics, Fabian von Heimburg went to China in 2014 to set up something of his own. Not an easy path. Together with his Chinese fellow student Qing Mu, he started from scratch: “We were young and naive,” he says, “we had nothing but our vision. No technology, no network, no market knowledge.” As a foreigner in the Chinese start-up scene, he is still exotic. Several times, the young company was on the verge of bankruptcy. And although von Heimburg learned Mandarin for up to twelve hours a day, he almost didn’t understand his employees for the first two years. Today he speaks the language fluently.

Fabian von Heimburg as an exotic in an unknown land

Why didn’t he just move to Berlin or Silicon Valley for his start-up? “I’ve always been fascinated by foreign cultures. And China is completely different from everything I knew in that respect.” He first got to know China better during a semester abroad in Beijing in 2011. The country with its long history, he suspected at the time, “has incredible potential”. Today, this desire to understand another country is still his main motivation.

Now Hotnest has 40 employees, is profitable, and growing fast. More than a dozen self-developed algorithms search the Chinese consumer internet to help consumer brands scale automatically. It tracks up to 40 Chinese platforms such as Wechat and Weibo – hundreds of millions of data points in total. The software also aggregates and manages several thousand agencies. Thanks to the technology, marketing for the entire value chain is covered: from the launch to the sale of products.

Hotnest was supposed to expand to Europe in 2020 to better connect the two markets. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, von Heimburg postponed the office opening until 2021. In any case, he sees Europe as his second, more political mission: to further develop the start-up economy. That’s why he’s involved with the German Start-ups Association. “It frustrates me a lot to see how Europe is losing out in the digital race between the US and China.” He says the EU doesn’t have a functioning, independent start-up ecosystem like the US and China. You would actually have to invest €100 billion here every year to become more independent, von Heimburg says. Fortunately, things are finally starting to move. “This is where I want to bridge the gap with my experience and knowledge.” Adrian Meyer

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