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Wunderlist Frank Thelen (Founder, Investor, Geek, Sk8boarder)

# Christian secures first international funding and makes a tough callWe quickly realized that the company needed more capital as Wunderkit required a much a larger development team. And Christian also wanted to continue working on Wunderlist, because of its millions of users (who havent received updates in a while).

The first two seed financing rounds where done with local contacts from me. I still believe both deals were good and more importantly fast, as the company was in a very early stage. But now as Wunderlist showed strong traction and Wunderkit was shaping from a vision into a prototype, Christian believed we can do better than using my local investor contacts. He was absolutely right.

Top investors already reached out to us, including Sequoia and Atomico. We decided to go with a European investor, in case things go wrong (and boy was he right). He convinced Niklas Zennstrm and his team at Atomico to invest another $4,2m a remarkable success considering that we started with the idea of building project management software.

In retrospect I could have done better for our seed rounds. Thinking bigger, investing more time and trying to convince investors who have backed leading players. But we also had to build the product, build the team and we needed the money fast. I also just hadn't the right network nor the experience back then. And I did not foresee how challenging the cooperation with corporate investors can be.

Months later, in February 2012, Wunderkit finally launched as a full-blown project management platform that even allowed 3rd-parties to build Wunderkit Apps. I truly believe the design and architecture Christian and his team delivered was outstanding. It received a lot of attention and grew very quickly. But it didnt work.

It was too complex. Too much interface, too many features, and an unclear product focus (btw. thats a mistake I ironically or sadly repeated with doo- the document app). The team tried hard to optimize the product, but everyone knew we were in trouble, Wunderkit just wasnt working.

Christian made the incredibly tough call, to refocus the team on Wunderlist. I have big respect for the way he communicated and executed this dramatic shift with his team, management and investors. The blog post received close to 1,000 comments, which reflects how challenging this decision was:

https://www.wunderlist.com/blog/the-future-of-6wunderkinder-hello-wunderlist-2/

But Wunderlist showed great KPIs from the very beginning and it was the right thing to do: focus on the smaller, yet incredibly popular product and deliver excellence!

# Wunderlist 2After working for many intense months on Wunderkit, and burning a few team members, Christian decided to not only refocus on Wunderlist, but to rebuild it. He knew the technology wasnt good, it was a prototype in the end. He knew he needed time to focus and work, so he raised more capital from Earlybird in a phase where the failing of Wunderkit was already likely.

Based on the big success of the first version, the team started building native apps for Wunderlist, and rethought the whole UX and UI. They rewrote the architecture and improved sharing of lists and added a host of new features. The launch of Wunderlist 2 in December 2012 was a real hit: Apple promoted our iOS and OS X globally, Google promoted our Android App and all major productivity and startup blogs covered the new product. But this new level of growth was also a challenge for the backend infrastructure. Customers had serious problems to synchronize their lists and tasks, and the apps received bad reviews. The team delivered world class native apps for all major platforms including mobile, tablet and desktop, but Christian had a brutal new challenge: fixing a broken sync architecture. I remember how he had to replace half of his backend team over Christmas (!), and hired one of the most remarkable CTOs in the industry (and I still have no idea how he did that).

# Chad FowlerHiring Chad was a stroke of genius by Christian. I really dont know how he convinced a high-profile US CTO to join a small startup in Berlin with backend challenges, but his pitch must have been very convincing. When Chad arrived, the team was at a breaking point. Chad was extremely friendly and always calm, which was in the beginning challenging for us as investors: We needed a rock-solid backend NOW. But of course Chad was right to take the time to analyse, think, architect and then execute. I have nothing but deep respect for his analytical and architectural skills. Today Wunderlist is one of the very few products in the world with close to zero sync issues and real-time speed. Christian and Chad were a magical combination. Christian was the passionate and aggressive company-builder with a strong sense for business and design, and Chad was the careful technological executor and new spiritual leader for the engineering team.

# Sequoia Capital, Sir Michael Moritz and Wunderlist 3Chad Fowler wasnt the only magical moment in the company history. A year after launching Wunderlist 2 (2013), Christian decided to fly out to the US, and raise another  round to build Wunderlist. He only talked to a handful of investors, only the ones he liked but he really wanted Sequoia (who were interested since 2011). He talked to a few firms in New York and San Francisco, and some were interested, but some werent. He reserved Sequoia for the very last meeting, to make sure he has the right answers to the most challenging questions. He met Sir Michael Moritz, and closed the deal within three days.

That investment was not only outstanding for my standards, but also Sequoias first investment in a German company. It was a remarkable signal for the company, but an even stronger signal for the growing Berlin startup scene.

6Wunderkinder has grown from a dream of 6 friends who wanted to build a great product into a serious company delivering the worlds leading task management app. During this transformation Christian had not only to adopt the product but also build a management team that could cope with the growth. Besides Chad he hired Steffen Kiedel as his CFO, Benedikt Lehnert as his Chief Design Officer, and very recently he added Rebecca Escreet as VP Marketing (but shes with the company since more than 3 years). It was always a great pleasure to work with Chad, Steffen, Ben and Rebecca and reflecting it retroperspective, Christian hired and promoted the right people at the right time to build an outstanding leadership team.

# The ExitChristians dream always was to build a massive company that lasts. He hired his leadership team not only based on skills, but also based on long-term commitment. He talked about hiring thousands of engineers, building multiple products and a universe of Wunder-products. So why did he (and the investors) agree to an offer from Microsoft?

Let me put it this way: because its a mind-blowing opportunity. Wunderlist will be a part of Microsoft, which is transforming into the leading, platform independent productivity hub. If you think about it, it could become the global layer for reminders and tasks for Windows and Office. Wunderlist will last, and will get even stronger (and much much faster than it could have been without this deal). I remember him saying Frank, my heart says no, but my brain says yes.. In my view, this is beyond incredible. A german startup, with little entrepreneurial experience when they started, was able to start, struggle, survive and succeed. Many individuals became very wealthy, and will most likely reinvest a good part of their wealth into the Berlin ecosystem. The product will last for a very long time, and maybe even forever. I could imagine this wasnt the last company Christian and his team were starting, so its a wonderful opportunity for everyone to slow down, recover and start from scratch without making the same mistakes again.

A small comment for our german community: start celebrating! Be happy, this is epic. Microsoft is now based in Berlin, with an incredible engineering team. Its now easier than ever to build a software company in Berlin, and you have an outstanding partner and possible exit opportunity right in front of you. And for the ones who think the price was too low, think twice. The team still owned more than 30% of the company, so its a massive success for everyone who worked so hard incredibly hard over the last years. And in case you want to start your own company, maybe a Wunderkind will now invest in your idea! I think this is one hell of an achievement.

Im very thankful that Wunderlist found a new home where it will thrive; but Ill miss to work with the 6Wunderkinder team on a product I use daily.

Continue reading on www.frank.io