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When Switzerland is too small...

It's become hard for me to count the number of ideas and investment opportunities in Switzerland I have trashed because of the fact that the home market here is too small. In addition to the small population of ~8.5Mio, we also have 4 (in reality 3) different cultural regions with different languages making it even more difficult to build sustainable tech-business'.

It often boils down to the same issue: Building up and running your business costs roughly the same in every developed market of the world (provided you know how to deal with outsourcing certain tasks to low-wage countries). Assume you now get 2Mio in capital and the job to build a B2C platform for a business where you assume market readiness across different geographies is comparable. Imagine that many (if not most) business' require some sort of local specialities preventing you from taking it quickly from country A to country B. Why would you spend the money for building your tech stack and market entry in Switzerland as opposed to a market (like Germany) where you have 10x the potential client base?

A real-world example: 2009 my colleague Philippe Bubb and myself were working on yet another time on a potential new business: We wanted to build what is called a "Robo Advisor" today in Switzerland. We spent days and weeks doing financial models, building prototypes, conducting meetings with potential partners (like banks) to simply give up late 2009 because we just couldn't come up with a sustainable business case - simply due to the limited market size in Switzerland and the fact that banking (and wealth management in particular) was nearly impossible to scale across markets and we were clever enough to understand that it's not as simple as just go to move to another market and build it there. Very frustrating time.

robo adivsor

My robo-advisor prototype from 2009

... forget it and search a bigger market

Fast forward to 2011: During an event in London where startups pitch their ideas, I realised that a guy named Nick Hungerford was virtually presenting our idea on stage: He wanted to democratise the wealth management by building an automated digital wealth management solutions. After a great presentation and a few further interactions it was clear for us to invest in nutmeg.com (named Hungry Finance at the time...) since our main obstacle for not building such a solution in Switzerland - the market size - was solved with >60Mio population in the UK. Under the lead of Daniel Aegerter we then joined the financing the round.

It took another 10 years to growth the business to 130'000 customers and £3.5B of assets before JP Morgan Chase acquired the company to use it as foundation for their own international retail wealth management offering.

Conclusion

  • Sizing your potential market is key and needs to be done early in the process of building your business plan.
  • When you're lucky to have both the idea and the money, consider investing in a company that maybe has better chances to realize your vision than yourself.
  • As an early stage startup, be prepared to get hammered on your addressable target market size by investors.
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