WHAT IT’S LIKE TO DIGITIZE EUROPE

Very soon profit won’t be the only criteria when making the investment decision, says Manuel Hörl, Creative Dock’s International Sales Director & Advisor to the CEO.


Words by Jitka Esserova, GIF by Jan Strmiska


Manuel has worked with some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurial families, ones that have been building businesses for many generations. How does the NextGeneration bring established businesses to a new level and what role can companies like Creative Dock play in this transformation? How will investing change in the near future and why is Manuel hesitant to give specific tips on what to invest in?



The very first sentence of your LinkedIn bio says that you’re “digitizing Europe”. I'm sure there's a bit of hyperbole in it, but even so, it is quite a bold goal.

I believe the past success of the European economy and Europe as a continent is built, to a large extent, on great companies and smart, hard-working people. Unfortunately, over the last two decades, other parts of the world have been quicker to grasp the enormous potential that digitalization and AI offers and make use of it. This gives them a significant advantage. By going digital in a smart way, companies are able to much better understand and service their customers. Europe needs to digitize fast.


Do you feel like Creative Dock is the right place to help with that?

Definitely. Creative Dock has been building digital companies and value propositions for almost a decade now. With their European footprint and home base, they understand its countries and peculiarities very well. And they’re able to scale businesses from one country to another. I think effective and efficient scaling is the key to digitizing Europe and I believe Creative Dock is very well suited for this mission.


"I’ve had many conversations with people born in the 1980s or later who are fundamentally questioning the way money can be earned and multiplied."

You came to CD from Credit Suisse, where you led a team that supports the inheriting NextGeneration in mastering business challenges, investing, and creating new opportunities. Is there a difference between working with the old businesses’ new generation and with greenfield investors?

What I like about bringing these two worlds together is that by using each other’s strengths, even better solutions can be built. Many of the world’s entrepreneurial families have built great businesses over many generations. The generations which are moving into leadership positions now – I’m talking mainly Gen Y, Z here – fully understand how to use digital to bring their businesses to the next level.


Digitalizing these “old” businesses must be challenging, though.

They have an established network of processes, relationships, and culture. Of course, it can prove more challenging to build something new into it. On the other hand, there is so much knowledge in established businesses. These are trusted brands with thousands or even millions of customers. If you take these assets and combine them with a smart digital approach, you move much faster than with a startup on the greenfield. Ideally, you’ll need to work with a new IT infrastructure and independently of old processes and mindsets. That’s what we try to do at Creative Dock as well: support the NextGeneration of business leaders in seizing digital opportunities.

"I truly believe that we are in the midst of a major change where investors demand more transparency."

Is there a big difference between young and experienced investors? Can you find patterns in how they behave?

Over the years, I’ve had many conversations with people born in the 1980s or later who are fundamentally questioning the way money can be earned and multiplied. A more experienced investor will often use specific industry know-how or technical finance knowledge to find the right investment targets. A younger person might want to understand the investment product, the company’s external effects, its impact on the environment, society, and other businesses. I truly believe that we are in the midst of a major change where investors demand more transparency.


Generally, I think more transparency about investment products and their impact is a good thing because then people can make conscious, informed decisions. There’s no agreement on how to measure this yet, but I believe the existing KPIs already show certain tendencies. Then it’s up to everyone if they want to invest in organizations lobbying for loose gun laws or someone who makes extra efforts to use less drinking water in their production.


Based on that, they are going to make different decisions than in the past. Not just based on risk and return, but also other factors in line with their personal values.


And what about women? If you didn't know the name of the investor, could you tell if they were a man or a woman?

As a fan of Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, I am careful not to fall victim to my own biases. There are women whose investment style differs from the average. And vice versa. If the more neutral, data-based observations from international consulting firms are to be believed, then women might generally be more risk-averse and more considerate of the investment’s external effects. But I don’t think this makes it possible for us to accurately judge a person’s gender by looking at their investment portfolio.

"In most countries, there are people who cannot get the banking or insurance services they need."

I also noticed the term “financial inclusion” on your LinkedIn. Can you explain it?

Financial inclusion is all about giving people access to financial services. In most countries, there are people who cannot get the banking or insurance services they need. Often because they are poor, have certain preconditions, or other circumstances which make them less attractive for the traditional players. For example, if you are a farmer in a remote village, you might not be able to get a bank account because you don’t own a birth certificate or you don’t have a regular income. You only sell your harvest, say, 2 or 3 times a year. This means you need to carry all your earnings in cash after each market day, which makes you a potential victim of robbery or theft. You might not even be able to keep the little you earn.


What can you do for such people?

Today, there are many ways to make sure you identify a person correctly and also efficiently serve them to make a profit at scale. Financial inclusion is all about finding and offering these solutions. And making sure as many people as possible get the financial services they need. Finding solutions to service anyone teaches you a lot about finding cutting-edge, creative approaches to user experiences, credit scoring and distribution of digital products.


Any recommendations for personal investments? Funds or particular businesses? What to focus on – technology, scalability, market barriers?

That’s a challenging question! This is such a complex industry that people are hesitant to give general advice. What I believe is valid for everyone, is that it’s worth spending some time thinking about what income and wealth mean to you and how you want to use them during your lifetime. “How much am I willing to lose? What kind of risk do I want to take? How much liquidity do I need and when? What is my personal tax situation?” This can change over time – it’s often easier to take more risks when you’re younger. Based on your answers, you can build a portfolio of assets and put a certain amount into the relevant asset categories based on their characteristics like liquidity, return expectation, or tax impact.


Personally, I invest in real estate, as well as broadly diversified, passive equity instruments (ETFs). Next, I am planning to put some money into diversified private market investments like venture capital or private equity funds. While some argue that cryptocurrencies need to be part of a modern portfolio, I personally don’t understand the space enough to put my money into it.

"It’s worth spending some time thinking about what income and wealth mean to you and how you want to use them during your lifetime."

Speaking of crypto, what’s the next big thing? Which industry or innovation has the brightest future?

Hard to say. Predictions are very difficult, especially about the future. :-) I’m sure that people will continue to have certain needs like food, clothing, shelter, mobility, communication, safety. Apart from that, the mass collection and processing of data will change our lives dramatically as will humanity’s dealing with a changing climate. I believe energy production and storage are interesting areas to watch. So is the mobility industry or construction industry, which is at the brink of a digital revolution. I am excited that Creative Dock is a part of most of these realms.


What type of companies do you work with at Creative Dock?

I talk to large family-owned companies and global corporates from all kinds of industries, mostly to their CEOs, CDOs, and innovation teams. I am surprised by the fact that many people have no idea that company builders like Creative Dock exist, where you don’t just buy software or an app, but really become a partner in building and scaling a new business. Many companies have never worked with a partner who takes commercial responsibility for the solutions they implement.


What do these companies bring to the table and what are the challenges?

Most of them know their pain points and have at least an idea of how to make use of digital processes to overcome them. Or to seize business opportunities in new markets. They often see this as core, strategic activities, so they’re caught between doing everything in-house and knowing that a digital approach requires a new mindset and different skills. They know what to do, just not how to efficiently execute it. That’s where we come in. Failing fast and cheaply until we discover a strong, scalable, new business model is what makes venture builders like us successful.


Manuel brings experience from more than a decade in financial services, as well as strategy consulting, software development and community management. Before joining Creative Dock in 2021, he led the NextGen team at international wealth manager and investment bank Credit Suisse, covering the heirs of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurial families and working with them on the future of banking, philanthropy and business. Prior to that, he held various roles in the bank’s Chairman’s Office, covering international relations (WEF-relations and international delegations), the bank’s think tank (actionable research on megatrends of global impact) and the Credit Suisse Foundation’s “Financial Inclusion Initiative” (corporate giving and employee engagement in Microfinance). Manuel is passionate about developing and scaling sustainable, client-centric business models using cutting-edge technology. At Creative Dock, he is a Director of International Sales and Advisor to Global CEO, Martin Pejsa.

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