Q&A, Q&A- Startups

7 Questions with Carl v. Halem of CommneX

1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, both at work and leisure.

Born in Munich and raised near Frankfurt, I did my high school diploma in a boarding school close to Bonn. After graduating, I decided to absolve a two-year reserve officer training with the mountain troops in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria and then to start my studies. I did my diploma in economics at the TU Berlin. Additional I have studied at LSE London and the Udayana University Denpasar in Indonesia.

I started my professional career in the field of renewable energies, but always with a focus on product, finance and especially scaling. After almost 5 years in this sector I decided to work in a consulting boutique and to get to know more branches. As consultant I worked a lot with young, fast-scaling companies and tech startups. After learning a lot about startups and the financial sector I got in touch with the public finance “niche” trough coincidence. In 2016, together with my old friend and co-founder Friedrich we decided to establish an independent brokering platform for all public finance needs.

When it comes to leisure time, I love sports, spending time with good friends and traveling. After having lived the last years in Berlin I am happy to be surrounded by mountains, wonderful lakes and a lot of green in combination with festivals like “Wiesn”.

2. Which product or service do you offer, and who are your competitors?

With CommneX we offer a digital brokering platform for credit- and deposits from municipalities and municipal enterprises. On the platform our municipal user can negotiate, compare and calculate offers from banks and institutional investors within a few clicks. Additional our municipal user can search and ask for published conditions from our financial institutions. As a combined credit- and saving product we also offer a real typical German product “Bausparen” (building savings); a special product for long term investments (>5 yrs); payment transaction offers; development loans and certificates for green financing. We are currently working on three other products so that our users can find everything they need for their daily business. For our financial institutions we offer an efficient access to our municipal client base and their financial needs without any sales efforts and a lot of cross-selling potential.

We have three competitors. The first one is a Swiss fintech startup backed by DKB and LGT; the second one is a joint venture between Helaba and Lucht Probst Associates and the third one is a 100 percent subsidiary of Deutsche Pfandbriefbank. We all address the same market, but we differ in our design, financial products, business model and regional focus. All our competitors have banks as shareholders, we are the only independent platform and the first mover in the German market.

3. How did you get the business idea and take it from launch to the first customers?

As I mentioned before it happened trough coincidence that we localized the market. Our first business angel asked us if we know the market and if we would know if there is a digital solution. We both had no clue of the public finance market. Our first intension was that there has to be a solution from the government side. After a first research phase we realized there was no solution. We decided to take a closer look at the market. Friedrich checked the legal hurdles with BaFin & Co. and I started to analyze the client groups to setup a first business case. We used our network to get in touch with leading practitioners. Fortunately it became clear quickly that this > 300 bn. EUR niche (only Germany) is super exciting and also crying out for a digital solution.

We decided to incorporate CommneX with the help of two business angels and to build a first prototype platform. After the launch of www.commnex.de we were able to gradually win our first municipalities and financial institutions.

4. How have you financed your startup? Any lessons would you like to share from the fund-raising journey?

After we financed the product and the market entry with our two business angels, we were able to win our lead investor about one year after the company was founded. During this time we spoke to many interested VCs / CVCs and Business Angels who saw the potential of the platform in combination with an unknown market and participants. Having no benchmark could be simultaneously bound with joy and pain. In the beginning the people were scared about the unknown municipal client base in combination with rather slow deciding financial institutions.

If I had the chance again to build CommneX from scratch, I would raise more capital in the beginning in order to sharpen the product, to be more penetrating on the market and to hire practitioners with specific market insights.

Which are the key trends and opportunities in (European) financial services?

Every financial transaction is subject to regulations. A “KYC” process must be carried out every time. A comprehensive digital solution to execute this process can deliver significant added value. In addition, there are of course the topics of documentation. This is where blockchain solutions can help to reduce transaction costs. Another question is whether the market and the general structure make sense for such solutions or if the participants are open for new processes. I think the beginning and the end of every financial transaction have to be optimized. I still see a great opportunity and a raisin potential for such applications.

6. What’s on your bookshelf/ reading list?

A friend of mine produced the documentary film “Das Leben der Bäume” based on the bestseller written by Peter Wohleben, so I definitely have to read this.

The book Bad Blood by John Carreyrou is also on my list. A friend recommended it to me. If I am honest, I am not a big bookworm, so this is a rather manageable reading list.

7. Your favorite place for a coffee and/ or a drink?

I am relatively emotionless when it comes to coffee. It must be black and as strong as possible. A good coffee place is a tiny hipster coffee store near our office named Emilio.

When it comes to drinks I am more sophisticated. I like traditional bars where service, quality and the audience harmonize. In the Bar Schumanns you get a small menu and the best Pils in Bavaria. Not that the audience is flawless here, but the service and quality are just right.