Having founded his first start-up while still at university, Felix Hemmerling spent a couple of years in fintech before becoming a full time entrepreneur. He’s now the co-founder of several entities, including kodehyve, a property development operating system centred around automation and business intelligence.
About Felix Hemmerling
Tell us about your educational background and early career
I grew up in Luxembourg and my childhood was really dedicated to sports. I started running races at the age of five and then got into triathlons from about nine years old.
My high school was a sports school so I was training for about 20 to 30 hours a week and combining my studies with that. So, in my early life I was very dedicated to sport and travelled around a lot. I also met a lot of Irish triathletes and athletes and, besides a few Irish family members, that got me in touch with Ireland.
When I was about 16 I decided to switch to a normal school for the last two years to do my leaving cert. I realised I wanted to move into business rather than becoming a pro athlete. I had become interested in the global markets and had started trading at that stage.
After finishing school in 2015 I decided to go to university in Dublin. Luxembourg is a small place and when you grow up here you know everyone. I wanted to move somewhere with as few Luxembourgish people as possible and my choices were Copenhagen and Dublin. I chose Dublin and UCD, where I did a BComm. I continued to trade financial instruments, which was my main activity during university, besides still doing
triathlons. I also did internships in asset management during this time, including a fantastic one at KBI Global Investors in Dublin.
In my second year I did a semester in the Singapore Management University. That led to me launching Univize, my first start-up with an American-Luxembourgish co- founder who was at university in Rotterdam and Hong Kong. Univize was a platform that helped prospective university students connect with current students at their universities of interest to have a qualitative exchange with them about, for example, the courses, the teachers, facilities, city and so on. It was all that feedback I was missing as I went to a place where I didn’t know anyone.
I worked with Univize for a few months after graduating until we decided to close it down in late 2018. At that stage I had started to learn how to code – with Univize we had a few software engineers working for us and we weren’t able to truly grasp all technical aspects and the quality of the code so I started developing myself to gain a better technical understanding. Then I was at a crossroads of what to do next. Initially, I wanted to become an asset manager but I became more passionate about tech. I had to decide firstly about the
industry I was going into and then whether I was doing another start-up, joining a start-up or going into corporate.
I decided to join a private bank, the Bank of Luxembourg, as a fintech product manager, to see how the corporate world works. It was a company of 1,000 people but still quite personal; there was great access to the leaders and they gave me a lot of freedom. But I realised quite quickly I was on the wrong side of the table, implementing solutions and enhancing something for one bank but not having an impact on the entire industry or the ecosystem. I felt my creativity and talent were wasted so after nine months I quit my job at the
bank and joined a fintech where we were implementing fintech solutions for a lot of clients in banking and insurance and having more of an impact on the entire industry. I had a great time but quit that after one year because I launched my own company, kodehyve, which develops real estate software for property developers and real estate funds specifically. It digitises the whole lifecycle of new property development from project management, risk and compliance to e-signatures, customer onboarding and financial management – all supported by automation and business intelligence.
We launched in 2020, slightly before the first lockdown. We had just quit our jobs so it was interesting times. We’re now a team of 20 people and have raised about €3.6m and today kodehyve is my main occupation.
But I do have a couple of other interests. After closing Univize I launched my second company, Luxembourg Open Air (LOA), which is an electronic music festival. We are now a team of seven people and have about 25,000 visitors a year. And in January last year I co-launched wagmi GP, an investment fund in Luxembourg for crypto investments. We have a team of about nine people and provide a platform for investors to invest in the blockchain itself, not just in cryptocurrencies via a centralised exchange.
What’s your day-to-day job?
Every day is pretty much different. Most of my time is dedicated to kodehyve where my work includes everything to do with finance, legal, product, sales and HR – so very cross-functional, and every day or week has new priorities. I’m chairman of the board, I lead fundraising and am responsible for the bottom-line, that is sales, as well as just providing the necessary support to my team mates and ensuring smooth
governance and operations. Then every other day I jump on one or two calls to do with the other companies. For Luxembourg Open Air, I am on-site twice a year for a week each time in the build-up and break-down phase. That manual work is a refreshing change to my days filled with spreadsheets.
What motivates you?
One big motivation I have is really building exciting stuff from scratch that adds value to an ecosystem – coming up with an idea and putting it to work in the most frugal way possible. One of my greatest achievements has been coming up with the idea for kodehyve, developing it into a company and creating more than 20 jobs. And working with ambitious co-founders, investors and employees is one of the most amazing parts of the job.
Who or what has inspired or influenced you?
When I was a child I was always playing with Lego and being very creative. When I unboxed my Lego I rarely followed the instructions. I was always curious to see what I could do without constraints. I think what inspired me is my fear of being told what I should do or how I should go about something. One of my biggest fears in life is being told that’s how you should do it instead of finding the solutions myself with other people who are smart and ambitious. This feeling was reinforced by other people I followed. I have a mentor in Singapore who followed the journey of my first start-up – he never invested but now he’s an investor in kodehyve. It’s really about seeing that other people have done it and how they’ve achieved their subjective form of success.
Everyone has their own approach so you pick and choose yours probably from a mix of people and your own intuition. I think it is important to always listen to and follow your intuition, even if you’re
inspired by how other people approached a similar situation or goal. Always remember that your situation is your own, and asking for advice and feedback from more experienced people is excellent, but that does not mean you must follow or consider all of it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would say one way I’ve surprised myself in the past few years is that I think I delegate quite easily. I want to trust people and to delegate. I want the people to own their area of expertise. Once delegated, I evidently expect it to be delivered at an extremely high level of quality. I advocate radical ownership. We expect people to be the architects of their projects, processes, products that they build and they own and really go from A to Z, and shout if they need help. But they’re in charge and they fully own the outcomes, positive and negatives ones. Again it’s radical ownership because it’s radical for everyone – for the engineers, product managers and executive assistant as much as for the C-level. We hold ourselves accountable by doing so. As part of my leadership style I really focus on transparency – about the company, the ups and downs. If we have a problem or a delay everyone should know about it and about its seriousness.
I coin it radical transparency – it’s about applying that transparency across all aspects and all levels. You’re radically transparent or not at all. That’s my approach. We’ll see if it’s the same with 50 employees or 200 employees. I can’t tell you that far, but for now that’s the leadership style that I have. Finally, I’m told that I’m authentic, I’m not trying to build something up on a house of cards and have a different face with my employees than with myself. That helps my people to trust me, I believe.
Is ongoing learning important to you?
Definitely, 100%. Learning is part of my daily job. I learn a lot from my team because I make sure I hire people who are better than I am in the areas I delegate. I definitely have my vision and a lot of valuable input but in the end they have to be better than myself or there’s no real added value to having others on board.
What’s your best piece of career advice?
I have a list. My advice for the young person who is at the crossroads of deciding if they’re going
to study or not is to really think about going to university. A lot of creativity and innovation is being lost actually by following strict coursework and not always being ahead of innovation. The best company founders are not necessarily the best students. So do you really have to go to university? It’s a question I think that’s not even asked any more but not everyone is made to study. A lot of very smart people could add a lot of value even if they don’t study. For people who are working, I would say you have to do what you are excited about. If you’re not excited by your craft, there’s no point pursuing it and I would urge you to change.
What has been your biggest achievement?
In a general sense, what we’ve built so far. Every day I’m excited to speak with my team members in the various companies. More specifically, it’s the growth we’ve had in all these companies. With LOA we
started with a free festival in 2019 and then we had to cancel an entire year due to the pandemic. But we’re still here and we’ve just had our sixth edition, we’ve increased our annual attendees from 5,000 people to 25,000 people, we’ve gone from a one-day festival, once a year, to a two-day festival twice a year, and we are
now are a team of seven up from of four part-time at the beginning. In kodehyve we’ve gone from two co-founders in 2020 to 20 people now, added a lot of clients and have done two fund raising rounds of €1m and 2.6m. And then with wagmi GP, we have had a lot of outperformance for our investors and investor onboardings. So it’s been a very big personal achievement to have this growth despite all the challenges and complex macroeconomic developments in the past years, which every founder goes through.
What are your plans for the future?
The first plan is to continue doing what I’m passionate about, with the people that I appreciate. That’s the high level plan. More specifically, it’s about growth and really ensuring that we go beyond where we
are today. With kodehyve over the next five years we’ll have a big focus on internationalising the company and growing it to make it first a European and then a global company. With wagmi GP it’ll be the same. And with LOA we want to make it an even better and bigger concept attracting thousands of more people. It’s all about scaling up.
How has your degree benefited your career and/or personal life?
The many amazing international people from Ireland, the UK, China, Norway, Canada, Italy and many other places I’ve met, as well as the opportunity I had to move to Singapore.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Quinn School?
The usually sunny morning bike ride to Quinn School, great coffee at local coffee shops in town and the annual 12 pubs of Christmas with the lads.
What are your main interests outside work?
Sports like tennis, squash, snowboarding, hiking and yoga, travelling as well as having a good time with family and friends keep my mind fresh. I have got into pottery/clay as well, a very therapeutic activity.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you
Then most people would know about it...
What piece of technology can you not live without?
Probably my laptop and phone (although you can always live without technology if you really must).
What is your pet hate?
Generally people who are rude, disrespectful.
What are your favourite books?
The Dip by Seth Godin, highlighting the important skill of being able to assess whether to stop a project or wind up a venture. Also, The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha, talking about the level of freedom you achieve when you do what you love.
And who are your favourite musicians?
Gilles Bock (techno music producer and DJ) and daadi (musician and producer).
What is your favourite dish to cook?
A creamy, al dente risotto with porcini mushrooms or pumpkin, and lots of parmigiano.
What team do you support?
No teams really, rather tennis players like Frances Tiafoe, Holger Rune or Casper Ruud. However, I must not forget about the occasional Sporting Lisbon.
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
There is not really that one favourite place as I love travelling around and discovering new places … but Portugal must be it thanks to the people, food, quality of living and professional opportunities.
Where is home and why?
I don't really have a single physical place I call home, but I consider my home simply the environment where I am getting most energy from – whether that is in a private or professional context.
Name three things on your bucket list
- Snowboarding in northern Japan
- Moving to Portugal
- Keep the freedom of being able to continue doing what I love.