Co-CEO and Founder of the applike group, Jonas Thiemann is a company builder who creates award-winning businesses that help apps succeed in the global app economy. As experts in mobile technology and the app business, Thiemann and co-founder Carlo Szelinsky have founded several ventures that specialize in mobile advertising, ad technology, and mobile games.
The group has more than 100 advertising partners including Jamcity, Playtika, and KingsGroup. The adverts are served in 180 countries around the world and reach around 100 million smartphone users globally every month. The group’s own apps and mobile games are played by millions of people every month.
The applike group currently employs over 100 people from 50 countries across the world.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Jonas Thiemann: My background might be a bit surprising. Initially, I wanted to become a classical pianist. And, as a young person, I even earned money by teaching other kids to play in my spare time. Unfortunately, tutoring piano doesn’t really scale! So, I focussed on business studies instead. I founded my first company with my friend Carlo Szelinsky when I was just 20 years old.I learned some very important lessons from that experience, particularly as that business folded after a year. I spent a couple of months without a job and later worked in M&A at Bertelsmann, Europe’s leading media powerhouse, for around a year. Eventually, I decided to go back into business with my friend and business partner Carlo. Together, we convinced Bertelsmann about our new endeavor and founded the applike group.
Was there somebody that inspired you to take that specific journey with your business?
Jonas Thiemann: I would have to say Dong Nguyen, the inventor of the hit mobile game Flappy Bird. He spent a holiday weekend building the game and then simply put it online. While the game took a few months to catch on, it later went viral. It’s a perfect example of launching a minimum viable product as early as possible and achieving great success. It really fits with the applike group’s value of being fast!
What are the most common mistakes you see entrepreneurs make and what would you suggest they do?
Jonas Thiemann: The most common mistake that I observe is a lack of focus. Founders need to focus on one hypothesis in the early stage of their company, and then validate it as fast as possible. If it’s not working, you should quickly move on to the next hypothesis. When you test too many ideas at the same time, you risk losing too much speed in each project until you find product-market fit.
Has the pandemic and transitioning into mostly online shopping affected your company positively or negatively?
Jonas Thiemann: Because of the pandemic, all aspects of our lives – such as shopping, whether for pleasure or essentials, work, education, socializing and entertainment – went fully online and mostly mobile almost overnight. The switch has meant incredible growth for the global app economy, and as our business is in the fields of mobile apps, games, and in-app advertising, we’ve also seen big changes. Tangibly, we’ll approximately quadruple our sales in 2021 compared to last year. And, our headcount has gone up by 50 additional team members since the pandemic kicked in.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Jonas Thiemann: Many of the other players in our field are going down the M&A path in order to be the industry frontrunners. However, at the applike group, we’re in favor of building our products, technology, and platforms in-house through hiring and investing in amazing tech talent. In some cases, our competitors are spending billions on buying up other companies. In contrast, we’ve organically built three companies so far, all of them being profitable and growing at incredible speed. To give you a bit more detail, Sunday develops and publishes hyper-casual mobile games, adJoe is one of the fastest-growing mobile ad networks and justDice is the market-leading mobile loyalty player. And as you might have guessed, there’s a lot more to come.
As well as being more capital efficient than M&A, the culture and collaboration between the group’s companies and our people are very much in sync with each other. Of course, it helps that we’re all guided by the same north star: to reach every mobile user around the world. So, while our companies operate independently, they share their technology and know-how. The drawback is that building new tech on your own takes time, and M&A can potentially speed up the process. We’ll always keep a focus on an organic tech build & grow strategy, as it’s part of our DNA. That said, in the future, we may complement that strategy with acquisitions that fit really well with our core stack and values.
Delegating is part of being a great leader, but what have you found helpful to get your managers to become valiant leaders as well?
Jonas Thiemann: In my experience, leadership is about helping others deliver their best both personally and professionally. This means recognizing your team members’ strengths and focussing on building them up, rather than zeroing in on weaknesses. When you focus on your team members’ strengths you get the best results and satisfied people.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Jonas Thiemann: Very much so. Being intentional about your own personal brand helps make your values and ways of working clear to new and potential clients, collaborators, and colleagues. It helps you draw in the right people: those who have similar goals and that will join you on your mission. The applike group’s core values are 100% reflected in how I personally approach things. They are:
- Go Big – I’m ambitious and expect the same from my team.
- Move Fast – I prefer to do things quickly, but perhaps the final 20% isn’t done perfectly. This gives my team the freedom to try new things and take the right risks.
- Be Direct – My grandma used to say I wouldn’t make the best diplomat!
- Have fun – Even though I have big goals, I still want to enjoy my working life.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Jonas Thiemann: The days of command and control leadership are dead. I believe the best mix is an approach that combines listening to others and then making decisions. As a leader, you need a lot of empathy and energy to ask people what they think, what they want, how they feel, and where they stand on particular topics. You need to take all of that into account when making decisions. That doesn’t mean that the decisions I make please everyone all the time. But you can make clear and much more effective decisions by first understanding what the impact on your people will be – and if they have a better idea in the first place.
For example, before making a final decision about our long-term remote policy for our companies, we asked team members what they would prefer. That brought up a lot of important aspects, which we were able to implement in our new long-term policy. Ultimately, we decided on a hybrid approach: three in-office days and two days of flexible remote working.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Jonas Thiemann: Start as early as possible. When I was eight years old, I set up a prize draw in my neighborhood. It was a kind of mini lottery that I created myself and I gave out small toys and candy for the winning tickets. It was a nice addition to my weekly pocket money, and I learned a bit about selling. I think it’s true to say that business sense is born very early.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Jonas Thiemann: “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Heraclitus
Maybe today we would make the language more gender-inclusive but the message remains key for me: emotionally people tend to aim for something static that they can hold on to or relate to. But the reality is that everything in your life, friendships, business, and your health, is in a constant state of flux. There are many surprises in our lives. Yes, sometimes this can be negative but I find there are a lot of positive surprises too. Embracing that change is happening all the time gives me calm when things pan out in ways that I didn’t expect or hope for.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Jonas Thiemann for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Jonas Thiemann or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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