Having enjoyed some remarkable success over the last five years at the helm of Mount Wish, a fintech startup which is capable of not only achieving the joint mission of the BIS and IMF but also effectively helping to solve the current fx, interest rate and energy price challenges, I increasingly felt pushed into a corner and for a long time couldn’t really tell what it was. On paper it all looked great, the business model worked, demand grew fast, industry recognition was there and financials appeared healthy and yet something was broken. Thus I held course, thinking I could figure out what it was and how to solve these issues along the way.
Indeed my constant flow of new ideas, my creative approach to problem solving, love for testing the limits of financial engineering and willingness to take rather extreme personal risks (I actually turned myself into a walking LBO) paired with great people skills worked their wonders to effectively mask all the little and not so little cracks. It helped the company fly.
And then the pandemic hit and two related things happened in parallel.
First, I realized that the one factor which kept the company from entering a more stable and steady growth phase was me. In fact my personality had gotten in the way.
This said, while Corona and its aftermaths along with an increasingly fragile political environment (see my essay on how we’ve already entered the Third World War) accelerated revenue growth tremendously it also forced me into doing a lot more of the things I truly suck at: Dealing with the nitty-gritty parts of operations, growing regulatory confines and most importantly political diplomacy!
And that was exactly when I noticed that I no longer was the right person to lead Mount Wish.
When it comes to operations, it would have been easy to assume that simply pushing it all off to fellow executives such as the COO or General Counsel could be the solution but after taking a long and hard look at the situation I knew it wasn’t. It essentially boiled down to what Reid Hoffman explains in his post here quite nicely. The point is that the CEO role requires someone who’s passionate about actually running the company rather than just owning it’s product vision, stakeholder relations, strategic plans and creative bits.
In short the CEO must be an operational type.
Operating in an increasingly complex legal environment and political minefield it also became clear that the company now requires someone with a more diplomatic and less startup-ish mentality.
There’s actually a reason why none of the big tech companies, despite their interest to do so, has entered the financial services industry without an established partner and why so many fintechs are now facing regulatory backlashes and scrutiny.
Hence the old Silicon Valley mantra of “move fast and break things” no longer seemed right, if it ever was for an enterprise fintech in the realm of risk management and central banking.
I certainly didn’t break any laws but used every loophole possible (though admittedly I also got one or two of them wrong with no bad intent and hence needed to correct them afterwards) and gravitated heavily towards aggressive interpretations of the same while applying legal but questionable accounting practices (it’s why we’ll switch to what we call bandwidth accounting) and highly optimistic projections.
And I was right to do so in the early days due to a lack of other options to proof the concept and getting things started without investor backing.
Indeed back then many investors considered my plans impossible given that the company with it’s unique business model needed to launch all around the world in a highly regulated and capital intense industry at more or less the same time. Hence lacking the required resources I literally became a master in off balance sheet items, SPVs and alternative equity injections involving hard customer LoIs, strategic secondment agreements (often involving future-oriented barter deals) and “Simple Agreements for Future Whatever” arranged in a domino-effect-setup.
Surprisingly, it really worked out. It allowed me to use real customer and market data to verify the concept and show that it works. It also allowed me to put everything in place needed to achieve the impossible with limited resources.
This experience carried on with me since a proven path — one of which I was quite proud of given I created that one myself — can be hard to leave. This along with my uncompromising aggressiveness to reach goals and unleashed creativity made me act more like an investment banker or Virgin-inspired company builder rather than the CEO of a financial institution working alongside central banks. I was still completely in “deal mode”, selling a vision, constantly going after the exciting next big thing, thinking in broad strokes, pushing financials and building a strategy emphasizing a plethora of third party deals and barter transactions as well as the constant launch of new side products supporting our core one, RiskPool.
However both company stage and the current environment are vastly different now requiring a another personality and skill set at the top supported by a wild rebel like me in other areas. Though the latter should become more sandboxed by now at this very .
Add to that my outspokenness, occasional bullheadedness (you want to avoid heat of the moment actions, doing wrong things for the right reasons and Musk-esk 420 posts among others these days as an international finance company) and anti-authoritarian heart and you’re all set for trouble.
As said before were operating in an increasingly complex political minefield and Mount Wish already got dragged quite badly into a lot of politically motivated disputes and global trade wars — among others by failing and flailing states/regions like Germany / the EU. And all that definitely took its tolls both mentally and economically, especially since I also got once held in remand for a couple of days and later was, as expected, fully acquitted or in other cases got things settled otherwise despite no wrongdoing. Hence, the Third World War is really in full swing and a different personality at the top of Mount Wish advisable. On a side note I am more than happy to have changed my citizenship from German to Singaporean.
Beyond all the above I already got a few new, additional business ideas which I want to pursue as well and thus a new setup or change is due anyway.
The second thing which happened during the pandemic is more on a personal side yet related to the above: I burned out, experienced a revival of childhood trauma and finally fell into depression.
Under normal circumstances I would have coped quite well with the increased stress levels thanks to balancing activities such as socializing with other entrepreneurs at trade fairs or airport lounges, enjoying the fast-paced cosmopolitan life in all the great megacities around the world, taking part in sporty competitions like regattas or marathons and by relinquishing power and control at BDSM play parties (Having never had the luck to ever experience what it means to be in a relationship, the people in this community gave me a sense of belonging for the first time in my life and they simply accepted me as the emotionally-scarred being that I am while the scenes quickly became my version of yoga and my form of therapy) or indulging myself in other such adult events, yet during the pandemic none of that was an option.
And no, Zoom or other virtual meetings simply can’t replace any of that.
This said, personal meetings are essential to my mental health and remain vital to close some key deals in business. Sure a limited amount can be done virtual but big deals and complex issues require personal meetings. There’s actually a reason why a lot of prominent deals close in more informal settings and most investment banks and other companies set aside large client entertainment budgets.
Yet as mentioned earlier we still thrived revenue-wise during the pandemic thanks to a particular strong and compelling product which saw a massively increased amount of inbound sales in that time. And yes for the real big deals we still met in person, often offshore onboard of yachts to escape the lockdown restrictions. At one point at the beginning of the pandemic we even chartered a yacht and circumnavigated the world in about four months to meet all key business partners and top decision makers, many of which had fled to their beach-front homes and yachts anyway and of course we followed strict safety and testing protocols back then. But after the charter ended (it’s a simple PnL calculation) we were in the same boat as everyone else again. Still inbound requests kept coming and sales were strong also fueled by referrals, many relating to the trip, and now crisis-proven data.
Risk management, operations and other aspects on the other side became more challenging but were still manageable.
So overall business was doing well but I suffered.
It’s the isolation, partial loss of control and lockdowns which basically killed me and gave me horrible flashbacks finally reviving childhood trauma (Complex PTSD).
This said, during my entire childhood I have always been the lonely one, the unloved one, the one with a visible disability (I grew up with only on ear and as a consequence of that a little speech impairment) and work hard, play hard finally became my drug to get over it.
Indeed much of my success is owed to that tough and rough childhood as it instilled a voracious fire and insatiable desire to become more successful than any of those bullies, in fact even more successful than anyone else.
Beyond that this tough upbringing also made me resilient when it came to rejection (oh yes I experienced tons of it), prepared me for the extreme emotional roller-coaster of entrepreneurial life (many failures, backlashes and struggles, a constant dance between private jets and near-bankruptcy… okay the latter got a lot better by now financially but the emotions are still there in a slightly different form related to the so called sudden wealth syndrome), it made me do my own thing without looking at others and shaped my social skills. Regarding the latter I am extremely strong in business settings but relatively weak in private ones, like dating, as I got better along with adults making career and business plans when I was young and hence avoided people my age — who refused me anyway — back then.
Hence this upbringing essentially turned me into a street-smart sole fighter with an incredible ability to read people and situations and apply his highly developed, and back then survival-critical, dark triad traits whenever needed.
With regards to the latter I am not a bad person per se but I will do anything (legal) to see my startups succeed and, given they are mostly falling into the impact ventures category, create greater good.
So for me it never was purely about the money; playing to win is actually my coping strategy, my form of revenge.
Well maybe not the most perfect one especially in increasingly uncertain times (pandemic waves, Third World War, rise of extreme left-wing and right-wing politicians, etc). Also overambition seems a thing I am very guilty of.
Thus it’s needless to say that I absolutely loved outworking competitors and was regularly clocking more than 100 hours per week but with the nonsensical lockdowns (because often implemented very inconsistently) it all felt shallow. I deeply missed being in the office, missed the camaraderie of us rebels working together on new projects and strategies over pizza and a near endless supply of coffee past midnight.
Now I was only functioning but no longer leveraging my strengths and all my stress-coping activities were gone. I felt trapped and unfree.
Suffocating loneliness and painful emptiness took over. The hellish, lonely mess my private life has been for the most part was all back. And while all around me in business were still looking at me like I had something special, I knew the truth: Contrary to what they thought I was in fact missing something.
Given my personality and past experiences I started to beat myself up about this and getting forced into doing more of the stuff I suck at in the office — as mentioned above — did the rest.
But admitting that I needed help wasn’t easy and so I started taking microdoses of shrooms and acid to overcome my struggles. It helped but of course was no sustainable solution.
I needed a break and took one enforced by worsening burnout and growing depression as at one point I didn’t even bother anymore whether I am dead or alive.
So I hit rock bottom and finally admitted myself to Paracelsus Recovery in Zurich, a mental health clinic specialized in working with high-profile business owners and public figures. I chose them as I needed both, to address the underlying psychological problems and traumata (complex PTSD) but also help making appropriate adjustments to my life and career. The latter was only possible with the right specialists experienced in working with successful entrepreneurs.
Four weeks and half a million dollars later I had learned a lot about myself, addressed my flaws, fears and deep emotional scars and lastly devised a plan on what to do next and how to proceed.
Here we go. Well, obviously I’ll leave some more private parts out — like my decision to never have children as they are neither compatible with my career or life plans while nor blend in with my antinatalist stance which I had to take based on mere logic and with the greatest objectivity possible — and get right to the point of personality-aligned career progression planning.
Further tests — including some taken prior to therapy — such as an IQ test (scored 126 with a standard deviation of 15), the Hexaco or the High 5 Test (my results being: 1. Winner, 2. Self-Believer, 3. Strategist, 4. Commander, 5. Philomath) only confirmed the above results and provided some but not too many new insights so we’ll leave it here.
Based on all the insights gained, extensive reflection on my past and current desires, I quit the CEO role at Mount Wish and we created the new role of “Head of the Vision, Innovation and Strategy (VIAS) Committee”.
This said, the new VIAS Committee is a special unit responsible for innovation management and product creation, strategic research and advisory, M&A and PMI projects as well as outsourced high risk and special tasks which are better addressed outside the traditional corporate environment. Hence the VIAS committee serves as the independent speed boat, corporate sandbox and sparring partner to both the board and executive team.
As you can see I still believe in Mount Wish, its cool products and the impact we can have in terms of achieving the joint mission of the BIS and IMF. And yes, Mount Wish’s core product RiskPool is needed more than ever to combat the current energy price crisis and growing fx risks.
This said, I will also continue to play a key role but become more of an éminence grise who has finally teamed up with an operational and more diplomatic CEO / executive team.
It’s time to further empower these key colleagues and take a step back.
Speaking of my senior colleagues, aside from my VIAS responsibilities I will also co-represent Mount Wish at the following notable organizations:
- World Economic Forum (New Champion Member)
- US-ASEAN Business Council (Chairman Council)
- SME Finance Forum (World Bank Group)
- BIS Innovation Hub
- UN Capital Development Fund
Plus I made two further important decisions in relation to Mount Wish.
First, we’ll further decentralizing Mount Wish beyond the below depicted and already well-established Dual-HQ setup.
This means two things again:
A) All our sales entities will be independent affiliates similar to what you see at the Big Four in order to avoid most hassles of the ongoing economic world war in which we got dragged badly.
B) We’ll move to a hub concept allowing employees to work from anywhere. Thus employees need to visit one of our worldwide offices (mostly coworking space contracts) at least two days a week while all other days are up to them (certain rules apply to ensure smooth follow the sun processes and maximum uptime as well as data protection among others). Once a month we’ll also bring together all regional employees in one of our five regional super-hubs.
The second big decision I made is to prioritize mental health and well-being within my companies and to set aside an additional budget to allow for coaching, therapy sessions and other help in any form to all employees who need it and want it. Plus given my experiences, we are also going to redefine the process of who gets hired for which role and promoted to which level by adopting Bridgewater Associates’ psychometric models and feedback culture at full scale.
That also seems overdue given the following key learnings:
- Why likely over 50 Percent of World Economic Forum Attendees Struggle with an Addiction | by Paracelsus Recovery | Medium
- Sleep in the C-Suite: Is Your Mental Health Causing Sleepless Nights? | by Paracelsus Recovery | Medium
As you might’ve noticed I started using the plural and talking about companies. Plus, you might also remember that I said earlier that I had additional business ideas.
For that reason I have now established a family office and company builder, dubbed the Dragon Office, right below the Wunsch Foundation.
The Dragon Office is named after my Chinese zodiac sign (well I also liked the play on the word “lông” which is Chinese for dragon but also has a positive connotation in finance) and split into six business lines with Mount Wish being an essential part of this group of companies.
Within the Dragon Office my Mount Wish shares are now held by the Mount Wish Founders Trust which again is part of the Financial Innovation Group. The latter is a subsidiary of the Winfinity Trust which is an entity holding all my founder shares through various sub-trusts with the main split being into financial services and non-financial services ventures.
The second business branch of the Dragon Office is 龙 Ventures.
龙 Ventures is both a company builder (e.g. Inclusivity.Tech, TSD, and AVOID) and VC fund. This vehicle also has some outside investors in the form of limited partners and hence operates like a traditional VC firm.
The third branch is L-A-G, a lifestyle and luxury asset group heavily invested in high-end real estate, yachting and other businesses such as an art fund or various vineyards and whiskey distilleries.
Plus they also run a small standup stage in Singapore.
The fourth branch is the Kinkyliscious Group, a special holding managing my investments in hotter businesses. So it follows my passion for the kinky community and interest in the changing things in the adult industry by investing in according clubs (SM, swinger, gentlemen's clubs, etc.) and high-growth startups (via Kinvest which supports innovative sextech and femtech businesses) while also building up a long-overdue and desperately needed infrastructure platform for people in the industry. The latter runs under the brand of Grey Enterprises. While it’s a lucrative business it’s also both supporting friends and giving back a little since these amazing women were among the very few people who were there for me when I really needed it.
Another branch is MWM, a company managing my IP rights, media content and other valuable soft assets along with my advisory mandates.
And then there’s the last official business branch, called 龙 Capital, which operates as the blind trust and hedge fund within the family office.
In short I moved or am in the process to transition to a management style and corporate structure successfully introduced by Richard Branson where I’ll be the wild, creative risk taker, capitalist and entrepreneur while other more experienced managers handle the day-to-day management side of things.
So while I always strove for that coveted CEO position, today I know that I am better off as an éminence grise, the boards emcee and chief visionary or as I like to put it as an investment entrepreneur, philanthropist and adventurer.
This new level of authenticity will benefit all my businesses and my mental health.
But my new activity area, as you might have already guessed given the use of the word philanthropist, doesn’t end here as I’ll also dedicate a good amount of my time to my two foundations, the Wunsch Foundation and the Libertarian Word Citizens.
The latter is my ultimate life goal for which I am fighting: A united, better and more libertarian world. A world free of nation states and federal authorities and governments (except maybe an extremely limited global one in the form of the UN).
Further non-business adjustments included getting rid of all the clutter and trappings of success moving a whole lot closer to the Rockefeller principle of owning nothing but controlling everything while turning almost everything again into a business.
For that reason I have launched the Savoir Group (part of Wunsch & Partner) which also satisfies the needs of many other UNHWIs who think the same way. This said I transferred all three of my homes, NYC, Singapore and Montreux, to the Savoir Group and finally became a liveaboard.
A dream come true.
A 59.8meter, 499 gross tons sailing yacht well-enough equipped to serve as floating office and true home. Indeed, it’s the only asset — aside from my businesses — which I still own (well admittedly through some complex legal, asset protection schemes) .
The yacht is just the right size, thus neither too small nor too big and more importantly shallow draft to truly explore this beautiful planet visiting all the anchorages other superyachts can’t get to.
And against loneliness, well there’s always a cool crew of nine around me now :-D.
And when time allows I’ll simply be part of my crew, as I recently managed to pass the MCA Master 200GT / Officer of the Watch 500GT (Unlimited) qualification.
And no the yacht isn’t a pure luxury toy as some might be tempted to say but primarily serves mental health reasons (only place to disconnect and properly recharge my batteries) while also coming with a few outstanding business benefits.
So let me explain what I mean by business benefits:
- In times where businesses lose their fixpoints (HQs getting abolished or moved around, e.g. moves from California to Texas or from New York to Florida, etc.) and political uncertainty (rise of extremists on the left and right) is at an all-time high, a yacht is simply the best and most comfortable way to be wherever your business needs you. A yacht makes you flexible while real estate can be a burden. Sure realty tends to appreciate while a yacht depreciates but then again the big shifts we observe now have also caused havoc to realty prices in some cities such as NYC, HK, LA, and London so that diversification is a must but also comes at a huge cost (so better leave that to Savoir).
- Another huge benefit are all the created chances at the docks. What used to be the golf club in the past has now has become the yacht club, a place of superior networking and deal making.
- And as she sails under the Cayman Island flag it’s now a lot easier to close some key deals offshore and hence avoid getting ripped off with taxes.
Speaking of the Cayman Islands, the motto shown on the coat of arms is quite fitting in that setup as a quasi offshore company builder and family office; “He hath founded it upon the seas”.
As you see I did the right thing and fired myself as CEO at Mount Wish.
I used it as an opportunity to grow and emerged stronger and happier.
Yet there’s still a some way to go.
Well I guess in the end I am just an emotionally scarred human being with unique flaws (which I’ll continue to work on) and maybe a handful of desirable traits, trying to make it and leave a positive mark on this planet.
Lastly I want to extend a huge thank you to everyone who was there for me during this extremely difficult time and helped me navigate this change and turn things around. This includes financial advisors and lawyers, therapists and my muses, family and friends. Thank you.