Interview: Thomas Köhler on due diligence, being self-employed and health

I have known Thomas Köhler for many years from the early days of Virtual Forge. At that time he was still managing director and partner of his own company. We have kept in touch until today, even if the paths were different.

The interview provides insights from the perspective of an investor and from the perspective of an entrepreneur seeking growth capital:

  • Only the correct assessment of future viability leads to a good valuation
  • Say NO when it doesn't fit
  • Do not neglect work-life balance and health in the medium term
  1. Tom, what happened next for you and how did our joint due diligence project come about?
    In 2006 it became clear that my ideas about the future of my company (development into a specialist for managed services) and those of the main shareholder (corporate IT concepts for medium-sized businesses) did not correlate. As a result, we parted ways and I sold my shares. After 15 years in my own company, it quickly became clear that a change to the "normal" employee life should not be my first choice. Fortunately, I have a large network, and so after a few months I joined a "boutique" management consultancy as a freelancer to devote myself to interim management.
    During this time I have not lost sight of the topic of security. Because I still considered it to be very promising (which I still do today), I often discussed with the owner and boss of the consultancy about founding a corresponding company. During a conversation with you, you mentioned the interest in an investor, so I then established the contact.
  2. You then carried out the due diligence of Virtual Forge - what is your experience and what can you recommend to an entrepreneur going through such a process?
    The actual investor must have understood and penetrated the business of the target company, otherwise he cannot adequately assess the future viability and will arrive at an inadequate valuation. I'm not a big fan of pure financial investors for start-ups since that time, in the light of things the said consultancy would have been one in your case. Surely there would have been interesting contacts, but basically the relation to your topic was missing.
  3. What have you done since then in terms of start-ups, projects, etc. that particularly excited you?
    After a warning shot to my health, I joined a company, a medium-sized logistics IT company with big growth plans. Due to its success, this company was then bought by a global player, so that I am now active there as an employed manager. However, I also founded companies again relatively soon: apart from supporting start-ups as a mentor, I deal very successfully with the topic of data protection together with a lawyer. This can be presented very well as a sideline and has many points of contact with security. It's just not possible to be completely self-employed.
  4. In hindsight, we didn't take the step at the time - our reason was that we didn't believe in the future or the story. Likewise, the valuation was just way too low. How is your retrospect?
    You were absolutely right. Apart from the financial aspect, it certainly wouldn't have fit in the medium term, for lack of reference to the topic. In addition: If the gut feeling is not right, one should not marry...