Successful projects rest on many pillars. They need a leader with stamina, a creative team, and a great deal of confidence in their own strengths. Rui de Freitas has led the start-up C Wire to success with flair and perseverance. The company founder explains in an interview how he made it to the top.
What form of advertising do you prefer?
Rui de Freitas: Ads that are known to offer added value and make sense to consumers. So, in a broader sense, anything that helps consumers find what they need or that inspires or even entertains them.
What ads did you love as a kid? What stuck in your mind?
Most of all, inspirational advertising. For example, what Nike does. Advertising that essentially promotes great athletes. I find that very inspiring, and that’s why I’ve always liked those ads.
How did your journey as an entrepreneur begin?
I was certainly shaped by the way my parents raised me. One important decision was to study computer science. I believe that especially as a developer, by approaching problem-solving logically, you learn skills that you can use in any area of life. For example, for building a start-up. You have a problem that you’re trying to solve. I realized that’s what I like. And then I studied business administration to make more of it.
What happened next after that realization process?
I was appointed to start-up roles and then worked in companies where I had responsibilities. After doing that for a while, I felt I could make more of an impact. I wanted to build my own company. To do that, I looked at what others had done, what great things they had created, and also what mistakes they had made. All of this helped me to be confident enough to actually do it.
Let’s delve into that. What key skills have you developed? What kind of skills does a successful entrepreneur need?
Obviously, it’s a mix of making, learning from, and striving for perfect solutions. Entrepreneurs also need to be resilient. So resilience is definitely number one.
You have landed at the top of this journey. Probably also because you gathered a lot of insights and drew the right conclusions from them.
I worked in media companies for a while. It became clear to me that you need comprehensive solutions. That includes cross-market approaches. That led me to set up an advertising technology company. My motivation is essential because I firmly believe in the idea and in success.
Journalism is still the only way to give as many people as possible access to information. For journalism to fulfill this task, you have to make it a very profitable business. And that’s basically what I’m trying to achieve through advertising – in other words, “thinking to advertise”.
How important is journalism for our society?
Journalism is important to our democracies, now more than ever. There is definitely a need for oversight, for a “countervailing power” that holds the government accountable. But media companies also need refinancing. Advertising is the best way to do this, in my view. Journalism is still the only way to give as many people as possible access to information. For journalism to fulfill this task, you have to make it a very profitable business. And that’s basically what I’m trying to achieve through advertising – in other words, “thinking to advertise”.
How does that work in detail?
I call it telling the truth in a different way, but in a profitable way. It’s about reporting, about exposing corruption, but also about entertainment, because journalism doesn’t have to be just about news. It can also tell stories from a person’s life. The important thing is that it has a useful value for people and that they can do something with it. This also includes concrete life support. The offer is wide-ranging and as many people as possible should benefit from it. The basis is free to access. I, therefore, want to make sure that advertising is such a stable source of income that people don’t have to pay for the information.
You are thus building a bridge between two worlds – journalism and advertising. Isn’t that also the founding idea of C Wire and the description of your mission?
Yes, I worked a lot with publishers and media companies and saw all the great things they were doing. But I also realized how hard it is now. Their main sources of revenue were subscriptions and advertising. Both are definitely declining. Circulation is dropping rapidly. Digital transformation means that you have to generate enough revenue online to afford a large team of journalists. It’s a difficult situation and I wish there were easy solutions.
At i-vest and Alpian, we’re trying to figure out how successful entrepreneurs like you define wealth. What drives you? What has lasting value for you?
Wealth has different aspects. I’ve met people whose lives were rich but who had no money. And I have seen some very unhappy people who had a lot of money. For me, wealth means happiness. Having a lot of something that you want. Wealthy people have a lot of what makes them happy.
What specifically makes you happy?
Three things: spending time with my loved ones, traveling and, of course, working. Solving problems, and making customers happy. That fulfills me a lot. Getting things done.
Your team plays a crucial role.
Yes. You have to find the people you can trust. How you interact with them is important. Show your weak points so they can complement each other and perform more and better together. Trust is the foundation for building a team that just works.
How do you find people like that? What are the crucial quality criteria?
To do this, you first have to be clear about what you yourself are good at and what you are not. You have to find people who are better than you are. Even things that you can do well should at some point be passed on to someone who is better. The basic idea behind it: A company is always bigger than an entrepreneur.
That requires a lot of trust, doesn’t it?
In the beginning, it’s easier if you do it with people you’ve already worked with. That reduces the likelihood of making a mistake because you have a lot more information than if you bring someone new on board. So I always start with people I know, people who are recommended to me, and I try to get to know people better.
In your career, you worked in various publishing houses and organizations before starting your own business. What do you see as the advantages of having your own startup, compared to a corporate job?
First and foremost, the speed. In a large organization, you have to take a lot of people with you. That takes more time, of course. That can be very exhausting if you’re striving for quick results. In fact, you can do things much faster in a startup. It’s a comprehensive learning process on how to scale your organization without making it slow. It’s about asking: what processes can you put in place to increase efficiency and make operations scalable?
A difficult task for many young entrepreneurs is raising funds for their businesses. What has your experience been like?
It’s been like ups and downs. Last year was definitely better for fundraising than this year. The macro economy has deteriorated, and fundraising is low. If you look at how much money was raised in August, you can see that the trend is not your friend. The question is whether there is enough money to go around. You have to find the right investors. You don’t want to end up with investors that you know are going to slow you down or make your life miserable. It’s really an art and therefore very helpful to exchange ideas with other founders. Also with former founders learn from them before you make your own mistakes.
How do you look for suitable investors, what criteria are decisive?
There is nothing wrong with an investor who simply gives you money. The only question is how active he is and whether that can have a positive or negative impact. What we look for at C Wire are essentially investors who can help strategically. The hardest ones are the ones who invest and distract you when you’re trying to really focus.
Money is freedom and gives you room to achieve perceived wealth. Even though money doesn’t mean wealth for everyone, it does create freedom.
What does it take for an investor to believe in the company?
In the beginning, people believe in you and the founding team more than they believe in the company. They think to themselves, okay, if these people get together, they can do something cool. That makes it really hard to build trust. If you find someone who shares the same vision and who wants to be part of the same mission, that’s already a very good start. And then you have to convince yourself that you’re the right person for it.
Not an easy task, is it?
It also depends on the phases of the company. In the early stages, the risk is lower because the amounts are smaller. But as soon as the costs increase and the potential “burn rate” is high, the problems start. Investors look at risk. The higher the “burn rate,” the greater the risk. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s go back to the topic of wealth again. How important is money for a happy life?
Money is freedom and gives you room to achieve perceived wealth. Even though money doesn’t mean wealth for everyone, it does create freedom. If I didn’t have enough money, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the risk of building a start-up. The older you get, the more you need financial security. You may have more obligations, and want to scale down the burdens in life. The fact is, the more of it you have, the more freedom you have to do what you want. That’s my definition of freedom.
What advice do you give to young startup founders?
Talk to other founders. Share the pain. Get emotional support, because you need that to build something great. You have to be aware that things can go wrong. At some point, you have to take a risk. You have to hear that other people have gone through hell but still made it. That helps you stay motivated and develop the resilience you need. As a boss, you have a lot of responsibility – for the employees as well as the customers. So it’s going to be tough. A struggle and a struggle. But it’s also a lot of fun and fills you with satisfaction when you succeed. As a founder, you are building something that other users will be excited about. Rejoice in every success and celebrate it with the users around you. There’s something really fulfilling about building a startup and launching users around you who embrace your vision.
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