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Best of Bootstrapping: Bootstrapping Cleverbridge From Germany

Posted on Monday, Mar 8th 2021

If you haven’t already, please study our free Bootstrapping course and the Investor Introductions page.

We’re always impressed by entrepreneurs who manage to build sizeable companies without outside capital. Read how Founder Christian Blume maneuvered Cleverbridge to $40 million in revenue and did not want to deal with venture capital and private equity when we spoke in 2015. You can listen to our podcast interview here.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where are you from? Where were you born and raised? What kind of background?

Christian Blume: I was born in Cologne, Germany. I moved over to the US when I was seven years old. I stayed for two years in Detroit. Then, I moved back to Germany again for a couple of years. When I was 15, I moved to London and did my International Baccalaureate over there. Then I moved back to Germany again and did my apprenticeship as a car mechanic. I then went to study Economics and went to an asset management company based out of Frankfurt, which was addressing high net worth individuals who needed investment opportunities. I was part of an advisory team there before I was tasked by my General Manager to move to the Internet in 1998. That was when everything got really important. Everybody tried to attach a .com to the ending of their company name and that made them an Internet company. I was asked to actually start a subsidiary focused on individuals who were looking at running their portfolio online and administrating it. This was when I actually got in touch with e-commerce with a company called Element Five, which was acquired in 2004 by Digital River out of the US. That gave us the opportunity to start Cleverbridge at that time.

Sramana Mitra: Can you put this in a chronological format in terms of what calendar year we are talking about?

Christian Blume: In 1998, I finished my thesis at the university. I then moved on into the asset management company and stayed there until 2000. In 2000, I started working as the lead for product management and business development at Element Five. Element Five got acquired in 2004 by Digital River. I was part of the integration team, so I moved from Germany over to Minneapolis and helped Digital River integrate the properties that they had acquired. This was also the time that I realized that there is an opportunity for some people to actually start a company that would help mitigate this unhealthy consolidation as I thought it was. That’s the reason why I terminated my engagement with Digital River and moved back to Germany. I took on the opportunity to see how I could start a company with some fellow colleagues.

Sramana Mitra: In 2005, you moved back to Germany. What were you thinking in terms of what your observations or analysis of the market was? Where did you think the opportunity was? What was the process of coming up with what would be that idea that you would be working on?

Christian Blume: I have to go back a little bit in history. Digital River has always been the 800-pound gorilla in the online software distribution market. They had a first mover advantage. If I’m not mistaken, they actually went public in 1998. They got a lot of money into their bank account, which gave them a lot of opportunity to acquire different properties out there that were doing or offering similar services as they were offering. Throughout the years since 1998 until 2004, I think they acquired at least 10 different shareware services that were offering to sell products over the Internet to an international community. In 2004, Element Five was one of the strongest competitors in the market. We were working with some really good brand names at that time. We also had the opportunity of having a couple of shots at some of the bigger clients that Digital River was also servicing. This was also the time that the acquisition happened. This really took, in my opinion, one of the last players off the market that was focusing on the niche e-commerce market of software products.

When I actually moved over to the US to help with the integration, it became obvious to me that literally a monopolyhad been established due to the fact that Digital River was capable of spending quite a lot of money in order to acquire different assets in the market. This was also where I said, “If there’s a monopoly, it means that there’s not really a lot of competition. This would be unhealthy.” This was the triggering piece where I said, “If this is truly unhealthy, then there is an opportunity for somebody else to start off in this market.” This is how the idea of Cleverbridge was born. This is right at the beginning of 2005 after I had left the company. I decided, “It’s probably better if I try and get the right people together and start something by myself as opposed to looking around for another job.”

Our conversation continues here.

This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping


. Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Why is Bootstrapping Important?
. How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently?
. Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings
. Excess is NOT Required for Success
. Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later
. Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies
. The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping
. Bootstrapping to Unicorns
. Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million
. Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue
. Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million
. Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy
. How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million
. Bootstrapping with a Paycheck
. How Algo.ai CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan
. Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses
. How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million
. Bootstrapping with Services
. How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million
. How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana
. How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million
. Death by Overfunding
. How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+
. How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck
. TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage
. The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance
. BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering
. Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania
. Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million
. SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida
. Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK
. Ownership Matters
. Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland
. Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado
. Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada
. Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia
. Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand
. PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina
. Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits
. Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M
. Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million?
. Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M
. Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success
. From a Small Town to $12 Million
. Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million
. Freightwise Bootstraps to $33 Million
. Bootstraps First to $5M ARR, Raises $10M Later
. Bootstraps in Europe, Raises Money and Goes Global in the US
. English Major Bootstraps a Tech Company
. Bootstraps with a Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee
. Queue-It Bootstraps from Denmark to the US
. Bootstrapping A Virtual Company To $25M
. ActiveCampaign CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $40M
. Alteryx Bootstrapped with Services to a Public Unicorn
. Inspyrus Bootstraps Using Services to an Awesome Business Model
. CEO Bootstraps Using Services to Millions from Russia
. Wiredrive CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $10M
. Scaling to Over $10M by Bootstrapping Using Services
. Bootstraps Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company
. ButcherBox CEO Bootstraps a Perishable Meat Business to Significant Scale
. Waveform CEO Bootstraps to $8M
. Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia
. From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup CEO
. Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Bootstraps to Exit
. BannerBuzz CEO Bootstraps to $35M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Scale
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Wisconsin
. Best Tactic for B2B Startups
. Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania
. Bootstrap First, Then Scale with VC Funds
. Bootstrap to +$10M First, Raise Money Later
. Madwire CEO Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later to $120M
. Bootstrap Using Services First, Raise Money Later
. Wonderful Bootstrap with a Paycheck Story
. RushOrderTees CEO Bootstraps to $23M
. Bootstrapping with Freemium and Free Trials to $13M
. Bootstrapping, Pivoting, Gaining Liquidity, Scaling to $100M+
. Bootstrapping with Affiliate Marketing
. Bootstrap to Exit, Bootstrap Again, Then Raise VC Money
. Bootstrapping Using Services to $12M
. Bootstrapping an Ad Tech Company from Paris
. Bootstrapping a 100% Virtual Company from Ireland
. MiQ CEO Bootstraps with Services from London
. Bootstrapping to $8M During the Covid Crisis
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace from Brazil
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Sweden
. What Should Startups Do To Raise Seed Capital in 2021?
. EdTech Unicorn Bootstrapped First from Canada
. Coalition Technologies Co-founders Bootstrap to $10M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to $10M from Atlanta
. Bootstrapping a SaaS Company with a Paycheck and Scaling
. Bootstrapping with Services to $20 Million
. Onit CEO Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later
. Pura Vida Founders Bootstrap to $130M
. Lawline CEO Bootstraps to $10M
. Bootstrapping a Technology Product Company from India
. Codesigned CEO Bootstraps Using Services
. Rukkus CEO Follows Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later Strategy
. Bootstrapping and Managing a Successful Pivot
. Ukrainian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to Global Scale
. Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Venture
. Bootstrapping Planon to $100M from The Netherlands
. Co-founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Indiana
. Bootstrapping an Education Company
. Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina
. Serial Bootstrapper Bootstraps to $27M
. Bootstrapping Identity Automation Using Services from Houston
. Bootstrapping ProjectManager.com from NZ, Scaling in the US
. Bootstrapping to $15M in Three Years
. Peruvian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to $200M
. JotForm Founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck
. WeGoLook was Bootstrapped from Oklahoma
. Bootstrapping AutoClaims Direct to $15M
. Meltwater Founder Bootstrapped to $200M
. Bootstrapping to $20M From London
. Synechron CEO Bootstrapped to $300M
. Unique Vintage was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck
. Toptal CEO Bootstraps a Virtual Company to Scale
. Bootstrapping to $45M from Chicago
. Vacasa Co-founder Bootstrapped to $100M
. Bootstrapping Infinitely Virtual All The Way
. Bootstrapping to Exit Discussion with David Lambert, Right Side Capital Management
. Bootstrapping a Healthcare IT Company to $100M
. Discussing Seed Rounds with Cindy Padnos, Illuminate Ventures
. Auction.com Bootstrapped to $180M in Online Real Estate
. Discussing the Silicon Valley – India Corridor with Naren Gupta of Nexus Venture Partners
. Bootstrapped with a Paycheck to Techstars and Acquisition
. Discussing People vs. Market with Jon Staenberg, Staenberg Venture Partners
. Bootstrapping a Highly Profitable Company in Social Media Marketing
. Discussing Investments in Indian Startups with Anand Daniel, Accel Partners
. Bootstrapping an Evergreen Business from Oregon
. Discussing Startups in Africa with Osayi Igharo, Ripple VC
. Investing in Concept Stage Startups with Matt Holleran, Cloud Apps Capital Partners
. Serial Entrepreneur Bootstrapped Two Startups to Huge Revenue
. Discussing Investment Strategy With Deepak Jeevankumar, Dell Technologies Capital
. Bootstrapping Hotelplanner.com to $20M with Intelligent Financial Engineering
. Discussing Investing Across Sectors in India with Swapna Gupta, Qualcomm Ventures
. Bootstrapping Cleverbridge From Germany
. Discussing Open Opportunities with Hemant Mohapatra, Lightspeed Venture Partners
. Bootstrapping E-commerce Company Fun.com
. Discussing Seed Rounds with Bruce Cleveland, Wildcat Venture Partners
. From Friends and Family Funding to $30M Exit
. Discussing the Evolution of the Indian Startup Industry with Sasha Mirchandani, Kae Capital
. Lean Company Bootstraps to $7M
. Saatva Co-founder Bootstrapped a $25M E-Commerce Company
. Looking at Terms with Heidi Roizen of Threshold Ventures
. ADDA Co-founder CEO Bootstrapped with a Paycheck in India
. Duda Co-founders Bootstrap with Paychecks
. The Importance of Building Value with Shomit Ghose, Onset Ventures
. Get Real Health Founder Bootstrapped Using Services
. Bootstrapping Unique Vintage Using a Paycheck
. Discussing E-commerce Startup Trends with Daniel Gulati, Forecast Fund
. Bootstrapping a Digital Startup with a Paycheck
. Discussing Seed Stages with Amir Banifatemi of K5 Ventures
. Bootstrapping Avelead Using Services from Atlanta
. Founder Bootstrapped a Big Data Company Using Services
. Discussing Future Unicorns with Warren Weiss, Foundation Capital
. Founder Bootstrapped Axosoft with a Paycheck
. Raised a Series A with $10 Million in the Bank
. Discussing Unicorn Investments with Ravi Mohan of Shasta Ventures
. Bootstrapping a $7M Company in Houston
. A View into Pre-Seed Funding with Gaurav Jain, Afore Capital
. Bootstrapping to $13M in Niche E-commerce
. Discussing European Startup Funding with Alastair Mitchell, EQT Ventures
. Founder Bootstrapped Category Leading E-commerce Company Shoplet
. Discussing Trends With Yanev Suissa, SineWave Ventures
. Founder Mark Organ Bootstrapped Eloqua and Crowdfunded Influitive
. Sourcing Global Ventures with Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad

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