March 9, 2022

Meet the owner: Alexander Eser

Meet the owner: Alexander Eser
Alexander Eser talks about bootstrapping Global Commerce Media, turning down acquisition offers, buying SaaS businesses, focusing on automation, Constellation Software and more.

Hi Alex, give us a quick introduction of yourself!

Sure! I think in all my social bios I describe myself as "founder & flaneur" and that sums it up pretty much. I love building businesses and thinking about them on long walks.

I am currently living in Berlin (Germany), but the past 5 years have been a bit of a journey. I lived in several cities and stayed in Spain for a total of 3 years. Our companies were always "remote first", even before it was cool. So that was never an issue. 

I came back to Germany because if you are 5 years into the "remote working thing", then you actually want some stability in your life and I also felt that I need a stable environment to really scale everything we do.

Besides business I love to do sports (gym, snowboarding, running), reading (history, economics, and everything Thaleb) and probably I spend far too much time in the sauna contemplating about life.

What is Global Commerce Media and how did you come up with the idea?

GCM is a digital native online publisher. In total we run a portfolio of roughly 100 websites serving our users product reviews, price comparisons and discovery engines in 7 languages and 9 countries. On top of that we also help traditional publishers to become more digital and work with some big media houses on their digital offerings.

Next to our core business we also made some investments in other companies and have stakes in DTC E-Com Brands & some smaller SaaS ventures which we support with funding & marketing operations. Basically we build up a lot of traffic through SEO to get CACs down.

You founded the business in 2016 right out of university. What inspired you to dive straight into entrepreneurship as opposed to joining another company?

I studied finance & economics and the only other option would have been the classical investment banking to private equity path. I realized that I am too much of a "free spirit" for functioning well in an environment with a given set of rules. I can do it, sure.

But I knew that my superpower was rather thinking outside the box. If you hand me over a rulebook and tell me to do things a certain way, my brain automatically tries to do the opposite. I realized that this is a great toolset for entrepreneurship and I followed my instincts. 

I am glad I did! It is just the greatest feeling if you come up with something and it works as you initially have planned.

Global Commerce Media is a bootstrapped business. What was a key driver for you to scale without external capital?

Automation & systematizing everything you do. Luckily that is my favourite part about business. I never think of doing something once, but I try to come up with solutions that can be repeated a million times if need be. 

Limited resources make you really creative when solving problems. To be honest I never understood why the start-up media environment is so focused on companies funded by millions of dollars. That is basically Latin for "you are a great manager outsourcing to overpriced agencies". 

Nowadays I would definitely consider taking on capital for the right business model. However I think starting out as an entrepreneur bootstrapping makes so much more sense when you "learn the ropes”. Being actually in the boiler room where the work happens is very important to understand how a business works.  

Alexander Eser, founder and investor

You don’t come from a traditional programming background. How did you develop your technical skills along the way of building your business?

Nowadays I would describe myself as a "hacker". If any professional developer would see my Python scripts, I would definitely be embarrassed. However I can make stuff work and that is what counts.

For me programming is a superpower that saves you a lot of time. I started programming in university and got originally into it due to some statistics courses but quickly found out how useful it was. Basically Excel on steroids. So I read many books, took several online tutorials and eventually just started coding little programs and as with learning any other language you get better at it when you practice.

Where do you see the business in 2 years time?

We focused a lot on automatization in the past year. Unfortunately our revenues are driven by Google traffic and let's be honest Google is a bitch. They claim that they send more traffic to publishers every year, which is generally true. But what is also true is that Google keeps more and more traffic on commercial keywords.

Hence we work in an environment where our overlord takes an additional 2% toll every year, as Google expands their ads offerings.

In order to get off that we are working on products that are subscription based and are also buying products & SaaS tools that have a recurring component.

With Global Commerce Media’s success, you have had a few acquisition offers on the table. What made you decide to turn them down and continue running the business?

That is correct. We contemplated a lot whether it makes sense to sell, stay on for a while and then start over from scratch with all the knowledge we have now.

But we decided against it, because at the end of the day we found ourselves in an awesome situation: 3 best friends owning 100% of a business that works and is profitable. Okay, what do you want more really?

This freedom now gives us the ability to focus our efforts on buying profitable assets and scale them with our own money. This made a lot of sense to us. Additionally we can fund acquisitions with debt rather than equity which protects our stakes.

Your plan is to start buying small internet businesses under one umbrella. Tell us more about the strategy behind that idea.

As described above, our rationale is that it is easier to scale something that works than creating something from scratch. Product market fit is not as easy as it seems. However even if you have reached product market fit, there are a million reasons why a company does not work out like business model fatigue, founder divorce, scaling problems, company owners looking for successors, problems with investors or the company raised too much money and it turns out that their target market does not support their initial hypothesis.

In those circumstances we want to be the preferred exit channel for SaaS founders. I think our big differentiator is that we are operators ourselves. In a best case scenario we want to hold the assets we buy forever, as we are not in the classical private equity and asset flipping game.

For that matter we also had situations in the past where a founder did not want to sell 100% of the business but stood on as technical lead and we worked together on the scale of the company. These are also situations that are interesting to us.

If you want to learn more about this part of our business we set up a dedicated brand called VINSTER.

What kind of investment opportunities do you look for?

You can check out our whole investment thesis and investment criteria on our site. But basically we are looking for B2B software that is "self serviced" and does not need a lot of customer attention. Even though it sounds counterintuitive that such a product even exists, you would be surprised how many small tools are out there that fit that criteria.

At the end of the day we want to leverage our online marketing muscle and for that we need a product that does not need a lengthy explanation until you can use it properly.

Nonetheless what we are actually looking for are great founders with unique stories. We know from first-hand experience that entrepreneurship is messy and at times ugly and just tough. We think we can add a human touch as operators drafting deals that benefit everybody.

Constellation Software is a big inspiration to you. Tell us why.

When I read about Constellation Software for the first time I was intrigued by the concept of permanent equity. I never thought of it before because VCs, PEs and investment companies in general think in "fund life cycles" that you build and fund a company for a certain timeframe and get some sort of liquidity at the end of the investment. But that's actually not that smart as true wealth stems from compounding profits and as an operator you have the luxury to do just that.

Anything you would like to add?

If you are a SaaS founder and want to move on to your next project because of whatever reason be sure to get in touch with us. You can hit me up on Twitter or via email: ae[@]vinster{.}co.

If you want to partner up on a SaaS product, please also get in touch.