kodehyve, Wagmi GP, LOA... These are the names of companies and projects that are making a name for themselves in PropTech, FinTech and the cultural scene. Behind them, one person: Felix Hemmerling, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, versatile, determined, independent and visionary, with six entrepreneurial adventures under his belt.
The first meeting was initially scheduled to take place in his office in the station district, but it was finally at Belval, in Esch-sur-Alzette, that we met Felix Hemmerling for the first time.
The 27-year-old multi-entrepreneur is, among other things, one of the co-founders of Luxembourg Open Air (LOA), one of the country's most renowned electronic music festivals.
On this particular day, the festival crew and its partners are busy on the Place de l'Académie in Belval, setting up the infrastructure to welcome DJs and festival-goers.
Employees from nearby businesses and students from the University have deserted the site, pushed aside by forklifts, control trucks and mobile cranes working in all directions, under the supervision of members of the organising team who move from one corner of the site to another on electric scooters. Among them, Felix Hemmerling is barely distinguishable, as he is also wearing a white t-shirt stamped "LOA" on the front and "crew" on the back.
We are meeting him at Snooze, the festival's HQ. Barely seated, the walkie-talkie attached to his belt is still crackling. He turns it off.
Despite the hustle and bustle of the LOA organisation, the discussion turns to kodehyve, the start-up he co-founded in May 2020 with his partner Julien Casse. From the outset, he mentions the pronunciation of the company's name. "We've heard it all before. It's true that it's difficult to pronounce, but it makes it easier for people to remember us."
kodehyve's core business, meanwhile, lends itself to no confusion: "We're a Prop/ConTech, and our mission is to improve the management of new real estate development projects, particularly sales in future state of completion." To this end, the start-up has created its flagship product, kodehyve OS, an operating system designed to support property developers and real estate funds at every stage of their project, from land acquisition to key handover, including commercialisation, feasibility study and construction phases. But that's not all. "We have developed other platforms, such as an electronic signature solution dedicated to real estate agencies and a compliance platform in partnership with the law firm Kleyr Grasso," adds the co-founder.
The idea for kodehyve grew out of personal challenges encountered by Felix Hemmerling and his partner. In 2018, during his first real estate acquisition, he claims to have been disappointed by the user experience, far from the practices he had observed a little earlier when residing in Singapore. Later, when launching a family real estate project, he again found that developers lacked the tools to offer investors an optimal experience.
Everyday pragmatism as inspiration
Since its creation, kodehyve has been committed to improving the real estate industry processes.
Even so, "there's still a lot to be done in this area", notes the proptech CEO, both in terms of software and hardware, such as the Internet of Things and intelligent homes. Eco-responsibility of buildings is another important area to develop, he adds. With this in mind, kodehyve is also working on ESG reporting software solutions for real estate players.
By 2024, real estate developers will have to be able to provide reports on CO2 emissions and the impact of their construction projects."
Undeniably, Felix Hemmerling takes a pragmatic approach to everything he does. My personal experiences guide my professional life," he says, "aiming to find solutions to everyday challenges. I could have created a start-up in another sector if I had encountered similar problems elsewhere."
However, this way of inspiring the 27-year-old's entrepreneurial adventures is nothing new. In January 2017, he used this same approach to create his first start-up, Univize, a platform that enables high school students to connect with university students to exchange information about their experiences and universities. The idea came to him when he was looking for information about Singapore Management University (SMU), where he planned to pursue his bachelor's degree after a spell at University College Dublin (UCD). He realised how much easier it would have been to talk to local students from a distance.
A citizen of the world, rooted in Luxembourg
Felix Hemmerling's academic background, which includes university experiences in Ireland and Singapore, gives him an international aura. As a sign of this, he can easily switch from French to Luxembourgish, English or German, depending on the origin of his interlocutors.
Yet it was in his native Luxembourg that Felix Hemmerling co-founded kodehyve. "Luxembourg is an ideal market in which to set up a business, because real estate plays such an important role. The country's real estate culture is characterised by the accessibility of the market to a large number of people. This characteristic generates dynamism and attractive financial returns". And that's not to mention that, "as a Luxembourgian and connoisseur of the local ecosystem, this makes it much easier to set up the network".
However, kodehyve does not deny its international scope. Although based in Luxembourg, the majority of its customers have a strong presence abroad, notably in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Portugal.
For the time being, kodehyve's CEO says he is focusing primarily on business development in Europe, while having "interesting discussions" with players in Hong Kong and Singapore. "Being a small structure, we have to proceed step by step to determine our target markets."
The location in Luxembourg doesn't prevent the team of some twenty associates from collaborating from a variety of locations. "Our culture is open, hybrid, and we adopt a semi-distant, semi-presence-based way of working, which means I'm often active internationally."
This willingness to open up to the world does question the Luxembourgish roots desired by the company's founders. Our structure is currently based in Luxembourg and will remain there," stresses its CEO. At this stage, we have no plans to change this aspect, but we will probably add other entities and geographical locations in the future."
Success is a collective achievement
In January 2023, just three years after its creation, kodehyve was featured in an article entitled "Top 10 super-promising startups from Luxembourg to follow in 2023" by the online media EU-Startups.
Recognition for the young company, three months after Paperjam published its ranking of 100 tech ambassadors in Luxembourg, including Felix Hemmerling in the Start-upper category. An exposure that doesn't make him feel very comfortable.
He confides: "I'm a very discreet person in my private life, and I'm not looking to find myself in a list like Forbes' 30 Under 30." He does, however, admit the usefulness of such distinctions. "I always find it nice when an ecosystem recognises what I do in the industry, but the greatest pleasure is to be recognised for what we do together in our various companies."
For Felix Hemmerling, "success is personal and relative", and he advocates a more collective approach to the concept. "I'm aware of the companies we've created and the teams we've built up. For us, it's a huge success, visible when we come together as a team. Every step is a success, because even in the face of challenges, obstacles and adversity, we manage to produce something. That's how we consider success."
kodehyve's rapid growth illustrates this vision of success. In three years, the start-up has grown from two people to 20. "This is the result of a lot of invested efforts and numerous customer requests to subscribe to our platform, requiring even more staff to support this growth."
In November 2022, kodehyve revealed that its customer portfolio had grown sixfold since its inception.
This phenomenon was catalysed in particular by successive lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted developers to use digital tools to coordinate their projects remotely. As a result, kodehyve benefited from an initial fundraising of one million euros in June 2021, as well as 150,000 euros in funding from the Ministry of the Economy, followed by a second fundraising of 2.6 million euros in November 2022, bringing the total capital raised to almost 3.8 million euros.
Independence comes at a cost
Although kodehyve is developing rapidly, Felix Hemmerling is taking a long-term view of his entrepreneurial endeavours. Among those involved in the first fund-raising round was Frank Veyder, investor and entrepreneur. Felix Hemmerling first met him while studying in Singapore. "I met him before I launched Univize, my first start-up, and he followed its progress without ever investing. After I closed that company, I continued to share my journey with him, and he became my mentor, before finally investing. Indeed, someone like Frank brings in other investors."
Laurent Schonckert, CEO of Cactus, is also an early investor in kodehyve's capital and has contributed to the company's evolution. "I didn't know Laurent at first. I knew he knew other confirmed investors. I called him and he invited me to meet him."
The start-up currently has 19 investors from Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Singapore and Japan. None of them are customers of the company. "It's all about preserving trust in a network-based real estate market. We want to be an independent player that works closely with its customers without conflicts of interest." This entrepreneurial rigour is very important to Felix Hemmerling. "It's also linked to the risk of favouring developments for a certain developer for financial or respect reasons, which might not lead further in our development."
Independence comes at a cost. Turning down an investment offer is a situation kodehyve's founders have already experienced. "When we first raised funds, a group of investors was ready to provide us with a million euros. However, they wanted to cut certain budgets dedicated to employee well-being and plants, as well as reducing salaries. Following this meeting, we decided not to work with them."
The "Law of Attraction", a healthy approach to business
This sound approach to business is also reflected in the way Felix Hemmerling chooses his team members. He looks for people with varied backgrounds and profiles. "I'm opposed to the idea of simply choosing people who look like you. It's highly disadvantageous to have only people who think like you, because it doesn't evolve your mind, your opinions, and you don't get another point of view on problems and challenges," he stresses.
Candidates' skills are important, but the corporate culture is paramount. He doesn't hesitate to evoke the "law of attraction": "You attract what you reflect. In this way, you attract people who share the same passion as you and who want to evolve in an environment similar to yours." To identify profiles that match this mindset, he takes part in a "culture check", an open interview to assess candidates' values. "Most fail at this stage." A company's mission can evolve over time. "Skills can be acquired; a culture cannot." That's why he mainly recruits candidates who buy into the company's culture and are capable of acquiring skills along the way.
"In everything I do, I pay particular attention to the quality of relationships." This also applies to attracting potential customers. "If we notice that a relationship with a customer is not adequate, whether because it's difficult or because it doesn't align with our vision, we don't hesitate to refuse a collaboration." This approach is designed to protect the company's employees and its founders. Based on the "Law of Attraction", Felix Hemmerling learned this business principle by practising triathlon for 12 years. "It taught me to work over the long term to achieve a goal. You prepare for 9 or 12 months for a triathlon.
There are many occasions when you have to be able to say 'no? For example, if you don't go out clubbing on Friday night because you have a 7 a.m. training session on Saturday morning and a race on Sunday, you've already set yourself apart from your peers. With all these choices, you attract a different kind of person into your life." And, as a result, "it implies a rigorous lifestyle".
Being demanding in the choice of those around you protects integrity, "an increasingly generational issue”, in the eyes of the young entrepreneur. This encompasses not only the company's assets, but also its philosophy, its vision, and the protection of its employees.
Independence through decentralised finance
Felix Hemmerling's radicalism and independence of opinion also extends to the management of his wealth, which is essentially made up of digital assets. "It's my money and I manage it the way I want." He invites the public to question the role of banks and put more trust in decentralised finance. So it's no surprise to see his name associated with the capital of Wagmi GP, a self-directed fund manager whose mission is to guide investors through the decentralised financial ecosystem. Wagmi GP invests in crypto assets such as ethereum, stablecoins and many others, with very few centralised intermediaries. "We manage our assets ourselves on cold wallets." The Wagmi GP adventure began in February 2022, when the capital was opened up to family and friends. Today, the investment vehicle includes private and corporate investors, all professional investors, with a minimum entry ticket of 225,000 euros. "We want to go further with institutions such as family offices or insurance companies."
Wagmi GP is currently in the process of obtaining an AIFM licence from the CSSF. Alongside his six partners in this company, Felix Hemmerling plays the role of fund manager, managing investments, assets, inflows and outflows, and communication. In this respect, he makes a convincing argument: "In the first six months, we were between 20% and 25% in performance."
Beyond his vision, this entrepreneur, who doesn't mind working 15-hour days, doesn't hesitate to get his hands dirty. It's obvious when you see him in action. We caught up with him on the opening night of LOA.
In charge of overseeing the event's security, headphones on, he takes the time to explore every nook and cranny of the site, chatting with people, all the while keeping an eye on the numbers.
"Many tickets have already been sold this Friday morning; between 5,000 and 6,000 participants are expected in the evening, and up to 7,000 tomorrow", he confides to us as we make our way through the crowd.
A businessman first and foremost, he knows exactly when to close the site, a little after midnight, when sales of consumer products no longer generate turnover.
A keen "explorer of new fields" and "fascinated by the idea of creating something out of nothing and seeing the positive impact on people", he no doubt already has a few Excel file ideas in his head, representing potential business plans. "I have a lot of Excel files that remain Excel files," he admits, "because I don't embark on a project if I'm not an expert in that subject or have no connection with the ecosystem concerned."
Journalist: Benoît Theunissen
Credits: Maison Moderne