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Green Startups and the Future of Europe’s Digital Revolution | Winner German Startup Awards



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This blog post first appeared first on old medium publication (https://medium.com/startuprad-io), and was moved to this blog with the relaunch of our website in summer 2024.

Executive Summary


In this episode of Startuprad.io, host Jörn “Joe” Menninger interviews Sebastian Matthes, editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt and winner of the Special Award at the German Startup Awards 2023. Matthes shares insights on the digital transformation of Handelsblatt, emphasizing the shift from print to digital and the importance of a subscription-first business model. The discussion covers trends in journalism, digital content strategies, and the future of the German startup scene. Matthes also reflects on green startups, the potential for Europe in the next phase of digitization, and the challenges of government policies in Germany. The episode concludes with reflections on the hype cycle for new trends and the changing landscape of media and startups.

Running the German Edition of HuffPost: “And one day, [Arianna Huffington] she called and asked if I could imagine to run the German edition of HuffPost. And it was not a very difficult decision for me because the first time Ever I could really show that I’m not only reporting on what’s going on in, the tech and especially media. Well, I could really show and and try out something new, and that was something I really wanted to do.”— Sebastian Matthes

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The Future of Content Creation: “The whole environment, the way people are using, content and, the changing way they read is shifting so quickly that we have to adapt and adapt and adapt every year.— Sebastian Matthes

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The Evolution of Content Business Models: “The most important question is not what do we as editors think? The most important question is what questions do our readers have for us every day, each hour?”— Sebastian Matthes

German Startup Awards 2023


This interview is in media partnership with the German startup association (Bundesverband Deutscher Startups https://deutschestartups.org/). Their German Startup Awards #GSA23 honor each year outstanding female and male founders and investors in special categories. You can learn more about the winners in our interview and on this website: https://germanstartupawards.de/rueckblick/rueckblick-2022

We already covered most winners of the #GSA21 and #GSA22


Interviews Winners 2021



Interviews Winners 2022



Questions Discussed in the Interview

  1. In the podcast, Sebastian Matthes discussed the transition from a print-focused to a digital-first model for Handelsblatt. What were the key challenges in making this shift, and how did the company overcome them?

  2. Sebastian Matthes mentioned the need to understand readers’ interests and questions when shaping content strategies. How does Handelsblatt gather and analyze this data to inform their editorial decisions?

  3. Matthes discussed the changing landscape of journalism financing models, emphasizing the shift towards digital subscriptions and memberships. How have these new models impacted the way content is produced and distributed at Handelsblatt?

  4. Sebastian Matthes talked about the potential for Europe to lead the next digital revolution. How does he see European startups and companies contributing to this vision, and what are the key decision points for success?

  5. During the conversation, Matthes compared Germany’s rule-based approach to energy disruption with the United States’ more free approach. How does this difference impact the growth of green startups in these regions, and what can each learn from the other?

  6. According to Sebastian Matthes, Germany’s government approach complicates decisions and hinders the green boom promised. What specific challenges does he believe this approach presents for green startups, and what are his suggestions for overcoming them?

  7. Matthes expressed his skepticism about the current approach but sees potential for Europe to develop innovative green solutions due to its talented scientists and engineers. What specific areas of green innovation does he believe Europe is well-positioned to lead in?

  8. The discussion touched on the hype cycle for new trends. How does Matthes see the potential for green startups in Europe to go through a similar hype cycle as blockchain startups, and what lessons can be learned from previous cycles?

  9. Sebastian Matthes reflected on the impact of the closure of Financial Times Deutschland and its role in transforming business journalism in Germany. How did this closure influence journalism and the startup scene in Germany, and what insights can be derived from this experience?

  10. Matthes mentioned the continuous need to adapt to changing reader behaviors. How does Handelsblatt stay agile in responding to these changes, and what strategies do they employ to ensure they remain relevant to their audience?


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The Guest


Sebastian Matthes, a prominent figure in the German media landscape, boasts an impressive career in business journalism and digital transformation. As the Editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt, a leading daily business newspaper in Germany, Matthes has been at the forefront of driving digital change within the organization. With a background that includes stints at renowned news outlets such as Financial Times, Bild, WeltN24, and German Business Week, as well as being the 1st Editor in Chief at the German edition of the Huffington Post, Matthes has garnered a wealth of experience and knowledge in the field. His deep understanding of the evolving media industry and the pivotal role of digital technology in shaping its future makes him a key thought leader in the realm of business journalism and digital transformation.


Sebastian Matthes’ expertise not only spans journalism but also extends to leadership roles in digital strategy and transformation. His journey from leading publications to spearheading digital transformation at Handelsblatt Media Group underscores his dedication to shaping the future of journalism in the digital age. Having navigated the shift from print to digital at Handelsblatt and winning accolades for his work, Matthes brings valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of transitioning traditional media organizations into sustainable digital business models. His extensive experience, strategic vision, and passion for digital journalism make him a compelling voice in discussions about the evolution of media, the impact of digital technologies on journalism, and the future of sustainable business models in the media industry.


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The Interviewer

This interview was conducted by Jörn “Joe” Menninger, startup scout, founder, and host of Startuprad.io. Reach out to him:


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Automated Transcript

Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:00:00]:


Hello, and welcome everybody. This is Joe from startupgrade. Io, your startup podcast and YouTube blog from the German speaking area, as well as founder and host of Startup. Radio, the world’s number one tech entrepreneurship radio. Today, I do have a special guest here with me, winner of the special award for the German startup awards 2023. Hey, Sebastian. Welcome to my show.


Sebastian Matthes [00:00:24]:


Ciao, thank you very much for having me.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:00:27]:


It is a pleasure to have you here. And we have to tell that there are many, many things that are special about having you in my show. And the, the inflection point is you having won the special award at the German startup awards. Congratulations for that, by the way.


Sebastian Matthes [00:00:45]:


Thank you very much.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:00:47]:


You are not only a journalist, you are editor in chief. Is this the right title in English?


Sebastian Matthes [00:00:54]:



Yes. You can say so.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:00:56]:


The editor in chief of Handelsblatt is something we quote on a regular basis in our news. And it’s one of the most important, I would say, daily business newspapers in Germany. Will you agree?


Sebastian Matthes [00:01:08]:


Yes. I think it’s the only, daily business paper we have in Germany right now. We have quite a few, blogs and big sites like Bloomberg and Feet, But they don’t really, cover German, business like we do on a daily basis. So you can say, it’s the only daily this organization covering economics and business.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:01:29]:


That’s interesting because that’s also part of where we are making our living. So, basically, We go underneath what the big guys are covering and everybody wants to get a deeper look inside the startup world. That is basically where they find in English us and in German they would rely on you. When when we’ve been talking before, One of my professors at universities once said that we learn 20% of what we need from business from university, 40% from the job, and another 40% from reading publications like at the time he quoted Financial Times Deutschland, which is not with us anymore. Would you agree that you also have not only duty to inform, but also to educate your readers.


Sebastian Matthes [00:02:15]:


Yeah. That’s a great way to put it, I would say. Look. What we do is, we we we cover, what’s going on in the business world, like, 247, all around the world. But, also, what we see in Germany is that the general understanding on what’s actually happening in the business world and how the economy really works. The the general understanding is not that good over the whole society. So we understand ourselves definitely as a publication trying to educate and to inform. And that’s why we don’t only publish a newspaper.


Sebastian Matthes [00:02:53]:


We we have a much bigger site. 85% of our subscribers are digital already. But also and that’s very important. We do have a lot of conferences and bigger and smaller, ways to get together around certain topics. And this can be, general questions around economy, but also how companies can cope with the challenges, they see right now concerning AI. So, yes, that’s definitely part of our job.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:03:22]:


And I have to tell that in the conferences, you always have the big guys. You science and people from the US like, federal reserve. You have chancellors here, at the events and so on and so forth. They’re really really high level. But before we get into all of that, let’s talk a little bit about your life because I’ve been looking through your LinkedIn profile. By the way, everybody would like learn more. You can get down here in the show notes. And, of course, we linked your LinkedIn profile.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:03:50]:


And I found you one of the very few guests that I have who have their own Wikipedia article. Very important. You you


Sebastian Matthes [00:03:58]:


With a with a very, very old picture. I don’t know who who who pulled this picture, But it’s like 15 years old when I had a lot more hair right than I do right now.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:04:08]:


I have 2 boys. I run my own business. You see the hair is Spinning Out as well. So don’t worry about that. Do you you had many stops in news outlets in Germany. And that is also known to international audiences. Bild, Welt, n24. Svelte is is is is a big newspaper.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:04:28]:


And n24 is a news broadcaster TV station they bought, Deutsche Zeitung, Financial Times Spiegel. And for a long time, you have been at the German Business Week, Birtschaftswocher. And what I found most Interesting is you have been the 1st editor in chief at the Huffington Post here in Germany, at the introduction of the German version. Can you run us through a little bit all the stuff that you’ve been doing there? Yes. I would


Sebastian Matthes [00:05:00]:


love to. So, quite a few, stops in my career you mentioned were, internships at the beginning of my career. So that was, the idea was to get a broad understanding how the different publications work and which way I will Go eventually. But, I must say I started with business journalism, and I ended up in business journalism. I tried everything else, but It turned out that this would is the best thing for myself. So what what happened then was, during university, I was studying economics and politics. I started working for the German edition of the Financial Times, which was a fantastic, startup project trying something completely new, a more newsy kind of business journalism in Germany. So that was the the idea by that time.


Sebastian Matthes [00:05:50]:


They had great, great writers and, and great editor and, fantastic team. That was, my way into business journalism. And, I learned a lot during that time because, it was a very young, very small team. And the as a student, I I worked late shifts there, but I could, work like all the others editors did as well. I had a a a great that was a great way to learn how the business really works. And, after that, I went to a journalism school. It’s the what’s called the, Holzsprink School For Business Journalism, which is actually the, traineeship from, our publishing group. And, because my idea was not only to stay there in daily business journalism, I wanted, more I wanted to learn how to do investigative reporting, how to do magazine reporting, And I needed a traineeship to to learn all that.


Sebastian Matthes [00:06:54]:


And that’s why I went, first time to Dusseldorf. That was around 2005. Had a a good one and a half years doing all that and then got the job at. And that was very interesting because, the editor by that time was very interested in Asia. He was, he was an expert in everything that happened in China. But I don’t know if everybody remembers. That was 2005 When the whole world were discussing whether China or India will take the play the big role in future, It was it was not as clear as it is today that it’s China. So and, during university, I, wrote my thesis, for 6 months in India.


Sebastian Matthes [00:07:39]:


So I knew quite a bit about the country. And so he hired me and said, in one and a half years, you are going to India as a correspondent, and and you will stay there for a couple of years and report what’s going on in India. So, I went to Wirtschhaus Wochel, but then anymore. So, there was no correspondent job for me anymore. And so so from there, I got an offer going back to Financial Times, Deutschland, which was a fantastic, opportunity. But then I got my 1st leading role as an, editor for the science and technology part of the Schafteslacher. And during that time, I started more and more covering The startup scene, the text scene that came out of the ashes after everything went down the toilet, after the .com bubble burst. And around 2006, 2007, I started covering what came new, the new generation of founders.


Sebastian Matthes [00:08:50]:


And that put me in touch with all these, great minds that are the the most important figures of the German startup scene today. So that was basically the start of my career. I was I was leading this part of the publication for almost 8 years. And then you mentioned Huffington Post. Something very interesting happened. Because all my life, I was interested in media innovation, in how, our industry is changing. And one day, I met Arianna Huffington, this, bigger than lifetime figure for some people, on a conference. And we stayed in touch.


Sebastian Matthes [00:09:36]:


And one day, she called and asked if I could imagine to run the German edition of HuffPost. And it was not a very difficult decision for me because the first time Ever I could really show that I’m not only reporting on what’s going on in, the tech and especially media Well, I could really show and and tries out something new, and that was something I I really wanted to do. And that’s what we tried for, five and a half years, in Munich. It was a, cooperation together with BORDER. And it was a fantastic time. I learned everything about digital journalism and, was working together closely with the colleagues in New York. Also, got in to in touch with all the other outlets like Axios and, Politico and these Digital Pureplay as you know today. Because that was the time when everybody said, okay, there something new is happening and something, A very interesting, will take place in our industry.


Sebastian Matthes [00:10:43]:


So, it was this, this boom time of new digital journalism, which ended. And we can maybe discuss later why it did SOW. But, for me, it was the best time to learn everything about, what you need to know in digital journalism.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:11:02]:


We may add for our audience, because a lot of people are listening to this outside of Germany, that and Holzsprink are both media houses, like large publishing houses owning a lot of a lot of different media outlets. And Holzprint is also as HV Capital, VC investor that we quote from time to time. It but it feels like they they are doing less of investment here.


Sebastian Matthes [00:11:27]:


And it’s also, you know, it’s very interesting. Both are, family run business. This is something you need to know about the German media scene that, the big, the big, the media organizations are basically all family run.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:11:43]:


Mhmm. Yeah. That that gives them some continuity, but also, the influence of the family. Right?


Sebastian Matthes [00:11:51]:


I don’t know if, I can’t say so for us. So it give, definitely, our, publisher, Dieter van Holstbank, has, a very long view, on what’s happening in our industry. And he’s investing a lot because he truly believes that media is the basis for everything we have in our democracy. But I wouldn’t say there’s influence if you say so because, he’s a very traditional publisher. And he says, Look. I’m, organizing, the best framework for you to do the best journalism, But there would be never influence on you should cover that or you should cover this in a different way. And this is this will be dangerous. And I’m very happy that, in our group, we have never seen that.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:12:44]:


Mhmm. Before we get into, what you’re doing at Handelsbank, for which you won the award and which frequently makes me and Chris quote you guys in our news. You’ve been playing with new radio stations in the 19 nineties with private radio. There was also something very digital for you?


Sebastian Matthes [00:13:05]:


Look, the the funny thing about myself is that I made, my hobby, my profession. So during I was young, my plan was to become musician, and I played the violin a lot and did had some successes also in competition and so on. And my hobby was always to write a little bit for regional newspapers and also to follow what’s really happening in the media world. And the nineties were Where an interesting time because that that was the era where new radio stations came up, private radio stations, new TV stations came up, And they had big ideas, great plans. I remember, when the first group tried to build something like a German Speaking CNN. And I found that very interesting. I and I always try to follow what the strategies would be, what the ideas and the business models would be, and also how these new digital publication digital, it it they were not digital, but, you know, these new broadcasts would change the whole media scene that have been very traditional print. You had small, but a number of very important publications.


Sebastian Matthes [00:14:26]:


And that changed during the nineties. And they had big ideas, but also big

failures. I think that’s normal in such a time of boom and bust.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:14:37]:


What what really saddened me was, when the Financial Times Germany, Financial Times Deutschland was shut down. Because that was, like, the only regular newspaper I ever subscribed to and that I actually read. So we


Sebastian Matthes [00:14:52]:


do have to talk about the subscription for Handelsblatt. But, but, yes, I was very sad as well. Look. It was the 1st editorial team I worked for for a couple of years. So for me, it was also a journalistic home for quite some time. Mhmm. And the Financial Times Deutschland had a very important role to play for all media houses in Germany because what they brought in was this very newsy investigative journalism, after, like, traditional newspapers until then mostly reported what companies were saying, what, they heard on press conferences and so on. And they a lot of them didn’t have this approach to really find out something new, to to to write what’s happening behind the scenes, to ask the really hard questions.


Sebastian Matthes [00:15:45]:


And, during that Time. It changed. It was not only the financial times, the whole culture changed in the media scene, but the financial times did this disruption for business journalism in Germany. So you can say that they they were playing a very important role, and they had some of the brightest minds in German journalism by that time. And you you find them now all over the place. Stefan Kleusman, the former editor in chief. He was after that editor of Stern and later, manager Margarit Sine and and and then Spiegel. So And a lot of these journalists from Financial Times Deutschland really, moved the whole Media Scene in Germany in the years after that.

Sebastian Matthes [00:16:33]:

So the publication went away, but the culture stayed. And I think that’s a great thing.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:16:38]:


Mhmm. For me, personally, it was not only that, but also that it basically moved the tone of the article from really, the, the, the formal level in which are books, school books written down to really spoken language.


Sebastian Matthes [00:16:57]:


That


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:16:57]:


was also something that really attracted me. And actually, I’m I’m born in Mainz and raised there. And the I’m so so much not a football fan like, Bundesliga and so on and so forth. I only realized that, Mainz 9 Funf, the soccer, the football club of the city of Mainz got into Bundesliga because I read it by accident in Financial Times. I vividly remember that. Okay. And at one point you have been oh, before we get into that, He said, you’ve been, writing your final pieces in India. How spicy can you eat?


Sebastian Matthes [00:17:37]:


Oh, I can eat very spicy because you must know that half of my family is Indian now because my wife is British Indian. And, So I I got used to very spicy food, and I liked it before also. So, yes, I’m I’m I’m ready to to do any competition. Maybe not on a podcast though.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:18:01]:


No need to do that. And, you then moved into your position at Handelsblatt in 2018. Can you take us through your journey, what you did there? And also I want to mention that 2022, you won the award for the best editor in chief in your short.


Sebastian Matthes [00:18:21]:


Yeah. That was a a great honor. And, I don’t know how I deserved it. So you you might ask the Stuary, but I was very happy to be named the best editor that year. Yeah. So 2018, when when we Think about, Handelsblatt. I I was in a in a situation in Munich that with HuffPost, We did we did the 1st, successful steps. It was one of the top 10, news websites in Germany.


Sebastian Matthes [00:18:51]:


The team was around 30 people. And My position was, okay, now we have to take it to the next level. We have to invest. We have to to especially to invest in investigative reporting because this is something that would differentiate us. And by that time, they wouldn’t want to do this invest. So I was looking around what would, what what’s what’s going on, else. And I did, got in touch with the, with the former editor of Handelsblatt and, who who by that time was CEO of the Handelsblatt Media Group. And he was looking for somebody who’s leading the digital transformation of this publication.


Sebastian Matthes [00:19:34]:


And we talked for quite some time. I think we talked for more than 1 year, And suddenly, everything was right. And I thought, okay, this will be my next step. So I did something because I’m from Hamburg. And I always had a problem with Dusseldorf because it’s much smaller and it’s very different to Hamburg. And everybody from Hamburg wants to go back to Hamburg at 1 at some point. So When I moved away from Dusseldorf to Munich, I thought I would never come back. So I did something I would have never expected.


Sebastian Matthes [00:20:04]:


I came back to Dusseldorf, where the where where hundreds blood


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:20:09]:


Do do you want me to edit out what he said about Dusseldorf in the final publication?


Sebastian Matthes [00:20:15]:


So I think I think, it’s alright like that. And, and so then by that time, Handelsblatt was, a great brand. They invested a lot in in in great journalism and, had these big conferences you mentioned beef before. So the business model was fantastic. But we also saw that the Did the print subscription was going down. The advertisement in print is going down. So the biz business model was in stress.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:20:50]:


Mhmm.


Sebastian Matthes [00:20:51]:


And, so the plan was to completely change the business model and to make it a sustainable digital business model. And that was the task by that time, 2018. And, today, We do, as I said, we do have 85% of our subscribers, purely digital. We do we we still print and we will print for many years, so That’s not a problem for us. But what we did in the last couple of years, we completely changed the focus of the whole company, Indirection Digital. So when I came 2018, there was a lot of focus on print in the when the editors came together in the morning, they would talk about a lot, okay, what will be first page, what will will be 3rd page. And Everybody was talking about the paper, and nobody really talked about what’s happening digital. But More and more people came via digital.


Sebastian Matthes [00:21:48]:


And, also, for many years, there was not, a lot of invest in digital, digital technology. The edit, the the, content management system system was very old. The website needed relaunch and everything. So we had to change basically everything in the last couple of years. So we we, we changed the infrastructure, but we also changed the whole culture of the company. And We made a, we made a digital first, editorial team out of a print first organization. And that sounds very easy, but it’s the most difficult thing you can do to change Everything people love and have done for the last 25 years, within a couple of months. Because it’s when you are a journalist, it’s so important for your piece to be big in print and to be big on page 1.


Sebastian Matthes [00:22:55]:


So to make them understand how much more important, it is to to be on the top of the website And to have have a great, click through rate and to to make the the reader engage a lot with what you just wrote, it’s just different. And, this what we started. It’s a this culture, change we started 2018. And I must say, we can talk a lot about what we did. The most important thing is, the team always ask, okay, How far did we get now in percent? So how far did we get, and when is this over? And I always say it’s 65%. And then The editors say, but you said 65% last year already. And then I say, yes. And the truth is it will always be 65% because The whole environment, the the way people are using, content and, the changing the the the way they read is changing so quickly that we have to adapt and adapt and adapt every year.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:24:01]:


Mhmm. That that make me smile. There is a software company out there. Everybody who’s in financial services knows what I’m talking about. They like to also track their progress in terms of percentages. And I once asked them, okay, we are at 1% here. What does it mean? Does it mean the person has found their pencil? So it’s it’s it’s it’s always very tough to say how far are you, as you said, when the target is moving in terms of percentage, but also what the percentages Actuallymean. But but what I found in start ups, in scale ups here in Germany, it’s always Very good.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:24:38]:


If you can point to an example that is working, for example, in the US. What came to mind when you’ve been talking is how the New York Times digitized their business model. Did this help you to argue For A Digital First strategy. And would have been would have been damaging to you if that would not have worked for them.


Sebastian Matthes [00:25:03]:


Yeah. So it’s we have a lot of conversation. Until today, a lot of conversation with, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times. We’d we we also went there for a couple of days and had in-depth conversations how they put their strategy, how they changed also their strategy in the last couple of years. So this is something what I really like about the new media industry that everybody’s talking to to everybody and tries to learn. And even, like, big publications learn from smaller publications like us. And, because because everybody has the same questions right now, nobody is really, the absolute front runner. And, Yes.


Sebastian Matthes [00:25:45]:


Definitely. I mean, the American publication, the Feet, have been so much quicker and and started so much earlier with their change in business model. They they said, we do subscription first for, already, like, 10, 15 years ago. Whereas we in Germany had this stupid idea that content has to be free and we can finance we can finance quality quality journalism and, reporting investigative reporting with advertisement, which is an absolute, stupid idea because the, what you earn with each viewer of your content is going down every year. So you see, Either you really, drive your traffic and, which many publications Stu with publishing stupid content with, with, crappy headlines. So either you do that or you earn less money, so this can’t work in the end. So what I always say is we are in in a very interesting position right now. Because the first time ever in media business, we do have a business model that is putting journalism in the center.


Sebastian Matthes [00:27:00]:


It’s it’s, it’s a lie that that the that giving everything for free is something that came up with the Internet. When you look into the business model of the big publishing groups before is the truth is they earned 70, 80%, their money 70 to 80% of the turnover Was in advertisement. So and the rest so so so the money they earned was was in with reach. And that’s why so many print publications sold quite a few print publications, but also gave away much more to have a high number of, readers every day because the business model was not to sell content. The business model was to sell eyeballs to advertisement, Twitter advertisers. What we do now is the 1st time in our history, content is really in the center of our business model. So what we do have to understand every day is how do our paying subscribers really, read our content. What do they read? What are they interested in? And the most important question is not what do we as editors think? The most important question is what questions do our readers have for us every day, each hour? We don’t talk about okay.


Sebastian Matthes [00:28:30]:


Tomorrow, our front page story will will be this. We do talk about this at some point. But the much More important question is, what will be our front page story tomorrow morning around 5 o’clock? Because, this is the time right before the big traffic jump will come. So this is the time people really need, an a great content from us. And then we we have to we have to think about what question do we do they have. Is is something newsy happening? We have to talk about it. We have to bring it to them. Is nothing happening? We are we have to to think, okay, what could be a question they have now? And, for example, we to bring out for tonight a long analysis, about the real outcome of the climate conference in Dubai, for example, because that was one of the biggest news today.


Sebastian Matthes [00:29:22]:


And in the evening, you might have some time to read a little bit longer. So a big analysis about that might be the best thing to do tonight. And this is the way we do editorial planning right now, which is completely different to 4 years ago. Because by that time, everybody was thinking what to do for print. And then when the when the stuff was ready for print, after that, like, maybe half an hour or 45 minutes. After it has been published for print, it would go into digital. But this could be 14 hours after the news broke, and nobody would be interested in the news anymore 14 hours later because all the other sites would have reported it. So that is really a cultural change we did now.


Sebastian Matthes [00:30:08]:


We do Focus on what what to put digital. And in the end of the day, a fantastic team of editors, compose a newspaper out of that.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:30:21]:


I see. It’s it’s a little bit easier for you to have just a one time zone where I assume the vast majority of your audience is located. It it’s completely different for me. I’m actually every time I publish something, it stretches over something like 36 hours. Because I start in the US, Asia, Europe. And then the next day, I have it behind the great firewall in mainland China on Himalaya. But The the question for me would be, when are those peaks? Is it between 6 AM and 9 AM when the people are reading in the morning first, like, on the cellphone, on the tablet, on and on the desktop computer.


Sebastian Matthes [00:31:03]:


It’s very very interesting. Is it one fun fact is When you are a paying subscriber for Handelsblad, you get up earlier. So the the paying subscriber peak would be around 6. The, and you can, you can read some articles free on the website. So the free reader would come around 7. And we see our audience is on on the way to the airport already or, on the way to work, whatever. Yes. We have a we have the biggest peak in the morning, As I said, between, 67, we and this is a mobile peak.


Sebastian Matthes [00:31:38]:


It’s not a lot of, website traffic, and most of the traffic, with our subscribers would be in our app. We have a a lunchtime peak, which is almost as high but a little bit less. And we have a, another peak in the evenings, let’s say, around 7 o’clock when everybody’s home. People try to get back to what’s happening, the last day. And this is the time when most people would also read the epaper. So this would be the electronic version of our, newspaper.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:32:14]:


I see. I have several questions for you because when you’ve been talking about subscriptions here, how do you view the the project of Krautreporter, meaning a crowdfunded journalism entity that is basically Heinz by having additional members. Is that like the long term future of journalism?


Sebastian Matthes [00:32:39]:


I’m not the biggest fan of saying this or that way will be the long term future because the future will have many different ways of financing journalism. The only thing I can say is that the pure advertisement, based journalism will die out for many companies. This won’t be a way to finance at least quality journalism. And so so the rest is open. There will be mixed models. There will be secure subscription models. There will be member models. I think there will be foundation models as well.


Sebastian Matthes [00:33:17]:


We don’t see that so much in, Germany at least, but we see quite a few big ones in the United States. I think this will this will be a trend as well for the next years, and there will be new ways of collaborations. There will be also billionaires buying newspapers like they do in in in France, but also the United States. So all different kind of ways. And everybody can, think about what what the best way would be. But what we can say is that the old way doesn’t work anymore. We have to think much harder how to, first, attract audiences, which is great. Because I think the way We think now about journalism makes our journalism better because we have never understood, as good what people really expect from us.


Sebastian Matthes [00:34:10]:


And now somebody some think, okay, Is it is it great when you only run what the numbers tell you? This is not what we do. So we we say we are not, number driven, but we are Number Informed. So we use the analytics to understand if the journalism we plan, if our reporting really is getting to the people that are paying for us. And if we have a great reporting where 12, journalists did research for 6, 7 months. This can happen.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:34:46]:


Mhmm.


Sebastian Matthes [00:34:46]:


And Only a few 1,000 people would read it in the end. We would have a debrief and think and talk about why that happened and how we can this kind of story in a different way next time to attract more readers, because this is what we want. We want to do great reporting and relevant reporting. And we want to attract the most number of readers possible.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:35:13]:


We you’ve you’ve been talking before about questions, questions your audience have. And I was thinking, how do you get to those questions? Do you get regular emails? Do you have, like, open feedback on your website? Audio, actually using AI to scope the interest?


Sebastian Matthes [00:35:32]:


So we we do have a few of these things. We do have feedback on the website. We we get a lot of emails, but we also get a lot of signals what people actually want. And, I mean, let’s talk about COP again, COP 28. So Mhmm. The the the last paper came out came out this morning. It’s clear that There will be some questions about it. And we would say, okay.


Sebastian Matthes [00:35:59]:


What are the most important questions now? What would peep people actually want to know now and what would be the best time to publish. And we would have the same, with the budget crisis With the national government in Germany that we are facing right now, it was I mean, that was a story. Handelsblad basically broke again and again. So, we did not really this is also the what is very important for us that we not write behind the news. We have to set the news. This is what we what we did a lot. And and then we know what the questions are. When we did a great job answering these questions, the numbers are good.


Sebastian Matthes [00:36:39]:


If not, The numbers are not


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:36:42]:


good. Mhmm. I see. We’ve been talking a lot about digitalization mostly in the realm of journalism, of publications. But let us get for the last few minutes back to the, thesis for the future of the German start up scene. Because you are a little bit outside observer. And basically you do observe and you do, write a lot about it. So I was, I was curious, your thoughts about, for example, green startups because They have been really hyped.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:37:17]:


Like, it feels like the hype of the blockchain startups is just in the past. And they’ve been all almost all crashed and burned. What do you think about the green startups? Will they also go through a hype cycle?


Sebastian Matthes [00:37:31]:


Yeah. I mean, the hype cycle, all the all the Almost all new trends will have this hype cycle where, there’s this big discussion about the new new technology, but the technology actually doesn’t reach the expectations. And a little bit later, everybody is disappointed. And after time, it it’s coming, and, then maybe the audience is under expecting what’s happening. So, yes, this this could be I think in the in terms of green start ups, we have Also a different problem because right now in Germany, the approach to, which is the big, energy disruption changing from fossil energy production to green energy production. The problem is that the national government is following a very rule based path. It’s not a very, it’s not a it’s it’s so so there would be the rule based path where you where you would tell every company what they have to do, which technology they would have to use. And it’s not a more free approach where, companies can decide, how they reduce, c o two emissions.


Sebastian Matthes [00:38:46]:


This. These are the 2 different ways of looking at it. And the problem when you have this very rule based approach is that The whole industry is waiting for decisions from Berlin of be being made about what technology can be used, how long can they use it, and so on and so forth. And that’s a very difficult, position for investors to because they don’t know if a a technology, a startup, really can play a big role in future. And and the the completely opposite approach is being made in the United States with the inflation reduction act where They only say you have to reduce the most amount of c o two emissions, and it doesn’t really matter how you do it. And then that’s a very clear sign for the whole technology industry to just develop solutions. In Germany, you would always have to wait. Okay.


Sebastian Matthes [00:39:43]:


But am I in the in the real bucket? Or if not, I don’t get I don’t get the state funding. In the United States, it’s completely clear. Everybody who’s putting their solutions behind the the general goal would somehow get the tax reductions. That’s so much more easy and it’s so much, more clear for the economy what decision to take. And this is something I criticize about the German approach a lot. And I think this is why we don’t see this big green boom that the government is promising for a couple of years now. And they keep on saying that there will be this big boom, but it’s not happening. And I am always wondering why is that.


Sebastian Matthes [00:40:30]:


And I think this is the clear answer to everything. So everybody’s waiting for the state to decide something, to send some money. And that’s a very, very complicated way of putting things. So I’m rather pessimistic. But I must say also, we do see interesting approaches in this field. And I still believe that Europe is the best place to develop such, solutions. Because what we have is great scientists. From our universities, you see the biggest number, Especially in these fields of

engineers thinking, about all these solutions.


Sebastian Matthes [00:41:09]:


So what I hope is that the government will understand the next year. This this crisis we are in and really, set a complete different approach. So, and and then there will be fantastic solutions. And I can’t think of a different spot in this world, a better place to have this green boom in future. So I really hope it’s it’s happening in the next couple of years. But there’s also an another thing I think I’m I’m thinking a lot about. I so When we talk about digitization, we talk a lot about things that happened in the United States. And it’s true that this first phase of

digitization happened in the United States.


Sebastian Matthes [00:41:58]:


Everybody knows the digitization of, shopping, of of entertainment. This all happened there. But we are in the in the next phase now. And now we talk about how to automize factories, how to how to, to to to to to optimize the way companies work, the processes and everything. And I think that’s an historic opportunity for startups in Europe. Because the connection between the digital sphere and the, so the startup scene and companies is really good here. And why would you develop such ideas in the Silicon Valley where you don’t have so many big factories producing, like, big machines, for other factories, for example, and cars and so on. So I think this is something we have to keep in mind.


Sebastian Matthes [00:42:57]:


And When we talk about Celonis, which is a great company from Munich, the most, valuable startup in Germany right now, that’s a very interesting development. And you will see quite a few other, companies going in that direction. When we talk about logistics, when we talk about how to organize things within your company, You see a lot of very interesting ideas in these fields. So what I believe is when we look for the next digital revolution coming from Europe. It could be maybe that. And when we take the right decisions in the next years, it could also be the green revolution.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:43:35]:


It could be, fingers crossed, some pressed as we do in Germany here. Sebastian. Congratulations again to the special award. It was a pleasure talking to you, and we are running now at almost 45 minutes recording. So it was a very long and very interesting interview. Thank you very much.


Sebastian Matthes [00:43:55]:


Thank you so much for having me.


Jörn “Joe” Menninger [00:43:56]:


Totally my pleasure. Have a great day. Bye bye.



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