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From Servisen to Katalysen: Building companies around great people and partnerships

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Posted 29 September 2021

Katalysen team - Yuval

The other day, Peter had lunch with an old friend we both like and respect. As Peter told him about the current journey of Katalysen & Partners, the friend pointed out some striking similarities between Katalysen and the experience that we, Heiner Weber and Peter Almberg, had of building our first company Servisen in our early days.

The advice from our trusted friend is highly appreciated especially now when Katalysen is on a journey as a traded company in the middle of a pre-IPO on the public market. Together we, Peter and Heiner, decided to go back down memory lane to explore these similarities in order to find out what made and still makes our company building successful.

35 years ago, before the rise of the global Internet (“Web 1.0”), we were tech-kids challenging the banks. In the 80s and early 90s we built Servisen, a company serving the options market as liquidity and systems provider. It was arguably Sweden’s and Switzerland’s first fintech company. Both in Sweden and Switzerland Servisen was top 3 in futures and options trading volume. This without having any clients. Crazy!

People and partnerships as the foundation

When we look back at this experience of building a successful business aving a great partner stands out as mission critical. This should be a partner that you trust and respect, a partner that brings positive energy when you feel down, and a partner that works as hard as yourself. Someone that shares the same values. We had precisely this type of partnership.

Both Heiner and I love collaboration and get a kick out of being surrounded by smart people. This was true at Servisen, and is still true today at Katalysen. Building teams was our passion. In a couple of years, we grew from 3-5 people (being partners) to 50+ people, and expanded from Sweden out to Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France and Spain. All this was done by youngsters around 25 years of age).

One of the big benefits of working with options was the fact that we had to think in probabilities. This is the opposite of binary thinking. We had to think in a continuum, not black or white. Rather, dark grey to light grey. We got immersed in thinking in maybes and potential at a young age. This has stuck with us. And we got good at it, applying probability theories during our 10 years dealing with options at Servisen.

Such probability thinking was also our driver when developing people. Because we focused on potential and human qualities rather than a rigid CV, we were exceptionally good at recruiting new team members. Because we looked rather at a person’s potential and drive, we gave them tasks with responsibility early on. We coached them, knowing that there was no strict right or wrong, just different angles to view the probability surface. And it paid off. We can state that our ex-team members became Group-CEO of UBS, No 2 of Deutsche Bank Investment Banking, Chief Risk Officer of Pictet, and so on.

Building a venture partner business

Servisen was a tech company with a large options portfolio. In the 90s it was one of the largest such portfolios both in Germany and Switzerland. In the long run, however, it was the tech division of Servisen that became highly successful. It is today integrated in Fortune-500 company FIS, where the person looking after the options and risk algorithms today is still one of the earliest team members of Servisen.

Servisen was a tech business with a portfolio. In comparison, Katalysen is a venture partner business with a portfolio. The venture partner business is the business we are building. A venture partner business is sustainable during good and bad times – and it is one piece in the puzzle to create a more entrepreneurial and free economy.

At Katalysen, with our Servisen experience under the belt, we are again building a company and not a portfolio. The portfolio is a consequence of our venture partner business. According to a recent report carried out by external analysts, that business is today valued at €1.2m. This is just the start, but an important indicator that the venture partner business is at least discovered.

The value of having and being a Venture Partner

We would have been thrilled 30 years ago, would we have had a venture partner assisting us in building Servisen. Sharing experience, helping us, young entrepreneurs, understand real business life. But, at that time, no such thing existed. We would have given away a lot for such a service. With Katalysen we have created, thinking back on what we lacked, a business model that will become mainstream in the years to come.

We got good at detecting potential, developing people and projects, valuing abstract things, and negotiating to get balanced outcomes. Now 25 years later, our experiences from Servisen will serve our purpose of building Katalysen.

Anybody can now join us as a shareholder in Katalysen. We have all our skin in this game and are 100% committed to leading Katalysen for years to come, and for the above obvious reasons our shares are not for sale.

Peter and Heiner