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True statement: Wolfgang Koester is a lucky, serial entrepreneur. He says so himself.
But applying the words “lucky” and “serial entrepreneur” to Koester’s success story and business philosophy requires an expansion of terms, maybe even a redefinition of them.
Koester built and sold two businesses, and he is helping to move a third company to another liquidity event.
Serial entrepreneur, yes. But it’s a mistake to call him that if the term conjures up the typical image of a person who flits from venture to venture in pursuit of the next big idea for starting a business.
Koester does not flit; he plows. Through uncharted territory.
For more than 30 years, the Thunderbird Class of ’91 graduate has stayed in his lane, making inroads in the world of corporate foreign exchange (FX) risk management. It’s a lane that his company, Scottsdale-based FiREapps, built.
FiREapps, the world’s first and leading data-based FX risk-management resource technology, is the most obvious manifestation of Koester’s guiding principle as an entrepreneur. Rather than build a product and then try to find a market for it, Koester identifies a problem and then builds a solution.
“An unconventional serial entrepreneur: Wolfgang Koester, Tbird class of ’91, has made inroads in the world of corporate foreign exchange.”– Click to tweet
Koester and his partners applied their expertise in foreign exchange risk management, data analytics, and software to help corporations better manage risk. They actually created an industry that surprisingly few people understand given the profound financial impact foreign exchange-related costs have on multinationals.
Koester said the foreign exchange market on average trades about $5 to $5½ trillion a day, and corporate foreign exchange is $1.8 to $2 trillion.
“Foreign exchange is by far — by far— the largest market in the world,” Koester said. “There is none bigger. Think about that. In that area, that business had no solution (in risk management). It’s remarkable. For me, that was very lucky.”
Lucky, yes. But not the random variety.
Koester, an immigrant from Germany, has practiced a personal life philosophy about being well-educated and uber-prepared. He came to Arizona as a high school student hard-wired to want to be the best at whatever he does and with a particular aptitude for math. He said his conservative family upbringing and his education at Arizona State University and Thunderbird School of Global Management shaped business sensibilities and personal habits that enabled him to create or capitalize on good fortune.
“When I started this company, for 16 months I didn’t make one dollar,” Koester said. “I didn’t go with outside financing. I worked out of the house. Partnered up with a good friend of mine, which is another dream come true — to have one of your best friends as your partner to start a business up. We gave ourselves a dollar amount and said we’ve got to get through it.
“Quite frankly there were many times when my wife was a bigger supporter than I was from a mental point of view,” he said. “She was just a big believer in what we were doing. It’s one thing to not get a paycheck for a month or two. It’s another thing not to get one for 16 months.”
In January, Kyriba, a cloud-based treasury management company, purchased FiREapps. In March, Kyriba, valued at $1.2 billion, sold a controlling interest to a private equity firm.
“ ‘It’s one thing to not get a paycheck for a month or two. It’s another thing not to get one for 16 months.’ ~ Wolfgang Koester on entrepreneurship”– Click to tweet
Koester is Kyriba’s chief evangelist, a position critical to moving the company from private to public.
“I love doing that,” Koester said of his job promoting Kyriba. “In order to go public, you have to have a brand that’s well known. The analysts have got to be excited about it, the investor community, in general, has to be excited about, and so that’s what I’m going to spend most of my time on. … Help grow the business from a strategic point of view and a branding point of view.”
Koester said Kyriba will continue to build out the problems with its customers and also get acquisitive where there are niche players in areas that complement Kyriba. The focus on growing the company is in preparation for taking it to market in a few years with a $5 billion market cap, he said.
“ ‘It’s important to take down borders and enjoy cultural differences. I’m fortunate to have cultural sensitivity. Thunderbird absolutely taught me that.’ ~ Wolfgang Koester on global leadership”– Click to tweet
His chief evangelist role requires continuation of an aggressive international travel schedule. (He averages 350,000 air miles per year.) As a true T-bird, that’s fine with Koester.
“I strongly believe in a global culture,” Koester said, as a way of life and to conduct good business.
“If you actually take those borders down and enjoy the cultural differences, it becomes very pleasant. It’s a really nice thing. I’m very fortunate to be able to have that cultural sensitivity and Thunderbird absolutely taught me that.”[PY5]
And now Koester gives back to Thunderbird. He makes a point of guest lecturing at least once a semester. Two years ago as part of the Thunderbird Global Speakers Series he delivered a lecture on the “5 Stages of Entrepreneurial Success: Taking a Business from Idea to Liquidity.”
When Koester is not traveling the world evangelizing or lecturing, he comes home to his wife, Kim, and two children, who he calls his three biggest cheerleaders. Son Stefan is on the path to becoming a medical doctor. Daughter Grace is a top student at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University.
“I really love Arizona,” Koester said. “For us, it’s just an ideal place to live. I love the environment. Love the people. Coming home to Phoenix is like coming home to a resort. We’re very fortunate.”