innovation - A portrait of 360T
The best invention in two decades
Even the best ideas need a certain amount of luck. Carlo Kölzer is strolling contentedly through his company’s new office premises in Frankfurt’s city centre. A folded children’s playpen leans against a desk:Family Day has just finished. 360T’s working language is English – its hierarchies are flat. There is no recording of hours worked; everyone works towards targets, as Kölzer puts it.
The company’s beginnings were more humble: back then, looking outside the windows you would not have seen the Taunus hills and the prestigious West End villas – but a traffic junction in Sachsenhausen, the city quarter south of the river known for its pubs rather than for fintech developers. “The server room also served as the smokers’ lounge,” Kölzer recalls. Saving money was a priority. Meetings with clients were planned in line with flight schedules, with the cheapest flight to London being the key criterion.
Carlo Kölzer, CEO of 360T, founded the trading platform for foreign exchange (FX) in Frankfurt/Main, Germany in July 2000. Following the takeover of 360T by Deutsche Börse Group in July 2015, he was appointed Global Head of FX and a member of the Deutsche Börse Group Management Committee in October of the same year.
Kölzer previously worked at a bank; he knew from his experience there that banks had failed to develop any new technology for two decades. His idea was to build a central platform for foreign exchange (FX) trading, which lagged equities trading at the time. Frequent misunderstandings were occurring with clients’ telephone enquiries (was that “fifty” or “fifteen”?). Why did it take quite a long time before 360T was able to win its first major clients? “As long as nobody used our platform, banks and clients just kept waiting for each other, unsure as to who should move first,” Kölzer reports. “Plus: banks were not really interested in our solution – it threatened their margins. Then, Dresdner Bank and Lufthansa approached us: this was the breakthrough.” Availability met readiness.
„Three guys and a laptop“
The company’s beginnings were anything but easy-going. “We were three guys and a laptop – literally speaking,” says Kölzer. “And even
though we had experience in the banking business, we had none in FX.” Not exactly a recipe for success – and there was another issue,
as highlighted by an investor’s question: “Who’s your programmer?” A very valid question indeed.
Ultimately, the programmer arrived from Down Under: with tattoos, piercings and wearing flip-flops. Kölzer recalls a brief moment of shock when he opened the door. Mathew had sold his car, said goodbye to his girlfriend, moved out of his flat, and bought a one-way ticket to Germany, ready to start at 360T. “And he is with the company to the present day: he manages our business in Asia.” The first three staff members are still on board – in fact, many have been with 360T for ten years.
Is there too much money chasing too few ideas in the fintech market these days? Kölzer’s answer is reluctant: “Money does not hurt.” But he adds that even a lot of money cannot force good ideas: “Even nine mothers won’t have a baby in just one month.” In any case, he was forced to concentrate on the essentials: a strong motivation to succeed, with the resources available. At the time, Kölzer was unaware of the difficulties and pitfalls in FX trading. “We just hit the ground running. At the beginning, we simply didn’t know that we needed to be regulated, for example. Today I know that many ideas fail when they hit such hurdles. Back then, I was blissfully unaware of just how complex this was going to be.”
360T and FX trading
The mainspring for Carlo Kölzer was “the sky is my limit” – even at the cost that the company might fail to take off. By consciously choosing to take this risk, he exhibited an intuition, motivation and willingness to take risks of true entrepreneurial spirit, a strategy which in this case paid off.