He was one of the world‘s best canoeists – European and world champion, bronze medallist in canoe slalom at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and one of the youngest German participants at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. But Stefan Pfannmöller gave up active sport at the age of 26 to start his own business. It didn’t look at all good at first: the acclaimed athlete sat in his small apartment in Munich waiting for success. Together with three fellow students, Pfannmöller (born in 1981 in Halle) had launched a social network called Netzathleten (“Network Athletes”) – a kind of Facebook for athletes. Unfortunately, the plan to attract money through advertising didn’t work well to start with, especially since the timing of the startup coincided with the economic crisis.
However, Stefan isn’t the kind of guy who gives up easily – he‘s a fighter. “I knew you can be successful if you train hard enough. I trained for ten years and then became world champion. That gave me the necessary self-confidence,” he recalls. And sure enough, he and his colleagues tweaked their business model, started delivering content on health, nutrition and finance, and marketed advertising for sports websites.
His perseverance paid off: gone are the days when the young entrepreneur only paid himself trainee wages, despite working a seven-day week. In autumn 2011 the MBA was able to sell his startup company for an estimated €20 million to the RTL TV group. But he’s not retiring on the proceeds, but has formed a new company called Venture Stars, an incubator that helps internet startups to get established. For Pfannmöller this form of stamina training for people with good business ideas is his “self-realization”. One startup he is supporting is “mysportworld”, a web shop for sporting goods. The founder is Stefan Pfannmöller’s brother Erik– also a successful canoeist.