Stefan Theil

Stories by Stefan Theil

  • Money For Nothing

    It's shaping up as quite a glittering party. Hundreds of high-net-worth types will gather at Bonn's Hotel Maritim this week to slurp champagne, crowd around the buffet table and show their New Economy style. Founders of fast-growing tech companies such as Brokat, MobilCom and WaveLight will tipple and gossip with the venture capitalists who have helped them create billions of euros in shareholder wealth and thousands of badly needed jobs. At the evening's climax, they'll all raise a glass and wish a happy 10th birthday-- to a government bureaucracy.Well, this is Germany. Ten-year-old TBG (the complete mouthful is Technologie-Beteiligungs-Gesellschaft mbH der Deutschen Ausgleichsbank) is a 100 percent state-owned agency that's become Europe's single biggest investor in high-tech start-ups. An outgrowth of the Research and Technology Ministry, TBG has funneled more than 800 million euro into 700 German companies. Fifteen of those have gone public; dozens more IPOs are now in the...
  • The Best Deal Around

    Anke Olafsson knew exactly what kind of car she wanted: a used four-wheel-drive Subaru Outback. Trouble was, that model is not only pricey but pretty hard to find in the Swedish city of Jonkoping, where Olafsson lives. So she got Kurt Gustafsson, her local used-car dealer, to find her one--on the Internet. Gustafsson went straight to a Munich-based Web site called Autoscout.de, a car emporium listing more than 130,000 new and used models in garages and other dealers' lots all over Europe. Navigating through the German site's Swedish-language version, he zeroed in on a private owner in Frankfurt, who happened to have a Subaru handy. This week Gustafsson will travel to Germany to pick up the car for Olafsson.These days, such deals are making Europe's borders fall faster than you can say "single market." Like Autoscout, online retailers are making shopping abroad more accessible by offering multilingual sites. And with many of them already pricing in euros, comparison shopping has...
  • Net Travel Takes Off

    The last thing Britta Behrends wanted to do when planning her vacation was "listen to a bunch of travel agents trying to sell me something, or spend a lot of time asking my friends for recommendations." So the overworked 24-year-old German account manager went online. She quickly surfed her way to Cabana, a German Internet travel site that launched last June. There she found hundreds of travelers like herself who'd gotten together to trade tips on the best beaches, worst hotels and cheapest plane tickets to be had. Within a few minutes, Behrends had zeroed in on her perfect vacation in Egypt. Only then did she call a local agent to book her trip.She could've stayed online to do that, too. Travel, like books, CDs and software, is big business on the Net. Europeans spent v380 million last year just booking plane tickets online. Though that number is still a small fraction of the v155 billion European travel industry, it's growing exponentially. And everyone wants a piece of the new...
  • Aol's European Adventure

    Think global, act local, say the business gurus. But they rarely add what AOL Europe now knows: that second step is the hard one. When rival Freeserve introduced no-fee Net access in Britain last fall, AOL Europe chief Andreas Schmidt calmly observed that "free Internet access doesn't work as a business model." Then Freeserve rocketed past AOL as Britain's premier gateway to the Net--and Schmidt found himself in London last Tuesday, introducing a stripped-down version of AOL called Netscape Online. The business model? Free access to the Internet.AOL is only one of several big-name Net companies to have eagerly surfed across the Atlantic--and then learned a lesson or two in the Old World. Bookseller Amazon had to adjust its billing practices to battle German media giant Bertelsmann on its home turf. Online broker E*Trade had to master a whole new set of financial regulations before it inaugurated its U.K. arm in July. Yahoo! became Europe's leading portal by producing localized...
  • Berlin's Business Plan

    It's Saturday night in Berlin. The narrow streets of the ultrahip Mitte district are packed with partyers flocking from bar to bar, past the trendy galleries, clubwear boutiques and all-night Turkish eateries. In a tenement apartment above a noisy cafe, Stephan Schmitt and a handful of musicians and computer hackers crowd around a keyboard and a couple of PCs, creating a strange cocktail of electronic bleeps, twangs and swooshes.A techno jam session? Not exactly. These young people are making something Berlin needs even more than new dance tracks for its nightclubs: jobs. Schmitt is founder and technical director of Native Instruments, a 14-person software start-up that's developed a software-based sound synthesizer. He and his team are racing to finish the code for their newest release, to go on sale in 20 countries in a month. Music magazines have showered the company's products with awards, and Schmitt says he's been approached by both Microsoft and Apple for possible licensing...
  • Death In The Alps

    The snow began falling three weeks ago in Galtor, Austria, and it didn't stop, even after it had covered the entire town with enough powder to shut down roads and immobilize ski lifts. Monika Spitzbarth and her husband, Roland, had come from Zurich to ski the Austrian Alps, but the storms and heavy snows kept them lodged in their hotel room at the Ballunspitze resort. Last Tuesday, just after 4 in the afternoon, the Spitzbarths were playing yet another game of cards when the sky went black. "There was a terrible roar outside, and everything was suddenly dark," recalls Monika. "It was like being inside a car as it goes through a car wash." Somewhere outside, people were screaming.After several minutes of chaos and darkness, the Spitzbarths looked out their window. A large barn that stood only a few feet away had disappeared, ripped to shreds and buried by a wall of snow that crashed down Galtor's 2,500-meter-high Adamsberg mountain. Cars were flipped over on their tops. Snow and...