When Christian Vollmann despairs at world events, he sits down in front of his laptop screen and reads from his website. It tells him that last week in a neighborhood in Berlin, Laura wanted to borrow a sanding machine, Pia was looking for a partner to play badminton and Silke wanted someone to help her son with his computer. It also said that a local residents’ traffic calming initiative was inviting neighbors for coffee at 4:30 pm. Having read all this, Mr. Vollmann feels better about the world.
Just under two years ago, he founded Nebenan.de, a network for neighbors, a mashup of Ebay’s classified ads and Facebook, only more personal. Generally, digital solutions serve to make human contact superfluous. Mr. Vollmann’s algorithms are designed to get people to say hello to each other on the street again.
Mr. Vollmann is a well-known face in the Berlin start-up community. He was one of the first employees of the Samwer Brothers, who set up the now-listed Rocket Internet incubator, founded the video platform Myvideo, helped make the dating service E-Darling a success and has also been a big investor in start-ups himself. The likes of Klaus Hommels, the founder and boss of Lakestar and one of Europe’s leading business angels, and the Hubert Burda Media Holding company have trusted him with their money.
So far, Nebenan.de has collected a total of €5.5 million, or $5.8 million, in venture capital. That’s a lot when one thinks that to date – with the exception of the business platform Xing – no social network in Germany has succeeded in building up sufficient relevance to make a sustained profit. It isn’t much, however, compared to the $200 million in risk capital secured by Nextdoor, the U.S. start-up Nebenan.de was modeled on and which is currently in the process of trying to gain a foothold in Europe.