Summary:

Why did one early investor in apparently thriving Berlin startup 6wunderkinder sell up? We’ve solved the mystery: it looks like the German public-private HTGF venture capital firm hit the limits of what it was allowed to do and decided to cash out.

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Productivity startup 6wunderkinder is one of the startups to watch in Berlin right now: not only has the company scored around three million users for its Wunderlist and Wunderkit tools, but it also boasts backing from the likes of Niklas Zennström’s Atomico.

But what’s going on with the rest of 6wunderkinder’s backers?

That’s a question that’s been up in the air over the last few weeks, after the German publication Manager Magazin reported that early investor HTGF had sold off its stake to another VC, Earlybird in late May. Despite the obvious question of why HTGF would sell out if 6wunderkinder was doing good business, everybody involved has stayed schtum – until now.

After asking a few questions, we’ve discovered why a venture firm would sell up its stake in an apparently hot startup — and discovered that, right now at least, not a penny of extra cash has ended up in 6wunderkinder’s pockets.

First off, you have to remember that HTGF (or High-Tech Gruenderfonds) is not an ordinary venture company, but a public-private partnership that mixes government cash with money from Bosch, Braun, Deutsche Telekom and other big German names. The VC firm can only invest up to €2 million in any startup and — if you add up its original €500,000 outlay with HTGF’s contribution to the Atomico round — the 6wunderkinder investment had hit its ceiling as far as it was concerned.

6wunderkinder is growingly healthily and, as a firm with a political mandate to make a reasonable return, it seems HTGF took the opportunity to cash in now — even if it seems a little early. It also looks like Earlybird’s outlay (this time round at least) all went to HTGF, with none going to 6wunderkinder itself.

Earlybird partner Ciarán O’Leary has all but confirmed this version of events:

“The company is getting another high-quality investor on board with the option of a larger financing round when the company needs it,” O’Leary told me this afternoon. “Atomico and us together can provide significant double-digit financing volume, which is something that gives the team the confidence to continue focusing on the product.”

Mystery solved. HTGF itself won’t comment for now, although a representative told me the firm will be making a full statement explaining the sale of its stake at the end of the week.

So who owns what now? According to the Berlin company registry, Earlybird has a 15.49 percent stake in 6wunderkinder, slightly less than Atomico’s 19.6 percent. It’s tough to say how much Earlybird’s stake cost, though, given the company’s significant growth since November’s round.

“It’s a company that with its first products has already proven it can reach millions of users around the globe,” O’Leary said. “It’s really built a movement – it’s crazy the amount of passion the product gets. We’re betting on them doing further amazing stuff with Wunderlist and Wunderkit, based on their product DNA.”

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