As the old year ends and a new one begins, the season of peace has disappeared – or should we say ‘been taken away’ – from one corner of the start-up world. Shortly before Christmas, the management team of the take-away delivery agent Lieferheld (‘delivery hero’ in German) (www.lieferheld.de) ­– part of international start-up Delivery Hero (www.deliveryhero.com) – were forced to swallow a pretty serious potential catastrophe. According to our information here at deutsche-startups.com, the Berlin public prosecutor issued an order of summary punishment against the people behind Lieferheld – Nikita Fahrenholz, Caroline Iselor, Louis Pfitzner, Markus Fuhrmann, Angelo Laub, Claude Ritter and Fabian Siegel – for allegedly “jointly committing the offence of unauthorised commercial exploitation from a database”.

In a communication given to us, the accused are suspected by the Berlin public prosecutor of, “having jointly profited from the repeated, systematic duplication and public reproduction of substantial parts of a database, without the consent of the database’s owner”. By this, they mean the database belonging to the market leader, Pizza.de (www.pizza.de).

“We have compared 50 of Lieferheld’s delivery menus from Hamburg with ours, and we’ve found that all of them, in other words 100% of the menus, are ours,” said Sybille Steinbach (Pizza.de) at the time. Primarily because the facts of the case are so complex and difficult to prove, the investigations carried out by the Berlin public prosecutor have accordingly lasted for a long time, or, to put it another way, were carried out in an “intensive and meticulous” manner. Shortly before Christmas the prosecution presented an extensive overview of how Lieferheld first built its database. The claim is that the systematic duplication of the database belonging to Pizza.de began in late 2010 with the sending of adverts via fax to numerous take-aways in Germany, with the fax numbers having been poached from Pizza.de’s database. At this point, they say, Lieferheld tried to draw up contracts with the take-aways.

It would appear that the alleged incident happened following the licensing of third-party software that meant the data could be transferred from the database of Pizza.de and then returned, before the transferred data was then amended in order that its origins were disguised. The prosecution set out extensive information indicating which people they felt were entrusted with the plundering of the Pizza.de database, and when. Shortly before Christmas, they requested that orders be issued against the accused, which resulted in financial penalties of 90 days’ pay. Let’s just remind ourselves of what Lieferheld’s Fabian Siegel said in 2011: “the fact is that all of the menus available on Lieferheld.de were inputted by us, from looking at the original menus of the respective restaurants. It’s quite a lot of work, so please do get in touch with us at the office if you’re interested in joining our editing team.” Whether Siegel is still the current CEO of Lieferheld remains to be seen, as the Berlin grapevine is already reporting that Siegel has left under a cloud; unfortunately he cannot currently be contacted by telephone or in writing. When sent a further request via text message, his only comment was that he was still continuing as CEO of Lieferheld / Delivery Hero. When it came to talking about the order of summary punishment that had been issued, he declined to comment.

After the German publication of this article on Saturday 29th December, Siegel then contacted us again by email. He felt it important to note that the order of summary punishment was actually in connection with an incident that occurred during the first weeks of Lieferheld’s history, and only concerned a small amount of a competitor’s menu data that was missing. They had then acted promptly to clear up any misunderstandings. An official statement appeared on Lieferheld’s Facebook page after their users linked to the German version of this article. It read: “the penalty relates to an accusation from the first three weeks of our company’s history in 2010 and related to a tiny fraction of the thousands of menus. At the time, we reacted immediately to this and we have learnt from our mistakes. We are pleased that this case is now settled and in 2013 we intend to once again concentrate on providing the best service to you that we can.”

So much, then, for the Great Database Robbery, but elsewhere, a new problem is on the horizon, in the shape of suspected computer sabotage. The trial was re-opened, and it seems that the Berlin public prosecutor has presented new evidence alleging that Lieferheld is behind the attacks on Lieferando (www.lieferando.de). On one of the servers from which the attacks were apparently controlled, a cross-connection in the form of a Lieferheld graphic was discovered. Gründerszene (an online magazine for entrepreneurs) reported in July that Lieferheld was acquitted of the charge of having hacked Lieferando. It’s all to do with the denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) to which Lieferando were repeatedly exposed. The Berlin-based start-up began proceedings against unknown persons after these attacks and recently – along with Pizza.de – offered a reward of 100,000 euros for the apprehension of the people behind them.

For Team Europe, Lieferheld’s backers, in particular, the start-up is changing: if all the allegations and accusations prove to be true, then it is slowly but surely turning into a nightmare. If the fashion shop zalando is the biggest risk that the Samwer Brothers and Rocket Internet have taken, then Lieferheld and Delivery Hero is definitely the largest and most prominent gamble that the start-up incubator Team Europe and their co-founder Lukasz Gadowski have made. After the German publication of this article, Gadowski posted the following on Facebook: “We have no problems with, or doubts about, the integrity of the Lieferheld management. Nor with the performance of the business. The issue is mainly PR. Partially fuelled by competition / frustrated ex business partners. Anyway: Thx to the DH / LH management and every employee: you all rock! HNY 2013″.

And with 80 million euros of capital behind it, Delivery Hero is also one of the best-funded start-ups in Germany. But there might well be a snag: the money from the latest round of funding has mainly come from Kreos Capital. It’s therefore more of a loan than a traditional cash injection from a normal venture capitalist, and a loan of nearly 40 million euros will surely weigh heavy on Delivery Hero. Other backers include Holtzbrinck Ventures (also involved in ds), Tengelmann Ventures, Kite Ventures and ru-net. As for the advertised – and apparently still necessary – 100 million worth of funding for Delivery Hero, we’re still waiting. Could it be that no more backers can be found in Berlin? Just the Kreos loan speaks volumes to many supporters of this theory. Hopefully, we will soon see Lieferheld on the up, rather than making a crash landing – that would indeed be bad news for the whole of the German start-up scene.

Foto: istockphoto

A visit to Lieferheld

Last November, deutsche-startups.com was able to take a closer look at the Berlin-based startup Lieferheld (delivery hero). Over 100 Lieferhelden (delivery heroes) work here in very chic offices near Friedrich Strasse. The office is packed with pictures of superheroes of all kinds, several large cardboard hero comrades and many, many empty pizza boxes. Our photo gallery gives a few heroesque impressions of this successful company’s headquarters.