June 6, 2023

This fintech CEO raised a Series B, then her company went bankrupt. Here’s what she learnt along the way

Eight months after filing for insolvency, Nuri’s ex-CEO Kristina Walcker-Mayer shares her advice for founders in a crisis

Amy O'Brien

6 min read

Last October, Kristina Walcker-Mayer had been working around the clock for two months trying to save her company.

Seven-year-old digital bank Nuri, which provided both fiat and crypto banking products, had made an initial filing for insolvency two months prior. But amid a perfect storm of a global cryptocurrency sell-off and a difficult funding environment, CEO Walcker-Mayer could find neither a buyer nor new investors. The Berlin company was forced to shut.

Last week, on the sidelines of our Sifted Sessions Berlin event, she told the inside story of what happened at the fintech — and her advice to any founder dealing with a similar situation in the coming months.


"In Europe, we’re not used to speaking about failure," she tells Sifted. "But I think that if no one gets financial value out of it, we can at least create value out of what happened by sharing what we learned."

A perfect storm of market crises

Let’s rewind to February 2022, the week Nuri went out to start fundraising. Global equity markets were already in freefall. Then the Ukraine war started, Walcker-Mayer says. The VCs the company had been talking to suddenly pulled back while they worked out the impact of the conflict on their own financial situation.

“There was a lot of confusion at that time,” she says. “The same funds that had asked us at the beginning of the year to make our growth case even more aggressive came back six weeks later and said — guys, can you actually become profitable in one year, instead of four?

“But changing your entire company strategy that you’ve been building for 12 months is a really crazy shift. These fundamental business decisions are not easily reversible.” 

Nuri’s C-suite went back to the drawing board and worked out a new strategy to prioritise profitability. This included mass cost cuts; layoffs to 20% of the workforce; and an entirely new feature roadmap that targeted a mass audience for faster monetisation.

“At the same time, we couldn’t be naive and think that raising money was even going to be possible. We had to be realistic and open to a dual track,” Walcker-Mayer says.

“So we also pursued M&A options in Germany and with potential US funds or strategic acquirers.”

Then one of the world’s biggest crypto lenders, Celsius, froze all account withdrawals in June after the value of cryptocurrencies tanked. Although Celsius only accounted for a small slice of Nuri’s revenues, the fallout from this news proved to be the company’s crucible moment, Walcker-Mayer explains.

“In Germany, our name was tangled up in the media coverage of Celsius, which is understandable,” she says. “This kind of huge reputational issue, paired with the already super challenging environment for fundraising and acquisitions, makes it almost impossible to find a partner.

“Even though we had the data to prove that customers were still buying bitcoin with us and engaging well, most funds said the reputational damage was so bad right then that we had to wait for six months.

“But in the end, we didn’t have six months of cash. We were in fact liquid for just two more weeks, so we had to file for insolvency.”


Raise when you can

Walcker-Mayer’s first piece of advice for founders after Nuri’s experience? Don’t hold off from taking cash when you can get it. The company was aiming to raise a Series C going into 2022, but ended up going out to fundraise two months behind schedule. Those few weeks might have made all the difference.

“Now, I look back and wonder what would have happened if we’d gone out two months earlier, but we acted on the information we had at the time,” Walcker-Mayer says.

“Things changed so quickly, and there were a lot of things coming our way that we couldn’t actually have planned for. So what I learned along the way is don’t try to plan your fundraise: raise when you can, and try to stretch your runway as much as possible.

“But that was not the world we lived in two years ago.”

Communication is key

Walcker-Mayer also has advice for founders who may have to make layoffs or other tough choices in the current funding environment; global tech has already shed 366k jobs since the start of 2022, according to layoffs tracker 

“When I look back, I think something that we did do very well is that we were always transparent with our team about what was going on in the market and how that impacted our revenues,” she says.

“What I tried to do from the beginning of 2022 was to communicate monthly, saying: 'One, this is what’s happening externally; two, this is how it affects us; and three, these are the actions we have to take.'

“Although this meant that some employees would come to me and say, ‘Kristina, every month it feels like we’re getting worse news,’ it meant that when it came to the end of the road, our people understood how we got there.” 

When it came to announcing the layoffs, Walcker-Mayer and her team planned so that everyone knew whether their role was affected within 15 minutes of the internal announcement. She also prioritised explaining to each team that it was not down to their skills or performance, but was a case of having to choose teams in order to get to the end result of profitability faster.

“I can remember on the day of our layoffs, I came down and there was a team that we’d had to lay off and they said to me — Kristina, this must have been a hard day for you, come and have a beer with us.

“At that moment, I honestly had tears in my eyes. We’d just laid off these people and that sucks for each individual so much, but they’d understood why it had happened on a professional level.”

Know when to say enough 

No one knows how long the funding squeeze will last in Europe, but investors and analysts predict that we’ve still got some time to go. 

This means that startup founders may have to deal with the bear market for quite some time: and Walcker-Mayer advises that they be realistic about whether they are actually up to that.

“I’d say if you do not believe that you have the power to actually push through these crisis times any more, be true to yourself. Either hand over your role or shut down,” she says.

Hope’s not lost on crypto

Even though Nuri suffered at the hands of the crypto market rout, Walcker-Mayer is still bullish on the future value of crypto.

“Yes, there were plenty of projects that were not legit, that we’ve seen fail. But I still fundamentally believe in crypto’s potential to create a new monetary system.

“The technology will make the financial sector more efficient, and more secure. I think these use cases, for sure, will have a future.” 

Update, June 6: This article originally said that Walcker-Mayer was a founder of Nuri. She was in fact CEO.

Amy O'Brien

Amy O'Brien was a reporter at Sifted, covering fintech