There is nothing that stops you from moving mountains but your own will and courage.
26. März 2020
Therese Köhler, unsere CEO, hat mit heycater! ihr Lebenswerk geschaffen. Zum International Women’s Day hat sie sich die Zeit genommen, Ihre Geschichte und Motivation aufzuschreiben. Wie ist es also ein Tech-Unternehmen zu leiten, was sind die Challenges und was ist der größte Antrieb? Lies selbst! Danke Therese für den wundervollen Einblick in Deine Gedanken.
YASSSS! Together with my dear friend and board member Robert from IBB Bet I have been thinking about the stamina, strength and potential of today's tech entrepreneurs. Especially the ladies of them. Women's Day 2020 on 8th of March is more than a suitable occasion to share some of the war stories of being a loud blonde in predominantly male tech world.
At Oktoberfest I was talking to former EQT partner Jens Moritz about the merits of being the pink flamingo in between all the dark blue pullunder wearing pigeons in the German founder and VC scene. And don't get me wrong: I love dark blue pullunder and am humble and thankful about all my male founder and VC friends!
Before we dive into my uncensored raw past I want to thank all those who continuously inspired (and/or supported) me:
Christine Lagarde, Dominique Senequier: Thanks for derisking the financial system and ruling the PE world
Franziska von Hardenberg, Lea-Sophie Cramer: Thanks for showing me how it's done, supporting me and being there for me when I needed it most
Bianca Köhler, Charlotte Köhler: Thank you mom for being a first mover as one of the first East German women to study Computer Engineering in 1986, Thank you sister for shaking up another male dominated sector with your studies in agriculture
What is your founding story from day 1 until now?
I started my own startup story when founding heycater! in early 2015 at the age of 24 when I simply wanted to solve one problem: easy access to good business catering. I like comparing the ride to my school days where I went to kindergarten first (early first weeks and months of founding the company), had no clue where to go, was enthusiastic every day like a four year old and played so much all day and night that I even took naps in the office (my living room) when I had to. Primary School started when we raised our first pre-seed money and wanted to deliver our first insights and prove that our market exists. We started our first website, which was based on a marketplace homepage builder solution. During the three days after launch we convinced enough people to place the first orders with us (one of them from Foodspring, thank you Philipp!) and we were really proud to show everyone what a “real traction” we had. Soon we joined Secondary School, faced more competition and had to prove that we have better grades than the other eager students in the classroom. However, the others were able to afford private teachers and expensive work and sports gear (our two Rocket competitors with more funding) so we hustled hard to accommodate the lack of resources (Now we actually like to compare ourselves to Croatia during the world soccer cup, who, out of the unexpected, outperformed all other legendary soccer nations like Brazil and Germany). We also struggled with fear, insecurity and pressure to miss our target GPA (in this case GMV and retention), which made us even more volatile to make it when it was game time (when we actually needed to fundraise). In the end, repeating the year was our only and most valuable option. It taught us that inner strength and stamina could bring us anywhere (we were profitable 9 months in a row and learned how cash could set us free) and helped us to finally get our high school degree (our last funding round when IB Bet, the trivago founders and Hevella joined the ride). Ever since, we are still learning and reflecting every day. For us, it seems like we were lucky to have made it to the ivy league but feels like we are the only underdogs in the class. We know exactly where we want to go and feel like nothing can stop us. Our only way is graduating with an MBA (IPO).
What one piece of advice would you give someone starting a company?
Be pragmatic. If there is something you don’t know, google it. It there is someone who could be valuable to you, get in touch with him. If you fall, rise with grace and kindness. There is nothing that stops you from moving mountains but your own will and courage. Move your ass to work now. No excuses.
What book should every startup founder read?
The hard thing about hard things. This book helped me survive.
My own journal. This book helped me reflect and grow. (This is not a self-praise to my own story. I’m serious – every founder should write journal daily. If you haven’t started yet, start today.)
How to win friends and influence people. This book helped me practice kindness.
What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?
That I was pumped up with fear and it almost cost me my company. I had built a hard-edged, fear-driven company that in itself attracted the kind of people you don’t want to be working at your own firm. There was a time where I was so anxious to make a mistake and to not be good enough that it ate me up. I tried to compensate this fear with working and working out obsessively. I always thought I am not good enough. I always feared I could be rejected. I learned the hard way that I need to be fearless to be successful. I need to want to look fear in its brutal eyes in order to let it go and overcome it. I learned that the price of living a fearful life comes at the cost of not only sustainably outpacing myself, but also at the cost of happiness, health and good sleep. This realization turned my life around and made me a better person. I am artful with fear now. If it enters the room I kindly greet it and walk it out again.
What is something you learned and you lean on daily?
I love routine. I used to wake up really unsteadily, at different times every day and quite last minute to optimize my sleep hours. I learned that this stresses me, that I carry this “rush” sentiment to the office and in the end deliver less quality output during the day. I learned that I actually love routine. I remember making fun of my dad for his rigid way to do the same things at the same time in the same way every day, but there is obviously a reason on why it makes a lot of sense (a good read on that is “The power of habit”). Waking up the same time, drinking a warm lemon water, having the same Oat milk americano at the same bakery every day, enjoying the park part of my way to work where I can hear the most birds sing – these little same things mean the world to me and make me a better person.
What don’t you know that you wish you knew?
There are actually two things:
What would have happened if we wouldn’t have had our downturn in 2017.
How the brain functions and therefore how I can better experiment with myself? (My boyfriend actually challenged me on the latter that nothing stops me from educating myself on the brain, which is why I am currently trying to read as many books as possible from the book list of Harvard Med Schools Neuroscience undergraduate program).
Hire fast, fire fast, do you agree or disagree?
Hire fast and cleverious (you need to build an unbeatable talent experience and optimize for speed), measure your churn during probation (measure quality). Also, everyone deserves a second chance. And If you have to let go, let go with grace.
Tell me a short story about a time that was transformational to you as an individual.
The most individually transformational period was when I had to go through the breakup with my ex-boyfriend and co-founder where we had to handle separating in private and working as the tag team on a professional level at the same time. As we weren’t able to be physically separated to gain the distance that was needed for healing, we tried to use all tools possible to get out of this phase stronger than ever. We immediately sought out a couples’ therapist, who guided us through a the separation period. We also introduced bilateral retros twice a week, which gave us a save space to see the other and learn from the other one as much as possible. It was the most transformational period for me because it taught me to reflect at a pace that I have never reflected at ever before. I learned so much about my time growing up, my needs and my blind spots that I feel comfortable saying that it helped me become a better person and leader. I also believe that if you work better as a team even after you went through being in love and breaking up, there is nothing that can come in your way anymore.
What is your personal superpower?
I believe I have quite a strong will. I also think I am quite energetic as a person. Both help me achieve the goals that I am setting myself.
What do you believe that most around you disbelief?
This is a good question. I hope I understood it correctly. If this adheres to things where I have a deviation in self image visavis public image then the most obvious that comes to my mind is that some of my very close friends tell me that I have a “reality distortion”. At first I wasn’t even sure what this term means so I googled it. When I realized its meaning both positive and negative I reflected. I came to the conclusion that there were times during my founder life where I was definitely given the advice to quit, that heycater! was a “sinking ship”, that I should “take some time off” or that I was “too young and too inexperienced” to make it given the competition. And you know what? In the end, I always did whatever I thought was best for my company. Now we outsmart, outpace and outstamina whatever and whoever comes in our way.
When did you realize you were wrong about something?
Interesting question, I think I could name you an instance every day where I have a strong opinion on something but I am actually wrong about it. Every time I feel pain I was wrong about something. And I am actually a strong believer in “no pain no gain”. I was wrong about our early expansion. I was wrong about many people and hires. I was often wrong about my own capabilities. I am wrong about something almost every day and I crave to learn and grow from it.
What unit of time matters the most and why?
I have the feeling that if I want to optimize for the best possible day I have to frontload on double-digit minutes (usually 50 minute intervals). If I want to optimize for quarter I have to frontload on achieving the best possible week. Generally speaking I like speed and short timespans.
What needs to be changed in the world of tech/ venture/ startups?
I think the world needs more kindness and more good workplaces. I am a believer in company culture and a mindful corporate mindset. With that I mean that especially the market movers, high performing tech firms, should leave no trace (BM rules!) on their people and the environment. I really hope I will build a company big enough to have a voice and a lasting impact on society and the environment as well.
And then let’s finish on the next five years for you and your company. What does the future hold?
I wish that one day every company will love and use our product on a daily basis. The next 5 years will be decisive on making this a reality. Let’s use the time wisely.
To save the best for last: Thanks to my amazing heycater! team. You make me want to be superwoman day in and out. I am proud to have the strongest management board ever with an equal ratio of men and women.
#heycater #womensday #techscene #techentrepreneurs #internationalwomensday #thankyou #womensday2020