Over lunch at a Japanese restaurant in the heart of Berlin’s Mitte district, Franziska von Hardenberg, founder of Bloomydays (a successful subscription-based flower delivery service) offers her own perspective on being a woman entrepreneur:
“Actually, there are many occasions – events, panel discussions, conferences – where I’ve been the only woman. However, I think the whole discussion is overrated. And, to be perfectly honest – it’s something that you can use to your own advantage so easily!
I don’t believe men are more successful as founders – generally speaking – or women are, because they might have more to prove. I see so many great people, men and women, who have phenominally good ideas, who are driven, strong at execution, and who are simply great founders. It just depends on the person. Personally, I don’t prefer working with men over working with women – maybe I sometimes find women more reliable, which is why I have a very strong network of great women around me. Networking means work to me – you have to connect, follow-up, at least meet over lunch some time. It’s one of the reasons I only rarely visit networking events – I simply don’t have enough time for it. But in my experience, if a woman agrees to do something for you, for example to make an introduction to someone, there is a much higher likelihood that she will indeed follow through. Especially in the startup scene here in Berlin, it seems to be a little easier to connect with women who are at a similar level, in a similar situation.”
Asked if she thinks that women and men have different approaches to founding companies, Franziska claims that women seem to think that they need more skills than men. “Men always feel that of course they can found a company! Coming from schools like WHU (one of the German business schools producing the greatest number of aspiring founders), they feel that naturally they are perfectly capable of starting a company. But when it’s the right person it really doesn’t matter if they are male or female. I just think there are a lot of people right now starting companies simply because it’s considered hip and fashionable, even though they’d be perfect in corporate employment, and that bothers me.“
She continues: „I’ve been wanting to start my own company since I was twelve years old. At five, beach-holidaying with my family, I’d try and run a business selling painted sea shells to other tourists. I don’t think you can influence if you have a hand for founding companies or not – you have to really feel it, really want it. And I don’t believe that you can learn being an entrepreneur – in the end, you can learn the necessary skillset, but you can’t learn the attitude it takes.
For me, things have been clear since I was twelve, so all I did were steps towards that one goal. Changing jobs quickly, learning as much as I could and then moving on. Since last year I’ve had that feeling of ‘OK, I’m ready now’ – and when the idea for Bloomydays came along, I just felt that I really had to do this. It was just too good, and there were no more excuses to be made.“ Laughing, she adds: “Oh, and there was also one other thing: I’ve always been great at complaining about bosses I had. I always felt that I could do stuff better – and now I felt that it was time to prove it. I was basically challenging myself to do it to prove that I could.”
Before founding Bloomydays, Franziska spent some time working for Zalando, one of Europe’s most successful ecommerce-companies. Zalando was designed along very similar lines to Zappos, the American online shoe-selling success story, and is one of the flagship projects of a controversially discussed, Berlin-based tech company called Rocket Internet. Rocket Internet is a hot-house for copy-cat companies modelled by successful international concepts, and was founded by three brothers, Marc, Alexander and Oliver Samwer.
During her time at Zalando, Franziska was responsible for the Zalando Lounge, a flash-sale subsidiary, leading a team of 60 people. Asked about gender issues at Zalando, Franziska politely declines a statement, but does not hesitate to underline her respect for the Samwer brothers. “On a business level, they are simply very impressive. One might disagree with some of their methods, but – once again, purely from a business perspective – their success proves them right.”
Very much a hands-on person, Franziska stresses that one of the aspects of running your own company she loves most is the fact that everything is based on getting things done, everyone lending a hand independent of their rank or seniority. “Never in my life have I ever felt that I was doing something that would have been ‘below me’. If something needs doing, it gets done – and if everyone helps, it will be done that much more quickly.”
Contrasting collaborations executed with women or men, Franziska praises the cordial, warm, supporting behaviour of women with a “sometimes almost reflex-like adversary attitude from the guys”, making negotiations more time-consuming and less constructive.
No aim can ever be set too high.
“Why did I start up my own company? Because I want to created the best job in the world for myself. This is not about wanting to make my first million before I’m 30 – I want to love going to work, and I want to work with the coolest people. I want the happiest, most enthusiastic customers, and I am working with the product that I love most in the world. And it was my idea! Copycat businesses are run purely for economical reasons, and just building something based on an idea, without proof of concept: that’s an entirely different ballgame. It is the most wonderful thing, and completely independent from gender: doing something you love and which you believe in, and giving it your best shot. It just takes a very special type of person to do that… I guess being a little crazy certainly helps.” she adds as an afterthought, laughing.
While the waitress is clearing away our plates, Franziska thinks for a moment. Then she says: „If there was one piece of advice I could give to someone founding their own company, it would be this: aim high, and never stop working to achieve those aims. Because if you keep working, you will reach them sooner or later. It is a basic attitude towards life, entrepreneurship and your own venture: that no aim can ever be set too high, because it will only mean that you know what you are striving for. Know why you do it, and don’t let yourself be distracted.“