The High-Tech SeedLab is a ten-month acceleration program that started in February 2020. In addition to a monthly grant of 1.500 € every team is assigned a startup coach who makes sure that the participants get the support and knowledge they need. The program also includes tailored workshops and at the end a demo day with a crowd of investors.
Out of many interesting applications the program has taken on 19 grant holders with promising solutions for sustainability. Amongst them are a few with previous founding experience such as Livia Zimermann. During a conversation via video conference Livia shared the ups and downs of being a founder. The following interview is the first of the series “Lessons Learned of Startup Founders”:
Livia, what’s your background and what are you currently working on?
“I studied Business Administration, then Marketing, and I will finish my Masters in Innovation Management, Entrepreneurship and Sustainability at the TU Berlin. Most of my work experience was in Sales and Marketing.
Now I am working on Zero Waste Era, a brand of sustainable cosmetics without single-use plastics. Because of COVID-19 we plan to launch with hand sanitizers and distribute them on the cargo bikes we are building right now.”
What was your first startup about?
“My first startup was a content marketing agency in Brazil that I managed for five years. And when I moved to Berlin I started GinLab. When you are an entrepreneur you cannot just work for other people. I tried that in Berlin for a year and noticed that it wasn’t really suitable for me. I kept dreaming.
I saw an opportunity when I went to a Gin-festival in the UK. Before that I didn’t know the world of gin at all. The festival was so much fun and I thought that the model could also work well in Berlin. When I saw that nobody was doing it I jumped in right away. I got so excited. Finally, I set up the first ever gin and tonic festival in Berlin. The first event went viral with 12.000 registrations. Eventually 800 people came and it was sold out.”
What are your three biggest learnings from your first founding experiences?
- “Don’t be too optimistic. (laughing) With GinLab I did everything that I knew people wanted and I had a big problem with keeping up with all those promises. I didn’t really research how feasible my project was. That was pretty careless from my side.
- Don’t loose perspective by solving all the little things. When things don’t go the way you expect, as a founder you usually stop whatever you’re doing and try to fix it. But even though that little thing is super important I think you should not try to fix it at the expense of overseeing the whole thing.
- If you find a good opportunity do it fast. Don’t overestimate the competition. In the case of GinLab, when I saw the opportunity nobody was doing it in Germany. Then my launch got viral and what happened is that four other gin festivals launched straight after me. I didn’t make enough money and got unmotivated.”
What will you do differently this time with Zero Waste Era?
“Don’t end up making the same mistakes again. With GinLabs I pivoted only after the third festival and I should have much sooner. I learned to fail fast and change fast. I put out something and if people don’t like it I trash it and change. In the case of GinLab, the problem was not that my execution was bad, but the business was. Fail fast and fail often I would say. If we distribute the hand sanitizers on the cargo bike now and the bike doesn’t work, I’m going to trash it and look for a better solution.”
What about being a Co-founder instead of solo founder?
“That was a learning from my first business in Brazil. I was a single founder for five years with more than 10 employees. That was very demanding. Now at Zero Waste Era I have Mark as Co-founder on my side.”
Why did you decide to be part of an accelerator program this time? What are your expectations?
“This may sound cheesy but we can achieve more together. I really think that. I enjoy the team spirit and support amongst the batch 2020 of the High-Tech SeedLab. It’s also nice to have a structure. Not that we don’t put pressure on ourselves. But if it would come to a point that people are not really evolving, well that really cannot happen in an accelerator. They push you further. An accelerator would have been super helpful in my previous businesses. I was too alone. Now I can learn from everyone.”
Being a founder can sometimes be overwhelming. What was a rather dark time for you as a founder?
“My darkest moment was when I pivoted my agency in Brazil. I saw myself working for 14 hours straight per day and only two of them I could work uninterrupted. People were asking questions all the time. I had several junior employees that needed a lot of support. That took a lot of time and effort.”
What would your ultimate motivation quote be for future entrepreneurs?
“Read as much as you can. Push yourself to educate yourself.”
What are your favorite entrepreneurial resources that you would recommend to early entrepreneurs?
“A book that totally blew my mind is Blitzscaling. If you want to grow you have to think unintuitively sometimes. Some things don’t sound right but they are actually the right thing to do. For instance, sometimes you have to spend more than you earn or do things that don’t scale. You can learn so much from those things. It’s a really interesting book because it’s not obvious.
I have a group of female founders that gives me a safe space to be. Surround yourself with people with the same problems, with people who are on the same boat. Things will never go as planned and you will need the support.
Talk to as many smart people as you can to learn from them. It makes you rethink things. Those people remember you because they see you are consistent and a hard worker. They will connect you with others and spread the word.”
Thank you Livia, this was very interesting. Especially young entrepreneurs will find it very useful.
Are you also an experienced entrepreneur who wants to share her/his experience? Then contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The High-Tech SeedLab team and batch 2020 is always looking for entrepreneurs to exchange ideas with and learn from another.