Interview
06/05/2024

Dry spells during the startup phase: Does persistence always pay off?

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Anyone who has founded a company knows that entrepreneurship is all about self-discovery, but just as much about taking risks, making your own decisions, breaking new ground and dealing with setbacks. At Burda, there are several colleagues who have taken the plunge into self-employment alongside their full-time jobs. One of them is Simon Bründl, Head of Product Consumer Medi,  in the Product & Innovation team. He, too, has had his share of ups and downs developing his startup.

The vision behind "LifeTeachUs

For the past two and a half years, Simon and his co-founder Ludwig Thiede have been developing the social start-up "LifeTeachUs". The concept was born out of discussions, reminiscing about their own school experiences and wondering: "Why didn't they teach us this in school?". With this nonprofit organization, they want to fill the gaps and best prepare children for adulthood. In Germany alone, more than one million hours of learning lessons are canceled every week, creating an opportunity to provide practical, real-world content through their platform. Schools can register on the platform for free, while individuals have the opportunity to become "Life Teachers" and share invaluable life lessons with young students. Missed educational opportunities are transformed into valuable life lessons.

"We all have valuable life experiences to share. That's why we believe that anyone can become a LifeLesson teacher," Simon explains. These lessons can range from career advice and interpersonal skills to tackling global challenges and promoting personal well-being.

Close to the technology

Putting words into action: When Simon and Ludwig had the idea in 2021, they didn't hesitate and jumped in head first: Every evening after work and on weekends, Simon switched from his Burda laptop to his personal computer: He designed the digital strategy for LifeTeachUs, developed a scalable concept, and independently programmed a mobile app to match school requests with suitable Life Teachers in real time.

But launching a startup on top of a full-time executive job? That must be exhausting. "Yes, but it's also a lot of fun. I learned a lot. A lot of it I can apply to my work at Burda," says Simon. He also received a lot of feedback from his colleagues. "As a business IT graduate, it was the perfect opportunity for me to stay close to technology. As marketing manager, Ludwig was responsible for all marketing, developing the branding and concepts for acquiring schools and LifeTeachers. Within a few months, the first platform was up and running and the site was live. Simon and Ludwig were immensely proud of their vision and the effort that had gone into making it a reality. But despite their ambitions, immediate success remained out of reach.

Navigating Challenges and Setbacks

"We faced a shortage of applications," explains Simon. "While it was relatively easy to find potential Life Teachers, getting the schools on board proved to be a major hurdle." Wearing jackets and carrying a handful of flyers, Ludwig went from school to school, presenting their concept and trying to convince principals. But the schools were skeptical, saying the concept was too new, too progressive.

"We kept having the same discussion with principals," Simon says. "Unclear accountability and too many uncertainties that they didn't want to take on." Although the concept was fully developed and the Life Teachers had gone through an extensive selection and training process-including police clearance and training-the breakthrough seemed far off. "At some point, we came to the question of whether we should continue," Simon says. On the one hand, they had already invested a lot of time, their own money, and their heart and soul. On the other hand, they were tired of the schools' reluctance to embrace innovation. "Of course, you start to think about where the journey will go from here. We were dependent on the schools and we knew it wouldn't work without them."

Reaching new heights: "We had proof"

Then came the turning point. They pressed on, even though the start-up was in danger of failing. "We had to keep going. We are passionate about educational equity and we still believed in our idea". And with time and patience, the first successes came: The first schools agreed to support the startup. "Their trust in us was the key to our success," says Simon. "The more schools that joined, the easier it was to show that our idea worked: We had proof." More and more schools signed on. The highlight: about three months ago, ZDF aired a segment on LifeTeachUs. Their reach, especially on social media, skyrocketed.

Since then, things have only gone uphill for the two founders. Today, more than 70 schools and 250 teachers are active on the platform. And the students are thrilled. "With LifeTeachUs, we are giving children what we missed when we were in school: Inspiring people from all areas of life sharing their unique wisdom with the students," says Simon. The number of supporters grows, the team behind LifeTeachUs expands, and the mission is further pursued.

Being a Life Teacher means not only giving, but also receiving. Angela Martia Laprell, a Life Teacher, confirms: "Experiencing how much you can shape the atmosphere in a classroom was completely new to me at the time. I can only encourage anyone who enjoys sharing knowledge to try it out. It's truly fulfilling."

Next challenge in sight?

The next chapter is already waiting for them: Finding investors to expand and scale the startup. Investing in NGOs with large-scale digital solutions is still uncharted territory for many. Will there be another dry spell? Possibly. But Simon and Ludwig are convinced that the right concepts will prevail in the long run.

Simon's tip for you

This is exactly what Simon would like to pass on to all colleagues at Burda whose start-ups have hit a roadblock: "If you believe in your idea as passionately as you did on the first day, then keep going. Don't allow yourself to be discouraged. If there's one thing I've learned in the last two and a half years, it's that failures and successes lie very close together."

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Downloads & More

The team behind LifeTeachUs. A colorful mix of experts from the fields of communication, business and education who share a common goal: To expand the educational offer for students with life-related topics © LifeTeachUs

"What do you wish you had known when you were in school?" - A question that many people ask themselves and one that Simon and his team use to draw attention to the possibilities of LifeTeachUs © LifeTeachUs

The sixth grade of Berlin's Music Gymnasium recently had a special lesson: young carpenter Mascha Kriegerowski visited the school to tell the children about her profession © LifeTeachUs

The big highlight of the last few weeks - the video report about LifeTeachUs on ZDF television. Here is a look behind the scenes © LifeTeachUs

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