Franziska von Hardenberg landed a hit when she founded BLOOMY DAYS, Germany’s first online flower subscription. The successful entrepreneur, also mother of an eighteen-month-old daughter, reveals what constitutes a good boss and points out room for improvement in political matters.
She's Mercedes: Franziska, you had to raise the starting capital to found BLOOMY DAYS via crowdfunding because the banks refused to help with financing. You also didn't receive a state start-up grant. How did you manage to persevere despite these setbacks?
Such setbacks are normal when starting up a company, and yet they still always feel insurmountable. It helped to imagine that I didn't have to take the direct path up the mountain. It is sometimes easier to take the winding route up to the top – you reach the same destination at the end. Before founding the company, I worked as an employee for five years in order to gain experience and security. There was no guarantee that everything would work out as I had imagined. And if not, then I still had something that I could fall back on. So, although there were many challenges, I was still pretty relaxed about launching a company. This is a totally different approach than many men would take, who start up a company immediately after university and are not necessarily concerned whether it is a success or not. This simply does not match the increased security consciousness that many women have.
You are very politically involved and have initiated, among other things, 'Salon Privé', a discussion group between politics and the start-up scene, which Angela Merkel attended in January. What can German politics learn from founders?
I believe that employers carry a certain social responsibility. With regard to digitalisation, we need to make sure that we don't miss the boat in Germany. It is therefore important that we seek dialogue with politics and express clearly what the outcome must be. I think Angela Merkel is an impressive woman; she has a thirst for knowledge and is open to digitalisation. Thus, we invited the top forty German digital entrepreneurs so that they could see that we have someone at the top who is interested and supportive. This event provided important impetus, but we must also ensure that we continue to push this issue in the years ahead.
It is sometimes easier to take the winding route up to the top – you reach the same destination at the end.
Is there another issue particularly dear to your heart, on which you, as a boss, have a direct influence?
A political topic very close to my heart is the lack of equality between men and women in the working world. Germany still promotes a very conservative family model. Parental allowance is fantastic – I don't contest that – but it does disadvantage women who would like to return to work earlier. This should not be the case. We need to find a model that enables women to be more flexible and able to return to their job after a shorter period of time, using parental allowance to pay for childcare, for example. At BLOOMY DAYS, we try to find the best possible and most flexible solutions for all our employees who start a family. However, we also have to ensure on a political level that women who wish to return to work earlier are not financially disadvantaged compared with those women who choose to stay at home.
Why do we always only think about women when we talk about the compatibility of family and jobs?
It is interesting that, as a woman, you feel the need to justify yourself when you work. In twenty years, when my daughter is starting her professional career, hopefully it will be a matter of course that women manage companies, have a career and still have children. It is, however, much more difficult to change the existing concept in people's minds than it is to create improved conditions for women. Particularly, as men, specifically in management, also bump up against the glass ceiling when they decide to be away for 6 months or only work part-time. Naturally, at some stage, this will no longer be the case. However until this paradigm shift takes place, we must make sure that every opportunity is open to all women in order for them to find the path right for them.
What appeals to you about being a boss? And what makes a good boss?
Firstly, it's the constant process of examining yourself and the feedback of others that makes a good boss. You must continuously reflect on where you actually want to be and what is driving you. In my case, it was the dissatisfaction that arose while I was an employee – because I always felt that I could do it better. I could identify with the issues and probably always did a good job, but when I went home in the evenings I was frustrated, because I felt that I could do it faster, better and more efficiently. That I am able to decide for myself is the greatest freedom that I have as a boss. It is a life-long learning process, but it fills me with satisfaction to be able to make things happen. At the end of the day, it is never really me making decisions by myself, but I am reassured by the thought that I can do something if I really want to.
And where is BLOOMY DAYS headed under your management?
Well, we started with the first flower subscription in Germany. Now that we are established, we are looking at everything to do with flowers and revolutionising it. This disruption is what brings me the most joy. Eventually, whenever someone thinks about flowers, they should only think of BLOOMY DAYS. This is my goal.
And where are flowers at their worst? That's easy: at filling stations. Franziska von Hardenberg and BLOOMY DAYS have already developed a solution to this. On 5 May, the new 'BLOOMY BAGS' test phase will begin at selected TOTAL filling stations. The flower bags not only look great but the flowers stay fresher longer without having to stand in water. Buying flowers at the last minute just became fun again.