Since the beginning of 2014, JUNIQE has been on the market – and has since become one of the most successful German startups. We spoke to founder Lea Lange about how the fairy-tale rise of JUNIQE with her two co-founders began. Their recipe for success: keep it simple.
Lea, last year Forbes Magazine chose you for their “30 under 30” list and now you officially belong to the 30 most successful under 30-year-olds in Europe. How did that come about? Where did your success story begin?
My co-founder Marc and I originally worked at the small but very successful e-commerce startup Casacanda in Berlin. After just six months, Casacanda was taken over by Fab.com. As a result, we had very high budgets very quickly and we were basically thrown in the deep end. After two and a half years, Marc and I were sure that we didn’t just want to be staff members number one and two but that we wanted to start our own company. So the business idea came more from our private life. I’m very passionate about design and can spend a lot of time on it. But even for me, it’s really difficult to find things to hang on the wall if you don’t want to get involved with real art and you maybe don’t have the necessary funds available, but equally don’t want to just pop into IKEA. We had the feeling that there is a market for that. That’s how the idea for JUNIQE was born.
Do you think that it is important for your own success to find a niche which you can get excited about?
I don’t think that’s true for everyone. But of course, when you are starting up, a lot of things are easier – beginning with the fact that you work day and night for the first few years. You can only do that if you are passionate about what you do. At the same time, you have to keep convincing a lot of players that your own idea makes sense. Whether they be investors who you want to continue to be involved with financially, staff who you hope will give up their second job, or our creative talents who really have to want to work with us. And I’m more than sure that you cannot effectively convince anyone if you are not passionate yourself. Of course, the startup phase is also a time when there are a lot of ups and downs. If you don’t have that passion for your idea, you won’t be able to see it through to the end.
Where did you find the will and the courage, in your mid-twenties, to embark on this journey with its ups and downs – and to take such a risk?
For me, it was clear during my Casacanda time that this would be my next step. The starting-up period where you need to really get things moving was the most enjoyable time for me. I’m a doer; I like to get things done and to build things up. That has been my focus at JUNIQE. I’ve never actually sat down and thought about what could or might happen. We needed to get a lot of things started and up and running at a pretty fast pace. My approach was always: keep it simple.
How would you advise a woman today who is dreaming about realising her own business idea?
What she should definitely be aware of is that you cannot run a business on the side. You will need to put a lot of time and resources into it. Another important point is the one I just explained: don’t try to analyse all your decisions from every possible angle but be prepared to just do it and trust in your instincts to tell you the right thing to do. Whichever way it goes in the end, you will learn a lot. And then, I think it’s important to really think through your own idea and continually work to improve it. We have never had a phase in our business when we thought we could just sit back and enjoy the ride. There is so much to do, especially at the beginning, that it’s impossible to get everything done. So the question is: which issues are worth me investing my time in? You mustn’t lose your focus by doing hundreds of little jobs. As the founder, you have to learn to delegate.
If you don’t have that passion for your idea, you won’t be able to see it through to the end.
Do you get the feeling that women face different challenges than men when starting a business?
I know from experience that it is still extremely rare for a woman to start a business, which is a shame. But I’m equally convinced that starting a business always brings a tremendous number of challenges with it, and you really have to put a lot into it. You could say, there is a large potential for frustration. That applies to me but also to Marc and Sebastian. Performance is a lot more important than gender when founding a startup company. That’s what makes investors believe in the idea and the team. By the way, I’m a fan of mixed teams, and I believe that they provide significant benefits.
What are your wishes for 2017?
Of course, at JUNIQE we always have turnover targets we want to reach, but, what is even more important for us and what is a real challenge for a lot of startups, is to have sustainable growth and to achieve a certain size as a company. That’s why I hope, of course, that my staff also continues to develop and keep their joy and passion so that we can reach that goal together. That applies to me too, by the way.
And for the next five years? Will we still be having debates on the gender pay gap or on women’s quotas for supervisory and executive boards in 2022? Are those some of the issues that you consider at JUNIQE?
Of course, that’s a subject which is ever-present for me and is regularly brought to my attention, be it through journalists or through events where the organisers would love to have a female speaker on stage. At JUNIQE, it is automatically an issue because about 60 per cent of our team are women. Actually, I think that only actions will bring about a real change in thinking. We need more female role models, more women who demonstrate that anything is possible, and success stories that will encourage other women to do their own thing. As it stands at the moment, it looks as if this change of thinking is a somewhat more lengthy process.