Edition F founders Susann Hoffmann and Nora-Vanessa Wohlert speak about the challenges of a start-up and the value of friendship in helping to run a business and start a family.
For any woman working today in the digital media business, Edition F is the site: the successful online community has become an integral part of the digital landscape in the space of less than three years. And yet behind Edition F lies a lot more than just the story of the beginnings of a successful media start-up. It is also the story of a friendship between two women who, together, were determined to make a difference. Just six months after starting to work together, Nora-Vanessa Wohlert and Susann Hoffmann decided to start their own business. Today, Edition F is one of the most influential Internet communities for women in Germany with more than 65,000 subscribers on Facebook. In the interview below, the two ladies tell us how they coped with the challenges and opportunities of a business partnership.
You started Edition F in 2014. How well did you know each other then?
Susann: We got to know each other about eight years ago through a mutual female friend when we were both doing a traineeship in different agencies. That’s when it all began. We met up from time to time, to watch Germany’s Next Top Model, for example, or to eat together in the evening. Then, at one point, we made the decision to work together. We set up the business about six months after that.
Isn’t that quite a short period of time to decide that you want to plan a career together?
Nora: There are lots of people who start a business together although they were just friends before and hadn’t ever actually worked with one another. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Susann: You can never rehearse your daily routine anyway. It’s a completely different thing working together in a company where there are clearly defined roles within a big team and there is a given structure, compared to trying to set up your own company culture yourself.
Which qualities do you value most in each other, both professionally and personally?
Susann: We have a good feeling for what the other one is trying to achieve so we always manage to agree on what to do in the end. Even if we don’t always approach things in the same way, in the end, we always manage to find some common ground and develop a common vision. I think the most important thing are the values of the company and the aim towards which we both work and that any sensibilities and egos don’t take centre stage.
We need to be reminded of the fact that some things “happen to everybody”, but that is precisely what’s often missing in the start-up scene.
As founders of a successful media company, what were some of the things you have had to deal with and how did you overcome these challenges?
Nora: The most dramatic thing was the first year when we had some solvency issues. We had some quite tense meetings with the team while, at the same time, having to continue looking for new investors. That was pretty tough. We did have some strategic ideas but we were also quite lucky to be able to emerge from the situation in the end. That was also a result of us sticking together as a team. That’s a situation which lots of companies sometimes get into but one which very few people talk about.
Susann: Talking about obstacles like that doesn’t happen very often although it is precisely the thing which would provide help and encouragement. You can compare it to being a mother: when I sit there and watch other mothers whose babies are crying, it’s actually a really nice feeling for me because then I realise that it’s not just me who’s in that position but others are, too. We need to be reminded of things like that, the fact that some things “happen to everybody”, but that is precisely what’s often missing in the start-up scene.
How have you been preparing for maternity leave? Which role is Nora taking on now in the company?
Nora: Susann isn’t involved in day-to-day operations at the moment but, mentally, she is very focused on strategy. Maybe even more than me because I am very involved in the day-to-day business. For the other areas which I hadn’t covered before, the solution was that I attended some of the meetings beforehand and then Susann slowly showed me the ropes one step at a time. And still, there were moments in the last few months when I phoned Susann and asked for her advice. Before her maternity leave, we often used to sit together and talk things through. You do miss that exchange of ideas. You notice that some things take longer because either you have to think about things harder or because you are waiting to speak to somebody. That’s the biggest adjustment.
Susann, how have you organised your time since the birth and when do you want to return fully to daily work?
Susann: Because I had a Caesarean, it took me a bit longer to recover both in the hospital and at home. Then I had to get used to my new situation: understanding my child, coping with new rhythms. Now, in the ninth week, we have found our feet quite nicely: my partner and I are fortunate in that we understand each other’s situation and are flexible enough to be able to support each other. We are planning to split things roughly 50-50 so that we can both continue with our jobs.
Has starting a family changed the perspective that the two of you have regarding Edition F? Has there been a shift in your personal or career goals at all for the two of you?
Nora: I can’t say that for sure at the moment. We both knew that we wanted to start a family at some stage and yes, I do think that this changes peoples’ overall view on life. Then, family comes first. As a businesswoman, I have the freedom to find different models to be able to combine work and family life. It’s also important to look at these models as an employer. For instance, our editor-in-chief had a baby just a few months after the company was founded. She was then on maternity leave for six months and came back to work full-time. That was only possible because we showed a lot of flexibility regarding her working hours. This freedom is often not available in large corporations.
Susann: Now that I am a mother I have a fresh understanding of and can appreciate certain issues more which mothers in the team have to deal with. I also think that, for our readers, it’s a kind of proof that Edition F really practices what it preaches: which is to provide everything that working mothers need who want more than a job as a shop assistant or to be a housewife.
What are you planning for 2017?
Susann: We want to be even truer to our vision. For us, it has always been about building a digital community for strong women and women who want more from life and from their careers. A community like that is formed when people believe in something or share a common ideal, where people get involved and come together. That’s why we want to offer various community services by, for example, giving users the chance to exchange ideas on the platform as well as to stage community events; some of which will take place away from Berlin in places like Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt and Munich. That’s what we want to focus on in 2017.