Embracing the digital revolution

25.10.2016 | Text Laura Pomer | Photo Stefan Haehnel
Verena Pausder interview
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She’s Mercedes spoke with the entrepreneur Verena Pausder about the importance of functioning networks for women and digital education for children.

If you listen to Verena Pausder, you immediately want to take part in one of her many networking events where she empowers women to become independent. She knows what she’s talking about: Pausder is in charge of her own business which she founded four years ago: Fox & Sheep, a company that releases apps for children.

In Germany, many parents are sceptical towards the idea of apps for children - “those who have not taken a glance at any of our apps yet”, says Pausder, but they definitely should. Even more recommendable is following her lead as she guides viewers through her lovingly designed digital animal worlds with pride and enthusiasm. These kinds of “works of art”, as she describes them, emerge in cooperation with award-winning children’s book authors, Academy Award-nominated graphic designers and industry heavyweights like the animation studio Dreamworks. The development can cost up to 150,000 euros and last nine months. But apps like “7 little animals waiting for a vet”, “Sweet dreams, circus” etc. arguably teach children more empathy and have more educational value than most episodes of the popular German children’s show “Sandmännchen”.

Verena Pausder

Pausder wants to get Germans accustomed to digital education: a topic that other countries face open-mindedly. Her apps have already been downloaded more than 15 million times. For her passion for good content, technical proficiency and entrepreneurial work, she recently received the scoop award for media entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, she does not consider herself to be the figurehead of the movement since “there are so many other” successful self-made businesswomen. Still, there is more work to be done.

Pausdren Children App
Kidds App Game

She’s Mercedes visited Verena Pausder in her Berlin home to speak about challenges faced by parents during the digital revolution and her strategies for managing business and family.

Ms. Pausder, why do you think German parents tend to be sceptical towards your apps?

It is less scepticism than lack of knowledge, which in some ways results in fear. However, this applies to the whole process of digitalisation. People do not like change as much as they like the status quo – just because it’s familiar. Going against it can engender opposition, but I would find it boring not to. I think that innovation often occurs when people hesitate and have critical opinions about issues. Whenever everyone agrees with you, it usually means that your approach is not new at all.

Have you noticed that your children’s interest in digital gadgets comes naturally?

Yes, it’s totally intuitive for them. Whenever they touch the screen, something always happens. This is the amazing quality of the tablet: its accessibility. It doesn’t matter whether a child has clumsy little hands or is very savvy, he or she can always play with it, listen to an audiobook or watch a video. Parents perceive a lot more security with our apps because they can be “frozen”. With this feature, a child cannot simply leave the app by pressing the home button. They can stay in the app or put the gadget away, but will never ever stumble upon shady websites or advertisements.

I think that innovation often occurs when people hesitate and have critical opinions about issues.

Verena Pausder

At schools, skills like learning how to type faster on mobile phones or use the computer have become new educational goals for children. What do you think about phasing out handwriting as they are doing in Finland?

If you ask me, it is too radical. You do not have to question, demonise or eliminate everything that used to exist before just because digitalisation is in progress. I would never say that we do not require books because we now have iPads. It is rather a new dimension of the children’s lives and the challenge is about us not being able to refer to our own childhood. We cannot ask, “How did your mum do it, how often were you allowed to use her tablet?”, but have to experiment as responsibly as we can.

Tell me more about your “ladies” networking events.

We have been doing the “ladies dinners” for four years now. There, I meet up with approximately 40 founders in new restaurants; we make conversation and do short presentations. For me, it was important from the very beginning to make sure the meetings are cool, not a feminist get-together, but one after which the women go home and say, “It was really helpful to me!” Nevertheless, my aim is not only to allow women inside the programme to network further, but also to access more and more women. This is why we founded “ladies drinks”: They have a bigger format, 100 to 200 women attend it, and they are supposed to empower women who dream of becoming self-employed.

Verena Pausder relax

As an expert, you give the women your advice and motivation. What value do these events have for you?

The fact that I personally know every single woman who founds a company here in Berlin. We can play into each other’s hands and help one another. It is a real network, but it is a functioning one – not one where you pay for the membership and ask yourself at the end of the year how you profited from it. If I receive an invitation to speak at a panel and know that I won’t make it, I can suggest another woman – and make her happy. It’s also satisfying to me because I know that it means not only men will attend the panel.

Is this the reason for your explicit instruction that men are not allowed to attend? Have you experienced that women need to be taken by the hand in this way?

I grew up in a very un-feminist and un-feminine way. I played football and had a strong bond with my dad who runs a family business. He would always take me seriously and speak about important issues with me so I never had the feeling I needed to meet up with women to be listened to. Then while discussing the ratio of women to men in companies, my grandfather told me: “If you are against something, you have to be for something different. Obviously, change does not happen automatically.” And now there are numerous networks that include men and women, but nevertheless there are mostly ninety men and ten women. Maybe women just need a secure place where they can discuss issues in a different way – and I’m not saying that the conversations always deal with children, career and the combination of both. Instead you can maybe approach women in a different way when there are not fifteen men in the room who also do something exciting.

You do not have to question, demonise or eliminate everything that used to exist before just because digitalisation is in progress.

Verena Pausder

Do your private background and family influence your work?

Absolutely! Sometimes I have exhausting days when I wish I had a nine-to-five job so my thoughts wouldn’t keep me busy five hours after the working day ends. But always when I’m rushing somewhere, I keep in mind what a wonderful husband I have. He and my kids protect me against every identity crisis. At home, I never have to fight or do things that steal my energy. Because of this, I have so much energy for the rest of the day!

That sounds perfect. Do you have further goals or are you satisfied?

I don’t have the perception of having “arrived”, having experienced all I wanted to, and now just needing to preserve the memories for the next twenty years. There are many goals left! I would love to travel the world with my kids, for instance. Another great desire of mine is to have a day off on Wednesdays. That way I could operate at full power on Mondays and Tuesdays, which would benefit everyone, then with a free day on Wednesdays, I could take my kids to school without stress, work out, read, do grocery shopping. After that, I would work full tilt on Thursdays and Fridays and then it’s already the weekend. It would be perfect! Then I would perceive my life as a vacation.

Thank you for our interview and best of luck conquering the nurseries in Germany!

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