Breaking the Bias: Female Founders in Digital Logistics

by Sina Grössl on an interview with Elzbieta Wiankowska and Stefanie Kraus

“Women as founders” – a headline that nowadays is very often seen in press publications and social media around the globe. However not because there are many of them, but because they are still quite an exception, especially in the tech industry. What is it like to be a female startup founder? We asked the question to our female Venture Team Loady.

Who is Loady?

Loady is Stefanie Kraus and Elzbieta Wiankowska. They got to know each other when Steffi was looking for a suitable Co-founder for the idea of Loady at the beginning of 2021. Ela joined as a second team member, and they mastered the Entry Pitch at Chemovator in March 2021. "And that wasn't even the hardest part," says Ela, "Steffi was already super prepared." Steffi has 20 years of business building experience in various fields. Hence it was no problem for her when she was asked to search for further digitalization potential at BASF. There were some exciting projects, but in the end, she focused on the digitalization of logistics requirements in the chemical industry. After more than 100 touch points within BASF and over the course of one year, she realized that it would be difficult to realize the project within the existing corporate structure. Steffi already knew Chemovator and knew that it would be a perfect environment to get started with such an initiative. The only thing missing was a co-founder. She found the ideal partner in Ela, not only because of her logistics expertise but also "because she can play at the top, and at the same time also roll up her sleeves and work on the ground to fix the basics."

Ela was already an SC Excellence Director at BASF leading a global team for a few years. “I was anyway thinking about a new challenge, so when Steffi reached out to me and presented the idea of Loady, I didn’t hesitate for long”.

What is different when you are a founder? What are the pros and cons?

Ela: "Although I loved my previous job at BASF, I like it much better as a founder. I think it better fits my skill profile. Working in a corporate environment looks very different. You participate in long decision processes in complex matrix organizations – sometimes you need a lot of staying power to get things done. Here at Chemovator we work in a startup style – you take full ownership of your venture and drive the implementation. You decide about the content, priorities, resources, and speed – seeing and feeling the immediate impact of your every decision. It is a very inspiring, encouraging, and dynamic working environment. And about the cons? Currently, I don’t see any. Chemovator is a protected space of BASF where you get a chance to realize your business idea – it is a great offering. Next year when we are hopefully about to spin-off, there will be probably more topics to talk about”.

What difficulties have you encountered so far?

Steffi: "I wouldn’t call it difficulties, but we had a tough validation phase. We pitched a venture idea related to logistics which was a new topic for Chemovator. So, we had to invest a good effort into explaining the problem and the business value of Loady to the EiRs and our Chemovator Venture Board in a way that they –not being experts in Supply Chain – would understand and get inspired by our enthusiasm. Obviously in the end, we were successful in that because now we are in the incubation phase and close to testing Loady with the first pilot customers.”

Are there differences between women and men in business?

"My experience is that sometimes women and men have different motivations. Women do things often for the cause itself and are intrinsically motivated, while men are more focused on their careers," Steffi says. "Also, women prioritize their integrity more," she has experienced. Ela believes that especially in leadership positions women are more inclusive than men: “They try to bring the whole team together, they want to achieve the goal as a team. Furthermore, women are good listeners or have a better feeling for when it's better to be quiet."

How do you perceive the female founder world in Germany?

Ela: "Well, I think the question of being a female founder or female leader or even a working mum is somehow a typical German topic. In many other countries, nobody would even ask such a question. I believe that it has grown historically. There is just no tradition of entrepreneurship by women or not even a long tradition of women being employed. I mean until 1976, women in Germany still had to ask their husbands for permission if they wanted to go to work. So, I think it will take time until being a female leader or entrepreneur becomes just as normal as it should be in the modern world. But the good thing is – the change is happening.”

Both Steffi and Ela have children. Stefanie is the mother of 3, and Ela of 2 kids. Both have lived abroad for a while. Ela is from Poland and Steffi spent 20 years in Spain. In both countries, it is quite normal to work full time as a mother. "In Germany, the system is just not designed for that," Steffi says. In Spain, she wasn't considered a bad mother because of working 100% - and nobody put in doubt her management capabilities because of being a mum, either. “In Poland, it's also normal to work full time as a mother – part-time working models or long parental leaves are even not much supported, so there is no other option than to work”, Ela adds.

For the future and aspiring female founders, both wish that childcare options in Germany and thus support for working mums and dads will improve. Ela points out that the lessons we've all learned with the pandemic are already moving the situation in the right direction. "I think the pandemic has now turned a corner on the issue of flexible working. For working parents, being able to work flexibly will be a given in the future”, she says.

What advice would you give to other female founders?

"Accept well-meant advice but don't let others discourage you. Take responsibility early. And keep the following in mind: it's not enough to have a cool topic, you also have to be able to inspire others with it." says Ela.

"Before starting to invest in an idea be sure to do your homework and validate it well: listen to users, speak to experts, and do your market and competitor research. And once you are convinced, go for it! But be prepared: independently of whether your idea is good or not: some people – especially men in higher management positions – will tell you that this will never work, that you are completely wrong, and that you should focus on other topics. They say so, even if they don’t know anything about your idea! And when you try to explain it to them, they won’t even listen to your arguments nor try to understand. At that moment it is extremely important to keep calm, trust in your validation results, and don’t let yourself down. If you think their advice doesn't fit, don't be intimidated and keep pursuing your idea. Even if they may call you “mulish” or “obstinate”, adds Steffi.

The two also have more tips for aspiring female founders. For example, they mentioned that it's very important to “know your stuff”, especially in the beginning, where there is no huge team of experts but only you - the founders. Later you can delegate, but in the beginning, you must know your product and its business value by heart. In addition, a good team is very important. Of course, Steffi and Ela also pay attention to the qualifications of their candidates, but even more, they try to find out, how collaboration and communication would work with her or him, and if they share similar values. For both, the right fit is very important when expanding their team.

Best tips for self-management to all founders:

1. Teach your children how to cook for themselves – it is priceless.

2. Have a network of trusted people to support you when you need it (family, friends, neighbors, colleagues).

3. Don’t try to be too perfect. Accept that you can't always give 100% in all areas.

4. Make your family love your venture – you will need their mental support, so they must be also enthusiastic about your idea.

5. Walk the talk and be authentic. As a founder, you are “selling” your idea all the time: to team members, new candidates, customers, investors, partners, and suppliers. This works best if you truly believe what you say and act accordingly.

What experiences or tips can you share as a founder? Feel free to leave us a comment.

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Loady is an industry-wide partner platform for the entire supply chain as it enables safe and reliable loading and unloading processes, that especially hazardous product transports benefit from. Loady provides product and site specific requirements that can be trusted at any point of time, during logistics procurement, transport planning and product delivery.

In Loady, the (un-)loading requirements are maintained by customers and shippers for their respective sites, plants and products. The platform is single source of truth and communicates up-to-date requirements to all parties of the supply chain involved in the logistics.