From Corporate Employee to Startup Founder

By Katharina Göhl in an interview with Loady GmbH co-founder Elzbieta Wiankowska

Meet Elzbieta Wiankowska, co-founder of Loady, a company revolutionizing logistics and driving automation as well as digitalization in the industry. With a mission to simplify logistics processes and bridge a fundamental gap towards automation and digitization, Loady fills a crucial need in the market. Elzbieta faced many ups and downs on her journey from corporate employee to startup founder. In this interview, she not only shares her experiences but also discusses how external voices encouraged her along the way.

Why was Loady founded and what role did you play in it? Was there a specific industry problem or bottleneck?

How did I come to Loady? It was by chance - or perhaps even fate. The problem eventually landed on the desk of Stefanie Kraus, my co-founder, who back then was active in the realm of Industry 4.0 at BASF. Steffi recognized the potential of the issue and decided to pitch it to Chemovator. She was looking for a co-founder when, after a few rejections, my name came up. She called me and explained in a few sentences what she was looking for: A co-founder with logistics expertise and a desire to transform the industry. It was a Wednesday. By Friday, I had agreed.

What inspired you to take the leap from being a corporate employee to a startup founder?

I think the offer came at the right time for me. I had been in my previous job (Head of Supply Chain Excellence) for quite a while and was already looking for a new direction. I have always felt a drive to change things, try new things and build something. The timing was already quite crazy: In the middle of the Covid lockdown, homeschooling two teenagers. I thought, the world is already upside down, so why not add a startup to the mix?

What challenges did you experience in transitioning from a corporate employee to a startup founder?

The beginning was quite tough. I took on the role of Product Owner at Loady, and I had zero experience in that area. It was just Steffi and myself and we were tasked with building a new digital product. This meant learning quickly and handling many things simultaneously. Every day, I had to step out of my comfort zone. The good thing was that the situation was so brutally challenging that I eventually stopped seeing it as a challenge but more as the new normal. My comfort zone boundaries simply shifted permanently.

How did you prepare for this transition and what advice would you give to others in similar situations?

The advantage of Chemovator is that you can really prepare for the transition. Sure, you jump into the cold water, but the jump is accompanied. You have a few months to come to terms with the idea of founding a company and managing your own business. Of course, you ask yourself questions: Should I really do this? Is it the right thing for me? Can I do it? Personally, a pro/con list and an assessment of personal risks helped me.

What were some of the main differences you noticed between your work at BASF and leading your own company?

Oh, there are many! Primarily, the number of decisions you make daily. Also, the range of topics I have to deal with as a founder. Constantly switching from one topic to another. Many uncertainties, constant reprioritizing and high pace. But as I mentioned before, eventually you see it as the new normal and don't notice that it's different anymore.

How has your work style changed?

I work much more flexibly and digitally now. In my new role as Product Owner, I had to learn many digital tools that I use daily: JIRA, Figma, MIRO, Confluence, etc. We all work remotely, so online meetings with the camera on are our main medium of collaboration. As we continually onboard new employees, the team dynamics constantly change. Shaping the team and adjusting my work style to the new configuration are both part of my new daily routine.

What new responsibilities have you taken on as a founder compared to your previous position?

Many things were new, such as the Product Owner role that I mentioned earlier. However, in some areas, I could build on my previous experience. For example, as COO, I am responsible for Customer Success Management, which means overseeing onboarding projects for customers. These are essentially change management projects with a strong optimization component, running under the title ‘digitalization initiative’. I am not new to this. In my 20 years at BASF, I have worked on many projects and led many of them myself. This experience helps tremendously.

What skills or traits have proven to be particularly important for your role as a founder?

Decisiveness, openness to new things, willingness to take risks, perseverance, positive thinking, organizational talent and willingness to learn.

What were some of the most important lessons you learned along the way?

The most important lesson for me so far is that you need to know exactly what is happening in your own company. At some point later, when the company is bigger, you might be able to delegate certain topics. But to do that, you need to understand exactly how the venture works, how your product functions, what the strengths and weaknesses are, the risks, the roadmap and what Plan A and Plan B are.

Can you tell us about any other individuals or experts who influenced your decision to start your own company or who supported you on your entrepreneurial journey?

The first person that comes to mind is my husband. I coordinated the decision to leave BASF with him and he was the one who immediately said, ‘Do it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ My two children have also supported me along the way, with comments like, ‘Mom, we're proud of you.’ That gives you a lot of energy.

What role do external voices or partners play in the development and success of Loady?

A very significant role. Without BASF experts and other validation partners from companies like Evonik, Bertschi, Lanfer, Talke, Hoyer and Kube&Kubenz, Loady wouldn't exist. Many people from these companies contributed their input to the design of our platform, tested it, provided feedback on the features, and suggested improvements. We at Loady are very grateful for that. A special thanks goes to my ex-BASF colleagues from the Petrochemicals division, who supported the idea of Loady and our delegation to Chemovator from the beginning. Without them, there would be no Loady today.

How would you describe Loady's company culture, and what values are particularly important to the team?

Fairness, work-life balance, open communication and self-organized, agile workflows are of central importance to us. We are a diverse international team, where everyone has an important role to play. And, of course, the customer is always at the center for us - we want to make their logistics easier.

In what ways does Loady's company culture differ from typical corporate culture?

Agility and self-organization are certainly more present with us than in a corporate environment. But that is the nature of a startup - not specific to Loady. We have short decision-making paths, are flexible, fast and pragmatic.

What advice or tips would you give to other aspiring founders, especially regarding starting a startup in the supply chain?

It's difficult to give advice when you're still a young startup like us. Nevertheless, a few things come to mind. Don't just listen to your gut but also to your product users. User feedback is extremely important to improve.

Elzbieta's move from corporate to startup life was driven by opportunity and a desire for change. The confirmation that this was the right path and the importance of staying true to one's goals were recently further highlighted by an exciting update:

Loady, the latest spin-off from the Chemovator Evolve Program, has successfully secured €3.2 million in funding! This investment, led by Startup BW Innovation Fonds GmbH & Co. KG and MBG Baden-Württemberg GmbH, marks a major milestone in the digitalization of supply chain logistics and the reduction of CO₂ emissions. With this funding boost, Loady is set to expand its operations, improve its digital platform and continue its mission of driving innovation in the logistics sector.

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Elzbieta's Background

Ela is co-founder and Managing Director of Loady GmbH, Digital Product Manager, expert in logistics with many years of experience in supply chain optimization projects and digitalization initiatives.

She worked more than 20 years in different positions in the area of supply chain management at BASF. Before she joined Chemovator to build Loady venture, she was responsible for a Supply Chain Excellence unit at Global Suppy Chain Operations of BASF, where she and her team were driving digitalization initiatives for transport planning, export and import management and freight cost control. End of 2021 she started as Co-Founder and Product Owner incubation of Loady at Chemovator to successfully spin off as Loady GmbH in September 2023.