“I think, if you want to be a successful startup founder, especially as a woman, you need the determination not to give up when the going gets tough.”
Germany is at the bottom of the international female entrepreneurship scale with just 15 percent of new businesses being founded by women. Although the number of female entrepreneurs is rising according to the “German Startup Monitor”, there is still vast potential out there that simply isn’t being tapped into. QVC NEXT wants to share essential know-how with female entrepreneurs, open doors to the worlds of retail and media and encourage women to get in touch with their “inner entrepreneur”.
In December our QVC NEXT team travelled to Hamburg to attend Ladies Dinner, an event that is regularly organized by Hamburg startups. Women who have already started a business can attend these special networking events to get in touch with like-minded people and share their experiences with other startup founders.
All participants had inspiring and interesting stories to tell, including Sandra Roggow. Sandra is the founder of Kitchennerds, a successful platform for professional chefs. In the interview she talks about her business and her experiences as an entrepreneur in the startup world. Sandra also shares her views on what she thinks makes a successful female entrepreneur and her advice for women starting up their own business.
Hi Sandra. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sandra Roggow and I am 38 years old. I have a degree in communications and I used to work in the advertising industry – as Deputy District Manager at Digital Media Women in Hamburg. I set up the Kitchennerds platfoplaplplatform in 2013, and I was recently asked to be on the Social Media Week 2018 advisory board.
What is Kitchennerds?
Kitchennerds is a platform where people can book a professional chef to prepare a meal in their home or cook at a function or give a cooking workshop. Our chefs sometimes join forces so they can cater big corporate events and they work very well together as a team. We also help some of our clients with the planning and organization of their events and our chefs take on cooking demonstration assignments for companies that want to promote their products. I founded Kitchennerds in August 2013. It took one-and-a-half years to develop the platform and then we went online with it in Hamburg at the end of September 2014. Today we are also taking assignments in Berlin and Munich.
How did you come up with the idea for Kitchennerds and what motivated you to found the company?
I had a second job as a freelancer at Qype. For two years I managed the “Qype Live Hamburg” group and brought the community together at events. My main employer obviously noticed that I was out and about quite a bit, and that I was testing a lot of restaurants, so they would ask me to book a good restaurant or organize a “private chef” for an evening. It wasn’t easy to find chefs for private functions. What I really needed was an overview of all the chefs who were available so I could choose the best one for the function. I couldn’t find any information about the chefs’ cooking styles, personal details or prices. Over the weeks and months I started to think about how I could solve the problem. The more I thought about it, the more the idea for the platform took shape.
Even as a child I was surrounded by people with their own businesses. I had plenty of role models – including women. I grew up in an environment where many people were freelancers (most of them artists) or had their own companies with employees. I was always impressed by their courage and achievements. My parents were the exception. They preferred to have “safe” jobs. I definitely always knew that I’d be self-employed one day. My partner (who also has his own business) and Digital Media Women, where I was surrounded by self-employed women, have always given me confidence. That obviously played a part in my decision to leave paid employment and set up my own business.
What are your plans for your company’s future?
I’m currently planning to establish and expand our business in Berlin and Munich. We are also extending our show cooking portfolio and want to include more product promotion services. There is no shortage of ideas and places where we can market our platform.
Looking back on your startup career up to now, what would you say your biggest achievement has been?
I think it’s a pretty big achievement to have a service concept that inspires loyal customers. Many of them book our chefs a second time or become regular customers who try out different chefs for different occasions. Even the biggest corporate event we have done was a customer recommendation. We provided the chefs and service staff for the New Year’s Reception hosted by the management board of a famous German car manufacturer and it was attended by more than 60 VIP customers.
And what was your biggest setback?
I’m lucky not to have experienced any real setbacks. There have been a few glitches, but that’s not unusual when you start your own business. For example, last summer I got a lucrative project for a team of show chefs. I got them all to sign NDAs and then, just before we signed the main contract, the entire project was cancelled. But it’s all part of the process! It has added to my experience and now I know how to deal with the tax on projects for foreign customers. The Chamber of Commerce also gave me lots of good advice on how to write my customer quotes.
Why do you think so few women set up their own businesses?
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of women earning less than men – even though they have the same qualifications and are in the same positions. The equal pay situation in Germany is pretty sad compared with the rest of Europe. It means that many women aren’t able to save enough money to start a business.
What advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs who want to set up their own business?
My advice to future startup founders is set up a good network, source people who can be co-workers or skill sharers, and find good cooperation partners.
Co-working spaces and events in the local start up scene are the ideal places to find partners. Generally, I recommend meeting up regularly with other entrepreneurs so you can share ideas and learn from each other.
Women are often more cautious than men.
And women are often more cautious than men. The men at one of my recent lunches gave an “evolutionary” explanation, which actually sounded quite plausible. Women tend to wait until they are 150 percent certain they can do something until they actually do it. Men, on the other hand, have absolutely no qualms about taking something on even if they are only 20 percent capable of doing it. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that it shouldn’t be the reason why women (statistically) get far less funding than men with the same concept and the same team! It feels as if there aren’t enough investors willing to support female entrepreneurs, and, as a result, many of them miss out on investment opportunities! This is something we have to change. We have to raise the visibility of funding and mentoring opportunities and make sure they are more clearly communicated in the media!
We have to raise the visibility of funding and mentoring opportunities and make sure they’re more clearly communicated in the media!
Some female entrepreneurs complain that people don’t take them seriously because the startup scene is male dominated. Have you ever experienced that?
No, I haven’t experienced that personally. Maybe I was lucky. But maybe people just didn’t show me their reaction, or I didn’t notice it.
Anyway, the men in my work environment have always been very generous with their support and I appreciate that.
What are the attributes of a successful female entrepreneur?
I think you need to be competent in your line of business, creative, passionate about your product, and you also have to be determined, resilient and have a good network. If you can move forward from setbacks and see them as an opportunity to grow and learn, you can’t fail! A successful female entrepreneur is somebody who doesn’t give up as soon as the going gets tough, somebody who can take a lot of hits, but also take pride in her achievements. You can’t just measure success in figures. There are all kinds of other things to be proud of that you never knew existed before you started the business.
Have you encountered any people, events or institutions that have helped you as an entrepreneur?
I’ve met some inspiring female entrepreneurs (now all with established businesses) who genuinely impressed me. I always look forward to meeting up with other women who have their own businesses because they are a great source of experience and you can learn a lot from them. And, vice-versa, I have shared some of my own advice with other startup founders. If I have time, I like to attend networking events because they are great places to meet other female entrepreneurs. Sometimes when you meet people you realize that your two businesses can benefit from collaborative synergies. When I was setting up Kitchennerds the Chamber of Commerce, its commercial library and the Startup Center next door were fantastic. I found all the materials I needed to write my business plan there, and there were people to give me advice, which helped me a lot in that phase.