“Don’t Just Meet People, Do Business With Them”

Interview with Alice Behrendt, Company Scout & #Fempreneur, Currently Based in Berlin

“I was never planning to found my own company. In fact, I was supposed to start working as a consultant in an advertising agency.” Of course, we at German Accelerator are very happy that things turned out differently and that Alice Behrendt joined our team as a Company Scout in August 2020. Being a female founder herself, she brings great personal experience and valuable know-how for supporting interested startups in finding the right program for their international expansion journey. We sat down with her to find out more about insights, the ups and downs she experienced along the way as well as her tips and best practices for other young founders.

Alice, you have already founded your first startup straight after university at the age of 22. How did the idea come about?

When I started studying in Madrid, I was using this app called “El Tenedor” which let you book restaurant reservations with up to 50% off during low peak times. As a student at this time, it was amazing to try out all the great restaurants Madrid had to offer. Actually, it seemed completely normal that the most hyped restaurants were participating. When I came back to Berlin to continue my bachelor’s, any restaurant over here giving discounts still had a rather shady image. When I was about to finish my studies, I told two friends, who had been working in the startup scene, of this idea, and we were asking ourselves why such an app didn’t exist in Germany. They eventually convinced me to try the idea out myself, and that is how the journey started. I was never planning to found my own company. In fact, I was supposed to start working as a consultant in an advertising agency.

What’s the one thing you’ve learned during your startup journey that you would tell any other founder?

What was most important was talking about the idea and trying to get as much feedback as possible. So, often a short chat turned into a super helpful conversation and intros. Of course, you still need to be confident about your idea and “filter” which feedback actually is helpful for your business. Believe in your idea but be open to adapt.

Would the German Accelerator program have helped you as a startup founder?

I didn’t get to the point of expanding internationally with my startup, but if I would have, I’m 100% sure that German Accelerator had helped a lot. The experience and access to such a vast global network of experts is something that would take much longer if you’re trying to build it yourself – network-wise, it would probably even be impossible. The name carries the promise: The program literally accelerates your business.

Many people have a good idea that they would like to start their own business with but don’t dare. Do you have any tips?

Again the most important thing is to talk to as many people as possible. The more feedback you get, the more confident you become. Talk to potential customers, clients, partners, etc. I also tested my idea with surveys to see whether there is a market for my business. I also recommend talking to industry experts and other successful founders within your company’s sector. They might have a better understanding of your product, the key assets you should definitely have, and pitfalls you want to avoid from early on.

Another aspect that was super valuable for me was to have mentors and coaches that accompany you along the way and support you not only with one conversation but long-term because they will have deeper insights and can actually track progress, help you find new angles, etc. Even though it’s the most convenient way, just positive feedback from friends and family doesn’t help you understand whether your idea is really needed or can make a change. You need honest and realistic feedback to be able to really solve a problem or improve something. The more you’ve got, the more confident you can bet. Finally, you have to dare and just do it.

What was your biggest challenge when founding a company?

I was a single founder, which, looking back, made me much stronger and taught me a lot. At that time, it was very limiting, though, and much harder to convince investors, partners, etc., to believe in you because there is no one else there. I didn’t want to wait for the right person or team to come up, I just wanted to get started. Looking back today, a sparring partner would have been really valuable – someone who is in the same boat with you shares the same vision, challenges, and journey with all the ups and downs.

Let’s talk a little about your role at German Accelerator. You’re a company scout, but what exactly is it that you are doing and that fills your days?

As a company scout, I advise interested startups regarding their international expansion and support them on their way to applying for one of the different German Accelerator programs. That means I get to know the companies, try to find out where they currently stand and what the next steps regarding international expansion could be. Together, we are talking about the right timing for the next step, the most suitable market that offers the largest potential, and also about the preparation to have everything in place to really go international. It’s really about the individual challenges and needs of each company to find the best solution and work with the startups on where they stand. Another big part is about connecting them with the right people in our network. Sometimes it is also valuable to talk to our program teams on the ground to further evaluate whether it’s the right time for your startup to scale globally.

That sounds super exciting! What’s the one thing you like most about your role?

I just love talking to so many different founders from all kinds of startups. As our programs are relevant to such a wide range of startups from all stages and industries, it is always very interesting to meet someone new and understand what their business is trying to tackle. Of course, it’s also great to work with such a wonderful and international team! Being up to date about what is going on in the startup world within and outside Germany is super exciting.

What was the best advice you ever got?

A mentor once said to me, “Alice, don’t just meet people, do business with them.” I used to wait for others to make the first step when it came to cooperation, investments, etc. He was right, it’s important to not waste time but grab opportunities by the hair, speak up and, well, talk business.

If you could change something in the German startup ecosystem, what would it be?

It’s kind of a trending topic to say, but it’s true that Germany is still quite judgy when it comes to “failure.” If a business idea doesn’t work out, that means that a founder has failed. Countries like the U.S. are much more open to “trial and error”, which inspires more people to actually build their own business and the fear of failing is not as high. Another important aspect is all the regulatory and legal paperwork Germany requires. As a founder, it is difficult to understand what you have to comply with. The system should become more startup-friendly, not only from the perspective of being a founder but also when it comes to startups as employers. I think, in general, it’s not big news that there are a couple of things where Germany definitely needs to catch up. Things like ESOP (= Employee Stock Ownership Plan) are definitely important. In the end, I have to say I can’t complain, the entire startup scene was really supportive and open to newbies like myself back then, and I have learned a ton of things that I am grateful for.

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