Interview with Hanna Marie Asmussen, Founder and CEO of Localyze, and Daniela Caserotto-Leibert, Head of Business Development USA, Speedinvest and German Accelerator Mentor
Hanna Marie Asmussen founded her company Localyze together with her two female co-founders in 2018, but the all-female founding team is not the only thing special about this company. Hanna participated in our Silicon Valley Class 2020-1. We sat down with her and one of her mentors, Daniela Caserotto-Leibert, Head of Business Development USA at Speedinvest and German Accelerator mentor in Silicon Valley. We talked about their experience of working together, their learnings and tips for other startups to leverage the time with any mentor, and their best practices on how to get the most out of any mentoring relationship.
Hanna, why did you choose to start your U.S. expansion story in Silicon Valley?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: We’ve been in Silicon Valley before as part of Y Combinators S19 batch and we already started building our network on the West Coast. Afterwards, we decided to build on that with the help of German Accelerator.
Have you worked with mentors before joining the German Accelerator program?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: Yes, both formally as part of other accelerator and mentor programs, and informally with people we met along the way. I think it’s crucial, especially for first-time founders, to get experience from people who have faced similar challenges and made similar experiences.
At German Accelerator, have you worked with other expert mentors besides your lead mentor, as well? And if so, in which specific areas did they support you?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: We have worked with many different mentors. In addition to our initial group of mentors Kati Schmidt, Lisa Neuhaus, Peter Ebert, and Lisa Grobien, I have also talked to other mentors on topics like sales, online marketing, and fundraising. With Daniela Caserotto-Leibert, for example, we spent a lot of time going through our partnership strategy. She also spoke to other team members. She provided great and very hands-on advice!
What was it like to work with the mentors during the German Accelerator Program?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: I think the important part within every mentorship is that the mentor dedicates time, which is often challenging because mentors are often business people themselves and therefore rather busy. The mentoring concept of German Accelerator was super helpful because you have a dedicated amount of mentoring hours – both with your lead mentor and specialist mentors, who offer a more targeted support. The German Accelerator mentors, like Daniela Caserotto-Leibert or Kati Schmidt, spent a lot of time with me and really helped us.
How would you describe the relationship with your mentors at German Accelerator?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: Really good. I think for every good mentorship you also need a personal fit and we definitely had that.
Daniela, how was the experience of working with Hanna and her company Localyze for you? How would you describe the relationship with Hanna and with her company Localyze?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: Hanna is an example of a German founder who is pragmatic and driven – a natural-born leader. It’s impressive to see her vision and her success given that she also managed to qualify for Y Combinator’s S19. She has hired an incredible team, I worked with them in Hamburg, identifying the partnership strategy.
Is there also something you have learned from your mentee, Hanna?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: Stick to your vision and execute, no matter what obstacles get in your way.
And in general, why have you decided to be a startup mentor for German Accelerator?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: I love the entrepreneurial vibe founders have and I’m excited about early-stage startups. There is so much talent in Germany and I want to support German founders during their journey in Silicon Valley. Business is done differently in the U.S. and it can be very overwhelming to start from scratch here.
Let’s talk a little bit about the learnings. Hanna, what are your three main takeaways from what your mentors taught you?
Hanna Marie Asmussen:
- Adapt your approach to the market
- Have specific numbers to showcase the benefit you create
- Always be clear and straight to the point
What has surprised you the most, or is there anything you wouldn’t have expected before joining the German Accelerator international expansion program?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: The quality of the mentor network was really amazing!
What would you recommend to future program participants before they start working with their mentors?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: Make the effort and look at your mentors’ Linkedin profile to find out about their expertise, experience, and network. I think afterwards you always think that you could have prepared better because there is just never enough time, but starting a mentorship with just saying “I need your help” is usually not a good idea. Try to really frame what your problems are and how the mentors can help you based on their profile.
And from your perspective, Daniela, what do you expect from companies that book a mentoring slot with you? Is there any kind of special preparation you would recommend?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: Great founders tend to come prepared with questions. My background is go-to-market, with a focus on building out sales teams and business development. Here I can help review strategies, sales plans, fundraising, or just an intro to someone in my network. The three-month program in Silicon Valley is for many a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Participants should make the most of it by connecting with many other entrepreneurs and mentors. There are many meetups and other opportunities to learn from the best.
What are your top three tips for any startup to get the most out of a mentoring session?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: First, really know your elevator pitch. Second, in many companies, the biggest challenge is the distribution of the product. The more a founder has thought about distribution and written down challenges and possible solutions, the more progress we can make during the session. Lastly, ask yourself what introductions to companies or investors would be a game-changer for your business.
What is the hardest part when mentoring a company in your view?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: Giving feedback is always hard, especially when founders are very passionate about their products. As a mentor, I want entrepreneurs and their teams to get the most out of their time here. It’s super important that the founders include their team in Germany. I suggest weekly update calls to keep their team engaged.
To put it in a nutshell, is there one thing you recommend to any startup wanting to scale and make it in the U.S.?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: Identify use cases in a few verticals and try to make the business as repeatable as possible. That way once you have 10 customers you find the next hundred and so on. Ask yourself the question: Is your product a solution to a specific problem?
What does that mean for Localyze? Have you made any bigger changes to your product or business model for the U.S. market due to your participation in the program and / or due to working with your mentors?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: Through our mentors, we have been able to make many connections to lawyers, which helped us understand the way they do business. This ultimately helped us shape the way we integrate them into our product.
What have been your goals for the program and did you achieve them?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the end of the program was different than we expected, but we were still able to fulfill our goals and really refined our go-to-market approach.
From your perspective, Daniela, what do you think about the potential of Localyze for the U.S. market?
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: I believe there is a huge need for companies to operate on a global scale and that often leads to lots of complexity from an HR perspective. Visa applications and relocation can be painful. Localyze has a solution that saves costs and is more efficient. Thus, their clients can hire talent from abroad with less friction and focus on their core business.
Now, we’re curious. In your view, what makes an entrepreneur?
Hanna Marie Asmussen: Resilience – because every startup journey has bumps and challenges. Curiosity, because you need to enjoy learning new things and keep reinventing yourself and your company. And a lot of energy to literally push the stone up the mountain.
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert: A visionary who doesn’t take “no” for an answer and has the courage to create something from scratch.
About Hanna Marie Asmussen
Hanna Marie Asmussen co-founded Localyze together with Lisa Dahlke and Franziska Löw. After spending a year in Argentina at age 15, Hanna never stopped traveling and living abroad. The challenges she experienced living abroad and constantly moving gave her the idea of founding Localyze.
About Daniela Caserotto-Leibert
Daniela Caserotto-Leibert has been living in Silicon Valley since 2017. Before, she worked in London and Stockholm both in the tech industry and startup scene. Her fascination for Silicon Valley comes from the rapid speed and the seemingly countless number of opportunities this location has to offer.