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Dr. Franziska Leonhardt

Dr. Franziska Leonhardt

Dr. Franziska Leonhardt, CEO and co-Founder of Ave & You, an independent beauty brand.

  • Location: Berlin, Germany 

  • Title: Co-founder and CEO 

  • Company: Ave&You Sector: Beauty Tech 

  • Degree: Professor for digital entrepreneurship at DBU in Berlin, Law degree from Göttingen, admitted to German bar, Economics degree from WHU / Kellogg

How does your usual day look like?

Every morning at 9 a.m. we gather in the office for an all hands, during which we set goals and tasks for the day and check on each of the tasks and obstacles the team or any individual may run into. I usually have quite a lot of phone calls or meetings related to funding, new partnerships, product releases, or any other operational tasks you can imagine. That runs from IP, data protection, or taxes to ordering coffee for our machine. I check emails whereby I love seeing customer feedback or reviews of our research conducted and sometimes I reply myself.

The day generally flows by very quickly whereby I try to leave some space for a moment of meditation as I started to discover Zen meditation with Hinnerk Polenski for myself in order to center during a stressful time as well as some room for a networking event like a catch-up coffee or lunch with fellow entrepreneurs, investors or just friends.

What are the things you like the most about your job?

Being surrounded by people who share my vision. Share their learnings. Are driven yet also humble for what they have seen isn't always shiny and nice only.

Getting the best out of everyone around you is one of the most rewarding things about being an entrepreneur.

What are some of the skills you utilise the most in your day-to-day at work?

Grit. Resilience. Effective communication; strong focus; eagerness to learn and be flexible.

What was one of your happiest days in your career and why?

Haha, I would say the first positive Customer review that I received around 2 am at nights. It made me so happy to hear how the products that we put so much love into developing would be giving someone else such benefits.

What was the toughest career decision you ever made?

Probably deciding to found my own company and start my own business. I previously had made quite a career for myself in the corporate world. I had already shifted my career as a lawyer, studied economics, and switched successfully to a C-level position in operations. I wasn't a founder yet I was enjoying building the strategy, the teamwork, and the challenges a leadership position brings. Leaving this security with a child as a single mom was probably one of the scariest things I ever did. And from day one it was really everyday madness.

Our business model presented many challenges from the beginning: A new industry that wasn't accustomed to a female running a tech company, and we needed raw materials, a laboratory, manufacturers, a lot of working capital/funding. It was really difficult to realise this as a newcomer to the industry especially coming from a corporate role where most resources are readily available and your salary gets paid independently from any challenges at the end of each month.

What is something you had to learn to become better at your work?

Not hide struggling or having imperfections but openly show them and talk about them in order to be a role model for others. I always remember thinking that it's scary how perfect people make it sound in interviews. I wanted to go another road and also show the other sides of starting a company.

At the end of the day, vulnerability is what makes us human.

We do not need perfect role models, we need relatable authentic role models with morals and values that inspire us to believe that we can get through tough times.

How did you get to become a Founder and a Professor?

I began my career as a lawyer specialising in Private Equity at Clifford Chance and in 2012 joined Rocket Internet as general counsel later also taking over the chief compliance officer role and interim supervisory board seats. When I left Rocket in 2015 I joined Kloeckner & Co heading their digital entity Kloeckner.i and the corporate venture fund. I continued to advise for startups and private equity funds as well as taking on board seats.

The experience I gained with Rocket and the fascination I experienced ultimately laid the foundation for the next step in my career: founding my own companies.

Then, when starting it and experiencing so many difficulties I really yearned for sharing these with other founders and teach what I had missed before founding.

DBU Digital Business University of applied sciences gave me the possibility to live this dream of handing over my experience in digital entrepreneurship in a concept that suits individual learning habits. It gave me a place to share my network and advise students and create a great learning environment while keeping a practical approach to things.

What's the one piece of career advice you have for anyone interested in becoming a Founder?

Everything is possible if you want it, although you always have to cut corners.

No one should think that they cannot work in a start-up because they come from a different industry.

Put doubts aside, be open, and do not underestimate yourself. Tomorrow anything is possible if you enjoy today ;)

What's your number one productivity hack / when or how are you most effective?

Setting priorities, breaking daily goals into smaller tasks to accomplish throughout the day, and planning ahead. Especially with a child.

What makes you gracefullyBOLD?

Gratefulness and staying humble: expressing and embracing gratitude is a great way to keep yourself grounded but still aware and appreciative of all you have accomplished. Staying humble by all means is the goal for me.

How do you spend your weekend or downtimes?

During the weekends I spend as much time as I can with my daughter just relaxing or doing fun activities together. We are incredibly lucky to live in a very calm and green area in Berlin. It’s a gateway to paradise, with all the linden-lined avenues, chestnut trees, and great green spaces. Here I can relax and recharge.

I also love cooking with her although we have competitions and she gets better than me and that is definitely one of my favourite things to do whenever I get the chance.

How do you deal with stress and build resilience?

As an entrepreneur and mom, life can definitely be stressful at times:

I think it’s important to make time for yourself and try new routines and hobbies.

Meditation is a practice that I have recently approached but have already been able to appreciate the results. Discovering a space for you is the key whatever that means as it can be totally individual.

What would have been your alternative career path or alternative University degree?

Definitely a biologist or chemist. I really love researching in the lab. Still, time to learn maybe later on ;)

What is success to you?

It's a matter of definition. Right now for me, it's Purpose. Being at peace with yourself. It took me a long time to acknowledge that. You will never feel you know enough that you are ready to take your steps. Success to me is being scared but doing it anyway.

One word answers & quick fire round. Let's go!

  • Your superpower: Persistence.

  • Favourite restaurant: 893.

  • Favourite fashion brand: American Vintage.

  • Favourite beauty product: Ave & You.

  • Favourite perfume: Byredo, Bibliothèque.

  • Book recommendation: Shoe Dog.

  • Next holiday destination: Zanzibar

  • Your hobby: Sleeping.

  • Who inspires you: Women.

  • Last thing you learned: Taxes.

Thank you Franziska for sharing your journey & wisdom with us!

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