Interview with CEO and Co-Founder of Eeve (geteeve.com) – Jan Senderek
After his undergrad Jan started as the first employee for the tech incubator Betafabrik in Cologne, Germany, where he was on the founding team of the cleantech company GreenPocket. From there Jan moved on to pursue his Master’s in Technology Entrepeneurship inLondon and to start his own venture Eeve.
Eeve is a “London based startup creating something fun for events” if we follow your motto – correct? Take us back to the early days of Eeve, how did the idea evolve? What happened since your first brainstorming session? What is Eeve today?
“Yes exactly, Eeve is about having more fun at events, while we define events as any kind of social gatherings or better „shared experiences“ such as a night out with friends in a pub. Eeve allows you to create adhoc location based social networks, which we call „Eeves“. Based on these networks you can collaboratively find out and share who is with you, the pictures that have been created and what is going on. Your friends at home can then follow what you are doing in real time as well.
Inititally we started with a slightly different idea. I love to go out and party and when I moved to London I had the pain that many have – you don’t know where you should go, you don’t know what’s going on tonight without having the right friends yet. So we thought we can build an app that shows you events around you in a beautiful and simple way. We quickly learned that it would be difficult to get good data – our aim was to provide high quality information, since you don’t want to end up in touristy places. That is the reason why we came up with this entire real time social layer on top of what people are doing and made us pivot into what Eeve is now.”
You run your own business now but did you have any kind of experience or have been working in a startup before? Have you been already involved in the industry in Germany?
“My life around startups started right after school. I helped out in my sister’s startup in Switzerland for a couple months and then during my undergrad in Germany I continued by doing internships and working part time for several startups. Starting early on helped me a lot to build a network in the tech ecosystem and enabled me to join Betafabrik, an incubator in Cologne, as the first employee. Working at Betafabrik was an amazing experience for me because I could learn two things – the entire creative process of coming up with a viable product concept and the investment side of starting a company. First I started in business development where as a small team of 3 we were in charge of coming up with new venture proposals, which led to the founding of GreenPocket. Once we decided to found GreenPocket I took over the product part, being responsible for the conceptual and strategic creation of GreenPocket’s product portfolio.”
It’s common sense that working for big corporations and startups is mostly as different as day and night. Personally, what are the main differences for you when it comes to working experience, atmosphere, responsibility, and creative leeways?
“Big organizations need structure to cope with the amount of data, processes and people they have accumulated. And usually this prevents the good people from being awesome, because for every decision and move that someone wants to make, there are boundaries.
I am a startup kid. I love working in small teams, being able to make adhoc decisions and to move things forward quickly. And that is for me the biggest differentiation on a professional level. On a personal level I prefer working in startups because of the cozy and relaxed atmosphere. You can easily get to know each other and become really good friends at work.”
You started your business in London, the center of the European startup ecosystem. How important is the “community” if you are an early stage startup?
“The community was basically the only the reason why I moved here. Even though Cologne is one of the better places for people in tech in Germany, there is no comparison to London. London has a much bigger and diverse community, packed with smart and ambitious people. For me it was always important to start my company in a vibrant place, not only to have a good time with like-minded people. It is way easier to find talented people here that you want to work with, and who share that same vision for life/work and your passion for tech and internet. “
At this point your team is still rather small, but in case you would grow really fast (as we all hope) and you need to hire, what would be your strategy on recruiting the smartest people to assure the success of your company?
“This is quite a tricky thing. How am I supposed to attract bright people after let’s say we have already 20 on our team and all the big stakes are gone? My number one strategy to find awesome people proactively would be to leverage my own network. I highly appreciate recommendations from people that are kind of in the same boat.
But this of course has limits and beyond that it will be mine and our team’s task to ensure that we create an environment around the company that somebody from outside wants to be part of. It’s about having fun at work with like-minded people, sharing the same vision and being able to change things.”
Who would be the ideal employee for Eeve? Which qualifications, characteristics, and morals do you value?
“We are not interested in polished CVs with big names printed all over them. We are interested in people that are charismatic, smart, innovative and passionate about what they do. We want straightforward problem solvers on our team. A future team member will simply have to show us why he is different, believes in the big picture behind Eeve and how his experience and skills are an asset for us. That’s it.”
Graduates only secondarily think about applying for jobs in startups. What is the source of the problem (e.g. universities, recruitment agencies or startups)? Do you think startups have to be more pushing on recruitment to get the smartest and most creative people?
“First of all I believe there only exists a problem for startups in certain industries. But that is a problem that always existed (for SMUs for instance), which is to get attention as an employer. Startups like Facebook or Groupon (are these still startups?) don’t really have an issue in finding people, besides developers, which is a general issue given by the scarcity in some skills. Just imagine Facebook would roll out a massive HR campaign. It is the startups that do not have the traction on a mainstream level yet. These are the companies that are struggling in finding the right people.
I believe it is pretty easy to convince someone to join a startup today. People get the advantages of working in a small team and being able to be a part of something that is still evolving. I don’t think there is any problem with the startup ecosystem. The startup and tech industry are doing great jobs – everybody who gets in touch with a startup never goes back. It is all just about spreading the word and getting people’s attention, which requires resources most startups don’t have. That’s why I love projects like workinstartups.com to help us out there.”
What would you answer if a graduate asks you for advise on his job search? He got two job offers: one from a well-known corporation (good salar/low entry level), and one from a small but fast pacing startup.
“I would try to understand his motives and what his expectations from life are. It is pretty simple to give the right direction then. If his aims are about earning a salary to pursue his hobbies, knowing where he will be in 5 years from now and settling down for some years, then I will advise him on entering the big corporation. If I can identify that his goals lie in finding a passion in his professional career and being able to decide and move things, then definitely the fast pacing startup. Startups are only for people that work hard and love it because they think it is fun.”
Last but not least – what can applicants expect from Eeve as an employer? Why should someone consider to work for your company?
“Working with us at Eeve is fun. From the bottom of our hearts we are passionate about our product and want to change how people network based on their location. We do not have much to offer on a monetary basis yet, but we make sure that everybody will achieve his or her goals when joining our team. Our product is about having fun and so should work be.”
Thanks for your time, Jan, and good luck with Eeve!