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“Lessons from Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech” With Douglas Brown & Gesche Weger

Get in extensive discussions with your potential customers very early to find out whether you really are solving their problems.Select the right partners. If you don’t understand everything one hundred percent, regarding what the potential partner does or intends to do or what his business model is, clarify that. Listen to your gut feelings.Do not […]

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Get in extensive discussions with your potential customers very early to find out whether you really are solving their problems.

Select the right partners. If you don’t understand everything one hundred percent, regarding what the potential partner does or intends to do or what his business model is, clarify that. Listen to your gut feelings.

Do not take yourself too seriously and try a build a fun place to work.

As a part of my series about “Lessons from Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gesche Weger, CEO and founder of Packwise, a tech start-up in Germany that is working to radically improve the chemical and liquid logistics sector. Gesche, a mother of three, has worked internationally in Germany, Switzerland, UK, and the US as a consultant, researcher, and analyst for a range of businesses before returning to Germany to set up Packwise. In her spare time, Gesche is an avid reader and traveller who enjoys skiing and hiking.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My background is in economics. I started my career in economic research, which I enjoyed a lot. However, I was not content with the working culture of the places I worked for, and I have always played with the idea of starting my own company. What appeals to me is being able to shape something myself and to play a significant role in influencing the working culture and the meaning of what we are doing. When we (my husband and I) came across the topic of industrial packaging and saw what smartly connected packaging can mean for the supply chain we were immediately hooked.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Experiencing the power of networks was especially interesting for me, particularly in the first phase of Packwise. We started with a loose idea in a newly opened coworking space in a city we did not know very well, but we quickly found ourselves with a large circle of people who supported us, a perfect founding team was created, and we had access to consultants, investors, pilot customers, and all kinds of brilliant people who assisted us operationally.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Looking back, we laugh about our naivety of thinking that the initial business idea would work just as outlined by us at the very start. In reality it turned out it would take quite a few rounds of twisting and turning. We learned that it takes two things: to set up a very carefully considered plan; and then to stay flexible and to always be prepared to break away from the plan if there are compelling arguments for it.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

One thing I have learned in the continuous ups and downs: nothing is ever as bad as it looks, and nothing is ever as good as it seems. That helps a lot to not lose the focus. I have never considered giving up (okay, maybe that thought sometimes came up, but never lasted longer than half an hour). As team members different things make us ‘tick’ and we experience different emotions at different time, but there will always be one of us to pull the other back up when needed and to celebrate together.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

We are very grateful for the all the continuous help and support we receive by various people. It is hard to pick one, as enormous progress was made at the start because of those select people who shared our optimism and then worked critically with us to solve detailed questions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favourite quote would be “You grow with your tasks”. When entering new territory, it is impossible to know it all. Knowing that I will grow along with my tasks is a continuous boost of confidence to me.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

What I find most exciting about Packwise is that we cure pain and we create totally new opportunities. Our Industrial Internet of Thing (IIoT) solution “Packwise Smart Cap” creates a digital twin of intermediate bulk containers, which are the main packaging for liquids in the chemical supply chain. Insights into the customer’s state of consumption present industrial companies with radical new opportunities in production planning and designing business models, such as automatic reordering and inventory management.

Furthermore, having transparency regarding where your containers are and what state they are in enables you to increase container utilization and to reduce organizational workload by automating processes. The use and management of bulk containers — a traditionally very costly and inefficient system — becomes sustainable and simple thanks to our efforts.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our advantage is that we combine in-depth knowledge of the business we challenge with state-of-the-art IT expertise. As a result, we are much faster in implementing product improvements. For example, one customer thought an additional feature would take us a few months to implement where it actually only took us two intensive days of team effort.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The race to create and dominate a multi-billion industry has just begun. That is why we are constantly pushing boundaries. Basically, everything is new all the time.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

A few days ago, I opened my son’s second year schoolbook and was shocked to see that for one assignment the children are asked to assign various toys like football, dolls, etc to either boys or girls. Let us start here. I am not joking when I say that the next page was not on gender stereotypes, but on gender-specific physical differences. We need to strengthen the self-confidence of girls to deal with topics that are traditionally dominated by men. Prominent role models can achieve a lot here.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

If you are a woman in the tech (and also in the business) field, people often first assume more of an assisting role and face you in that way. At first, when I wasn’t fully aware of this phenomenon such encounters gnawed at my self-confidence. I do not think that you can change these expectations from one day to the other, but awareness about the preconceptions can lead to not taking them personally and educating peers, colleagues, and business partners.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

I don’t really feel I am in the position to give that sort of advice yet. However, what always helps me is to get some distance, either with my mind, focusing on other subjects and then coming back to it after a while, or changing physically. There is also the added benefit that some distance provides you with new perspectives.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

What we learned is not to waste time persuading people, but spend time finding those people that can be convinced and committed from the very start.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

Be 100% honest

Build a relationship to really understand what the customer wants

Deliver on your promises and do not promise what you can’t deliver

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

In B2B sales cycles are long and decisions are made to last at least for a bit. For us it is important to continuously stay connected with the customer to see whether they are getting the most out of our product and to identify areas for potential new developments.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

Things always take longer than you expect. It is important to have ambitious schedules. However, particularly in hardware development, we experienced that it is almost impossible to foresee all the small details that lead to time lags.

Have the key competences in the team. A befriended tech company has relied on outsiders for a very important core competence and, after a while, they had lost control of the costs and lost the overview, which forced them to quit.

Get in extensive discussions with your potential customers very early to find out whether you really are solving their problems.

Select the right partners. If you don’t understand everything one hundred percent, regarding what the potential partner does or intends to do or what his business model is, clarify that. Listen to your gut feelings.

Do not take yourself too seriously and try a build a fun place to work.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I think that movement would be about positive thinking and showing humanity within your community. Such a movement could lead to a lot of people living more satisfied lives.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I generally find it extremely enriching to talk to older people, as they have such a valuable treasure of life experience. Especially the over 90s; they have such interesting perspectives as they have experienced times that just seem so far away for us. What I would really love to do is to meet the Queen of England for an extended lunch and talk about her life.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

Thank you so much for having me and thank you for the good wishes.

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