How to make it as a founder with Tanja Sternbauer
Updated: Aug 28
Founding your own business can be quite challenging and it's for sure not for everyone out there. We asked none other than our own very co-founder Tanja Sternbauer to share her insights and learnings of #howtomakeit as entrepreneur. Interested to hear what she had to say?
Starting off with her drive
Having had her start as an intern in the startup industry being surrounded by mostly male entrepreneurs provided her with a model for what not to do: to not only be driven by money and ego (like a lot of them were).
Instead, Tanja decided to let her passion for giving back to others guide her. Another one of her passions? To bring more women and female potential into leadership positions, which she noticed at the start of her career to be seriously lacking from.
Her desire to have a bigger impact led to her partnering up with Mahdis Gharaei, her now partner and co-founder of the female factor.
Yes, the team matters.
During her first venture HeyBeauty, Tanja learnt about the value of choosing the right team and being surrounded by the right people.
A clash between founders and a team lacking a solid foundation were two of the reasons that she assigns to her first venture being later sold to competitors.
What did she learn from it? An insight into the skills necessary to being an entrepreneur, including being firm with her employees at times and telling people what they had done wrong, all with compassion.
Some tips of how to select the right people:
When partnering up, talk about your values to see if they match up before you embark in a joint venture. Talk about each of your expectations and exit strategies out of the company. She says that finding her now co-founder, has been one of her greatest blessings and reasons for their joint success. The fact that they can share decisions, responsibilities and a vision has been imperative to their achievement.
See your people under the light of tough situations. Sound counterintuitive? Tanja says no. Seeing people at their worst will allow you to see who will stick around, as well as enabling you to see how people handle the pressures of embarking on a new venture.
The importance of being surrounded by the right people
One of the most important lessons that Tanja has learnt thus far in her career: the importance of finding and being surrounded by your tribe.
She now knows on a really deep level that the importance of who you choose to surround yourself with cannot possibly be underestimated, especially if you’re trying to make it as a founder.
Surround yourself with people who are truly supportive of what you are trying to achieve, whether this be your partner, your family member(s) and any close friends. Make sure that even if they don’t share your vision, that they understand that your business matters to you.
What else does it take to make it?
Tanja emphasised that having mentors early on largely contributed to her later success.
Not only did they spur her on and teach her the ropes of being an entrepreneur, they were also the ones that painted a picture of what she could achieve and instilled in her a sense of confidence. They told her of the importance of simply getting started, minimising striving for perfection and just having a go at things.
She says that the thoughts that normally stop people on their tracks when thinking of starting a new venture, such as 'I lack enough money' or ‘I'm not ready yet’ should just be ignored.
She says that getting started is the best antidote for not knowing where to begin and that much about being an entrepreneur is learnt on the job.
Bonus tip from Tanja: don’t forget to have fun and remind yourself why you chose to enter this game. To her, one of the key reasons why she chose to be a founder is because it brings her joy, so she constantly reminds herself of that.
Some of her other answers to your questions...
Can you work a normal job and start a business at the same time?
She says absolutely. This is how she managed to achieve some of her early success in her previous ventures. Having a stable paycheck from a different job enabled her to have the stability that was needed for her to soar to new heights.
Aim for a job that either gives you the flexibility and time to work on your business, or opt for a role that doesn’t take up all your mental space, so you can invest it in starting your own company.
How can you achieve work/life balance?
Tanja says it’s all about finding out what works for you. She doesn’t like prescriptions or just one way to do things, just because society tells you so.
She has found, with time, what makes her tick in order to find balance, which for her includes long hours of work (which she finds pleasurable) whilst living close to the beach. There is not one answer, so she tells you to dig deep for your gold.
How much capital is needed to start your own business?
This greatly depends, according to Tanja. Embarking on a new business as a freelancer will require a lot less capital than to start a scale-up business.
What helped her at the beginning was to live within her means and saving money.
Furthermore, if you’re looking for investors, she says to be aware that there are both upsides and downsides to the decision. Reporting and making money for your investors will be a reality, so make sure you’re aligned in the same vision and that you do your research into these investors. Plus, don’t forget to check your intuition to see if they’re the right match.
If you want to skip on investors, make sure to look for grants from your local government. Look to the systems that are already in place to help entrepreneurs looking to make a difference and make use of them.
Some final words from Tanja...
Although having a clear vision for what you want to create is really important, don’t forget that a successful business also aims to alleviate a real world problem that people would pay for. The way to find out whether your business is viable and profitable, is to survey as many people as you can before you begin.
Moreover, how you set the tone within your business from the start matters. If you have a small, tight knit community of customers who believe in what you’re trying to create at the beginning, this will help you later on when you’re trying to scale.
Stuck for what to do? She says that at the start of her career, when she was confused and stuck for answers, what helped her was to write down her vision and her strengths.
She also reached out beyond her circle to find the answers she was after for #howtomakeit as a founder from the right people.
Finding the right role model to accelerate your career...
According to Tanja, one of the best investments you can make for yourself and for the future of your business is to find the right mentor. Having a structured program that helps to keep you accountable, can mean the difference between success and failure.
Interested to learn how? Find out more about how to take part in our business and career mentoring program, connecting you with 150+ mentors from over 15 countries accelerating your venture.