Get A Mentor
Devin MillerThe Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Get A Mentor
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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get a mentor um who already has like a lot of experience because when i joined pola ai for example um i got very much support and uh trust from one of the co-founders who i worked with like the closest i'd say um i as as i already told you um i got promoted quite fast to a very big position um and that that is basically the thing where i learned the most and i definitely recommend anyone and to to just learn a lot and this is a michael's um in the best way possible to just get a mentor and see how he or she works [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and are always here to help now today we have another great guest on the podcast julius walkenhorst or as close as i can get to say in his name as a quick introduction to julius so graduated from high school and started his first company in age of 18 co-founded the business with a friend not much business experience and the business failed after about a month um and then he found that he had a huge interest in the tech field um taught himself coding went into a tech startup in california uh was connected up via reddit i think um yep look to get experience not pay uh became the chief of staff and the first non-founder no non-founder employee there um at the end of uh end of the month uh or there will be now 14 employees or something of one that nature um and then has had uh they have several or thousands or a thousand active users and then also became the founder and board member of another company that's a non-for-profit in uh germany and then also did some uh things related to an ngo for the business and taking donations and making those more transparent so with that much as an introduction welcome on the podcast julius yes thanks for having me i'm pretty much excited to to talk to you today absolutely excited to hear a bit about your journey so i took a much more uh a longer journey and condensed it into 30 seconds but now let's unpack that a bit so tell us a little bit about graduating in high school and starting your first business at 18. yeah sure um i always knew that i wanted to start my own thing uh we basically came to the idea quite fast uh we funded the we founded the company like i would say within one week or so and everything scaled pretty much very fast uh we set up like the whole production within a couple of weeks a lot launched also like pretty fast i would say like one month after we started the old project actually um let me just out of here what was the uh what was the uh business or what or what was the the thing that you initially set up out of high school yeah it was a pure fashion label um i'm not quite sure why we decided to make it as a as a fashion label actually because i would say the the the actual um the actual motivation behind everything was just to to do something on our own um and to have like some sort of first step into the door of the of the whole world of entrepreneurship starting your own thing um and then we pretty much recognized also quite soon that we really wanted to focus ourselves individually on other projects as well for example i got more and more interested into a whole into this tech world silicon valley uh the u.s everything where basically everything is way bigger than here in germany um so yeah then i got into pola to polari as an unpaid intern proof myself and became the chief of staff after three months we are now actually 16 people i'd say um we will raise our first round fingers crossed in in february next year and 2022. so just backing up just because we kind of jumped to now where you're at today and we want to capture a bit of that story so just backing up a bit so you had coming out of high school had the friend that was a co-founder started the fashion business right and got into the fascist business and i think you said you know after you kind of got it set up and launched you really found out within about a month that it wasn't going to work or that it kind of failed and it didn't go the way you wanted and is that correct up to that point in the story it wasn't one month i would say it was like actually six months okay um until we realized hey all right uh on the one side um our attraction went down a bit um and on the other side we simultaneously we got more and more interested to other other things for example our studies or when it came to me uh my my interest in tech um and programming and the whole world in the in the silicon valley so yeah that was basically the reason got it so you're saying okay it sounds like it's kind of a combination that was going to be my question you know why it failed sounds like kind of two things one is you started your interest in the fashion industry kind of started to dip and at the same time you also see the kind of penetration sales and whatnot also wasn't getting the level you guys wanted so you're saying okay while it was kind of a fun initial entrance and it was kind of a great experience it wasn't necessarily the business you wanted to stay into so as you're seeing that kind of go down and otherwise not continue to be the area you want to be into what did you do did you say hey i'm going to go start another business or maybe i'll go off to university or to college or you know i'll take a break or kind of what did you do as you say okay our first business wasn't working out because it didn't really not work out i would say we did quite well for our first company um but the thing is that the growth just wasn't there as uh compared to the first couple of months and this connected to to my interest into tech um i decided to just focus myself on getting new hard skills uh for example like i i didn't really had a lot of real work experience um besides it besides this first project basically so i decided to to teach myself programming i teach myself flask programming um python 3 and html5 and then realized hey yeah this is actually quite quite a lot of fun but because i'm not an engineering student or computer science student i pretty much recognized that i really wanted to do to be on the business side of this whole tech world and yeah no and i think that makes sense so it was a good introduction for you to be able to get followed or continue to fall in love with being an entrepreneur doing a startup you got some experience you saying okay i'm really more interested in the tech field and so that's where i want to kind of focus on so with that is kind of the idea in the direction of where you're now going to be headed now as you're kind of taking what am i going to do next or where am i going to go yeah how did you figure out what was your next steps um i would say after i teach myself like those programming skills um i definitely knew that i need experience in the field so i i i dived into like linkedin for example our angel list and looked up a couple of uh yeah cool tech startups uh which i liked and just shooted them them a message with my application and basically with the text hey um i'm i'm available for you for free basically um but how i got to polari was basically a different story um i love reddit for example i think it's a it's one of the good social networks actually um and i saw in a post in i'm not quite sure which subreddit it was i think our co-founders because it was basically separated around uh where to find the co-founder how to find it etc and i uh saw a post that someone was looking for i think a design co-founder um for the whole product design site etc and um i looked up the product and i really really liked it i saw a lot of potential in it and i just messaged the the the um the post owner basically or one of the co-founders um that i'm willing to be an unpaid growth intern so pretty much on the on the business side of everything um with the only condition that i want to see professional progress in my career at this company and that i really want to see growth in the company internally as well um so yeah so let me just maybe maybe summarize that or unpack that a bit so you got into technology you taught yourself coding and then you're saying okay i want i value experience more than necessarily a paycheck not that you don't need money to live off of it but you're saying hey i can i can figure that out what i really want is that experience be able to keep or get going so now as you're going out and trying to get that experience if i understand it right you went on to reddit find other people that you thought were in that realm of technology that you you know in that startup realm that you go get experience and did you just reach out to them and say hey i'd love to work with you you don't need to pay me a lot or i'll work for free or something of that nature all i'm looking for is experience is that kind of how you made that connection yes exactly i had i of course had some some some good experience for example i was uh the chairman of of the youth parliament of my hometown which was also like not very normal i would say um but the the only thing that was missing was my was my really professional experience so i told them hey i'm a fast learner you don't have to pay me anything so so there's no real downside for you um but the only thing i want is basically experience and um yes it is some good learnings from your side now when you reached out to them and did you just reach out to one individual did you reach out to multiple individuals via reddit um on reddit that was only once the case when i saw the post of one of the co-founders on on reddit otherwise i i just messaged them on angellist uh a platform that i can really recommend to everyone who really wants to dive into like this whole startup world and it in and is interested around the whole topic around venture capital startups growth and status and scaling um and yeah i just sent my normal application um yeah so so now you reach out to them and you say okay i'm willing to work for nothing or next to nothing and i just want the experience as long as you're willing to give me that i'm willing to come and uh help out with the business you know how did they react were they saying yay free work we've got an employee that we don't have to pay anything that will help us build it or you know say oh this sounds like too good to be true or kind of how do they react and how did you make the connection and get going with them some people were very open for my offer and some not because with my knowledge now i also know that it's not quite free for them as well because as a startup the only big thing you you have against yourself is time and to to to to teach some unpaid intern um a lot of learnings costs a lot of resources um also for also also the company so i definitely understand now that not everyone wants really an unpaid intern that hasn't really a lot of professional experience because it just slows some departments down when you have too much too much unpaid interns or interns in general well one of the other things i've seen is that even if it is you know you're saying hey i'll come work for free and i'll you know and i just want experience you're also saying hey we have to train you we have to provide a space for you we have to over review your work and so it's not truly free in their sense but it's a you know a reduced cost to them because now they're just saying we have to offset that cost but we don't have to pay a salary but now you say okay you found the business that you know was interested in it they're saying yeah there's a good opportunity i think it'll be a good match so did you move to california or silicon valley to go get the experience or did you work remotely and how did you kind of get that ball kicked off and how did it go once you started with them because i studied uh study still simultaneously here in germany the only option for me was always to work fully remote um which is a good thing in the in when i look at it now because it also teach me to work or to build my own projects fully remotely as well because i'm just so used to it um to work like with people from a whole different continents especially um together that was a very good learning for me and uh not being present also has its different disadvantages for example the lack of of being able to really network that well especially when you're young and um new to a company but otherwise uh remote work has like a lot of uh advantages for me okay so no i think that makes sense so now question i didn't quite catch in there did you come to silicon valley or did you stay in uh or stay and work remotely i said here and work remotely all right so now you're working remotely you're getting the experience you're saying hey this is exciting i get to work for a tech company get to use my skills going to be kind of the first non non-founder employee or not or non-founder or worker um did you are you still with them do you still do it or did you move on to the ngo kind of help us bridge the gap because i think when we talked you're still doing stuff with them but how did you continue how did your journey progress on it once you got started with them yeah when i got promoted to the chief of staff um i really much recognized that i learned a lot in the last couple of months i'm still learning uh but that was basically the first time where i realized hey i'm quite quite far in my personal career and uh went upwards like a lot in the car last couple of weeks or a month especially um and then i got an offer from from one guy who started a small media company here in germany that was mostly related to startups and venture capital news um and he asked me hey i i saw your experience you're also quite young um do you want to join as a board member and ceo and just scale everything up and it was a quite good possibility for me to prove myself as well that i have that i gained some sort of experience and a lot of skills so we skated from four to i think 18 team members with in a couple of weeks i think it was like one and a half month actually so everything went upwards pretty fast um but because it was a project i pretty much recognize really soon that if i do something non-profitably um it should be like very well it should have like a a big social impact so as i i decided to to just be an advisor to the board um and and start third eighth which is not my ngo but uh i'm i'm still with polar eyewear i'm the chief of staff still so now you're saying you're still the chief of staff you've kind of been promoted you're still working your way up and then as you're doing that i think you've also gone into a bit of ngos and donations and making them more transparent and helping that is that a separate business that you you started up in the meantime that's the site hustle or kind of how did you balance out um i would say it's a site it's a side project um there's already a team existing with i think team hubs in five different countries uh we are currently in germany austria italy singapore and croatia actually and because i always donated monthly to um a pretty famous and big ngo but i never really knew um where my money goes into basically um i definitely want to always wanted to make like this whole process of donating more transparent also to make like donations itself more transparent um to just make this world a better place and i think we are on the on the right path there well that sounds you know that's always i think exciting because i think that that is one of the areas where people oftentimes are a bit hesitant to donate to donaire you know to ngos or to other charitable organizations because you kind of donate and then you never really see what happens after the fact it's not very transparent how much of your money actually goes to the you know to the actual charity versus how much goes to your salaries or promotions or other things and so it always kind of feels like a black box where hey i feel good that i donated but i don't really know what happened to the money afterwards so so that kind of takes it to a bit of the present so you're continuing to be you know chief of staff and you're also doing the ngo project so now you're looking now if we were to say looking a bit into the future so you still love startups you still love technology you're doing you know the site hustle as well as a full-time gig where do you see the next you know six to 12 months going for you i definitely want to pursue both of my projects so on the one hand polari as i already said we are raising in the next couple of next couple of months which will be also like a huge opportunity for myself which will be um yeah also career-wise also financially wise um on the other side i definitely want to scale up third eight to really make it as the platform for donating this is definitely my long long term goal but also um i definitely can see myself as a as a for-profit founder as well again um this is basically that what makes me most happy um and i definitely see myself after everything went successful with pola and um and third eighth that i will start my my own thing again [Music] well sounds like it will be an exciting and fun time as you continue to progress and continue to build things so with that now as we kind of brought ourselves into you know brought everybody up to the the or the president even looking a bit into the future it's a great time to transition into the two questions i always ask at the end of each podcast we'll jump to those now so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made what did you learn from it i wouldn't necessarily say that it was a pure decision i would say it was more of an attitude i think it would be in my case not being flexible enough when it comes to adjusting bad bad decisions let me give you an example for example when we scaled up venture news the uh media startup startup here in germany pretty fast we recognized that our onboarding process wasn't that effective as it should be to keep the pace of hiring uh on the same on the same level so [Music] there was like two or three times the situation where new team members didn't really knew directly from the beginning uh what what they should do uh which slowed everything like a bit down so that was basically a very bad decision in my in my opinion or attitude at least um yeah no and i think that you know that one is that's always a hard one because you know you always want to be flexible and you always intend to say hey i'm willing to learn from mistakes otherwise with justin piven yet when you get into it it's always one where you know to actually take that feedback make those adjustments make that pivot is something that takes i think a bit of time to be able to appreciate it and to understand how to do it so i think that that's definitely a mistake to see to make but a good one to learn from second question i always ask is if you're talking to someone that's just getting into a startup or a small business what would be the one piece of advice you give them get a mentor um who already has like a lot of experience because when i joined pola ai for example i got very much support and uh trust from one of the co-founders who i worked with like the closest i'd say um i as as i already told you um i got promoted quite fast to a very big position um and that that is basically the thing where i learned the most and i definitely recommend anyone and to to just learn a lot and this is a micros um in the best way possible to just get and mentor and see how he or she works um yeah no i think that that you know that mentor and having someone that you can learn from and gain experience from is definitely valuable you know i think that a lot of times people tend to focus on hey i need to make money as soon as possible and i want to be rich i want to be unicorn which are all great aspirations don't get me wrong but i think if you miss the point of hey what i need to do is build the foundation and the network and the experience and the skill set to be able to be successful everybody just wants to jump right to the end point rather than doing the work on the front end so i think that is uh definitely a great piece of advice oh go ahead yeah i i totally agree to that and i think it's also like a great possibility for for for your mentor as well to gain like some sort of new um or or unusual perspective on on a couple of things uh as especially due to due to the age difference no i think that's that's definitely a good point as well well as people want to reach out to you they want to be a customer they want to be client whether it's for the the you know the full time or the the normal or the business you're working at or the side hustle with the ngo um they want to be an investor and then with the the raise that you're doing they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out to you contact you find out more that would be definitely linkedin um you will find me right away when you just google my name um in linkedin or on google um otherwise definitely check out getpolarize.io or angel.com third um those are my two projects and yeah just stay tuned and my linkedin profile i will basically announce everything uh every every major update all right i think that's a great way to connect definitely encourage people to do so and to to reach out and uh and utilize the services or make a great connection or at least a new new best friend so with that thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you that are listeners if you have your own journey to tell them you'd like to be a guest on the podcast we'd love to have you so just go to uh inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the show a couple more things make sure to always as always listen subscribe and share the podcast so both you and everybody else can know when or know when our awesome episodes come out and we can help others with their journey last but not least if you ever need help with your patents your trademarks or anything else go to strategymeeting.com we're always here to help and always happy to chat with you well best of luck on our best of luck julius and wish the next lego journey even better than the last thank you very much it was my pleasure you