"We should keep quiet about the fact that we're married."

Women found start-ups significantly less often than men. If it's even a start-up from the tech scene, their share decreases even further. Stefanie Langner took this step anyway, and she doesn't regret it.

It is still quite early in the morning when Stefanie Langner sits down in front of her computer. The founder of Leankoala from Hamburg has a lot to do. By 2022 at the latest, the start-up wants to market its product more strongly outside the DACH region. Leankoala offers an easy-to-use tool that users can use to optimize their websites, from search engines to the processes that run in the background when placing an online order. In this interview, Langner looks back on the first years of Leankoala and talks about the importance of networks, especially for women.

Ms. Langner, as a woman in the tech scene, you belong to the absolute minority. Where does your enthusiasm for the topic come from?

I have been fascinated with computers since I was a teenager. My family has been in the hotel business for generations. When I was about to graduate from high school, I was desperate to have my own PC in my room. This subsequently led to me taking up the entire line of my parents' hotel by surfing. That caused a lot of trouble, because the guests couldn't get through to make reservations, for example. I was already totally excited about the internet and digital possibilities back then.

Working in the hotel industry yourself was out of the question for you?

Following tradition, I trained as a hotel clerk in the top hotel industry after graduating from high school and then studied hotel management. After that I went into PR. When I moved to Hamburg, where our company is located today, I took my chance to dive into the digital world, where I finally got stuck. At Axel Springer's real estate portal Immonet.de, I joined the marketing and cooperation department. That was exactly my thing, because it also meant working closely with digital product development. My partner felt like he had always been a web developer and was very well known in the scene. That probably fueled my interest even more and I wanted to move into development as well. I then taught myself a bit of coding via courses. I can still do a little bit - but still wouldn't say I'm particularly good at it today [laughs].

Subsequently, you founded Leankoala together with your husband, how did that come about?

Nils was responsible for digital quality management at Gruner+Jahr, as well as Bauer Verlag, before we founded the company. In my position on the opposite side, I knew only too well what it means when digital offers do not work properly and it comes to loss of revenue due to missing advertising or. broken pages. Making sure that was automated and via a software solution was the starting point for Leankoala.

You still had doubts before the joint foundation, why?

I myself come from a family business, which is why I am very aware of what you are getting into. In my opinion, the only elementary thing is to start a company with the right idea, in which everyone can contribute their strengths and develop them. This is definitely the case with Leankoala. In the beginning, this was not necessarily easy. Personal and professional communication and collaboration are different and you can't step on each other's toes or take things too personally. But we've been doing it for a while now, we're a well-rehearsed team and very successful in this combo.

What is your vision for Leankoala?

Our vision is that there will never be a moment when you realize that you have lost sales or reputation because your web presence is not working properly. Our solutions take over the 360°-monitoring of websites and make sure that everything from the accessibility of the site to the contact options to the shopping cart is technically up and running. So that the operator can take care of what he or she likes to do best: making customers or users happy, generating sales, developing products. If something is not running as it should, we sound the alarm. We have been pursuing this mission for three years now with our professional tool Leankoala for large sites and portals as well as with our newest product koality.io especially for webshops and websites.

You founded the company at the end of 2016 and received funding right at the start through the InnoRampUp program of the Hamburgische Investitions- und Förderbank. In 2019, there was another round of financing in the six-figure range. How difficult is it for you to get funding?

It was indeed not that easy. We were always extremely discouraged from saying we were married in the beginning. Because that obviously leads to inhibitions with investors. They think to themselves, "What happens if they fall out privately, can the start-up survive that?" If a female founder is on board, many also ask the question if she won't get pregnant soon and what that means for the business. A man would never be asked such a question. I'm absolutely sure we weren't even invited to some of the interviews.

What have you done to fight such prejudices?

When we started building our startup, I already had two kids and was in a different stage of life than many other young female founders. So the question of what I would do if I got pregnant didn't arise for me. But as a general rule, it's true for women: Be confident, even if it's hard. For example, if a woman is founding a company with two men, she should be the main speaker at the pitch. That way she can make it clear from the start what her position is. I know myself that this is not easy for many women and is easier said than done.

So you're advocating for a more confident approach. How can that be achieved?

That's where jumping in at the deep end sometimes helps, unfortunately. I have drawn a lot of self-confidence from my networks. There is the private one, consisting of colleagues, mentors, founders and a number of investors. They are good sparring partners. Going through your own ideas and challenges together helps a lot. It is also important to me to support others. That's why I'm an ambassador for the Geekettes. This is a now international network of women in the tech scene. We support each other there, too, by networking, challenging, and providing education on a regular basis.

Why are you so involved there?

I am a firm believer that networks can be extremely beneficial to us women. However, I don't want to just consume, I want to create. That's my advice to all women, by the way: Get involved. It strengthens your self-confidence, creates many new contacts and helps the scene. For all the women who read this and need a tip, feel free to contact me.

Thank you very much for the interview.

About the person:

Stefanie Langner founded the start-up Leankoala together with her husband at the end of 2016. The company offers a tool with which users optimize their websites. Langner is one of the few female founders in the tech scene. In the international network Geekettes, she helps other women to assert themselves in the tech scene as an ambassador.

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