Which unicorn companies are making profits

Berlin start-up "Einhorn" : Working without bosses and rules

When large companies want to know how the work of the future can be shaped, they often send their people to the man who is putting a tampon in his mouth. Waldemar Zeiler stands in the office loft in a Kreuzberg backyard near the Görlitz train station. It is the backdrop for a YouTube video in which Zeiler wants to promote the next big thing.

The director previously told Zeiler to imagine that he was doing drugs. A little MDMA maybe. The 36-year-old, full beard, horn-rimmed glasses, strokes his brown, shoulder-length hair and plays the scene again. Step in front of the mirror, gargle water, tampon between your lips. Only the light blue ribbon can be seen. He smiles as if in a frenzy.

Zeiler turns over millions and advises top managers. His latest idea: to bring menstrual products to the market that are so comfortable that men might develop a kind of period envy. Zeiler likes to think a little differently than others.

Waldemar Zeiler has finished being the boss

Four years ago, Zeiler and Philip Siefer founded the “Einhorn” start-up. Since then, they have been selling vegan condoms in colorfully designed chip bags that are on dm's shelves.

The fact that Zeiler regularly appears on the stage and gives lectures is not due to the product ideas. They are still the most normal thing about his company.

Zeiler has finished being the boss. The constant conversations about duty rosters, vacations, salaries. Do you have five minutes, Waldemar? Can I just ask you something? “Being a boss sucks,” he says. On paper, the two founders are still managing directors of the GmbH, but none of the 16 employees have to do what they say. That is how they wanted it two years ago and sealed it with their signature.

Everyone in the team chooses whether they come to the office, when and how much vacation they take. However, each individual is also responsible for success, speaks and has a say in all questions. At first, chaos broke out.

They were already discussing who is allowed to discuss now. Nevertheless, Einhorn turned over 2.3 million euros last year. Classic corporations can hardly believe that: every two weeks, Zeiler leads company groups of visitors around for 3000 euros. Deutsche Telekom, SAP, Daimler and McKinsey have already been here. She is drawn to curiosity. And despair.

Young adults today want a job that is fun, makes sense and leaves enough time for other things. For many young professionals, a balanced relationship between the hours in the office and at home is more important than status symbols and a career. They want less hierarchies, more self-determination. Companies, trade unions and federal politicians discuss the future of work. It is tried out at Einhorn.

There are two women and a man, the rest are not in the mood

The skeptical visitors walk through the room, past a handicraft table and a penis door handle made of wood. Colorful pieces of paper are stuck on a whiteboard with questions on the subject of periods. The schedule for the new women's products is scribbled on another board. There are tasks, deadlines. Just no boss. Zeiler is asked again and again: Is nobody taking advantage of freedom?

Zeiler's office is one floor up. In the entrance there is an orange-colored automatic gripper with condom bags in it. At ten o'clock there are two women and a man, between early 20 and late 30, like everyone here. The rest of them work from home or don't feel like it that day. Nobody knows exactly, nobody controls.

Zeiler sits down on the edge of one of the white group tables, next to a piñata in rainbow colors. His philosophy is like this: If employees love their work, he doesn't have to supervise them like children. “They don't meet any requirements, they want things to go well on their own initiative,” he says. That is why he looks closely at applicants to see whether they fit into a team without leadership and are passionate enough.

He then asks: What would you do if you got ten million euros? Why do you get up in the morning and go to work? What percentage are you yourself? Markus, who is responsible for marketing, had a specially designed crossword puzzle with imaginary terms solved. He has to be creative in his job. In addition, the colleagues would know: if you are lazy, you harm the team. Those who are attached to their job should do enough.

Employees could choose their own salary

At first glance, the experiment seems to have succeeded. “We are profitable without investors,” he says. "This is no nonsense shop here."

Still, he sometimes hears, still. First grow up, first grow up!

Markus, 38, who, like everyone else, only introduces himself by his first name, usually doesn't come until noon. Franci, 25, likes to start customer service early in the day. The city is still quiet, the lanes empty. To do this, she goes home by 4 p.m. at the latest without anyone lifting their head. There are no compulsory times. Even the meeting on Monday afternoon is voluntary. “But I've never thought he'd do too little, she'd do too much,” says Markus.

It feels like they both work 40 hours a week, they say. Franci will probably take 30 days off this year, Markus a little less. They don't know exactly yet. Don't worry if work doesn't feel like work at all.

After a year, the employees could even choose their salary. There were ten of them then. Eight of them wanted more - but no more than 300 euros. Zeiler had shown them the company's account balance beforehand. Since they had just hit the black zero, no one got greedy. Six months later it was different. Unicorn made a profit. The team grew. The mood changed.

Money makes you happy, angry. Creates discord and fear. Am I getting less than the other, am I doing less? Am I worth less then? “I totally underestimated the topic,” says Zeiler.

Waldemar Zeiler was obsessed

There is now an elected pay council that has developed a system. The basis for each is 2500 euros gross. Then the salary increases with age, professional experience, personal living conditions and depending on the self-assessment. If you have a child, you get an additional 400 euros. Nobody gets rich here. Not even the founders. You can get a maximum of three times as much as the one with the lowest salary. All wages are in a document, which can be viewed by everyone. Markus earns 3830 euros, Franci 3200 euros.

Two employees have left. They wanted differences, bonuses. They were just like Zeiler once was.

When he was 20, he wanted to be a millionaire when he was 30. Born in Kazakhstan and raised on Lake Constance, Waldemar Zeiler founded his first company while at school - an agency for young professionals that was supposed to help schoolchildren with applications. He studied business administration at the renowned WHU Business School, wanted to wear expensive suits and drive fast cars. He has managed seven start-ups as a founder or manager. Venture capitalists entrusted him with millions. An ex-colleague calls him a lateral thinker. A man possessed.

Then he got out. From everything. Zeiler was 32 when he got fed up with going to work. The 15 years before would have felt like 50 to him. He just stared at the monitor, constantly had to get out into the air. That's why colleagues in his company should go home today rather than just pretending to be busy. Zeiler resigned and flew to South America with a backpack. "If I had stayed, I would have become depressed," he says.

What are we doing to others? What are we doing to each other?

In Costa Rica and Colombia, Zeiler saw people wearing gas masks on banana plantations. Planes circled overhead, spraying pesticides. He got to know people who were content with very little possessions. He began to wonder what kind of life he had designed for himself. What good should it be to make money and even more money. He asked himself: what are we doing to others? What are we doing to each other?

Around this time, Philip Siefer was standing in front of a condom shelf with his girlfriend in Berlin. Between cat food and toilet paper. He thought to himself: Why do the packs look like they have to disappear quickly into the shopping bag? A message to Waldemar Zeiler, whom he knew from a network for founders: I have an idea!

Zeiler came back after six months. With a long beard, a new business idea and the goal of changing the business world.

To see if that works with Siefer, they went to a mentor for founders. Zeiler is the analytical type, Siefer is creative and extroverted. Since then, the rule has applied: We may fight, but then hug each other. They wanted to collect 50,000 euros with a crowdfunding campaign. They had it after 24 hours. Twice as much after a few days. It was the beginning of Einhorn.

Sometimes the employees cry. That is wanted

Now, a few years later, the employees in the office are drinking coffee and talking. Doesn't look like stress. Even so, the staff here sometimes start to cry. That is wanted.

Once a month everyone gathers in the open kitchen for the "Clear the Air Meeting". Pineapple lanterns and a disco ball hang from the ceiling. On a scale from one to ten, everyone can tell what bothers them. The office is messy! I do not feel properly seen! The meetings take forever if no one makes a decision! Some of them get emotional. That is why a coach for non-violent communication is present at the meetings. There is a happiness manager and a psychotherapist with whom appointments can be booked at the company's expense. Zeiler suffered from a crisis of meaning, Siefer from panic attacks years ago. They don't want to repeat the mistakes of their own history on their team.

“Those who start with us share our values,” says Zeiler. “He doesn't have a lifelong dream of selling condoms.” Even he doesn't have that dream. Zeiler wants to make the world a better place, he says, to found an institute for his way of working, maybe "to make it into the history books".

The unicorn condoms are made from natural rubber that is grown in Malaysia. Four employees are assigned to the “Fairstainability” team alone. They see to it that the workers there get fair wages and that the environment is not polluted too much. Einhorn is therefore reinvesting half of the profit, which was EUR 400,000 in 2018. On the plantation, for example, the weeds were first destroyed with chemicals. In the meantime, an employee has been financed who can take care of it with a machine.

Do you seriously believe that you can make tampons cool?

So that other companies do the same, Zeiler and Siefer founded an initiative - the Entrepreneur’s Pledge. Hundreds of companies are already on their list, promising to do good. The model is the Giving Pledge by star investor Warren Buffett and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who encourage billionaires to donate part of their wealth.

Waldemar Zeiler and Philip Siefer have already made it onto various magazine covers. They never pose normally on it. They make faces. In one picture, Siefer carries Zeiler on his arm, who is only dressed in a yellow vest with animal heads on it and shows his upper arm muscles. Show is part of the concept.

Is it maybe just two “hipsters in love with themselves”, as they call themselves on their website? Do you seriously believe that you can make tampons cool? What is too crazy even for them and what is serious, they do not say.

Except that they are no longer just about selling condoms and sanitary towels. Growth is secondary. Another business model has long been running.

Six employees are now giving lectures on a new work culture. It has become a separate area in the company. For one of the founders to speak, organizers pay 6,000 euros. "Our consultations account for between five and ten percent of sales," says Zeiler. One or two times a month there is such an appointment in his calendar. Then he likes to jump around on stage in a white and pink unicorn costume.

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