“There are three aspects that have to come together to enable social innovation: capital, education and mentoring.“
Interview with Steffen Zoller, Venture Partner at Ananda Impact Ventures
You cover many exciting themes as a founder, entrepreneur, business angel and impact enthusiast. What is the common driver behind all these commitments?
If I connect the dots today, I realise that my focus topic was always employability, in various shades. For example with Betreut.de, my first impact venture, I tried to address the challenge of work-life balance by enabling people to find care providers for their children and relatives over the internet. I was inspired by my own family background. We had many difficulties finding a suitable caregiver for my father and had to literally communicate with neighbours over the fence in order to get tips as to where to look for someone. From an entrepreneurial perspective, though, it was easier to start with child care, since it is more predictable when a baby will be born and parents will need support. In 2012, we merged with Care.com and then went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014. Only a few days ago, the entire company was acquired by IAC, an American holding company that owns more than 100 media and internet brands. It is interesting to see that in the US, care support for families is such a hot topic now.
Did you ever expect that Betreut.de would become as big as it is today?
Not in the least. I recently saw a photo of my team and me ten years ago, and it struck me how casual and maybe even naïve we were back then. The market was originally so small, that it was hard to justify another hire if you just looked at the numbers. But we were convinced that we had to migrate childcare to the internet, without exactly knowing how to. There was a lot of trial and error and playing with 40 ideas or more until finding the right one, but this process was crucial to our learning.
Which factors are fascinating to you when you decide to support a company as an investor or entrepreneur?
My first criterion is that I personally can add value to the venture. If the industry or the product are too far from my experience and knowledge, I will tend to refuse to take the opportunity. My second criterion is that the company has to have the potential to do good and create positive impact.
It seems that you are rather story-driven and not necessarily building your portfolio with a strategic masterplan in mind.
This is an important point indeed. I do not have an ultimate plan that I execute blindly with whatever opportunity that fits. The story, the market and the team play a vital role for me. Also, if I can’t add value beyond money, I probably won’t engage.
Speaking of engagement: you are member of the Entrepreneur’s Pledge, a network where sustainability-minded entrepreneurs commit to founding at least one business with a social and environmental impact. In your view, what are the main challenges in impact-driven entrepreneurship today?
There are three aspects that have to come together to enable social innovation: capital, education and mentoring. Regarding capital, I find social impact bonds highly fascinating; especially if you look at the effects they have on social challenges in the UK. In terms of education, I think that a social entrepreneurship MBA programme would be very beneficial for teaching important aspects such as leadership styles or the development of businessmodels. Aspect number three, mentorship, is extremely helpful when an impact enterprise wants to scale and needs an external perspective to master a specific challenge.
Why did you decide to become a venture partner with Ananda Impact Ventures?
I have been in contact with the Ananda team for a long time, but then came a moment when we decided to jump and make our discussions more concrete. Now, we do co-investments together, I take board seats on behalf of Ananda and add my industry expertise wherever it makes sense.
Is there also something you can learn from Ananda and its portfolio companies?
Gaining new perspectives and ideas from other entrepreneurs definitely helps me to progress, too. I have seen many smart moves coming from the founders in Ananda’s portfolio companies, moves that would have never come to my mind. I am very grateful that the network and ideas are now multiplying for the benefit of both sides.
You are very involved in Media4Care and voiio. What is most outstanding about these two companies in Ananda’s portfolio?
Besides being able to add my expertise in the care sector, I admire the speed with which both companies have built their products and scaled. The fact that they were able to create economically sound business models and grow in such a short time speaks of true excellence.
One of your personal excellence goals is to climb the Seven Summits. Is there something you have learned from this extreme experience?
So far, I have climbed two of them and have plans for another two this year. I remember when I went up Kilimanjaro, I had to walk seven hours in total darkness directly behind my fellow climber to get into the rhythm. This made me realize that an absolute focus on the moment to take the right step is essential in life.
Interview by Christina Möhrle
Dr. Steffen Zoller
Steffen builds on many years of experience as social entrepreneur, investor and start-up advisor. He has founded several ventures in the digital space, amongst others the platform Betreut.de, a marketplace for a wide range of care services, which was acquired by Care.com (investor: Google, sold to IAC). Today, Steffen is pursuing the building and scaling of purpose-driven companies as founder and CEO at the DCI Digital Career Institute, as well as being an investor in and advisor to companies like voiio, where he co-invested with Ananda, and as chairman of the advisory board of Media4Care. He has a background in business administration and holds a master’s degree from HHL Graduate School of Management Leipzig and a PhD from the University of Witten/ Herdecke. Steffen is a passionate snowboarder, dog lover and as co-founder of human rights campaign PinkSummits a mountaineer who fights for positive visibility of the LGBTI+ community.