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Navigate Business Like a Mermaid

Five Swimming Lessons for Founders from FemGem36

Illustration by the one and only Rozalina Burkova

Imagine you’re swimming out in the ocean. As a new wave approaches, you dive right under it, popping up unscathed behind it and ready for the next one.

That’s what FemGem36 has mastered – but in her business. As the CEO & Founder of Mermaid Studios, Hester Hilbrecht navigates new seas and adapts to different environments. But that wasn’t always the case.

In her podcast interview with FemGems’ founder Dora Dora, Hester reveals what steps led her to become an expert in design thinking and user experience. What Hester shares can help you shape your own entrepreneurial or career path.

FemGems’ Founder Dora Petrova (L) recording the podcast with Hester Hilbrecht (R) of Mermaid Studios

Let’s dive into highlighting five steps and be sure to catch the full episode! 🌊

Step 1: Be decisive and pick what sparks curiosity

When Hester was completing her business administration studies in Germany, she selected the unfamiliar topic of ‘Design Thinking’ for her oral exam and diploma, despite not knowing yet much about it. This curiosity shaped the subsequent course of her career.

Hester explains more about user-focused design: With UX Design, there’s no more reliance on the waterfall (where ideas flow top-down.) Instead, you flip the script, identifying the user as the source of ideas, diving into their underlying needs, and developing products that solve these needs.

This refocusing avoids ‘throwaway’ products or a kill-your-darlings situation; take for example what happened with Google Glass.

Step 2: Find a great place to grow and persevere

After FemGem36 completed her studies at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI), she applied her design thinking expertise to the corporate environment.

Through HPI’s connection with SAP, Hester pursued a chance to go to Silicon Valley and infuse teams there at SAP’s AppHaus with her expertise in design thinking methodology.

When her initial experience in Palo Alto didn’t match expectations, she remained committed to applying design thinking to real-life environments. It was tough to graft the open-ended nature and curiosity inherent in design thinking to corporate KPIs. Nevertheless, she persevered. Armed with more experience 3 years later, Hester returned to the vibes she missed in Berlin. She kept working at SAP in Germany, splitting time between Potsdam and Berlin, infusing UX design into products.

Illustration by Rozalina Burkova

Step 3: Leverage your network and determine where you fit best

SAP’s 80,000-person workforce was an incredible place to grow, but Hester realized she wanted to be in a smaller, faster team. For that reason, she was open to joining a startup. An opportunity emerged from a Linkedin connection. (So be open to your network!) In her new startup role, she began hiring for and working on, diverse projects and workshop concepts to develop human-centered products.

Step 4: Look in the mirror and take the leap

After 10 months of startup experience, Hester had formed agency skills and cultivated her own client relationships. The startup founders took notice and directly asked her why she didn’t just forge her own path? Imagine that! That question catalyzed more questions.

Hester battled doubts when considering if she could start her own company. She asked friends and family for their advice, and there was a resounding ‘yes, of course!’ Hester comments: “Sometimes you don’t see the strength you have until somebody holds up a mirror.”

She took a break to reflect on her journey asking herself if she could live with failure. What’s the worst that could happen? She might lose the money needed to found a company (a legal entity that would give her credibility when working with corporate clients) and then need to find a new job. When she decided she could live with that, Hester felt empowered to take the leap. She took a vacation to Bali to rejuvenate and then took the plunge. She founded Mermaid Studios.

“Sometimes you don’t see the strength you have until somebody holds up a mirror.” -Hester Hilbrecht

Step 5: Master and embrace the challenges

Hester says founding her company was the best decision despite it being a tough journey. She has no regrets and has noticed changes in herself. For example, after two years she’s actually more relaxed! So how did she achieve that?

Here are some lessons from FemGem 36:

  • Since the to-do list doesn’t stop, find a way to stay calm, balanced, and manage yourself: that might be yoga, running, cooking, sewing, or something else. Find the thing that anchors you and make sure you do it daily. In other words, stop scrolling!
  • Have people hold up a mirror to help you see your strengths so you know where to grow.
  • Nothing is set in stone. Be open to pivoting and adjusting to your environment: be like a mermaid and navigate the waves. Ask yourself: what do I need to do to change and adapt to new circumstances?
  • Along those same lines, be prepared that things take longer than expected. Stay unattached to your plan or its outcome.

Discover in the full podcast how Hester overcame her existential fears and learned how to run her business, communicate transparently with her employees, and deal with responsibilities. Hear what habits she formed and her business mindset.

Do you want to get access to the knowledge and experience of inspiring entrepreneurs like Hester? Apply now to join the very first cohort of the recently-launched FemGems milestone-based mentorship platform!

The idea for this program is born out of the podcast and the desire to create direct access to the FemGems
FemGem36 Hester Hilbrecht

FemGems features rising female entrepreneurs from all over the world. 💎 🌍

Read more here and sign up to get our MuseLetter!

If you love daily motivation to keep you on track, you will find it on our Instagram channel.

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Elisheva Marcus

Elisheva Marcus

Reporting from within a Venn diagram of health, tech and empowerment. Berlin-based. Internationally minded. Comms @ Earlybird Venture Capital