Hi, I'm Sudeshna from The Abundance Psyche, and you are listening to the Not-so-Corporate podcast. Here we talk about all of the not-so-corporate things that we corporate entrepreneurs do within and outside our work.
And today, I have with me, Svenja Tegtmeier. She founded Saenguin Suits. She is a fashion and tech entrepreneur. She used to be a management consultant… In fact quite a lot of people, I tend to speak to are former management consultants who are on their entrepreneurship journeys.
Svenja is really passionate about women in leadership. And she wants to bring that to the forefront using her current business. Svenja, I'm so excited to have you. Welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. It's awesome to be here.
So tell us a bit more about you. You used to work with EY...
Yeah. So I’ll start from the beginning right out of grad school. I went to LSE in London. That's where the love from London comes from, where you're currently situated. And after grad school, I first worked for the United Nations and was in Panama. And then, I went into management consulting, as a lot of business graduates do. I went to EY Parthenon which is the strategy arm of EY. I worked a lot on strategy, turnaround, and restructuring projects. I did that till the end of last year. And now I'm a full-time entrepreneur.
That's amazing. So some would say that you gave up quite a lucrative corporate career. You used to work with the UN and now you have quit consulting, a very prestigious consulting firm, and started your own thing and that too, dare I say, in the middle of a pandemic. What happened?
Good question. A lot of people ask the same thing. And I don’t know what happened, honestly, like, I think I came to a point… As I was doing my consulting job, we actually started developing a few products. And that was already at the end of 2019.
So far before the pandemic, and we already planned to quit our jobs in spring, or summer 2020. And then 2020 came. We actually launched like three days before all of Europe went into lockdown. So it was for sure a very interesting phase.
And yeah, and then we kept the job a little longer than we first anticipated. So it was it was quite nice that we still had that security, and were able to just stick it out a little longer. But I honestly came to a point in the job, I just couldn't do it anymore. I was so passionate about this side project and then required more and more calls.
Also, during the day, I needed to just be available, right? The weekends and Friday nights only serve you for so long, especially once you start working with customers. And you just have to be on 24/7, and at some point, it just takes also all of your energy in order to make it big. Otherwise, that will always be a small side hustle. So yeah, I guess we did the crazy thing and quit a corporate job for a startup in the middle of a pandemic of business where startup fashion startup on top of that, so I'm for sure interesting, but I'll be able to tell him a little bit more in a couple of years.
I'm sure it'll all work out fine. I'm sure there will be something that you can think of- you are a smart problem-solving entrepreneur. So you will definitely have it your way. But tell us a bit more about the side project. Actually, you built this up as a side project you said and I noticed you said: “we”. So how did you plan and manage time alongside your very demanding consulting career where we ended up spending like 14-16 hour days working on our day job. When did you find time for Saenguin?
Yeah. And so when I say we, I mean me and my co-founder, Marie Tom, and we actually met in London, during grad school and then went into the same company.
She was in Vienna and I was at the time in Munich and then moved to the Berlin office. So we were kind of remote I guess in different locations, but at the same company, and honestly, looking back now I don't really remember how we did it because there were times for sure it was it was a little crazy.
Especially once it got a little busier, I would say, in the beginning, it was quite doable, and just thinking about it because it's quite self-determined, right? Like you just think of the idea. You do some project, product development, you think of some projects for marketing and all that stuff. And it's really just you and another co-founder if you have one. And that was completely manageable.
We were just jumping on calls on Saturdays and Sundays, and we loved it, right. So it was the best hobby in the universe to just do it on the side.
And then increasingly, it got more and more difficult. Because we were also travelling, so Monday through Thursday, sometimes I would not eat because I had to do some really important calls for the business. I would go outside in the parking lot at our client and just do the calls.
My manager asked me if I have a really bad smoking addiction or something because, towards the end of the project, I was always in the parking lot. And I mean, I still did my job. And I think I did a good job but yeah, it for sure we got a little interesting."
And then Thursday nights and stuff flying home or driving home from the client, I would usually either drive to Vienna or London or wherever. If we needed to check the product in London, we would fly to London or just hang out with her over the weekend to be able to work like three days in a row or two and a half, Saturday, Sunday, and then a little bit of Friday evening.
It actually got a little easier when I was in the home office because you didn't have the travel times and the constant supervision.
And I would also say is also just I learned to say no, a little bit. And often in management consulting, people don't believe that that's possible or allowed.
And I was the same as I thought you can't and you should not. And once you actually start it's quite easy because it's okay. Right?
Everyone is actually really accepting of it. So I would say that's also the third thing I did. I was saying no to any like potential little side things or everything that needed to be done. That wasn't like that I didn't deem like or that the manager didn't seem crucial. And yeah, sometimes you just also spend time on unimportant things.
So I started to say no, a little more to those.
That's amazing. And the power of saying no, I think goes a long, long way in managing time. So, Svenja, what sort of skills from your corporate life did you end up using in your business in your startup?
I would for sure, say some of the technical things like one when we have to do all our business planning all the calculating all these business plans and in investor projection, sales projections- all of that stuff, for sure is just it's second nature. So that for sure, I would say from a technical skillset.
One of the other ones, I would also say just project management, being able to once you start managing, also some people, some interns, and consultants and also that experience in being able to organize project flows, not just from student life, but also real-world project flows.
And seeing how that goes, seeing kind of management tools that you can apply in order to get to the results. And that whole strategic mindset, thinking out of the box, that all comes in handy.
But honestly, there's so much more I need to know. And I'm still learning and so much more that Saenguin requires of me to know that I didn't learn and that I'm just learning on the job and on the go.
People think management consulting is like the one thing to go after right? Because then you get the skills you need for life. And for sure, there are some good skills. But it's not all the skills you need forever and ever. There's a lot more than I need to learn.
Yeah, undoubtedly. Tell me a bit more about what is the most surprising thing that you have found? What is it that you had to learn, but you had no idea that you would need to learn it on your entrepreneurship journey?
I would say the complexity of it all. Like, it sounds really simple.In the beginning, it's really you doing everything right?
And right now we're a team of four. Another person that's helping part-time, and in the beginning when you do everything. There's some product development, there's probably some production organization, if you have physical products, there's the online shop, there's marketing, there's financing, and investor stuff.
But as always, I always call it a little black hole, because you don't know what you don't know. And then once you start opening a little bit of the door, and you just see the depth of everything, the depths of also just like contractual law, for example, that's what I spend a lot of my time like today with, it's just everything is a little bit of a black hole, and you need to learn everything. Because you need to at least once. That's at least my philosophy or the philosophy of me and my co-founder because we have tried to give like little projects to people and tried to ask people for help or have interns or people working for us. And it's really, really difficult to know what you need people to do when you've never done it before.
So that I would say that's like the most shocking that actually for like, at least once you have to do it all, by yourself and each at least understand every little bucket that is potentially going on in your company. And there's a lot in total.
I completely agree. I mean, I see quite a lot of entrepreneurs, calling themselves entrepreneurs on the back of… and look, I don't mean to judge, but you are not an entrepreneur, if you are a freelancer, you are not an entrepreneur, if you are a YouTuber, you are not an entrepreneur, if you are an Instagrammer. Those are very different things that are actually quite important and will support your entrepreneurship journey. But you cannot be claiming to be an entrepreneur just because you are...
If you work for yourself...
Yeah, you work for yourself. Exactly.
So which one of those various depths of black boxes Have you enjoyed the most?
Because I think marketing, even when you go into marketing, there are several types of marketing when you go into law. I think that is spot on. Because quite a lot of people don't think about the legal implications of quite a lot of things. So which ones have you found most interesting? And which ones have you found like, “Oh, God, please take this off my plate.”
I would say it always shifts a little bit. It's quite interesting. There are always phases where I enjoy certain aspects more I would say right now it's really production. I've just clawed myself into production, especially like fabric development, which I think is super, super fascinating what you can do with recycled polyester, we're developing the first sustainable cupro, which is really, really cool.
So that's finding the right partners and really developing something unique and really, really cool that you know, is going to be amazing for customers and yourself. Like I'm really excited to wear our next product. I would say right now that's my number one.
And marketing in general, like the whole social media scene, I would say is not so my biggest enjoyment and my biggest strength. I think there's a lot of things going on in social media that you need to be aware of, and a lot of toes to be stepped on. And a lot of discussions on things like, what I deem not to be so important, and it's very tedious. And it seems to be a little bit of a mystery. So I would say like that's the bucket, I would give away the first.
Right, got it! And yes, marketing is this huge, huge thing, right? Like it has social, it has the content, it has to have a certain degree of aesthetics, and then there's Google ads and analytics and, what not. It's a whole bucket in itself that is quite mysterious but love it about the product design. So tell us a bit more about the sustainability piece that you were mentioning.
Yeah. So right now we have our first collection out, which was kind of the pilot project, which we did alongside our jobs.
And obviously, we didn't go as big or we didn't have that much inventory. It was a smaller pilot project, and also just to be able to manage it. And that one is through and was very successful.
And we are very excited about other people that got excited about our products as well. And now we're developing the next line that's also a little more in touch with what's happening in 2021.
And we do business where but we actually like do it for professional women. So we don't want to dictate what somebody has to wear that it doesn't always have to be a suit, right? Obviously!
And so we really want to be there for professional women and whatever they can imagine that looks like. We do a lot of focus groups and ask a lot of people a lot of customers what they would love. And right now in product development, we're doing a lot of new pieces that are very relevant for spring and summer.
We're doing sustainable fabrics and sustainable supply chains. So we actually are building up another kind of supply chain right now. So the first one we produced was in Europe and had a really good experience with our production partners. But just from who we are as people, I think, like me and my co-founder, we always want to improve and always want to get better.
And we found even more incredible partners now and are actually moving to India. And we have really cool NGOs that we work with. And really, really cool production plants that are all female run that was really important.
We, we really stand for this female and leadership. And we don't just say that as a brand and tell our customers about it, but we actually really love it and all our factories are female-run. And we need to be creative engineers that are sitting behind our fabrics that want to produce really cool fabrics with us and make them sustainable, right, use less plastic or no plastic at all. Recycle, reduce chemicals or no chemicals at all. We also always try to minimize all chemicals whatsoever. If we can we just recycle them. So we have a really, really cool, production setup, and we have many beautiful fabrics also coming up.
So that's, that's really exciting.
That's amazing. So setting up a fashion brand. Again, when people are in lockdowns. Who were your customers from the get-go? Who were they? Were they using your products for meetings? Sitting on zoom calls, for example?
What is the vision of the brand in the next two years even when actually maybe the COVID situation may continue or may not? How have you seen it evolve in the last year? And how do you see it evolving in the next couple of years?
Yeah, so I would say our first customers as with most startups, I would say it's kind of the first colleagues and friends right that then maybe you tell some of their friends, some of their colleagues. And then it kind of slowly runs out of your own social network.
But obviously, we've also seen a lot of people actually from Scandinavia, Denmark, and then Belarus… Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands- actually have a lot of customers over there.
And so that's been really exciting. And it's really like it's what I love about our customer base like because beforehand, right when you think about your business who you want to sell to you, we always talked about these, like really ambitious women like modern professional women just that just want to go into their job and on their careers and on their lives. And it's really, those are the people we're selling to and that's super, super exciting.
It's actually really really amazing women who come and talk to us and buy our products and all that stuff. So that's really really cool. I would say the first because we did start quite conservative on our product line. I would say the first couple of customers kind of shocked and with to have like the staple in their in their wardrobe I would say the classic suit, they can always work not necessarily just for immediate or this year. But just to have the blazer ready to go. Some customers have told us they have this one because they're really comfortable. So they just have it like laying next to them and whenever the Zoom is required, they just throw it on and have like sweatpants under. So the blazers and everything top for sure sold more than the pants and but even the pants I wear the pants like every day, just to chill because they're really really comfortable compared to other business pants.
And that's really cool. And for the next couple of years what I would love to see is obviously that we can go back into our careers I think people are very, very excited. Also, have a little more structure again. And I don't think we'll ever go back to completely working from offices. I think people really enjoy their flexibility and we for sure also want to support professional women in that flexibility whether it's like complete work from home or part time here part time there.
But what I would love to be able to do is this feeling again, right? We have this airport catwalk right when you are Monday mornings in the airport and you walk to your plane and have a cool and powerful costume on and those things I do think that a lot of people are missing those moments. And I'm missing a little more powerful wardrobe. So I'm hoping for my sake and all of our sakes that that's coming back, but will for sure with our product line. We also ready for the flex working that's coming.
That's amazing. And I for sure have been missing my work wardrobe because I don't want to be in my pajamas the whole day, but also don't want to work in my work clothes anymore because you know, they are so structured and not really work from home friendly. So I would definitely look out for your stuff if you are putting anything out. And for anyone listening Svenja anyone who is wanting to do a side hustle and grow it up on the side, alongside a demanding corporate career. Do you have any words of advice?
Do it. That would be my advice. At least try it. I think that it's awesome to actually do it as a side hustle because it requires you to work during hours. And I'm not trying to promote like crazy overworking, I'm really a strong advocate against that. But I do think there's something to be said, if if you have such a desire to work on something that you get up on Sunday, after working entire week or on Saturday and actually are excited to like, think about it and build something for a couple of hours during the weekend, I think that's a really, really good sign that you have something that you because it requires a lot of passion.
If you want to go through all the ups and downs, you always really need to have that passion and need to know why you're doing it. So actually do things like doing it as a side hustle. We didn't even think about it. I mean, we did think about it a little bit. But I was very unaware of what all those black holes I mentioned before, right? Like very, very unaware of what all they could be, and what they are going to be.
And we're just like, let's just develop one suit. Like, let's just find out how hard it is. That's fine. Some people that want to design it with us and some people that we trust, and like, let's just see how it goes in worst case. That was kind of what we always said in the beginning that we would just create one suit and then see where it goes. So I would recommend just doing that. If you have a physical product, or even just a software solution or whatever, just try it out. Do one pilot even on the side, because I think that's I wouldn't recommend anyone to quit everything and try it. I mean, if that's people's choices and people's personality types, I think obviously that's also really, really cool. But yeah, just do it.
I completely agree. I mean, if you are going to see yourself through this business, you need to be there for the business when you don't feel like being there for the business. And a way to grow is a side hustle at times. Because yeah, that is when you would much rather just watch Netflix. But yeah, you are there because of that passion and that purpose.
Coming back to purpose when Yeah, because quite a most of the women entrepreneurs, especially I speak to are very, very purpose led. And that seemed to be the theme I was catching on with your sustainability. Women Empowerment all of those pieces. So tell us a bit more about your purpose.
Good question. Big Question. Our purpose for Saenguin is for sure, empowering women, right, like our mission, because we went into, and I do think like our generation, we already very empowered women, right? Especially where I grew up, where I worked. I don't think there are any limitations to what I could possibly achieve. But I do think when you go into the corporate world, there's a lot of comments.
There's a lot of like, really weird, corporate sexism still in place, which was really, really shocking, coming from a very liberal, like, kind of university background. And then you start in the corporate world, and you're like, holed up- What? What year is it? What the hell have I just entered?
And, and the purpose of the assignment is to really not even empower because I do think we are empowered, but just making a stance for women, and just going after what they want, and showing the power that women have, and the ambition that people have in celebrating that right like celebrating female ambition because it's so often linked to, unlikeability, right?
Like the ambitious men are celebrated. The ambitious woman is a little looked down upon the not so likable, and that for sure is the biggest, biggest passion or purpose for Saenguin: to change that status quo and just show how cool and amazing ambitious women can be. And that's, that's really the that's the purpose.
That's amazing. And I love that you are doing all of this very sustainably, using women-backed enterprises and production partners as well. That just brings everything back to the full circle. This has been amazing Svenja, anything else that you want to leave us with any last words of wisdom?
I mean, my last words of wisdom, I don't know who you most people listening in are probably like maybe looking into entrepreneurship or not. And I would say for sure, like, I think it's an awesome thing to consider, right? Like also what you mentioned in the beginning - you have a lot of people on that came from management consulting, and I do think that coming from like a decently good business school. That's usually what you think is out there, right? And what's possible?
And I don't think that's any sign of management consulting being like the one solution, or the answer for it all, but maybe a little bit of insecurity. And I do think just showing what all career paths out there and that it is possible that you actually work on what you are passionate about, and not just fix a PowerPoint 10 pm on a Friday night for some partner, which I have done a lot of times.
And that's for sure nt the biggest passion invoking work you can do on this planet. So I think it's really, really important to highlight different careers, and I think you're doing a great job, but it's just showcasing that and yeah, everyone, everyone can do it for themselves. And it doesn't have to be so risky and so dangerous, right? Like sometimes just a small step just to talk to some people do a little focus group or whatever it might be. You can just test the waters and then you're already one step closer. So I would say that to everyone.
Love that. Love that piece of wisdom and advice. You don't have to think of this as a hugely risky move today- I have to quit my job and tomorrow I embark on this entrepreneurial journey. No, it rarely happens like that.
This is been such a pleasure and for all you ladies, go check out Saenguin. They have an amazing collection. I am definitely looking forward to the not so work sort of collection coming in March.
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