From music band member to tech pioneer.
Interview with Regine Haschka-Helmer - Part One.
|Interview by:||Lena Rübelmann||Video by:||Birka Wolff||Edited by:||Valeria Pinto|
|Reading Time:||9 Min.||Date:||22.11.2018|
In the course of our role models series, in which we introduce you to women in the tech industry, Regine Haschka-Helmer is one to keep your eye on. She breaks stereotypes about the tech industry, encouraging people to engage in the tech field. Not only is she the CEO of the company Seedlab, (which she founded) but also joined IOTA foundations. While she did not start out in the tech field, she managed to find herself in a leading position within the industry. In addition to her unconventional background, she was the youngest woman on a managing board of a German publicly-listed company. She is what you would consider a ‘maker’ by definition, someone who breaks clichés and, therefore, opens up new pathways for others. Since there is a rather small amount of women presented in the tech industry, the position she finds herself in might be considered extra remarkable. In fact, she resents stereotypical thinking, making it clear that, by being the creator of her own company, that anything is possible, no matter the gender. Though, she does stress the misconception people have about the tech industry, which could be one of the reasons that there are few women in the field. Explaining the current changes within business culture, she highlights the importance of networking and the value of trial and error for anyone in any field. Ambition, a constant passion for innovation, and learning, as well as a major interest in problem-solving, made her stay up-to-date with the times for decades, and helped contribute to her success.
Q: What is the most essential information people should know about you and your job?
A: I am a digital tech pioneer, supporting people in using digital technologies to create solutions and to create real benefits for people in society and/or in business.
Q: Is that what you do at your business, SeedLab?
A: Yes, regarding my background: I started early in the 90s with a digital interactive agency. The first internet websites just had launched. As you can tell, my track record in digital consulting and digital software development is very long since we started developing websites for corporates in 1994 already.
Q: IOTA and SeedLab – are they connected?
A: Within SeedLab I am consulting corporate companies in digital innovation and digital transformation processes, meaning how to use new technologies to create new products and services. Plus, I match them up with startups that I scouted for the corporates and create collaborations. I came across blockchain technology and also knew about the digital ledger technology. I, personally, was not too convinced about the blockchain technology because of its limitations and this is when I came across IOTA. IOTA is a distributed ledger technology which creates solutions for the IoT (Internet of things) industry following a huge vision. I became a member of and an advisor to the IOTA. Finally, these are two separate things but of course there is a lot of interrelation between the both of them.
Q: Now you are all in the tech field – what if we went back in time, what were you thinking before or when you started your career?
A: I initiated my career when I was around 15 years old. This might sound weird but I was part of a band and we started to use digital technology to make music. That was very innovative at the time – synthesizers a.s.o. were just coming up and I was fascinated by that digital technology. We were able to produce music and record it without any third parties involved. This alone enabled us to become composers of music and simultaneously run our own studio with the budget kept very low. This is what coined my passion for digital technology making me follow the digital path up until now.
Q: What did you study?
A: I did my Bachelor’s degree in economics and I did an internship in advertising and marketing. This was my focus at first but then I realized that I wanted to combine the understanding of the real needs of society and the usage of technology to create solutions. I am not a technical person per se, I am coming more from the concept and strategy perspective. .
Q: Why did you found your own company?
A: I am not the person who would be happy in a corporate structure, I need more space. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. My parents were entrepreneurs and I was familiar with the ‘working day and night plus weekends’. With SeedLab foundation I discovered a real need in corporates. I consulted some corporates in digital innovation and they developed products and services in a very old-fashioned manner. Outside of these corporates was the startup-culture evolving using new methods and new tools to do rapid prototyping, to test new products and services and, finally, to find out if these new business models are working.
I asked myself why corporates wouldn’t adapt these types of methods and tools? They would be able to develop products and services much faster, cheaper and adapt them more precisely to the market needs. This is why I started to consult corporates concerning the new methods and tools. I received a lot of attention and landed the first big job. That’s how I started SeedLab.
Q: What was your biggest challenge?
A: The time when I became member of the board in IP Media, we had an IPO in 1990 and I was the youngest woman to be on a board of an official and public company. There was a lot of pressure put upon me. Then the next immense challenge was the crash of the new economy hype. We grew to be 600 people in the company and had to cut off a lot of them, which was a very challenging and tough time for us. In the end, you have to go through such experiences and they will make you even stronger.
To be one of the pioneers to bring such digital technologies into the market, to the people: That was just fascinating and a huge motivation for me.
Q: What kept you motivated to keep going?
A: That it was one of the most exciting phases ever. When the economy hype started we had caught a lot of attention and were supported by many smart and kind people, such as Lothar Späth or people from Dailmer AG. It was great to have these people as mentors and to be one of the pioneers to bring such digital technologies into the market, to the people. That was just fascinating and a huge motivation for me. Therefore, to be the head of the digital movement in Europe was – of course – motivation enough.
Q: Is that something that still motivates you today?
A: I am a very curious person and I concern myself with many questions, such as: what do these new technologies mean to us? In what ways can we use technology to create a better life? Not only with regards to businesses but also to society. It is the immense impact of digital technology and its constant and quick progression what still motivates me. It is the same with humans: you have to constantly continue to learn and that fact keeps me alive.
Q: Do you think the greatest potential lies within the tech field?
A: You need all of the industries. Tech on itself has nothing – it has to be combined with approaches or solutions coming from different industries. This is what I do; I am the bridge between technology and the other industries creating real solutions and benefits out of that interface. To me, technology itself is the most fascinating field and what I am doing is digital technology which is my area of expertise. Digital technology means more than just to use technology. The way we think, the way we are working, the way we could work – all of it is influenced by digital technology. Throughout each day this field is getting more and more complex and in order to solve this complexity we have to change the way we are working and the way we are thinking.
Q: What do you think about networking?
A: This is very helpful. Networking is underestimated but it is the future in any case. I always tell people, even my customers, to step out of their comfort zone, to quit operating as a sole island and to start and create themselves a diverse network in order to exchange experiences, make new contacts and gain inspiration and motivation. This is fundamental for women because they are experts at working networks. Another benefit is that you realize you are not alone and that there exist other people who are doing something similar.
Q: How important do you consider networking in the tech field?
A: It is everything. We are moving from an isolated company structure to a networking structure, to an ecosystem. Networking also enforces collaborations, to exchange information, to work with external experts and to be open-minded.
A person who is an entrepreneur; he or she wants to create something, they want to bring something into life. You need the passion and the willingness to take risks.
Q: According to you: what does it take to start your own company?
A: You have to be motivated to do something on your own. A person who is an entrepreneur; he or she wants to create something, they want to bring something into life. You need the passion and the willingness to take risks. As an entrepreneur you don’t have the security of your regular salary, you might not make any money and you might fall into doubt whether or not you are doing the right thing. Your thoughts might cause doubt, fear and anxiety. You should be strong enough to handle that. To found, I’d say that you need an affinity for problem solving and the ability to self-reflect.
Q: How do you become strong enough?
A: To go through it and face the fear. I still have the same fears, they are very common but if you do not live through them you cannot improve yourself. Any kind of challenge will prepare you for the next one. It will be over and you’ll realize ‘oh, I am still alive, nothing too bad has happened’. When I left ID Media in 2008 I had faced a very challenging situation because we could not agree on the same strategy within the advisory board. Thus, I left the company and was left with no job and I had to start from scratch. It was tough in the beginning but finally, I survived that phase in spite of my doubts. I even felt better having faced the issue and having survived it.
I am the CEO of a company, I am a founder of my company and I am the creator of my life and that is, to me the best position to be in. So finally, I’d say no. I would not be in a better position if I were a man.
Q: Do you think you would be in a different position if you were a man?
A: Yes and no. People in the technological field prefer to work with men, I’d say. This is because there is the common impression that men knew more about technology then women.
I would be in a different position if I would’ve taken the corporate path but me, as an entrepreneur, I work with clients who like the approach I am taking. I am the CEO of a company, I am a founder of my company and I am the creator of my life and that is, to me the best position to be in. So finally, I’d say no. I would not be in a better position if I were a man. I am doing what I like the way I think I should do it – I do not take orders from anyone but myself.
Q: How hard do you think it is for women to get to the top in the corporate structure?
A: I don’t think it is impossible for women to get to ‘the top’ but I think it is a little bit harder. You have to be more straightforward and really defend yourself. I have a lot of female friends who took that path and from what I’ve heard it is a game to play and a lot of them do not want to play that political game. Therefore, they don’t even want to be in these types of positions anymore to avoid being confronted with daily intrigues. That might be the case because women are supposedly less ambitious or aggressive than men.
Q: What are the challenges for women to get to the top in the corporate structure?
A: The same as for men. But the point is, many women might not want to dedicate their lives to such fights. Especially in corporate structures this elbow mentality is a necessity. Many just do not want to go that way.
Q: Do you think that applies more to the tech industry than to any other industry?
A: I think it is the same in each industry, or at least comparable.
Q: Do you think it would be easier to just found a startup?
A: Sure, anyone can found their own startup and make themselves the top. In the new generation it is different than it was during my generation. There is so much change regarding the necessity of diversity in the workspace of corporates. Plus, more and more women are taking the chance to found their own companies.
Be excited for the second half of the interview and find out more about why the time is playing for women…