From Jetsetter to Entrepreneur with a Social Impact – Meet Veronika Stocker
Veronika Stocker is the founder and owner of auferstanden, an upcycling design initiative based in Vienna, Austria. Veronika gave up her jet set life to dedicate herself to a social, local and sustainable solution for design lovers. The Pink Lookbook met Veronika at her store at Neubaugasse 86 and talked about the transition from a corporate career to starting her own business, the difference between male and female founders and how young people, and especially women could be encouraged to run their own businesses.
What is auferstanden?
The German word auferstanden meaning revived [editor’s note: the word actually goes back to the Bible to Jesus’s resurrection] illustrates the brand’s mission: giving a second life to materials that have already been used before. In addition to becoming a platform for young and innovative Austrian artists and designers, we strive to show that upcycled design and fashion items do look stylish and appealing.
As a former manager at Red Bull, what triggered your decision to found your own business?
It all started with a business trip to Australia. I was supposed to go there for four weeks to launch a new product and ended up staying there for three months. Before that trip, I had always been obsessed with taking as many things I can with me. When I came back to Vienna, I was baffled by my huge closet. I radically went through all my things and got rid of a lot of them which was a big relief. Furthermore, I think it had got something to do with me turning 30 – the typical questions you ask yourself: Who am I, what do I want in life? I went to Cameroon with some friends, among them my late business partner. We saw how local kids made new and very creative things with very little resources out of waste. We immediately started brainstorming about how we could bring this idea into life in Austria, did some research and decided to focus on apparel first, because there is an excess of them in all our closets. In December 2013, we opened the store offering a tailoring service to transform old pieces into stylish new things combined with a big range of design products. I decided to offer a bigger portfolio of products, because the research about upcycling and the competitor analysis showed me that apparel only might not be feasible, especially if you have only limited space available to keep fixed costs low.
What is the difference between being employed by a company like Red Bull in comparison to your daily life as the founder of auferstanden?
Compared to working in a corporate environment, the biggest difference is to become an all-rounder and to quickly learn new methods. Furthermore, the product itself is different from Red Bull: Red Bull sells an attitude to life. At auferstanden we sell an attitude to life as well but with a very strong social and sustainable mission.
How did your family and friends react when you decided to start your own business? Are there times where you question the decision yourself?
My mother was very sceptical when I left Red Bull to start this business. I think she was always concerned that I would never settle down. I personally never thought about having kids or not. Nevertheless, the more she saw that this was not just a phase for me but my mission and that I worked very hard for it, my mother became very supportive and now also helps me with some shop operations. My friends were all very enthusiastic about my plans. A lot of them support me in the shop on Fridays or Saturdays and I realized that they actually enjoy being here a lot.
I do have moments where I ask myself why the hell I made this choice – especially when I am sick and have to be at the shop. You feel the highs and lows much more intensely than when you are employed. I tend to take things about the shop very personally, I question a lot of things. However, the positive experiences are more intense as well, because I can tell myself “I really made it”.
What do you think are the biggest differences in business behaviour regarding men and women?
Men do have ‘balls’ when it comes to decision making. Women tend to question themselves and their skills much more than men do. As a woman, you might face difficulties, because we challenge ourselves much more than men. However, in the long-run, this attitude might be more rewarding, because women tend to plan ahead and take calculated risks. However, it might be a barrier at the same time, because women tend to over-think decisions and imagine dragons. Men just go for it without much consideration.
One of the biggest mistakes women make in my opinion is that we are often too nice or empathic when it comes to negotiations. While men only consider their own perspectives, women think about the business partner and question if they put the other party into a disadvantaged position. They even might think they exploit their business partners, If they aim at negotiating a lower price. Furthermore, I observed that men are better at separating work and friendships. I also do think that women are more focused on harmony of the team with our empathic attitude. Therefore, there are fewer situations that might escalate, and for example, power struggles might be less likely.
What can your home country Austria do to encourage more women to found their own businesses?
I think the general problem in Austria is that, despite the media hype about start-ups, there is only very little real support for young entrepreneurs. As a small organization, I have the same non-salary costs for employees as a multinational corporation. I think in this field there should definitely be some change towards the benefit of new founders. Furthermore, certain government sponsorship programmes apply for companies between 1 and 500 employees. How can I as a small entity have a chance against these big organisations? Apart from the relatively high corporate tax, the red tape in Austria is very complicated and takes long time and effort – even very little things like external shop decoration have to be registered with the authorities. It causes a lot of additional pain for founders. Moreover, there are a lot of other drawbacks regarding social insurance compared to being an employee. From a woman’s perspective, thinking about maternity leave, it might be the better choice to stay in an employment situation.
At the moment, I think there is a big hype about start-ups, which can also have an adverse effect and discourage people from starting their own businesses because the challenges of running your own business have become a widely covered topic in the press as well. If I had known how hard building your business really is, I am not sure if I had actually started my own project.
Would you recommend women to found rather than stay in a corporate job?
I think it really depends on the type of self-employment you have as a woman. It is definitely easier to combine work and family if you have a flexible job where you can decide about the hours yourself. That’s a clear advantage compared to a traditional office job. However, it can happen that you run your own marketing agency, for example, and your kid is sick on the day you have to pitch in front of a big client …
I think in the end, if it is the right choice for the person will depend a lot on their persistence. It’s similar to studying at university – most of the time if you pass exams, it is because you invested a lot of time and worked hard rather than only being highly intelligent.
For me personally, having kids was never really on the agenda, which is funny now when you look at me today being heavily pregnant [laughing]. It just happened. But there are a lot of women who consider having kids as ‘the’ goal in their lives. And if they do not reach this goal, the outcomes might be really bad. When working at Red Bull, I realized, however, that the big corporate career I had used to aspire when I was at university was not my goal either. When I decided to leave, I also realized that my life priorities have changed a lot due to this project.
What is your plan for auferstanden’s future?
We are currently building up our online business and use additional distribution channels, such as museum shops and pop-up stores. Therefore, our products will be made available to a broader customer base. Concerning our suppliers and partnerships, I want to keep the local approach for the time being. I never want to manufacture in countries where I cannot ensure that our standards are met.
Courtesy of auferstanden; Website: www.auferstanden.at