1,000,000 podcasts, 30 million episodes worldwide. Podcasts have become serious competition to the traditional radio shows. And judging from these numbers, they are still widely popular despite a trend towards more and more video content. Regina Larkö, a native Austrian living in Hong Kong, has been a frontrunner in the podcast scene. Four years ago, she launched her successful #impact podcast where she casts a spotlight on inspiring people who have a positive impact on society. You may think that her professional background was being a radio host or in tech. But Regina is an inspiring role model who shows that our journey does not always have to be linear.
During the social distancing measures, Regina and I met for a virtual interview. I was based in Austria and Regina was just one week away from giving birth to her third child in Hong Kong. Let me take you on Regina’s journey – from Vienna to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thank you, Regina, for taking time and allowing us honest insights into your life as a “mompreneur”.
In 2015, Regina and I met for the first time in a café in Central, Hong Kong. Regina had just moved from Shanghai and filled up the room with her positive energy, a big smile and a baby bump. This was when The Pink Lookbook was only an idea and Regina’s podcast #impact and her first child were not born as yet. We immediately connected over our shared stories – both of us had a passion for China, obviously, and we had discovered it by chance. I had spent a semester in Beijing and Regina had studied sinology – for both of us it was our gut feeling telling us to travel to Asia rather than any previous travels or background. Yet, both of us ended up spending a lot of time in Asia.
“In German or in English?”, Regina asks me when we started our call for this interview. Our mother tongue is German but we both hardly speak it anymore. We decided to try in German and maybe switch if it gets to difficult. Two Austrians, talking English – another “odd” thing we share. Five years after our first meeting, Regina has established herself as a media expert and a well-known podcast host, who speaks at conferences and teaches at university. Her smile and positive energy are still as captivating. But there was a baby bump again – baby number three was on the way and Regina was just preparing for maternity leave.
Regina grew up in the 22nddistrict of Vienna, one of the outer districts on the other side of the Danube River – “Transdanubien” as she proudly calls it. She grew up in a big family with very young parents (they were in their early twenties when Regina was born). She was also raised by her grandmother and great-grandmother to whom had a particularly close bond.
Already as a child she directed and acted in her own plays, asked for money for the “tickets” and was in charge of her own fictional radio and TV shows. At school she was part of the drama group. After graduating from high school, she auditioned at the reputable Max Reinhardt Seminar, one of the best drama schools in Europe. But she did not get in. She had not really thought about a Plan B and her parents also did not pressure her into anything. They wanted her to be happy.
Regina did not think twice and moved on. As she always liked learning new languages, she signed up for Sinology – without any previous knowledge about China and without ever having travelled there. But she was intrigued by the “exotic” and challenging language and the beautiful script. At the institute, she clearly was the underdog. “I didn’t even know who that Confucius guy was!”, she bursts out into laughter. This is another charming thing about Regina – she does not take herself too seriously. While all the other students were obsessed with China or were second generation Chinese immigrants, Regina had a tough start. Nevertheless, she was the only one of her group who actually ended up living and working in China for a long period of time.
During her semester in Beijing, she met her now husband Peter, a native Swede. They returned to Europe and started to gain a bit of work experience. But after the crisis in 2008, they both decided to take the leap and go back to China, as the job opportunities looked more promising. With two suitcases of 20 kg each and tourist visas, they landed in Shanghai. The expiry date of the visa was their time limit – they had to find jobs by then. And they both succeeded.
Regina found a job at the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a think tank. She emphasized that already during her studies, she was aware that the chances of, firstly, finding a job and, secondly, one where she could apply her theoretical knowledge were negligible. But the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung was the perfect match, as she was able to apply her theoretical knowledge in Beijing and Shanghai. After five years, Regina and her husband were ready for something new and moved again – this time to Hong Kong.
Another Move, Another City and Literally Making the Best out of It
When I mentioned our first coffee meet-up in 2015, Regina called the time her “professional limbo”.
“I was still working freelance, #impact [her podcast] hadn’t been born yet. It was a challenging time for me because it was the first time that I was out of a job and I didn’t know yet how to juggle my career and a family. I started to network within the media community and wrote for some magazines. I really wanted to work on something, but at the same time, I wanted to be there for my first child. I wanted more than just six weeks of maternity leave and I also wanted to still be able to see my family in Austria.”
Hong Kong is a very career-focused city. People work very hard and your title and salary define you. When I started my own company, I did not have a “standard” job title at a fancy company anymore. Regina said it was the same for her. “People always ask you: ‘What do you do? What do you do?’ and if they find out you are of no use to them professionally, because you do not work for a big name, they lose interest. I felt being seen as ‘the wife of…’ instead of being seen for myself. This was not easy.”
But it would not be Regina, if she did not make the most out of this situation. In 2017, we met again in Hong Kong. Regina had started #impact – “a podcast about stuff that matters”. She asked me if I wanted to be one of her first interviewees and I was really flattered. As the interview was about my fitness app, we recorded the episode while we walked through a park.
“I wanted to start something for myself, something with an impact. I had started to listen to podcasts to educate myself. I taught myself how to record, cut and edit and stopped all my freelance projects. While it felt liberating to cancel the first project, the more projects I cancelled, the more nervous I got. I was about to do something which would not benefit me financially for quite some time. But I really wanted to learn and do it. And you know what, it also taught me some off-the-job skills: I realized how little I need to be happy. I don’t need the shopping sprees anymore. Other things give me way more joy and have become more important.”
She also saw this podcast as a great way to connect with people and build a network. There are many interesting stories out there in Hong Kong and Regina wanted to give them a platform. Her vision was that being featured on #impact should become something like a quality label.
In winter 2020, after baby number three, Season 5 of #impact will go on air. “It’s really crazy, I started in our small bedroom in Sheung Wan [in the densely populated centre of Hong Kong Island] and now I have four co-hosts in Korea, Germany and Australia. My vision is to have even more stories from all over the world featured in the podcast.”
Know Your Value and Be Self-Confident
When we talked about the financial perspective, Regina said that #impact has always been her passion project. Nevertheless, she took the financials very seriously from the start. The podcast may have started as a hobby and it took her some time to build self-confidence. But very soon she registered it as a company to send a signal – also to herself – that it was more than just a hobby. In the beginning, she was flattered when people wanted to learn from her and gave away her advice for free.
“I started asking myself, why do I actually do that? Why am I giving away all my knowledge which I have built up with a lot of effort for free? I can charge for it because I add value! I still have many things to learn but I also have accomplished a lot already. There is no need for imposter syndrome.”
Recently, Regina also ventured out into teaching. In addition to her conference and university talks, she started sharing her podcast knowledge in her own podcast and also developed an online course about how to start a podcast. (There is also plenty of additional free material such as her Podcasting Guide and Pod Challenge.
Despite the growing demand for video content, Regina still calls herself a “podcast fangirl”. According to her, video hasn’t killed the radio star.
“Podcasts are easier to make and you do not need a team or expensive equipment to professionally record them. You can make a podcast on your mobile phone. The ROI (editor’s note: Return-on-Investment) for companies running their own podcasts is very high, because it is very personal way to connect with your audience.”
Partnership, No-Guilt, Hard Work and Zest for Life
Three children, a business and speaking at events. How does Regina do it?
“I have to say that without the support system in Hong Kong with a nanny, I wouldn’t be able to do it. For a very long time, I felt guilty for it. Because I’m in a privileged position. I know there are so many talented, smart and ambitious women out there, but they don’t have the same support system. However, I then listened to Natalie Chan, who was a guest of my podcast (Season 4, Episode 2): Natalie is a successful business woman but she also felt guilty for her privileges – her parents could support her to study abroad. But instead of feeling guilty for the privilege, she saw it as her responsibility to make something out of that privilege.”
Regina shared that the key for a partnership is to be a team. She could always count on her husband’s support and encouragement. Before they moved to Hong Kong, Regina actually was the main breadwinner with a higher salary. “I think in the long-run, over the years, the salary-question will balance itself out. At the moment, I made a conscious decision to start my own business and have more flexibility for my children. These are my priorities and I don’t care what other people think about it. I actually don’t even have the time and energy to overthink it. I have a business and three kids – I’m busy enough.”, she laughs.
“I also think we are more critical of women than men. My husband is never asked how and why he juggles his career and three kids.”
Energy and meticulous time management are Regina’s further strengths. When we started our phone call and she started to share everything about projects and her children, it felt as if her day has 48 hours.
“I even ask myself sometimes where I take the energy from. But I just have this zest for life, joy and I just want to create. And my work itself gives me so much energy.”
Also when it comes to the “family languages”, Regina and her husband are very disciplined. Regina speaks German with the children, her husband Swedish. As Regina and her husband communicate in English, they decided that during family activities and at the dining table, the common languge is English.
Looking back, her life so far has been very adventurous – the small girl who used to be her own radio host in “Transdanubia” has established herself in a bustling metropolis. Regina admits that she had not always been adventurous. When she met her husband Peter, she was worried. How will this work – a family with somebody from another country and then also living abroad? “Now that we live it, I was surprised how flexible we can be as human beings. I was always scared of change. Now I’m not scared anymore. I know we can adapt and will work it out together.”
Regina Larko has Masters Degree in Sinology in Vienna and Beijing. She relocated to China in 2009 and worked for the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Shanghai in civic education, curating conference programmes for Chinese audiences in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. In 2017 she started #impact podcast in Hong Kong.
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Pictures courtesy of Regina Larko.