How condoms can change the world
How can we change the way we work, Waldemar Zeiler?
In today’s interview with Waldemar Zeiler we try to answer this question. Maybe you’ve already heard of Waldemar: he’s one of the co-founders of Einhorn, a start-up from Berlin, which among other things sells fairly produced and sustainable condoms. As different as their products might seem, they are only a means to an end to draw attention to more important issues. Issues like environmental protection and new work structures.
grow: Waldemar, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Waldemar: I am one of the two founders of the start-up Einhorn (the German word for unicorn), and one of the many “serial founders” or as I like to call them “serial failures” here in Berlin. Our economic system contributes strongly to inequality and to the fact that our world has become less of a nice place to live in. Knowing this and being part of this economic system, I knew I needed to change something. That’s why we tried a new type of business, one that can make the world a bit better instead of harming the planet and the people living on it. Because many companies tend to do this without being aware of it.
There are already many condom brands out there. What inspired you to produce “fairstainable” condoms?
The fact that we specialize in condoms is irrelevant in a way. Two years ago, we asked our employees why they had chosen to work for us and none of them answered: “Because you produce condoms.” It had more to do with our mission and aims. We really want to change the world and that’s why we started this business. We like to polarize, which is why we call ourselves the “down-below company.”
Can you give us a few examples of what you are doing differently?
I can give you many examples. Starting with ownership structures. I don’t believe that it’s possible to change the way we work without changing ownership structures. We want everyone who is part of the company, everyone in the value chain, to participate. We are going to put the company entirely in the hands of the team. No dividends will be paid out, and we also won’t be able to pass on anything to our children. In this way, we guarantee that everyone who has built up the company profits from it. We do not accept investors and have no marketing budget or bosses in the classic sense. We have dismantled traditional hierarchies and organizational structures. Salaries are transparent and we have a salary council that works out how much everyone gets paid. A lot is instigated by the team and not imposed from the top down. Above all, we experiment a lot and are not afraid to do so. Because the new business world does not yet exist, it still has to be invented. We need people who can experiment and for that, they need room. Not only physically; they also need to be free from pressure from investors or shareholders to grow faster, to grow bigger. They need the freedom to have ideas that can fail.
I’ve been wondering what motivated you to develop this completely different way of working. After all, it must also be exhausting.
I think what motivates me is the same as what motivates many others: frustration. Just look at the studies that come out every year of how many people have resigned internally yet still stay with their employer. This frustration all over the world is what spurs me on. We live in a world that is beautiful, but which we have already destroyed in part. Many people are overcome by a feeling of helplessness that they cannot change anything. Either I can sit back and be passive, or I can start with a small condom company and change the world. Start small, but maybe others will get inspired and change something as well. I broke out of this passivity and was happy to do something active.
I broke out of this passivity and was happy to do something active.
Where do your ideas come from?
I believe that if you provide enough space and take away people’s fears and give them time to think, ideas develop automatically. In the case of us founders, we found a way not to be completely tied up with the operational side, as a result of which we have time to come up with ideas. Of course, we also want to enable our team to do the same, and to become people who are passionate about something. In general, if you do not put people under pressure with performance targets, sales targets and thus restrict them in their lives (working rules, working hours), but instead give them more responsibility for what they do, ideas come by themselves. During our lives we go through different stages: kindergarten, school, jobs, all of which stifle our creativity. Therefore, the creativity we have naturally, as children, is successively driven out of us. In order to rekindle this creativity, we need to provide the right environment in which our minds can run freely and creative ideas can flow. At the same time we know that out of ten ideas maybe only one is cool, but you have to come up with those ten ideas first.
Where is Einhorn going?
Overall we have no big goals, the only small goal we have is to win the Nobel Peace Prize in ten years. And of course, we want to continue to show that the economy can function differently and to set an example for corporations as well as start-ups. Maybe we will add more products, or at some point we will get rid of Einhorn and create a political party. Nobody knows for sure, but I’m sure the future has many exciting things in store.