After several degrees in design and media studies, Katharina worked for many years as a project manager in agencies. Above all, she fell in love with the city of New York and her roommates during an internship abroad. For five years she went to the USA and made a career there. Then her body began to rebel and Katharina questioned her whole lifestyle.
Dear Katharina, what was the trigger for starting to think about your current lifestyle?
I suddenly became ill and spent half a year in a Chicago hospital. It broke my then relationship for which I had moved to the US and I was suddenly faced with the question of whether I would like to live there at all.
These are not the simplest questions of life …
It was a life changing process and it was not until I felt better that I could decide to go back to Germany. Then I actually moved in without a job, without a flat and ailing at the age of 32, back to Mum. That was the biggest break in my adult life so far.
How were you at the time?
My body had forced me to no longer live my life as before. But what my needs are, what makes me healthy and happy, I was not aware of. At the time I did not even realize that I had to actively search for it.
What did you do instead?
Professionally, I decided for the first time that I want to change from an agency to a company and want to look after a brand more intensively. So I went to Scout24 for two years, then to Amazon and finally to BMW. There, I was responsible for sales for MINI’s global merchandising. At the same time, I actively developed myself personally. I did seminars and coaching, started meditating and changed my diet. I’ve read books, worked with journals and workbooks, and started listening to inspirational podcasts. Through this work I was able to reorganize my value system, make peace with topics from the past and rediscover my creative power and my basic trust. That’s how I realized that I have an entrepreneurial spirit that I really want to let out.
How exactly did you find that?
It was a process again. I knew for a long time that my position in the group no longer fills me and I miss the meaning of my actions. I knew that I wanted to change something fundamentally but did not have any timing yet. My illness had shown me that our lifetime is precious and limited. I decided not to let my life be driven by the fear of failure, but by love and confidence.
Why did you know that self-employment puts you more in that direction?
I have a very pragmatic nature. Being a permanent employee I felt like a cog in a huge gearbox, with slow implementation of ideas and projects and rarely visible results. But I wanted to create something myself, see an output, create something and bring it into the world instead of spending my time in sometimes monotonous meetings.
When did you get the idea for Catlabs?
The idea came to me the first time in early 2014, when I moved into my new apartment and found no scratching post for my cat, which also fulfilled my aesthetic and sustainable requirements. I realized that certain things are difficult in living with cats: cat hair, scratching, the litter box and also the employment and maintenance of a flat-rate cat. Above all, if you like it nice and stylish at home, it is difficult to reconcile with the needs of the cat.
Did you know immediately that this is a business idea?
With some help, I have implemented my own design of a cat tree, but without much business thought behind it. I optimized this cat tree more and more often and received compliments from visitors. Then I calculated the production costs with the sales price, considered how big the market is and whether my idea can become a business or just a hobby. With all this my professional background from my time in the company has helped me.
How did you get from the one prototype to starting a business?
I gradually started to find suitable partners. I did not have much to show as a company of my own and still tried to get others excited about my idea. Since August 2018 I work full-time for my company Catlabs.
How did you know what cats want?
I have been a cat mum for years and as my business became more concrete, I have read many books on the behavior and needs of cats in dwellings. And test my first cat tree prototype of 50 cats to try different materials and designs. And my current Cat Tree Battlecat is the winner.
How does your self-employment feel so far?
There are days when I think I’m completely crazy. But then, fortunately, there are the days when I’m just sure that the idea works.
Which change through independence requires you the most?
There is no team I can resort to resource-wise, or to which I can delegate responsibility. Everything is from my pen, I have to make every decision myself. I am very visible and transparent with my product. This sometimes opens the door for people who begrudge the success.
How do you deal with your new financial uncertainty?
In my old jobs, I was one of the top two percent earners of all women in Germany. I figured out what I really needed to live a month and made a conscious decision to start earning less in the beginning. In exchange for meaningfulness, the enjoyment of what I do and the freedom to work, when and how long I want. Now it’s time for me to invest a lot of energy to make something happen. You can plan to a certain extent, but you also have to trust that things will turn out to be open, flexible and confident.
Which conclusion do you draw so far?
Everything takes longer than you think and the least things work out on the first try. Especially because I do a lot of things for the first time. But I like that and I am amazed at what I can do: Cut my own videos myself, exhibit at furniture fairs, apply for the design protection of my products or handle complex tax issues. That gives a cool self-confidence. It’s a good feeling when something that I think up in the morning is finished in the evening.
What is the best thing about self-employment?
My startup is one hundred percent myself. The first time I was still working, as I learned it in marketing and constantly considering how the Catlabs Brand and his language should be so that he likes the target group. But that’s totally nonsense to pretend and imagine something, instead of simply implementing it as I am. By now it is my total authenticity that I represent Catlabs. And that also leads to great encounters. In my short time of self-employment, I have met so many great women who want to help me, who motivate me.
What tips do you have for women who want to become self-employed?
If you live in a relationship or family, self-employment only works together. One is so constrained that this step should be a family or partnership decision. My partner passionately supports me in making my vision a reality and is my best adviser and biggest motivator. You have to go all the way and not have any additional work opportunities to actually realize the vision. And of course you should check the market, if the idea can be really successful.
And if one still doubts whether one really dares to take this step?
Then one should think about how often one talks about his daily job, shifts from holiday to vacation and whether one is satisfied with this situation. We are not on earth to somehow get through.
What are your goals for yourself in 2019?
2018 has been a year of many changes and that’s why I really want to make Catlabs better known and successful. And there are a few product launches.