Verena Pausder of Fox & Sheep

Category: Future heads

©Kim Keibel

©Kim Keibel

©Kim Keibel

Verena Pausder has an eventful and very successful life: She writes a blog for weekly business magazine Wirtschaftswoche, organises events for managers and young people, founded her startup Fox & Sheep and successfully sold it – and raises her two children. Now the entrepreneur has been elected into the "Young Global Leaders" community, a 5-year elite program for the world's best leaders under 40.

Ms Pausder, congratulations on being selected to join the exclusive circle of "Young Global Leaders"! Which of the following do you think made the jury decide in your favour: your "StartupTeens" initiative for young people, the "Ladies Dinner" networking event for female managers that you initiated, your ability to bounce back after a failed first attempt as the founder of a salad bar, successfully building and selling a company for children's apps or acting as a role model for other mothers combining parenthood and work?

I think the range and diversity of my activities was a decisive factor for being elected into the Young Global Leaders programme as it is about both being successful as an entrepreneur and driving forward projects that go beyond the scope of your own company and serve no economic purpose. Our non-profit initiative "StartupTeens" which teaches young people business acumen certainly was an important factor. The subject of digital literacy for children which has been pushed forward with the opening of the first digital workshop in Berlin in February 2016 has probably also played a role in this.

With Fox & Sheep you specialize in the development and marketing of apps for children on a global scale. Do you feel that parents in Germany are especially wary of digital media for children or is that a misconception? Or to put it another way, how often have you had alarmed parents from Germany get in touch with you and how often has this been the case with parents from the rest of the world?

As a matter of fact, parents in Germany as well as the general public are particularly sceptical towards the issue of digital media for children and there's a lot more resistance than in other countries. I think that it is very important to approach the subject of digital media for children very carefully as it is intended to accompany children growing up rather than dominating their lives. However, I think it is wrong to demonise the subject and react to it only with fear, because digital media are part of our children's reality of life and we should teach our children how to handle new media responsibly and consciously instead of closing ourselves off to them.

In Berlin, talented app developers are in high demand. Can the Fox & Sheep apps contribute to companies having less trouble finding qualified IT specialists in 20 years' time by teaching children digital literacy at an early developmental stage?

I don’ think so. It is not the aim of Fox & Sheep to train tomorrow's developers by using our apps. Our apps are a first point of contact with the digital world, aimed at slowly introducing parents and their children to the subject. However, it is our aspiration with the Digitalwerkstatt (Digital Workshop) to teach children aged between 6 and 14 to code and use 3D printers and digital craft stuff. Our primary goal is not to train them for the future job market but to enable them to shape the digital world instead of merely consuming it.

On a free market it could be lucrative for companies to get children hooked on the companies' own games - particularly, if parents don't pay attention to how their children use their smartphones. The counterpart to this are so-called "serious games", whose developers claim to impart educational content. How difficult is it to determine which smartphone game is useful for children and which should definitely be avoided?

Luckily, it keeps getting easier to find useful apps and to recognise them as such. The children's section of the app stores only contain apps with content suitable for children - Google and Apple make sure to check this prior to publication. Also, the reviews of other users provide some indication whether an app is of high quality or just intended to mislead children. In addition, you're on the safe side if you download apps for your children with In-App Purchases disabled as this is the only way to make sure that your children can use the app without having to buy any further content within the app.

Let's change subjects: Weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" once called you the "poster girl of the startup scene". In fact, you seem to be doing some things in a completely different way than many other founders, regardless of the fact that you as a founder belong to a minority anyway. You built Fox & Sheep with virtually no venture capital and started reaping profits soon after. Now you have opted for an exit, but you still retain shares in the company and remain managing director. The current trend of "serial entrepreneurs", i.e. starting a new company as soon as a project has been successfully finished, seems to be of no interest to you. Why is this?

My family's company, currently run by my father, has been in our family for nine generations which is why I have always seen entrepreneurship as something that's long-term and sustainable. My aspiration is to be with Fox & Sheep in the long run and contribute to the company's success instead of jumping onto the next thing after selling to HABA. I still have so many ideas for the digital future of children that I would like to realise with Fox & Sheep which makes me think that you can be a serial entrepreneur within a single company.

Following the takeover by HABA, an established toy production company, that you just mentioned, Fox & Sheep also serves as an example of how "old" and "new" economy can benefit from one another. Which advantages have you already been able to observe by having a new majority owner?

From coming up with the initial idea to actually opening the Digitalwerkstatt it has taken us four months only. To a large extent this is due to HABA who share our vision of digital education and pave the way for us to make quick decisions. It is a huge advantage to have a family-run company at our side whose leaders think in decades rather than single years and who are willing to set the course for the digital education of children. At the same time they fully acknowledge that we are a small and agile startup and intend to stay that way which is why they give us free rein with regard to our day-to-day operations. I firmly believe that startups and old economy should work alongside each other appreciating each other's strengths instead of pointing out their respective weaknesses.

Finally, could you please complete following sentence: Berlin is...

... the perfect place to manage an international startup, raise my children and shape the future.

Ms Pausder, thank you for your time. We wish you all success for the "Young Global Leaders" program!

Thank you!