In March 2020 I lost a job that I loved in a leading German tech start-up. The redundancy happened quickly and was completely unexpected. In the same week, my fiancé and I decided to cancel our wedding due to the growing concern over COVID-19 in Europe. By September 2020, I had created a product, the UltimateYou Planner and launched a Kickstarter campaign which went on to be fully funded. It’s been 6 months of challenges and learning, and like most, it’s been a year which looks nothing like I imagined it to. This is my story of how a series of setbacks led to the most exciting achievements of my professional life.
I’m sharing this story of our start up for two reasons; firstly for those of you who don’t know too much about my story, you can get to know me a little bit more. But more importantly, I hope through telling my story, it will inspire some of you reading this. This year has brought us many challenges, and I know many people are facing extremely difficult and uncertain times. I hope this serves as a reminder that where you are right now is no indication of where you will be in 6 months’ time. For better or worse, things keep on moving and we have to be ready to roll with the punches.
Redundancy in Lockdown
At the beginning of March 2020, I was working for a tech start-up in Hamburg. The impact of COVID-19 was just being felt in Germany and our whole office was sent to work from home. Within a few weeks, our company had let go of a large number of people, and I was one of the unlucky ones who went. The redundancies came as a complete shock and from one moment to the next, I found myself unemployed. I vividly remember getting off the call with my manager and standing in the kitchen with my fiancé. Through tears, I told him what had happened, and I vowed that we would turn this into a positive. I’m still not totally sure how I managed to adopt this mindset so quickly, but I felt determined that this was going to prove to be a win for us. I wanted to look back on that moment and be able to say, ‘thank God I lost my job because otherwise, I would never have started my own business.’ For me, it was all about re-framing what had happened. It was a devastating blow, but I knew I had two very clear options in that moment: fall victim to it or let it be the catalyst for something better.
To understand a little bit more about where I was in my life when this happened, I would need to go back to 2016. At that time, I was living in the UK and employed by Strategic Coach, where I was working together with some of the highest-level entrepreneurs in the world. Working with these incredible people was inspiring on so many levels, and it solidified my passion of becoming a business owner. In the summer of that year, I took a trip to Shanghai that would change my life. While spending a few weeks visiting a dear friend of mine, I met my now-fiancé. Originally from Hamburg, Germany, he was just coming to the end of his time studying abroad in China. We started a long-distance relationship between the UK and Germany, and at the beginning of 2017 I moved to Hamburg, bursting with excitement and optimism about my new life.
What followed on from that move were 2.5 extremely difficult years. I moved to Germany with no prior German language skills and naively thought that I would still be able to pick up my career right where I left it in the UK (oh, the arrogance of a native English speaker!) This was unfortunately not the case, and I spent a long time being rejected over and over again. I attended interviews, but for whatever reasons, always seemed to fall at the final hurdle. I spent 1.5 years of this time working in a kindergarten, a job which I did at times love but felt so distant from the career I had been working in. I worked for a few months in a practically unpaid internship in the hope of opening a door to the world of work in Germany. I also got offered a role earning just above minimum wage for a position that had all the responsibility of a 6-figure salary. I toyed with the idea of starting my own business but never did through a lack of confidence in myself and fear of the unknown. It’s safe to say, I spent a lot of this time in victim mode, ready to sulk about my ‘unfair’ problems at any moment.
Finally, in 2019, I got an offer to work in a tech start-up and it would be an understatement to say I was excited. I had dreamed about working in this company for a year or two, so it felt like all the struggles had been worth it. It felt like this was my chance to settle into life in Hamburg and pick up with my career. In the moment some months later where I found out I would be made redundant, I felt so determined to not fall into this hole which I’d been in for so long while I was living in Germany. I knew that it was essential for me to pick myself up and handle this situation with more grace and optimism than I had handled my setbacks in the years prior to this.
“I knew that it was essential for me to pick myself up and handle this situation with more grace and optimism than I had handled my setbacks in the years prior to this.”
Creating UltimateYou and the Significance of Mindset
In the days that followed my redundancy, I revisited some sketches I’d made a few years earlier for a planner. I knew I wanted a business that used all the knowledge I’d gained working in the coaching industry and I wanted to create a product that would help people to realise their goals.
Creating UltimateYou was so therapeutic at this time in my life, and the challenges I was facing perfectly gave inspiration to content in the planner. As the weeks and months rolled on, I found myself using more techniques to coach myself through this time in my life. Despite my initial positivity, there were naturally difficult moments. We were living on a significantly reduced income as my partner had also taken a pay cut, cancelled our wedding and I knew I needed to be very proactive about working on my mental health and finding ways to stay productive.
I built up a good morning routine, consisting of reading, meditating, writing, affirmations and visualisation. I felt this routine gave me an incredible advantage during lockdown of maintaining some sanity and it helped me to stay positive during what was a difficult time. I felt passionate about the work I was doing on myself, so I included all of these learnings in the UltimateYou Planner.
Creating a Planner
I got to work immediately on creating the content for this planner directly after the redundancy. I had a million ideas and I was overflowing with tools and strategies that I wanted to include in it. The biggest challenge I faced from the content creation side was selecting what was truly important to include. I will always remember sharing an early draft with a good friend of mine, who deemed it overwhelming! She was totally right. I was trying to jam years of knowledge into just one book! I have no idea how many hundreds of hours I spent re-drafting the planner, but I eventually got it down to what I felt was most essential.
Designing a Planner (with zero design skills!)
In those early days, I used Microsoft PowerPoint to assemble my pages together. It was a very basic way of getting all my ideas down and being able to loosely visualise how each page would look. When I finally hired a Graphic Designer some months later, I’m sure she must have despaired at the mess I’d created for her to clean up! She and I worked together for around one month to get the content designed and finally it felt like I had a product to bring to market.
The Commercial Side
After some time of creating the content for the planner, I knew I needed to turn my attention to the commercial side of how I was going to sell and market the planner. Philip encouraged me to apply for some funding from the Hamburg Kreativ Gesellschaft (The Hamburg Creative Society) which I was fortunate enough to be granted, which allowed me to produce my Kickstarter video with Studio 2038. This really made the whole process feel really real and around this time I started to feel more credibility as a legitimate business. I still didn’t have my planner produced or any sales, but the feeling started to sink in that I did have a viable business, which people were willing to give money to support.
Since this time, I have created my Kickstarter campaign and raised just under €6,000 for the first batch of 750 books. I will never forget the moment of launching my project on Kickstarter and within the first couple of minutes, receiving my first sales from strangers! That was an incredible moment where I realised people could actually care about the work I’d created sitting in my living room in Hamburg!
The Lesson on Mindset
So, the big lesson I’d love to share from all of this? Select your thoughts about your life very carefully. They will ultimately define what you get when things get hard. I’ve learned over the course of this year that the mindset you choose to adopt will make or break what happens to you. For a long time, I had allowed myself to get into an unhealthy mindset and I really felt everything was stacked against me. And of course, this still crops up and I have moments where I doubt myself and wish that this year had gone to plan but I’m generally delighted with how everything has turned out. Since the lockdown, my fiancé and I have relocated from Hamburg to sunny Portugal and we are enjoying the challenges of learning a new language and continuing to grow UltimateYou.