Neuropsychologist Dr. Therese Tönnies served as a human-machine expert for a company in the healthcare field for some time. Together with partners, she founded Qolware GmbH in 2016, to use wearable technology such as smartwatches to recognize emergencies and health changes in seniors and individuals who are chronically ill. During our interview, the native Frenchwoman spoke about talents, mistakes and the advantages and disadvantages of a founder’s daily life.
What motivated you to found a company?
The decision to start something of my own ultimately emerged from the combination of two factors: On one hand, the enthusiasm about working on the subject – I felt and still feel it’s incredibly exciting to see how much untapped potential is offered by the rapid technological developments from the last six to eight years. On the other hand, I’ve always been partial to self-employment. An extremely diverse workday suits me well. And in areas where some feel there’s perhaps too little security, I instead see the opportunity to take control and continually develop.
Speaking of uncertainties
Did you have role models when starting the company?
I don’t have any real role models. I’m not doing all of this to be like some other person, but rather to continually give my best effort. That being said, I still like to talk with people and hear advice from individuals who have experience or relevant expertise to share. In my opinion, it’s also important to talk openly about your own weaknesses and current uncertainties in those kinds of discussions. If you’ve already seen and can do everything, then no one will want to share their own experience with you.
When and where do you have your best ideas?
I usually have ideas about innovative functions or services after spending a few hours thinking way too much about a subject, and then my brain starts to draw its own conclusions. Then something that actually makes sense sometimes comes out of it 😉
Recognizing true potential as a non-techie
Your biggest talent?
My greatest strength is having a very good understanding of technologies as a non-techie and being very good at gauging the potential they might offer to actually help specific groups of people. Those applications are often ones that initially were not planned or envisaged.
That often also means that the latest trends are not necessarily at the top of my list. They can be extremely innovative and technically exciting, but have been developed without the needs of the target group in mind. Technological achievements are only as good as the real value they offer specific users.
The biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Although I know that working in a startup doesn’t suit everyone, I was definitely not consistent enough in one case. Now I check ahead of time to see if employees are suitable for working in our startup or whether a structured daily schedule with less responsibility is more important for them. In the end, I’ve learned to recognize certain signals early on and to be much more consistent in making decisions that bring the company forward.
Your secret networking weapon?
If I want to talk to specific individuals at an event, I always explain why I’ve approached them and why I think a discussion could be interesting for both of us. It then quickly becomes evident whether I’m talking to the right person or not.
The three most offensive prejudices you’ve encountered in everyday startup life?
I can’t think of much on the spot.
The power of a PhD
Was being a female founder an advantage or disadvantage for you?
Let me comment on this recurring theme first of all 🙂 Fundamentally, male and female founders aren’t really different. Both belong to the creative, risk-taking and try-it-out-yourself species and that is also largely lived out in the startup community.
I spent several years in the industry myself. In certain situations, I noticed as a woman, and also being very young, that I was not always taken as seriously from the beginning. I probably had to prove myself a little bit more than would have been the case for men who were just as young. Interestingly enough, having a doctor title made a considerable difference, which I find somewhat sad.
Something I’ve noticed in general about male founders is that they act more confident and less fazed than female founders. In a venture that in itself is uncertain and unpredictable in many aspects, that’s part of an attitude that I’ve consciously taught myself over the past few years. I would advise every male and female founder – totally regardless of gender – to do the same.
What’s on top of your desk at the moment?
Because I’m sitting in the train to Frankfurt at the moment, the only thing on my temporary desk is my laptop, my phone and of course a big cup of coffee!
Where’s your next vacation destination?
I’m almost always spontaneous when planning and going on vacation. As a founder, you have to really focus on what’s happening at that moment during the first stages and putting operations on hold for two or three weeks simply doesn’t work. On the other hand, we also have the freedom to spontaneously take a few days off during the week if there’s nothing pressing to take care of. I’ve been taking a lot of short trips to somewhere in Europe lately and will probably go to Croatia in the coming weeks – together with my two co-founders, one of whom is originally from there.
What have you always wanted to say to Munich residents?
Munich is super, both for working and for living. I especially love the central location where you are never too far away from anything. Take advantage of that!