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Jutta Merschen: Mental Shifts for Good Ideas

Jutta Merschen got her PhD in economics and law, then worked for a large consulting firm for more than 12 years before founding her startup Familypunk in 2020. The digital coach for parents uses short audio sessions to share knowledge and strategies for raising kids with the aim of making daily life with kids easier for parents. The startup is financed by business angels and public funding. We spoke with Jutta Merschen about brainstorming, mistakes and priorities.

Munich Startup: What motivated you to found a company?

Jutta Merschen: It was a simple question: “Where’s the app for this?” My husband and I have three small children and, like many parents, had gotten to a point where we at the end of our ropes. It took forever to look for advice on parenting that was a good match for us and that didn’t expect me to read one 250-page book after the next. That was how the idea behind Familypunk was born: short, snappy audio sessions for parents for more serene family life.

How she caught the startup fever

Munich Startup: Did you have role models when starting the company?

Jutta Merschen: I didn’t have a major role model when founding. I was living in Berlin when the startup wave really got going in the late aughts/early 2010s. A lot of my friends and colleagues started working for startups or founded their own. That really impressed me and made me also want to start my own company some day. It wasn’t the right point in time for me then, but I had caught the startup fever. The companies that are now role models for me are those who paved the way in the field of audio content: Headspace, Blinkist, Femtasy.

Munich Startup: When and where do you have the best ideas?

Jutta Merschen: When I’m not focused on working. While exercising, reading, browsing or discussing different topics is when the best associations come to me. These mental shifts are then often the foundation for new ideas for Familypunk.

Munich Startup: What’s your biggest talent?

Jutta Merschen: My biggest talent is perhaps the combination of vision and structure. Thinking big, contemplating what could be and then using structured analysis to determine the small steps to get us there. Of course the plans don’t always work, but it’s not just about the results, but also the process.

Only start a company with the perfect idea?

Munich Startup: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?

Jutta Merschen: The biggest mistake was thinking you can only start a company when you have the perfect idea. That really held me back from following my desire to start a company in the 2010s. You find out whether an idea is good or not when you start developing it.

That doesn’t mean that you should just quit your job and found a company right away. It’s more about starting to define a problem that you want to solve, about talking with potential customers and partners and about building and testing a minimum viable product. It’s only then that it becomes clear if an idea is viable or not. And all of that is already the start of founding a company. It doesn’t just start when you’re at the notary registering the company.

Munich Startup: How do you set priorities? What are they?

Jutta Merschen: Steve Jobs once said that innovation means saying no to one thousand things. To not do them. I’m trying to take that to heart, because every day only has 24 hours and not everything should be about work. My kids need time, I need time for myself, for my relationship and for friends.

For Familypunk, I set priorities every quarter and every week, also in collaboration with my team. For myself, I set – on good days – my “Big 3,” which are the three things I definitely want to get done. On chaotic days, I just simply get to work and often notice that I’m not as focused as when I concentrate on just a few big topics.

Jutta Merschen: “Startups aren’t built by watching”

Munich Startup: Do you think now is a good time to start a company? Why?

Jutta Merschen: I think for everyone personally it’s always and never a good time to start a company. There are always pros and cons. If you want to do it, you have to take the chance – startups aren’t built by watching.

At the same time, there’s obviously timing for products and services, and that timing has a major impact on whether you’ll find investors or a team. Who would have thought eleven years ago when Headspace was founded that we would now primarily learn how to meditate using our phones? Innovative ideas have to create a market to begin with, and whether that works or not really depends on the timing.

Munich Startup: Do you think it’s important for more women to start companies in Germany?

Jutta Merschen: In Germany and in the world in general, we need more equal participation. That means: Women and men should be equally involved in making decisions. Regardless of whether in business, politics, society, research or a private family context.

More than half of consumers are female. Someone needs to think about this part of the world and to develop products and services that meet women’s needs. I’m not saying that women can necessarily do that better – but they obviously see these needs differently than men, because they can link their practical knowledge with theoretical knowledge.

On top of that, numerous studies have shown that startups with a least one female founder generate more turnover and have a better return on investment. So it would be economic nonsense to not want more women in Germany to start companies.

‘Unconscious Bias’ in the startup scene

Munich Startup: Was being a female founder an advantage or disadvantage for you?

Jutta Merschen: What I’ve observed in the startup scene is that we still have to battle against a lot of unconscious bias as female founders, especially with investors. Comments like “If you can pull it off – be my guest.” Which basically means: You’re going to fail anyway. Or: “That means you’ll have to be really smart and creative” – okay, seriously?! That comes off as extremely patronizing. And these things only came up in discussions with men. My impression is that male founders don’t have to put up with that from other men.

Munich Startup: What’s on top of your desk at the moment?

Jutta Merschen: On the Familypunk side of my desk, the topic of marketing as a whole is up top. I really focused on the product in the beginning of the year after my co-founder, who was responsible for the area, left the company. Now the pendulum needs to swing in the other direction: How can we reach parents with our cool product? On the private side of my desk, I have the topic of kids starting school since my twins will start going to school this fall.

Munich Startup: What makes you happy?

Jutta Merschen: The beautiful thing about happiness is how multifaceted it is. Being outside makes me happy. Climbing mountains. Watching the boys absorbed in play. Spending time with friends. Talking about things besides the weather. Reading books and discovering new worlds. Reading aloud to my kids and sensing their curiosity. Traveling and discovering real new worlds. And it makes me just as happy when we reach a major milestone with Familypunk and accomplish what we had set out to do.

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