Hanna Asmussen (she/her)

I strongly believe that homogeneous teams deliver worse results than a team with different backgrounds of experience, perspectives and nationalities.
Who are you and what do you do?

I’m the founder and CEO of Localyze, a company that digitizes relocation processes for international professionals and executives – including work visa applications – making them much easier. We are headquartered in Hamburg, but have locations in 20 countries, from Portugal, the Netherlands, UK and Ireland to the US.

You are an all-female founding team, was that intentional?

That was more of a coincidence. Some of us knew each other from our studies, and then we realized through various stays abroad that there were a lot of inefficiencies in applications, apartment searches, etc., and decided to improve these digitally.  It also helped that we were quite complementary among each other, because that’s also very important when setting up a business.

What changes would you like to see in Germany?

There are of course many things like the digitalization of authorities, processes, better location marketing, integration measures and so on, all of which I would very much like to see for our location.

But when I look to the future, I am particularly concerned about education in Germany and how little is taught about entrepreneurship and taking responsibility in schools.

Do you have the impression that having an all-female founding team impacted your financing rounds somehow?

In Germany, we already noticed that the investor landscape is very homogeneous in international comparison – at least still in 2019, when we went looking for capital for the first time. Since we also didn’t come from one of the well-known startup networks (WHU, CDTM, etc.), we were already eyed more critically at the beginning. The only really bad comment we once heard was from an investor who said that we would soon all get pregnant at the same time and could then close down the company. In the last few years, however, there has also been movement in the scene in Germany; interestingly, our first investors from Germany were also AUXXO Female, a VC team that focused on female founding teams. Abroad we felt we had less problems at the beginning, so many of our investors are from Ireland and the UK.

How does your female management team influence diversity at your company?

Since we not only have many women in the team, but also hired a completely international team right from the start, we had diversity, at least in terms of gender and country of origin, in our DNA from the very beginning. But we also regularly take a proactive look at issues such as educational diversity among applicants, so we try to avoid homogeneity as best we can here, too.

As a result of the higher diversity in the team right from the start, we have naturally also received various applications in turn and continue to do so to this day. On the one hand, this is due to the international nature of our business and the diverse representation on our careers page, and on the other hand, it is also due to the different networks of our employees. We are very grateful for this.

Many founders later try to promote diversity in their companies, which is always much more difficult because it is more difficult to break through homogeneity with quotas and costly measures than to make the culture diverse and inclusive from the start. So, I can only advise founders to invest time and money in the topic from the very beginning, even if both are virtually non-existent in startups (laughs). This investment pays off in any case.

What do you see as opportunities and challenges in your day-to-day work?

The different perspectives and points of view help us to understand our customers in everyday life and to accompany them with our product in a more target group-oriented way. I firmly believe that homogeneous teams, even if they are exclusively made up of so-called “A-players”, deliver worse results than a team with different experience backgrounds, perspectives and nationalities. Of course, it’s also a challenge to work with diverse cultures around the world, especially when much of it is done remotely.

That’s why we work hard to create a culture of trust, awareness and openness, while being results-oriented and entrepreneurial, so that every employee feels confident enough to do his or her best for a world without borders.

You mentioned that Germany is often not the first choice of international talents, where do they prefer to work instead?

Because of the language, as I said, they still prefer the USA or the UK (this has now become less so with Brexit), but also Ireland and actually all English-speaking countries. In Germany, the only place that still really attracts people is Berlin, because word has spread internationally that Berlin is international and multicultural and that you can “get by” there with English. But even when it comes to Hamburg or Munich, it becomes more problematic.

You work a lot with the German authorities regarding international professionals and managers, what would you change immediately in Germany if you could?

Due to the extreme shortage of workers across all sectors in Germany and the demographic trends, I would advocate (together with some VWL scholars) to completely open the borders in Germany and reduce the immigration screening to a minimum of bureaucracy (for example only Criminal Records) so that the visa procedures can be extremely simplified.

We have such an extremely high labor shortage across all sectors of society that we cannot afford such high bureaucratic obstacles. Of course, the narrative in Germany persists that we are a very attractive immigration country and are virtually “overrun”.

Our figures, however, look different: Precisely because of the language, England and the USA, but also Ireland, are still preferred as immigration locations. In addition, freedom of movement within the EU is only linked to a long-term residence title in Germany, which is also much more complicated and difficult to obtain.

One of the biggest shortcomings is certainly also that many employees in German authorities cannot or do not want to offer services in English, i.e., most immigrants understand when they then speak at the office first nothing and are also warned by our employees, who often have a migration background themselves, to ask in the appointment only no questions in English. Here, we are still miles away from the idea of service or customer service, and the bureaucracy and administrative complexity clearly differ from the visa processes in other countries, where at least the processes in the country are more digital, for example in Scandinavia.

Where do most of the people you support in moving to Germany actually come from?

Since we work mainly for companies in the tech industry and therefore accompany many developers, many of our customers are from India, Brazil, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, but also from all other countries in the world. It is also interesting to note, for example, that we mostly bring experienced executives from the USA, while we more frequently bring young professionals from non-EU countries.

On average every second skilled worker from abroad leaves Germany again. What do you think we can do to improve the situation so that people who come here will also stay here?

First of all, we have to start promoting our location more strongly internationally and position ourselves better in international competition. Of course, this certainly includes the so-called “welcome culture”; here, we in Germany definitely still have potential for improvement. It is people, not just “workers”, who come to us, and families and personal stories also count here. Sometimes I would like to see more empathy and openness from all stakeholders involved.

This welcoming culture is of course also reflected in the language: The fact that English is not spoken across the board in public authorities, or that many employees quite specifically refuse to work in English, can no longer be acceptable in this day and age. This is a major issue that should have been prioritized long ago. Just like the digitalization of bureaucratic processes, so that work can be more customer-centric as well as faster and more transparent.

But companies can also do a lot: English as a second language in companies should not be discussed per se any more than it should be. If you want to attract international talent, you have to build a bridge here in terms of language as well. At the same time, of course, it is also important to get people into German language courses as quickly as possible and to support them and their families so that they can integrate into our society not only professionally, but also as a whole.

For companies, it can also help to establish a mentoring system, for example, that accompanies the employees beyond the job and can build a direct relationship through similar experiences. We have had very good experiences with this with a number of customers.

As a founder, what changes would you like to see in Germany?

There are of course many things like the digitalization of authorities, processes, better location marketing, integration measures and so on, all of which I would very much like to see for our location.

But when I look to the future, I am particularly concerned about education in Germany and how little is taught about entrepreneurship and taking responsibility in schools.

I know so many people who could start great companies but prefer to stay in the safety of government agencies or large corporations. Which is fine per se, of course, but in the accumulation among current graduates, it also poses dangers. I often have the impression that security and risk aversion are trained in a structured way in our education system, but that important so-called “future skills” or soft skills such as empathy, communication skills, etc., as well as entrepreneurial thinking, for example, are not given equal consideration.

Only if we succeed in establishing a long-term culture of innovation will we remain fit for the future as a location. The prerequisites for a strong culture of innovation are, of course, diversity at all levels and the associated solution to our demographic challenges, as well as a culture of error and trust that allows us to develop the courage to fail again and again.

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