Susanna Gebauer is one of the founders of exploreB2B, a social platform for business that focuses on writing articles, creating discussions and creating connections among users. She has lived in Berlin most of her life; she went to school in Berlin, studied mathematics and worked as a scientist for 5 years at the Freie Universität Berlin. After a year as a scientist in Bonn, she started working as a strategy and management consultant. She worked as a consultant for more than 4 years. While working as a strategy and management consultant in Düsseldorf and Munich and travelling to visit clients every week, she and her brother spent weekends in Berlin discussing many startup ideas. In 2010, Susanna quit her job and the idea of exploreB2B was born. Later that year, Jonathan and Susanna launched exploreB2B with an open beta version for the German market in November 2010. After securing financing at the end of 2011, they launched an English beta of exploreB2B for international users in January 2012.
Susanna loves her dog and spending time outdoors. She also loves traveling and sports like running, climbing, skiing and volleyball. Creating explore B2B has left little time for sports and travelling, though.
What are you working on right now?
We are developing new functionalities for exploreB2B. We have a lot more in the pipe, which we really believe will make life in business networking a lot easier. At the same time we are preparing for the worldwide launch of exploreB2B. We believe one of the great advantages of an online platform is that you can reach people outside your normal borders.
Where did the idea for exploreB2B come from?
When I worked as a strategy consultant for a relatively new company, one of our main issues besides the customer projects was business development. We were constantly looking for opportunities to meet interesting people from our area of business, develop new business relationships and present ourselves as experts/the people to solve problems. To achieve this, we wrote papers and articles, participated in conferences, attended networking events and held business events. With all these events, you try to make people aware of what you offer. People are trying to do the same thing in B2B social media but are not always able to target their audiences effectively or they get lost in the general social media noise.
In conversations with my brother Jonathan, we came to the conclusion that this kind of business development could be done more effectively via the Internet. When given the right technology, professionals could have more opportunities, spend less time travelling and reach a broader audience. We also realized that none of the existing networks and social media platforms really serve the purpose of B2B networking because they were not made for it. A lot of people try to use these networks and platforms, but it is not really what they need. To gain anything from established social networks, you have to spend a lot of time and kiss a lot of frogs until you find a prince.
That is why we created exploreB2B: to fulfill the needs of B2B companies and professionals with a focused and efficient social network that works the way they do in real life.
What does your typical day look like?
I try to fit in a stroll through the Berlin Grunewald (forest) with my dog in the (very early) morning. After that, I normally head to the office. Most days I am the first person in the office and use the quiet time to answer emails and take care of administrative issues. I spend a lot of time on my computer: networking, writing emails, contacting people and writing stories about exploreB2B. I also spend a lot of time on the phone or on Skype talking to people about exploreB2B, explaining what we do and how we work. I also spend a lot of time at networking events. Meeting people in real life is very important to an online business.
How do you bring ideas to life?
With exploreB2B, it is mostly a process between my brother and me. One of us has an idea and the other is often very critical at first. We tend to get into heated discussions since we are siblings who are used to saying exactly what we think.
Once we agree that an idea is worth pursuing, then it depends on what the idea is about. If it is a technical issue, Jonathan will talk to the programmers and they determine how to bring it to life, how much effort it requires and how it fits into the programming schedule (there never seems to be enough capacity on the development side. We could probably use twice as many developers and still keep them busy).
What’s one trend that really excites you?
B2B social media is still the trend that really excites me. It is the future of business networking, yet it has only just begun. Many companies are still missing out and it is hard to imagine what can be achieved. There still are many doors to open but exploreB2B is going to be out front when it becomes huge.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
As a student, I did promotions for a company selling high-quality music systems. I had to wear a soldier uniform from past times, which included a stupid hat, and walk the streets of Berlin handing out flyers. It was freezing cold outside and I felt like a total idiot. I had the feeling that as much as I hated to talk to these people they hated being disturbed by me even more.
I learned from that experience that if you expect people to buy your product, then make them feel comfortable. Believing in the product you want to sell is one thing, but feeling stupid doing it is not going to work. I try to keep that in mind with exploreB2B and try to make the people working with us enjoy their job. Having fun is part of success; you should like going to work and the people working for you should enjoy it, too.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
That is really difficult to say. I actually hope that knowing what I know now, like how hard it is to build your own company, I would still find the courage to just do it.
Concerning exploreB2B, maybe we would start the English version of the platform earlier, as Germany isn’t really a first-mover nation when it comes to social media and online activity. This makes the German market a really tough first market.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Question your actions. Even if you are really clear about what you are building and stick to your product idea, you should question your steps. Every day you learn new things and gain more knowledge. I have to take a fresh look at planned actions with every bit of new knowledge.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Write a book about your experiences as an entrepreneur. I am sure that every one of us has many interesting and even funny things to share. As an entrepreneur, you meet so many people, have so many unique experiences and have so many stories to tell. Some of them are funny, some are heartbreaking and some are valuable to any entrepreneur. Even if you fail, that is something no one can ever take away from you. Let others learn from your experiences.
Tell us a secret.
There is more to B2B social media than just LinkedIn. There is plenty of room for innovation in that space; LinkedIn was created in 2003 and not much has happened there since then.
What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?
I am actually not much of an online person, which contradicts the fact that I am building an online network.
- My Blackberry because it is amazing how much of your business you can run with just email, even when your are on the go.
- We actually use Skype a lot even in the office sitting at the same table. We exchange ideas or links and have little chats without disturbing other people in the room. I like that you can have a conference call with people around the world and see them while you speak. I love that.
- Can’t think of any other online tools that I really need (apart from exploreB2B, of course).
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Right now I am reading the book Business Stripped Bare by Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin. My brother gave it to me for Christmas. I think that is a good book for someone thinking about building a company because he encourages out-of-the-box thinking and not letting yourself get frustrated by people not ready for your ideas. There will always be people who do not believe in change and as an entrepreneur you want to change the world.
What’s on your playlist?
I am not able to listen to music and concentrate on work at the same time, so I don’t have much time for music. When I find time for music, what I play really depends on my mood. I love soft, dreamy songs like Amy Winehouse and Adele. Even though I have no time to go there right now, I love Caribbean and Latin music like Juanes and Gloria Estefan. And if I am really pissed, I listen to RAMSTEIN, Die Toten Hosen (they are German;-)) or Melissa Etheridge.
If you weren’t working on exploreB2B, what would you be doing?
Writing a book. That is something I really want to do one day. Since creating a fictional story with interesting characters really takes more time than I expected, I will have to wait until I have more spare time.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- @aplusk: Ashton Kutcher might be financing another Berlin startup.
- @kissmetrics: They write a really interesting blog giving lots of valuable tips and insights about online marketing and tools.
- @exploreB2B: It is a small account right now, but we are tweeting a lot of interesting stuff about B2B social media.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Probably this morning about something my dog did and was either not supposed to do or not expected to do.
Who is your hero?
I know it is a cliche, but it is my grandmother. She got caught up in the middle of World War II. She was alone with 1 woman friend and 6 small children in Prussia. She had to flee from the Russian Army heading west. She managed to get all the children out alive without losing one in the chaos. After the war, she brought all of them up on her own and every one of them had a good education. I think she was a really tough woman, never giving up, holding her large familiy together and giving us grandchildren a great gift: a family all over Germany that is there if we ever need them.
How important is a university degree for an entrepreneur?
Depending on the situation, it can be pretty unimportant. Some of the best people I have ever worked with don’t have degrees and some of the worst people I’ve worked with have Ph.D’s from renowned universities. There are advantages if you can show off your degree, especially in Germany where many people will regard you much higher if you have the two letters “Dr.” attached to your name. That can be important if you are new to the scene and looking for financing or cooperation. On the other hand, a degree tells nothing about experience and many university students do not have important experiences while studying. Building a company requires learning all the time, so there are many people out there who gained valuable experience while working rather than studying. As an entrepreneur, they could be leagues ahead. If you are looking for people to work with, do not let yourself be blinded by a CV.
Why did you leave a well paying job at a consultancy for the insecurity of being an entrepreneur?
I used to work hard as a consultant; I am working harder right now. I got paid good money as a consultant and I don’t know if I will ever get the money I invested out of exploreB2B. And I love it! I have never made a better decision in my life.
Of course there are days or moments when not everything turns out the way we planned and sometimes you get frustrated, but in the end there is no job more rewarding than building your own company. I can choose the people I work with, I am allowed to think and have ideas and I get to meet lots of interesting and inspiring people.
Of course you can find me on exploreB2B, as it is built to connect to the right business people.
I am also on Twitter with the German name @dreckbaerfrau. It relates to my dog: a brown Newfoundland named Mikos who likes to be dirty (german “dreck”), looks like a bear (“baer”) and “frau” is the German word for “woman.” I am also on Facebook, you can find me there under my real name.