Most six-year old girls growing up in East Germany in the 1980s were ‘taught’ not to speak their mind.
But from a very young age, one particular little girl believed in the philosophy that ‘you can do anything in life as long as you put your mind to it’.
Today, Katrin Suess isn’t just a cofounder of both fast-growing startup Vimily and recently launched Startup with Style. She’s also their CTO. It’s still quite uncommon for a woman to hold the CTO seat – let alone one who moonlights as a rapper!
We found out more about the bizarre series of co-incidences that led her to where she is today.
When did you discover your passion for technology?
I discovered my passion for technology during my BA studies. There was a new “Online Editor” course and my class was the first cohort to study it. It taught me everything I needed to know to become an online editor – from online journalism to PR to web design.
I’ll never forget the first time I was introduced to the concept of HTML. Who would’ve thought you could create something visually appealing with a few lines of code! I was actually so fascinated by it that I ran home that day and started teaching myself.
When were you first exposed to being an entrepreneur?
At school nobody ever talked about entrepreneurship and I still believe many women aren’t too familiar with the concept. In fact, the first time I really heard about entrepreneurship was during my MA studies in my mid-twenties! After learning about it, I instantly knew that was the path for me. I’m so glad I actually attended class that day because if I hadn’t, I might never have pursued this path.
What was your first startup?
Well I guess the entrepreneur was always in me. When I was about seven years old, I started a ‘Barbie hair salon’ and offered Barbie haircuts to my friends for 20 cents.
Without knowing what I was doing, I created marketing material such as brochures with hairstyles and haircuts. After a few weeks, I was left with only one returning customer and I had to close my business! I guess my SWOT analysis didn’t factor in that every Barbie haircut would reduce my customer base!
I started working on my own startup, a user-generated music magazine, during my MA studies in England.
After graduating, I went back to Germany and worked for a startup in the e-learning space to gain more experience. After 10 months, I had saved enough money to hire three developers and to go full-time on my own startup.
When were you first drawn to Silicon Valley?
After a year of 80 hour weeks with no breaks and little sleep, I decided I needed something new. So I spent my remaining money on a flight ticket to San Francisco hoping to find funding, a business partner or at least a job in the Valley.
My timing couldn’t have been worse. I landed in San Francisco on January 1st in 2009, a few days after the GFC began. I went from living my dream and coding – to cleaning toilets in a hostel for three months! Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience – I actually felt like I was really “living” again, socialising, laughing and living in the moment without much planning.
What about your ‘rapper’ side?
Music is my other passion and I’ve been rapping for many years. I used to be very into it when I lived in Germany about four years ago. I had a producer, wrote my own songs and performed in bars and nightclubs around Cologne. But the time comes where you have to decide which route to go down – and I decided that the tech geek look suits me better than gold teeth and chains.
As a female cofounder and female CTO, what advice have you got for aspiring female entrepreneurs?
No star hangs too high. You can achieve anything if you believe in yourself and work hard for it. Also, never be afraid to ask others for help. You’d be surprised how many people will support you once you reach out to them.
How did Vimily come about?
The name Vimily comes from ‘video’ and ‘family’ and we initially launched it in late 2012 as an iPhone app enabling you to record the life stories of your grandparents and to preserve them for future generations.
Even though people loved it, the market wasn’t quite ready for it yet. Plus, we also believed that Vimily could be very useful for businesses and we wanted to bring out a B2B version. We were actually lucky to expand much earlier than expected because just a few weeks after our launch, a Sydney based PR company started using Vimily and suddenly other businesses were jumping on the bandwagon as well.
Within a year, Vimily transformed from a family app to a powerful marketing platform for user engagement, specialising in video creation and distribution.
Because of my own personal experience, I’m also very passionate about spreading the word and helping and supporting women who want to become tech entrepreneurs. So, I recently partnered with Christie Sharpe, founder and CEO of Fancied, and founded Startup with Style.
Our vision is to build a community for female tech entrepreneurs to inspire, connect and mentor one another.
If you’re a female tech entrepreneur or dream of becoming one and are looking for support and funding, you can join us here.