“Successful teamwork is based on mutual understanding and the knowledge of one’s team members workflows.” Philipp Greiner, working student in Communications, likes the variety his job brings and moreover the possibility to constantly dive into new topics. To gain a better understanding of the agile work environment at Elinvar, the methods used for development and the challenges that come with it, he switched his position. Philipp joined Elinvar’s product team for a two-week internship so he could see the company from a different angle whilst also gaining different experience. He, as a Millennial, has summarized his learnings as a listicle:

 

1. Good management needs even better communication.

Whether it is implementing a new design idea, adding functionality requested by a partner, improving customer experience, or an engineer’s wish to optimize the codebase – there are many different initiatives and motivations to continuously improve the Elinvar platform, and why there are so many stakeholders involved in the product development. The overall strategy of the product, a vision that everyone is working towards, is ultimately determined at the director level. The product development itself is an agile and iterative process, divided into two-week long sprints, so Elinvar can handle new requirements and priorities on the fly. For the team, however, this means that everyone needs to be aware of the overall roadmap of the product. Therefore, seamless and transparent communication is key. This is achieved by not only using smart communication tools but also regular face-to-face interaction. When everyone is on the same page, resources are most effective. This is driven by the right company culture – smart tools alone will not foster trust and reliability, both are based on open and transparent communication.

 

2. You can (almost) take on whatever you wish – but stick to it.

More than 70% of Elinvar’s team members are directly involved in product development; a mixture of engineers, product managers, designers, QA, scrum-masters the list goes on.
Product design is not only concerned with the aesthetics and the ease of use of a product (User Interface, UI), but also with the overall user experience (UX) one has. Can I save time by using this application? Does it make my life a little easier when I can find information quicker? These are questions involved in a product’s design process. That is why they are also of relevance for the product managers. (To find out more on UI and UX, check the interview with Mara Dumitru from Elinvar.)
The task field of a product manager is manyfold. One colleague holistically assessing the project progress of two teams, therefore being able to anticipate possible interruptions even before they can cause delays or setbacks on quality. Like a scout she is, therefore, helping teams being successful, securing progress as planned.
Hence, it is crucial that every team member takes ownership of their own deliverables without losing sight of the success of the team. To ensure this, sprint planning, sprint review, sprint retro, and daily stand-up-meetings are essential as they ensure communication within and across different functional teams.
As described above, product management is not just about managing the production process but does involve design decisions as well. This is particularly important with regard to the optimal usability for all users. However, purely aesthetic considerations also play a role here.
The product manager is in a constant mediation between the most different requirements to the products. For that matter, design matters are just one aspect. Other changes and developments are may be voiced by partners or result from new regulatory requirements. As Elinvar operates in a regulated environment each and every decision, also on the design of the product, needs to be compliant. This, for instance, could affect the design of questionnaires of the provision and presentation of important documents.

 

3. There is just so much to learn!

There is not a single path to becoming a product manager. With such a broad landscape of focus areas, product managers come from a myriad of backgrounds. One colleague here at Elinvar graduated in business administration, another has a background in the history of medicine. What unites them here at Elinvar is the passion for the product, the curiosity and the willingness to learn and grow. (To find out more about what makes the Elinvar culture so unique, read the interview with Sam Love, Director Product at Elinvar.)
When taking in-depth meetings with engineers on technical solutions, zoning out when unknown vocabulary appears should be just as much of a no-go as phubbing one’s smartphone. What matters most is to be a vigilant listener and to ask questions whenever things are unclear. This is exactly where the different backgrounds of the Elinvar team make a difference: the best solutions are sought together, taking into account all the different perspectives.
As a product manager one also should not be afraid to learn some new words. Personally, I would have imagined that a smoke test is rather an after-work activity than a standardized testing procedure used at Elinvar. A smoke test is used to test new features for their functionality and how their effect on the overall platform stability.

 

4. To get from A to B, sometimes you have to go via C.

Thursday, 10 am at the Elinvar office: product managers and engineers have met for sprint planning to discuss the delivery plan for the upcoming two weeks. Everything had been clear; the sprint should have been new feature focused. However, the plan had changed. It had been determined, that some groundwork needed to happen first in order to deliver the best solution: to get from A to B, a stopover at C was necessary.
The change of plans was frictionless and already an hour later, an updated roadmap had been decided: under consideration of the long-term product strategy, product managers and engineers had agreed on the new way forward in their sprint planning meeting. Open dialogue is not aimed at finding one-stop solutions. As team members of different seniorities are taking part in sprint planning, all can profit from the combined wealth of experience.
This case, in particular, has shown how valuable it is to have a long-term product strategy that is also open to short-term planning changes. This at the very least brings more sustainability to the entire development process.

 

5. A laughter a day keeps the worries away – and also brightens up your workday.

I love a good joke and not one day passes by at Elinvar where I do not get the chance to have a laugh with my colleagues. And there’s no difference to that in the product team.
That doesn’t mean that our company could be mistaken for a 90’s sitcom, but having a friendly and dynamic, yet still, focused atmosphere does help to bring joy to handling numerous deadlines with even more internal as well as external stakeholders. It might be, that the focused atmosphere of the product team is related to the fun they share outside the office. The team is frequently seen in a few of Berlin’s boulder clubs and is also known for their excellent banana bread.

These are the key success factors for founding a company that Chris Bartz, CEO and Co-Founder of Elinvar, wants future founders to be aware of. In this interview, he also tells us, what came as a surprise when founding Elinvar and what makes Germany a good place for entrepreneurs.

[This interview has first been published by the German Digital Hub Initiative.]

What advice would you share with other founders?

In my experience, there are three essential factors that must be considered when founding a company: a clear goal, the necessary level of perseverance, and, above all, the right team.
No matter what you do, you will constantly meet people who claim to know exactly why you will fail, especially in the first few months. You can’t let them make you nervous. That is why, especially in the early stages, it is really important to surround yourself with people who give you open and constructive feedback: this could be from experts in a professional environment or from friends too, of course. Whilst being focused on your goal you should remain open and take every opportunity to learn.

Equally important for the success of a startup is your team. Especially in the growth phase, you cannot make one mistake twice – and experienced employees will help you avoid that. Even if it’s difficult, you should not compromise when it comes to recruitment procedures. Building a strong team may take a little longer at the beginning and will likely cost more, but it creates a team that is definitely more sustainable and successful. Also, a company culture that helps every individual to unleash their potential will attract top talent.

Even if it’s difficult, you should not compromise when it comes to recruitment procedures.

Chris Bartz, CEO and Co-Founder of Elinvar

What surprised you the most when you started out?

‘Surprise’ isn’t quite the right word, but I find it a special, maybe even unique opportunity that Berlin currently has as a city. Not only does the thriving cultural scene attract people from all over the world, but also the business prospects are great. Many talented people are seeking to do great things together in this international and diverse environment that Berlin offers. We must make the most of this. From startups to established companies to the political world, it is important to look ahead and to make firm steps to realize the potential of the current situation.

What do you want from politics and from Germany as a business location?

First and foremost, I would like to see openness. An economically successful country like Germany depends on diversity and talent; and especially in the tech sector, international talent is indispensable. Therefore, to continue as one of the leading business locations, we must prove to talented people that Germany is the right place for them to live and work. In essence, hat means we need fairer and more transparent immigration laws. People who see their own future, as well as their family’s, in Germany should be given the opportunity to come here. To help them settle, access to administrative processes in English will make them feel more welcome.

First and foremost, I would like to see openness. An economically successful country like Germany depends on diversity and talent.

Chris Bartz, CEO and Co-Founder of Elinvar

Of course, we also need to make sure that every child is well-prepared for their future career. Here I am not just referring to the need to understand technology, but above all the mix of motivation, perseverance, creativity, openness, and internationality – in other words, the appreciation of diversity and the development of character.

Business-wise I think that a great deal needs to be done on a regulatory level. Laws should be drawn up technology-neutral. On a European level we have to strengthen the single market and with the Brexit in 2019 I do see the chance for a more balanced and value-driven financial regulation in the future.

Why doesn’t Germany have a leading startup ecosystem?

Who says we don’t? Berlin has become one of the world’s leading startup ecosystems, especially within the fintech sector. Not only here, but also in other parts of Germany, you can find outstanding examples of innovative strength and international competitiveness. Right now, we are facing the question: how can we develop a leading digital business alongside the “hidden champions” that have shaped Germany to its present state.

When location decisions affect you, they are above all one thing: emotional. For a long time, London has been the European city with the strongest international appeal. In the meantime, Berlin has caught up – our CEO & Co-Founder Chris Bartz discusses the reasons and consequences.

[This article was published first in German on Finanz-Szene.de.]

“Everyone keeps telling me: If you leave London, your only other option in Europe is Berlin” – my Australian colleague’s opinion seems representative for those who once decided on London and are now on the lookout for a European alternative. I am therefore surprised that Berlin isn’t a stronger favorite, in the discussion on the future of the so-called Brexit bankers. My plea is: Let’s focus more on Berlin as competition with Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid & Co – the city in which no DAX company is currently based, but every board member wants to connect.

When banks are thinking about relocation these days, the employees, both current and future, are at the center of this decision-making process. Because it should not be purely rational based solely on back-office capabilities, but about the decision-makers, the movers and shakers, themselves. Where do you spend your personal time, does your partner like it, what do your friends think? That’s when it gets emotional. If you want to convince the banks, you have to win over the decision-makers and top performers. So, what do these employees look like, of financial companies that want to be represented on the European continent? What languages do they speak, what qualifies them and more importantly: how and where do they want to live?

My plea is: Let’s focus more on Berlin as competition with Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid & Co – the city in which no DAX company is currently based, but every board member wants to connect.

Chris Bartz, CEO & Co-Founder Elinvar

The image of classic bank employees changed long ago. “We are a technology company”, as Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, summed it up. According to Goldman, the company now employs more developers and engineers than bankers and traders – and even the latter must be tech-savvy, of course. As a result, financial companies are not only vying for the best talents within their industry but are also competing with leading tech companies such as Apple, Google or Amazon as well as the many attractive new players in the fast-growing start-up sector.

The intellectual banking nucleus no longer comes mainly from the conservative financial scene, but has lived in San Francisco, Singapore, Tel Aviv, New York, London and appreciates the inspiration of international centers. These employees are creatives or data scientists, have studied computer science or psychology, worked in technology companies or helped build a Fintech. Winning and retaining them requires the right corporate culture: “It’s not that gays and diversity equal high technology. But if your culture is not such that it can accept difference, and uniqueness and oddity and eccentricity, you will not get high tech industry,” says Richard Florida, an American economist. And this applies not only to the internal corporate culture but also to the wider external environment. The top talents of modern banking are global citizens who want to live and work in a cosmopolitan, vibrant society.

The top talents of modern banking are global citizens who want to live and work in a cosmopolitan, vibrant society.

Chris Bartz, CEO & Co-Founder Elinvar

Which European city can offer English-speaking employees what they love about London? How do you retain the top talents in banking and win the employees of tomorrow when you leave London? What convinces them to get involved in a new environment? I can relate to the answer from a personal point of view: According to figures from the founding scene, 71% of decision-makers and multipliers worldwide can imagine living and working in Berlin. According to KPMG’s German Startup Monitor, around 50% of employees in the Berlin start-up sector are already from abroad.

71% of decision-makers and multipliers worldwide can imagine living and working in Berlin.

Chris Bartz, CEO & Co-Founder Elinvar

The fact that more and more investments are being made in Berlin and the city has been attracting young, international talent for years – this is no longer just a trend but a sustainable development. Berlin is the place to be for both employers and employees. Although no DAX group currently has its sole headquarters in Berlin, the number of board meetings in the representative offices of the capital speaks for itself. That national and international corporations open their innovation hubs here, shows that Berlin is the digital location of Germany and Europe. In Berlin, as many digital companies are founded as in Munich and Hamburg together. Especially in the financial sector. According to the Fintech study by Comdirect, the Berlin-based financial start-ups have raised more VC capital in recent years than the financial start-ups in all other German locations combined.

21 Michelin restaurants, 2,500 parks, 97 theatres and the most famous clubs in the world – no one has doubted the city’s “sexiness” for a long time. And if you’re still longing for London, complain about Berlin Airports as you wish, but they offer more than 20 direct connections to London every day and is the most frequent route from Berlin abroad.

At Elinvar we believe that the team makes the difference. But how? Find out in our interview with Sam Love, Director Product, who has been part of the Elinvar team since the early days.

 

Elinvar: Today, employers increasingly advertise with their distinct working culture – not just to attract new employees, but also to promote their product. How would you define the term ‘working culture’?

Sam: Working culture is about the people – it is our collective attitude towards what we do, how we work together, what we believe and what we value. Every person in the organization contributes to the working culture and plays a role in defining and developing the environment and dynamics that shape the business.

 

How would you describe the working culture at Elinvar and how does it translate into your everyday life?

We have a very international culture that is remarkably open. While we are predominantly a tech company (evidenced by the Star Wars figurines on the ‘book’ shelves), I am often impressed by how easily different parts of the business interact and show a genuine curiosity for what others do and how we can work together better. For a relatively young company (our 2 year anniversary was in July) there is a feeling of maturity and stability, although that comes with a good dose of laughter and our fair share of (constructive!) chaos – everyone wears multiple hats and there is very much an attitude of ‘doing what is needed to get it done’. We work in a serious business, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously!

 

People with more than 20 different nationalities make up the Elinvar team – how do you make use of that diversity in your daily work as a Director?

There are definite challenges when it comes to working with a group of people with different languages, experiences, and expectations. It takes work to make it ‘work’ but the benefits are enormous. Working closely with people from all over the world brings diverse thought, deliberate empathy and opens a broader set of options for consideration when it comes to identifying opportunities to improve how we are working together, how we tackle a problem and how we innovate. It encourages us to be mindful and thoughtful about how we interact with the people around us and considerate of why someone might respond in a certain way.

The opportunity to learn from each and every member of the team is something that I value very highly, and this is increasingly becoming part of Elinvar’s DNA.

Sam Love, Director Product

 

As Director Product at Elinvar you are working with a diverse team from the finance and tech sector. Love at first sight or love with obstacles?

Love at first sight! It is at the intersection of these two disciplines that value is created and we benefit enormously from the expertise that exists in the business across the two sectors.
On a personal level, I really enjoy the diversity of people, opinions, and experiences that Elinvar offers – not just in the fields of finance and tech. The opportunity to learn from each and every member of the team is something that I value very highly, and this is increasingly becoming part of Elinvar’s DNA.
Before joining Elinvar you worked with Quantium, a large data and analytics consultancy in Sydney, Australia. How was that different from your experience in Berlin?

Apart from the fact that the product is in German? Strangely, not as much as you would think!
Like Quantium in the early days, Elinvar is a small business that is growing quickly -facing many of the same opportunities and challenges. The two businesses share a ‘get things done’ attitude, complexity (in a good way), data driven products and an ambitious team whose potential grows with the company. In both Australia and in Berlin, I have been very fortunate to work with great clients and partners who recognize the need and benefits of digitalization and the impact that will have on their businesses as they become leaders in their respective industries.
Elinvar, of course, has a single platform focus, which is different from consulting and is at a very different stage of growth – there are also cultural (and climatic!) differences, no harbor views in Berlin but the city itself makes up for it.

 

One last word – what makes the Elinvaristas tick?

Learning, getting things done, working with cutting-edge technology and being part of an awesome team!