In 2013, Lea Lange had a business idea—to start an online shop for affordable art, curate exciting pieces by international artists, and bring these into living rooms across Europe. In 2014 she joined forces with Marc Pohl and Sebastian Hasebrink, and founded JUNIQE. In the first two years, the trio managed to secure over 20 million Euros in investments, and JUNIQE grew from an idea to a 100-strong team. In addition to being our founder and managing director, this year Lea is also a judge on the new German television show “START UP!”, which airs March 21st on SAT.1.
We sat down with our boss one afternoon to speak about her biggest successes and the challenges she faces as a young entrepreneur. Lea also revealed three essential qualities she believes any aspiring startup founder should bring to the table if they want to be successful.
Q&A with Lea Lange
At JUNIQE you head the Curation, Brand, PR, Merchandising, Content and Creative departments. What does your typical work day look like?
I don’t really have a ‘typical’ structure to my days. Each day is different to the next and things often come up unexpectedly. You’ll usually catch me jumping between meetings, and I’m always working with several teams simultaneously. One day I’ll work on JUNIQE’s 2018 strategy with my co-founders before I start preparing our quarterly management offsite. The next, I’ll be analysing a customer survey with our Merchandising Manager to explore the expansion of our product portfolio. And then I’ll find myself talking to the CEO of Karstadt about a retail partnership.
What have been biggest challenges you’ve faced since JUNIQE’s founding? What did you learn in the process?
In the beginning, we thought that after first funding round everything would fall into place. But, in reality, that’s the moment when the work actually starts. Building a company from the ground up is unbelievably challenging. When you start out, everything feels like it’s happening at the same time. You have to prepare yourself for the unexpected and be able to react fast. I quickly learned to see failures as challenges, then learned to find new solutions. It was all definitely worth it.
What has been your biggest success at JUNIQE so far?
That’s a tough question. Was it the moment we secured our initial funding and knew we could get the ball rolling? Or was it the day that we hit the 100 employee mark? Or when we launched our online shops in the UK and France? We’ve had so many things to celebrate over the past four years and I’m confident there will be many more. Every success, big or small, contributes to our vision of filling every home with art.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
As a founder, your work is never really done. Luckily, we’ve built very strong teams at JUNIQE over the past couple of years. I was away from the office a lot last year. We were filming ‘START UP!’ in Berlin, Hamburg, and LA, and my team was only able to reach me intermittently via email or Skype. But they did an excellent job of holding down the fort—they mastered their tasks independently and with ease. That was a great testament to the fact that, if you invest a lot of time in your employees and processes, you will be rewarded with the freedom to take on external projects from time to time, or even to treat yourself to a full week of vacation.
What is the best thing about your job?
I've always been passionate about art and design, and my job allows me be a part of these worlds on a daily basis. We work with over 600 creative talents, such as Shot by Clint, Studio Nahili and Tom Abbiss Smith, to name just a few of my personal favourites. Our artist community just keeps growing and growing. I come to the office excited to work on different projects every single day. I’m always looking for new solutions and I’m always ready to reinvent myself. It definitely never gets boring at JUNIQE—I absolutely love it!
Lea’s 3 insider tips for aspiring founders
1. Verify your idea with your target audience
You’ve ticked all the boxes on your ‘Things I Will Need to Start My Own Company’ checklist, your business plan is on its way to the printer, and you’re pretty confident that you’ve found a niche? Well, the time has come to assess if you’ve really understood your markets by talking to potential customers. Ask yourself the following questions early on: Who is your target customer? What media do they consume? What would their motives be for visiting your store and buying your products? Your idea might be solid, but you need to examine your targets— you may be looking at the market from one angle, but overlooking another.
2. Learn from ‘No’ and use it to get ever better at what you do
Every day you are going to be faced with decisions that make you step out of your comfort zone, often with results you couldn’t have anticipated. Whether your quest for funding drags on and on, or a top candidate turns down your job offer—just keep going for it and focusing on the essentials. Have the courage and find the will to continue improving. Stay open for feedback and critique, and handle mistakes constructively. It’s always challenging, but step by step, you will keep moving forward.
3. Find a healthy balance between passion and focus
Be ready to invest all your time into your venture, because that’s going to be the centre of your universe for the months and years to come. In the early stages, every little thing will feel like it has top priority, and it’s quite likely that your small team will have more than enough to do on every front. This is when figuring out what’s really important and what’s really not becomes crucial. Make the conscious decision not to do certain things. Focus your efforts on the tasks that will help propel your idea to the next level. It’s better to do one too many quality checks than to skip ten. Make sure you never lose the dedication and drive that you started out with, because you’re going to need it every single day!
Lea’s story started with the mission of bringing art into people’s everyday lives. Today, JUNIQE is an established lifestyle brand in the European market. Our Motto? Stay motivated and never stop smiling. Now that we’ve piqued your curiosity, are you ready to get to know our products a little better?
Text: Valeria Sambale
Translation: Maia Frazier