My Second Life: Einhorn’s Waldemar Zeiler On How Working In Finance Made Him A Better Condom Entrepreneur
The Guardian dubbed Waldemar Zeiler a “reformed capitalist.” But while the vegan condom company Zeiler co-founded is universes away from the finance sector, the German entrepreneur still learned some of his most valuable lessons working in consultancies. Zeiler explained to TOA how taking two different career paths has made him a better leader and thinker.
I’ve been a serial founder since college, but after one failed business didn’t work out, I had to earn some money again. At this point, I saw a job offering at a mergers and acquisitions consultancy, Corporate Finance Partners, which didn’t just work with startups but also with companies that were struggling or filing for bankruptcy. And I got the job, because of my founder background — if companies are filing for bankruptcies, you need to present really nice pitch decks to possible investors who are thinking of buying the company and building something new. This was similar to what I used to do, pitching companies to investors and getting funding.
This said, it was definitely a classical business environment. I had to wear a suit all the time and fly a lot (because during this time I worked part time in Berlin, part time in Tallinn in Estonia) and spend time in a lot of hotels. Just all the cliches, basically. Back then, I didn’t have a beard or long hair, but actually looked pretty conservative.
Maybe it sounds dry, but it was fascinating. You saw how the old economy worked and how many different businesses made classical mistakes, you know, like the stereotype of the old guy who founded the company but never looked for a successor until he was too old and then he was overtaken by competitors from China and so on. These were huge German brands, but a lot of the time the finance aspect didn’t work out because they didn’t take the right steps early enough — these were good lessons for me to learn as a budding entrepreneur.
Still, being employed was never my long term plan. I knew I was a founder and an entrepreneur, so although I was there for a year and a half, it was clear for me that at some point I needed to set up my own business again because founding companies is where my passion lies. I co-founded Einhorn after spending half a year backpacking in South America and taking some time to think about my entrepreneurial life. I asked myself, do you need investors? I thought, you’ve started a lot of businesses with incubators or venture capital business angels and you weren’t very happy with that and the startups you created didn’t have an impact on the world and weren’t fair or sustainable. Why not start a company that might make an impact?
My life at Einhorn is completely different to my finance days. We really have no boss, we have no reports, we don’t have anyone who can tell us what to do, we’re completely independent and profitable. The profitable bit matters: it means you’re completely free to follow your passion, which sounds very cheesy but actually just means you don’t have to think about how to meet certain goals or KPIs (like investors usually want you to think about). I’ve never been so free before in my position or thinking, which makes me really happy.
In my former job, you had to meet deadlines, work late nights, essentially just be ready to take orders whenever, day or night. This is the main difference between then and now — no one decides what I do with my day now, I try and keep my calendar as free as possible so I have time to think. But still, my stint at Corporate Finance Partners taught me a lot. It taught me about due diligence when thinking about working with other companies. This means asking the right questions to figure out whether a company works or doesn’t work, really putting the balance sheet together, talking to people, doing interviews, in a nutshell, getting a good feel for the company’s situation.
And I’ve definitely been influenced by my time in finance, in terms of trying to only partner with old-economy businesses at Einhorn. These are companies that are typically family-owned and with owners that are still in charge of the business — so no investors — and who think sustainably. So for example, our condom producer, Klaus, comes from a dynasty of condom-producers, the Richter family. His grandfather brought condom dipping machines to Germany from the UK — those are the machines which have glass forms which are then dipped in latex and these machines have been the way condoms have been made for the last 50 years. And 20 years ago Klaus went to Malaysia, because that’s where the latex comes from and he wanted to be closer to the raw material and he built a factory there with 400 people who work closely with him. So whenever we look for new partnerships, we’re looking for the Klausability factor — partners like Klaus, basically.
Even the challenging moments at Einhorn have been fun. In our first year we were sued by a competitor. On our packet, which is designed like a crisp packet with nutrition facts, it said that with a pack of seven condoms, you could have 21 orgasms. We reached this figure calculating one orgasm for the guy, two orgasms for the woman, for each condom used: so 21 orgasms. Obviously we also stated on the package that you could only use each condom once but this competitor sued us because they said we were encouraging people to use the condom three times. The three female judges sat on the court said that the company was right and that that our customers could misunderstand that, so we had to black out that line on the back of the packet. But we still said, well, we’re still going to fight because we think this ruling constitutes an attack on the female orgasm, so we organised a protest at the Brandenburger Gate in defence of the female orgasm. We were featured everywhere, in Argentina, in the United States and we got all this press coverage all over the world for free. We may have lost the court battle but we definitely won the media battle.
I’ve been very lucky because I could try out so many different fields — I’m a very curious person and I would love to dip into more businesses. Doing so feels good, you can feel different synapses lighting up, you think differently. Having the same job your whole life is like reading the same book over and over, it’s just boring. It’s very natural for humans to switch stuff up and explore new things but unfortunately I think our society forces us to choose certain paths. This makes it almost impossible to switch jobs or fields of work because money-wise, you lose so much, and maybe you’re already used to a certain lifestyle. I get that not everyone can do that. But for me, changing stuff up is the best thing ever and my personal development depends a lot on doing new things.
Feeling fired up about sustainable business? Take a look at The Entrepreneur’s Pledge, an initiative started by Waldemar and his co-founder Philip. Plus, check out the company’s new menstruation movement at www.einhorn.my/vagina and follow it on Instagram.