Interview with Alice Bedward
Hopelessness and helplessness are things that I observe right now, primarily because of the imbalance of work and life these past few days. The new project management role that I’m working on is taking its
(un)rightful toll, and the seemingly day-to-day
mundane tasks, i.e. writing, feels like big milestones that I have to
accomplish. However, as luck would put it, it’s been an awesome week full of
events, encounters, and more happenings.
One of which is this share-worthy and remarkable written interview about one of my most preferred helpful start-ups of all time: Helpling. As I’ve revealed a couple of times now, I am very much keen on working on anything related to start-ups, be it projects, passion-projects, or what-have-yous, and I’ve had several serendipitous encounters with this particular start-up. Their platform, people, and principles are not only venerable, their overall reach is universal. Of course, I appreciate it even more, because I’m into start-ups, but I widely believe that anyone can appreciate, and be attracted to Helpling!
This time around, I virtually met one of their quick-and-efficient managers based in the Helpling-homeland: headquarters in Germany. She has an intense multicultural experience, and I am completely blown away by the myriad of remarkable things to say about start-ups, travels, and Oktoberfest goals (yes, take me back to Germany!).
Germany is indeed all sorts of spectacular, and Helpling proves that it is so. It’s all hopeful and helpful in this side of the start-up, and I can only hope that I can work in such amazing culture someday soon, who knows? :) Lock in your view over here, and read through this informatively stirring interview about this fantastic start-up culture.
Bowdy: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you are from?
Alice: I was born in Cornwall, at the south-westernmost part of England, but I don’t remember very much of the area. My family moved around a lot as I was growing up, first to Wales, then the United Arab Emirates, and then to Australia. I later relocated to London to study at UCL, before travelling to Sweden to study journalism. Whilst I was in Sweden, I decided that I wanted to start my professional career overseas, which is what brought me to Germany in 2015. I first started working for a small start-up in Berlin, and later opted to join the Helpling team to work in marketing and SEO. I now get to work with the UAE, Australian, and Singaporean markets, helping to spread the word about Helpling’s home cleaning services.
Bowdy: What are the three things that people would be surprised to know about Germany, and why they should come visit?
1.) Oktoberfest is not in October. Unlike the name suggests, Oktoberfest actually begins in September, and ends on the first weekend of October. In fact, the Munich Oktoberfest, locally known as Wiesn, is already over for this year. Roughly 5.6 million people visited this year’s famous beer festival, and consumed over 6 million litres of beer. However, you can still enjoy a beer in Munich at any time of the year, as the city is home to over 60 beer gardens and traditional beer halls.
2.) University is free, even for non-citizens. With the exception of some private institutions, university study was made free of charge in Germany for national and international students in 2014. After German politicians decided that tuition fees were “socially unjust”, thousands of international students have headed to Germany to study either English or German language courses, at some of the world’s leading universities.
3.) Germany efficiency is a bit of a myth! Berlin’s infamous Brandenburg Airport was originally scheduled to open in 2010, but a series of delays due to poor management, construction planning, and corruption, has meant that it’s still not operational. Even now, it’s not exactly clear when the airport will be ready for service, which has made it a running joke in Germany, a country which normally prides itself on efficiency and punctuality.
Having said that, Germany has a lot to offer, whether you’re looking to study, start your career, or just see the sights as a tourist. There’s an endless list of things to do in Germany, from visiting more recent cultural and historical sights, to exploring medieval castles and villages, and sampling Germany’s famous wurst und bier.
Bowdy: What is it like working in a start-up company in Germany? The Good, The Bad, The Funny
Alice: From its early days in 2014, Helpling has grown to into the leading online platform for on-demand home services outside the United States. However, as a young tech company, Helpling still has a start-up feel with flat hierarchies, rapid decision making, and a lot of personal responsibility. You can learn more about business in a start-up environment in a shorter time, than you can in much larger and more traditional companies.
The good: Almost half of start-up employees in Berlin are not German citizens, which means that the city’s start-up work force is more diverse than Silicon Valley’s. On an average working day, you’ll encounter many people with different experiences and ideas, which can lead to more interesting creative developments, stronger connections to global marketplaces, and better adaptability to change. One of the biggest draws to the start-up scene for many expats in Berlin is that companies such as Helpling are constantly expanding operations into new markets and new countries. Not only is there a lot of work for programmers and developers, but native speakers from various backgrounds are needed to properly support growth in foreign markets. You don’t need to speak fluent German to work in Berlin!
The bad: Many people in managerial positions at start-up companies are very young. In my previous role at a much smaller start-up than Helpling, there were very few older or more experienced employees in the office. That meant that there was a large scope for individual decision making, but no prior experience to learn from. Youth and inexperience are one way to approach new ideas and develop new solutions, but it’s not always the key to success. Sometimes a bit of prior knowledge and experience can save start-ups from making costly mistakes. At Helpling, it’s great to work alongside experienced and talented colleagues, who have real industry know-how and well developed professional skills.
The funny: Every year Helpling throws a big summer party for all its employees in Berlin. This year the main event was kept secret until the very last minute, but we were told to bring a spare change of clothes. We ended up building rafts out of oil drums and bits of old wood, and racing them down the Spree River. Quite a few people fell in the water, so while it’s safe to say that the Helpling team is very good at digitising the market for household services, we’re not so great at raft building!
Bowdy: Tell us your typical day at work.
Alice: I like to start the day early and head into the office around 8, to catch up on email and check-in with teams on other time zones. Slightly later in the morning I’ll use SEO tools such as Searchmetrics, SEMrush, and Ahrefs to keep track of our SEO performance across the AU, AE, and SG markets, and to keep an eye on the competition. I might need to make changes to particular pages, or create new ones based on what our customers are searching for online, alongside performing more general keyword research and writing reports. I work closely with the marketing and social media teams to produce interesting digital content, and often collaborate with bloggers, so after lunch I answer another round of email and attend meetings. The rest of my working day is then spent on various projects, which often change from one week to the next. At the moment I’m redesigning some of the pages on our UAE website, to make them more customer friendly.
Bowdy: Apart from your day job, do you have other passion projects you are currently involved in?
Alice: Outside of work I try to make up for sitting at a desk for 9+ hours every day. I often go jogging before or after work, and spend a lot of time exploring Berlin on foot on the weekends. There’s so much history and interesting architecture in Berlin, and I’m trying to visit as many Cold War sites as possible whilst I’m here. Plus, one of the best things about being based in Germany is that you’re only a short flight or train journey away from the rest of Europe, so I also like to travel to new places every once and awhile. Earlier this year I was able to visit Latvia and Slovakia, and I’m currently planning a trip to Belarus.
Bowdy: Any advice for people who would like to work in a start-up company in Europe?
Alice: Don’t be afraid of moving to a country where you don’t speak the official language(s). Many start-ups use English as their working language, and hire native speakers of other languages from far and wide to work on projects in overseas markets. At Helpling there are a mix of German, English, Australian, Indian, Dutch, Italian, Polish, and French employees in the marketing department alone. Language skills that you take for granted at home might just be an asset overseas.
Helpling in Singapore? Visit https://www.helpling.com.sg/
Helpling in Germany? Visit https://www.helpling.de/