A long time supporter of branayama and 3 times co-founder, Steph is not the type to ever stand still. We finally had the chance to stop by her new home in West Berlin to chat about her upcoming projects and goals, and to get an inside look at her life as a mother of two who is able to balance her appetite for personal growth, family life and peloton workouts, in a perfectly imperfect way.
Hi Steph, we are super excited to have you for our branamama interview series. You helped us on turning the dream idea of branayama into an actual product and are continuously coaching and connecting everyone around you. For people who don’t know you, what are three words that describe you best?
Curious, Open-minded, Ambitious.
The new year is here. What feelings does this evolve?
A push to focus inward, to assess the last year, celebrate my achievements, but also evaluate where I could have done better, been more clear, more focused. I want to create space for more acceptance.
You recently launched Founderland together with your partners Alina Bassi and Deborah Choi. What’s the mission behind it and what’s the support women founders of color can expect?
We are on a mission to accelerate the success of women of color founders across Europe and the UK through education, equitable access to capital, and next-generation internship programming. What you can expect is two annual investor-readiness accelerators, building a robust intersectional community of allies, investors, and industry partners to support women of color founders to become strong business leaders, grow sustainably and raise capital. This will educate founders on key investment terms, pitch deck review, the execution of a polished data room, and negotiation skills. The next-generation internship program will build a representation loop between the diverse founders in Founderland’s community and the next generation of women founders, through partnerships with high schools across Europe.
What was your personal Why/reason to launch an organization like Founderland and where do you see yourself and your team in a year from now?
I have decided to focus my energy on a group of women who have received less than 0.5% of Venture Capital year over year. I believe that what we focus on grows. Which is why I want to be laser focused in my efforts. The patriarchal system is inherently biased to whiteness. As a white woman, I know that I have been unfairly awarded privileges. I can’t consciously sit back and leverage these privileges without supporting the most underrepresented group: Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic women. I am here to listen, amplify, and show up for women who deserve to be in the spotlight, to get funding, and to have the access to networks that they have been historically left out of.
Apart from professional goals you set with Founderland you also have a personal goal agenda (Spoiler: you told me you will be fluent in German by the end of nxt year!). What’s your approach to goal setting and why is this important for you?
I love goals, they keep me focused. I would like to stay healthy, which means doing some form of physical activity (Peloton bike, Yoga, Strength training, Running outside) at least 4 days a week. I’ve created a flexible schedule for myself for the new year where most days I have “me” time from 8:30 am until 10 am. This “me” time can be utilized to organize my day, read a book, sit and enjoy a coffee (slowly), do yoga, or to organize the house. I also want to go on at least one fun date with my husband per month. I’d love to be fluent in German by the end of 2023 (ooh now I said it out loud, so please hold me accountable). That’s one of my favorite life hacks: tell people about a goal and then you are more inclined to achieve it! As for an approach, there is none. I tend to get to a very uncomfortable point that makes me look at my behavior and think about how I can make whatever is irritating me less irritating.
In the past ten years you have been the brand partnerships manager for FVF, you founded 2 of your own companies, you became the director of strategy at Silicon Allee and now founded a non-profit: Founderland. And in between you became a mother of two. Where does your appetite for learning and growing come from? / What allows you to keep growing and keep pushing?
I have been asked that before, and I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve always been very active - a blessing and a curse, because it’s very difficult to turn off my brain. Sometimes I wish I could chill out more and have pure meaningless fun, not productive fun, the kind I am more inclined to have. I like working on projects where I can influence the direction, where I have agency. It feels incredibly satisfying to see projects take off and communities grow for which I had an impactful hand in their evolution.
What is your family setup, and how do you make sure everyone is set to thrive?
My husband and I are 50/50 partners. Though he does more of the caretaking than I do, because he likes it more and he’s better at it. Since the pandemic, his work slowed down a lot, which was a natural moment for me to push more in my career, something we discussed and made sense for us. We also have a babysitter who helps us out 1-2 afternoons a week. But there are also weeks where we have no external childcare support. We have no family in Berlin, so we are truly on our own in this sense.
You are a role model for many women/mothers. Can you take us with you through a regular day?
Most days we wake up at 6am. Daniel sets the table and makes tea and breakfast for everyone. I prepare the kids’ lunches for school and kita and get them both dressed. This is always a hustle because someone doesn’t want to go to kita or school or brush their hair, etc... I ride my bike and take Julius to kita and Daniel takes Val to school. By 8:15 am the house is quiet and I am home. I clean up the kitchen and then assess my day to see when my first meeting is. If it’s not until 10am, I try to get on my Peloton bike and then I sit in my home office and get to work. Most days, I try to get my calls done by 5:30pm so that I can eat dinner with the kids. But of course that doesn’t always happen. Then by 6:30pm the kids are ideally in the bath and by 730pm, we each read the kids stories and put them to bed. And by 830pm I am so smashed, I usually sit on the couch for an hour and then lay in bed and read a few pages of a book and hopefully I'll be asleep by 10:30pm.
Speaking of role models, is there someone who helped you along your journey to gain confidence to become the woman you are today?
My mom. She went back to law school when I was 5 years old. My great grandparents on my mother’s side were first generation immigrants, who came to Ellis Island, New York from Poland. And my grandparents never received a higher education, so it was very important to them that their children have one. As a young child, it was difficult not having my mom around, because she worked late every day, so I barely saw her, but now I see what an impact her persistence and dedication had on me. She was often the only woman in the room and witnessed so much bias, and she shared many of her frustrations with me. She always told me that as a woman you have to work twice as hard as any man. Now looking back, I can see that this had a huge impact on the work that I do now. We have come a long way in one generation, but there is still so much work to be done.
You are really passionate about the things you do with a deep dedication to it. But you are also someone who knows when to stop. How do you keep your inner compass in balance?
I don’t really know when to stop, which is why I try to create boundaries around work and family time. These help me. But also, my kids are the best because they complain when I am not there and they need more of my attention. I see through their eyes when I am doing too much.
With juggling many things at the same time, what's your personal recipe/how do you make space for me-time and what's your way to find inner peace, recharge and gain new energy?
I need time alone. I need time with my friends. So I prioritize them. I am a big planner. I like to plan in advance and carve out time in my schedule so that they actually happen. Otherwise my calendar will fill up and won’t be balanced with all the nice things I like to do.
Founderland is a non-profit organization focused on accelerating the success of women of color founders across Europe and the UK. If you are interested on applying or want to learn more about their mission, visit founderland.org
Photos by Steffanie Raffelsieper
Painting of Stephanie and her daughter by artist Alannah Farrell @alannah.farrell.studio