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I think the core point for me is conviction, if you build on a hypothesis that you really believe in, then you shouldn't abandon it.
Co-founder & CEO of Localyze
Hanna Asmussen is the CEO & Co-Founder of Localyze, a global mobility platform for companies and employees. With a passion for living abroad, having been an expat for 10 years and speaking 6 languages, Hanna co-founded Localyze after seeing the pain points associated with moving internationally for work. With a mission to build a borderless world, Localyze recently closed a $35 million Series B round and is expanding into the US.
The last couple of years have been tough for many companies. The global pandemic has caused a recession and these uncertain times meant that many businesses had to have huge layoffs.
But not Localyze. And in this episode, we are speaking with co-founder and CEO Hanna Marie Asmussen about how she managed to build and grow her business over the past couple of years.
We are getting candid and ask her if she had any difficulties finding investors, if she is scared of failing and if in her opinion, it is more challenging for female founders to succeed.
With Hanna Marie, Co-founder & Co-CEO of Localyze
Sandra Redlich 01:29
Thank you for joining us today on the state of work podcast, I see a light in the background, I'm assuming you're in your home office?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 01:37
Yes, I'm at home in Hamburg. It just started snowing a couple of minutes ago.
Sandra Redlich 01:45
Just in time! We are recording a couple of weeks just before Christmas. And I always miss - something not a lot of people usually say - but I do miss the cold snow, because you don't get into the Christmas mood if you're a German in Australia and it's warm and you're barbecuing. But we do have currently 16 degrees and rain, so it's not that nice either. So it's a little bit of Christmas mood today. Well, Hanna, thanks for joining us. We're here today to hear a little bit firsthand about your journey as a female founder. And about the journey of your company which is Localyze. Can you maybe tell our listeners a little bit about what it is that Localyze does and your journey of getting the business up from the ground?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 02:33
So in one sentence, Localyze helps companies and their employees with everything related to crossing borders. So effectively, we sell to HR, and then we make it very easy for them to manage all of that, from business trips to permanent relocations, sending someone to another office, for example. And then for the employee, it's effectively a one stop shop where they get all the support for immigration, but then also the relocation process.
Sandra Redlich 03:02
Yeah, that sounds really interesting. And especially in times like today, very, very much in demand. But as I understand it, you started even before the whole, the big forced work from home movement started with COVID. I believe you started in 2018. So two years before the pandemic, how was it starting your business? Where did the idea come from?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 03:25
The idea actually started quite some time before that already. So when I was 15, I moved to Argentina. And since then, I've pretty much moved around the globe. And what I realized, especially if people want to stay longer and work somewhere, that's where it becomes very complicated. And as early as I think 2011, I started toying around with the idea and actually thought about something in that space that makes it easy for individuals should be built. At some point I realized that I think also monetization in b2c, if you don't know what marketing is, it's very hard. And so we decided we should make it a b2b solution. And then my co-founder Lisa, she actually worked in HR and build up the internal relocation and global mobility team at a big gaming company. And so that's how we then combined both ideas. And that was about 2018. We only officially started in 2019. So launched early 2019. Then went to the US, did Y Combinator. And yeah, then things started to get interesting because with COVID and closed borders, that's pretty much the worst thing that can happen to our business.
Sandra Redlich 04:44
See, I didn't even think of it that way. I thought, oh, everyone's working from home and everyone's kind of starting to look at work positions that are not just in their neighborhood or, you know, in the city they live in but across borders. But yeah, fair enough. How did you manage to work through that challenge?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 05:04
I think there was a time of about six months where borders were, I would say, very strictly closed. That was a challenging time. But then, exactly, as you say, afterwards, people really started looking around, where do I want to spend my time? If I categorize times, I think like, then we had a bit of a Wild West starting, because people just went somewhere without, for example, looking at, I don't know, like, do I need to register there? Or do I need to notify it and so that was about a year where, in Spain, for example, in Canary Islands, there were tech people from, I think Ireland, UK was predominant, also from Germany. And so I think like there, you can really see that a lot of mobility across borders is really driven by individuals. And I think that's a trend that benefited us before COVID already, but it was a much slower trend that accelerated because if you look at what we do, it's like 20 years ago, the only people that were brought across borders by companies were very senior managers. And that really shifted towards also relocating more junior talent, international hires that are brought in. And so that was a slow trend over time. But then COVID started and suddenly, everyone wanted to move across borders, which is super interesting. And that is also a trend that's still fueling us today.
Sandra Redlich 06:33
How have your services changed with COVID? Because obviously, there's different demands, you've mentioned different levels of people and employees who are trying to move borders, and different challenges as well that come with that. Is there something that started disrupting your services, and you had to rethink what it is that you're offering?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 06:54
Not really, I remember that, at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of our investors said, Oh, maybe you should think about a pivot. Luckily, we didn't. And it's like, what we do now is pretty much exactly what we did before. The only thing that's maybe different is the use cases that companies use it for. So you can think of it like, if we sell into a customer, we usually cover all their global mobility needs, really from relocation into like an international new hire, let's say, from Brazil to Germany, but also then if you want to bring someone from your, let's say, Hamburg office to your London office, but also business trips etc. So we've seen more business trips now, for example, because of all the company off sites, some people still need a business visa for that. And that has become very interesting. And then also now some companies actually sponsoring globally the digital nomad visas, so that they support people to move somewhere on a digital nomad visa, which is super interesting. But like the core of what we do, has stayed the same.
Sandra Redlich 08:04
So do you do the whole visa process as well, meaning you kind of liaise with lawyers or with people who can help employees to get the right visas that they need?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 08:16
We actually automate the immigration lawyer. So we have internal immigration experts, and then our software's pretty much automating their work. So we still have those experts, because for some cases, you need to have a second look at things. You need to bring their knowledge into the software. But then effectively, we're automating the workflows behind. So we are pretty much the immigration lawyer.
Sandra Redlich 08:40
You've mentioned investors before. And I know that for a lot of founders, that's, you know, scary and also a really positive word because they can literally make or break you. And I wanted to chat to you about your experience with finding investors. And if there's any tips that you might be able to share with our listeners as well, who may be looking for some outside perspectives on this as well?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 09:04
I would say at the beginning of my founder career, I was definitely not the natural fundraiser. So I think offers are tricky. It is something where you need to know the game of it. You need to know how to interpret signals. What is a good time to raise also, when investors approach you how interested are they really, because of course, a big part of that job is having conversations and staying on top of what is happening with companies performing well. And so that is something where initially I completely underestimated also the back channelling that's going on like what people talk as soon as you start fundraising. The clock is kind of ticking because if you don't get interest, well, word will get around and I think that is a dangerous thing happening. So of course, if you know 100% that you'll be able to raise, that investors just love you, it's not that challenging, I think like, then you can also take some time, otherwise you need to get some speed into the process. People sometimes call that creating FOMO and basically you need to... I think what I typically do is just schedule everything in a shorter window of time. And that was sort of like for our last round, for example, I knew that we were in a really good position, because we also still had, I think, 80%, 90% of our Series A money in the bank. So we didn't need to raise, which is also always a very comfortable situation. Because otherwise, if you are forced to raise, you don't have any leverage on terms as well. And so there for me going into the fundraise, I knew that our numbers were good, I knew that we'd be able to raise but at the same time, the environment was challenging. I knew that I had to get some speed into the process. And I think that's just something where you have to optimize also for what you want to get out. And investors do it all the time. Like the whole job is fundraising, and as a founder, you do it less than once a year, ideally. So yeah, it's always an information asymmetry that you have to deal with.
Sandra Redlich 11:19
You've mentioned that people were telling you in the beginning of the pandemic, that you need to change your service. But luckily, you stuck to your gut and you you didn't pivot from the original idea. How difficult is it to block out these outside voices? Or just to be able to gauge how much of the input you really need to take on board? Or in other words, or maybe a bit simpler a question, how much fear is involved in these massive decisions, when you're finding yourself in the position to be the founder of a company?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 11:35
I think, especially in that situation, early COVID times, we did two things. A, we had a lot of conviction in ourselves. We had one core hypothesis that we're building on, and that is that mobility is talent driven. And we knew that people were moving across borders. And so basically, what a lot of investors were seeing is that remote work means that no one will move across borders again, which I think now we've proven that that's not the case. And so that was a hypothesis that we were still believing in. But then also, secondly, we talked to a lot of customers, because of course, it gets harder if you just say, No, I don't want to pivot. Like you need to, even back then, all the voting power and such rights were still with us. We wanted to explain to our investors why we're doing certain things. And so we had a lot of interviews with customers, actually got their perspective on if they think it's coming back, is it temporary etc. That really helped a lot. And then after some months, we're really started seeing positive numbers on the revenue side again, and that also really helps really showing the trend. And I think the core point for me is conviction, if you build on a hypothesis, a hypothesis that you really believe in, then you shouldn't abandon it. And I think that's probably harder for founders that just want to be founders and pick any idea to have that conviction.
Sandra Redlich 11:54
As a founder, you're not just doing your everyday job, which is pushing the idea that you want to build. You mentioned, you also have to speak to investors. But you also, with time, you're growing your company, which means you're bringing more people on board. How did that look like for Localyze, because as I understand it, you were one of the few who have managed to actually grow throughout the last two years, opposed to other companies that have just really struggled to adapt to the new changes of this new world of work.
Hanna Marie Asmussen 13:53
I think it was also the roots of what we build in COVID, because we learned to grow very sustainably. And that was, I think, a big advantage. Once you have that situation, I think that's something that a lot of companies didn't have during COVID. Especially, I think maybe the first three to six months were also somewhat tricky, and from a finance perspective. But afterwards, investors really started heavily investing again. But for us, we were one of those who were really affected in the beginning. And so of course, up until our Series A investors were not looking at us that much. I think a lot of people probably also thought that we would die. And so we really learned to be frugal, really learned to do a lot with the cash that we have. That got us really far. And so I think that was a big step and a big advantage. Now going into this time because we never had that massive over hiring. We never had that 'Let's just spend the cash that we have and do crazy things'. And I think there are a lot of funds because profitability wasn't sexy. And so I think a lot of funders were also pushed by investors to spend more and to be more aggressive there. Now things have changed. But like, for investor, it's easy to say, Oh, now things have changed. Now you have to preserve cash, but for a founder and CEO to steer the company that fast and also it's not only about Okay, now we're doing layoffs, but really also the mentality of the employees. Now you can't just say, Okay, I want that budget, and then I go with it. But everything is tighter. And so that's why I think it's super important to also have that learning experience now.
Sandra Redlich 15:36
What does the team at Localyze look like?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 15:38
We are around 100 people now spread across Europe and the US. And so our big US launch now is planned for January, we started selling already. And yeah, that's our big goal up until the next round, to really make the US market work for us.
Sandra Redlich 15:55
Something I'm very interested in to hear your opinion and your experience of is, how was it being a team of female founders? You've mentioned your co-founder with you, so two females going into this little shark tank. How is that? Do you reckon it's a bit more challenging? Or have you been positively surprised with maybe how non-challenging it was? Or is there anything unique that you were confronted with just being a female in this space?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 16:28
Well, actually, even three female founders, one technical co-founder and one on the business side.
Sandra Redlich 16:34
Hanna Marie Asmussen 16:34
No worries, all good. Well, it's always hard to compare, because I don't have the experience, how it will be as a male founder. But I do see that it is harder because people always, even if it's unconsciously, put you in boxes, and there's probably no box that we fit in, because there's not that many, like, especially if you look at Germany, there's no female founder's unicorn. And that's just something that makes it harder for investors as well to see patterns, I think. So I would definitely say there are differences. And then some are more on the, I think unconscious bias where they might look at you a bit more critically. Then also others, they could get comments. I think very early on, we got one that said, Okay, three female founders, you'll all get pregnant at the same time. And then you can just shut the company. And I think in Germany it's also interesting, it changed a lot right now. Like right now, there's also a lot of female investors. And, yeah, a lot is happening. So a lot of positive change. We got a lot of Irish and British investors on board, now the US investors and so I see it less. So I really think that times are changing. There's a lot of female investors coming in. So I think things can get better. We also have female investors on our cap table, which I think is really cool. But yeah, slow changes, always slow.
Sandra Redlich 18:11
Yeah, you have to chip away at it. Just yeah, head down and work through it. Is that something that you would advise people who want to found a business in general? Or is there any further tips you want to give to anyone listening?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 18:29
On the fundraising side or in general?
Sandra Redlich 18:31
Hanna Marie Asmussen 18:32
A lot. I think what I didn't expect and it was funny because I was at BCG before. And I remember when I said that I want to found a company, they also said okay, now you basically chose the only job that's even harder and longer working hours. And first, I thought, oh, no, that's not true. And I think the first year, it probably wasn't because we just had a lot of flexibility. But now, it definitely is. And I think we also probably haven't picked the best time because it's just now like so many crises. But I think it's a great learning curve. So I think people just have to get ready for that. It's not that shiny. I think sometimes, especially in social media, you see a lot of shiny founder stories and it's not that glamorous, definitely not. But it's a lot of fun and you do get to work with the people that you admire, you can choose how you build the company. There's a lot of rewards as well. And I think basically you can pack the career of 10 years to three. So I really like it but it's a personal decision because I think founding is the one thing that is hard to do half hearted and the second I think there you also really when you pick your co-founders, it doesn't matter that much that you have exactly the skills that are complementary but you need to be complementary in terms of things that you like, how you like to work, because you can then learn a ton of stuff. And the one thing that you cannot learn is how you work well together and how you interact. And so I think a lot of times, teams also fail because of the founder relationship. And so that's something that I think is super important that has really helped us in the last years as well.
Sandra Redlich 20:34
You've mentioned the US as one of your next big milestones. What else is next for Localyze? Any other big things in the pipeline?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 20:43
A lot! No, I think now the US is always a big milestone. So that's why all our focus is on that. We will look at further expansion once we have that rolling on the product site. We're doing quite a few investments right now. We're growing the team. So there's a lot going on. But yeah, I think the US, if I would sum it up, the one thing that we really have to solve and make it work for us, it's the US market.
Sandra Redlich 21:09
It's a big market. So yeah, big enough milestone as it is. Being that you are right at the forefront of the development of work, speaking to your customers, and just generally being a part of the industry. What are some trends that you see happening? Is there something you kind of have on your radar to look into for the future years or something that might become more important?
Hanna Marie Asmussen 21:38
I think overall, nowadays, the biggest trend that we are looking at is how are companies defining their setup going forward? So I think now, a lot of companies still have offices as part of the mix. But then how does hybrid look for them? How much do you actually allow fully remote positions? And then in parallel, have offices where people go to. I think that is something where I still see there's discussions going on, like a lot of companies have not yet settled on something final because now you have some that say, Okay, you have to go back to the office, but then others say, Okay, we can't do that. But we want it so we have a couple of days where we just also make it more beneficial. But I think all of that is very, very interesting, but still something where companies have a lot of question marks around, because this is also something that affects what we do, of course. So we're watching it closely. I think the fact that people move across borders will always remain. But I think how companies see that area, that's still shifting.
Sandra Redlich 22:54
Still chipping away at it I can imagine. Well, thank you so much for sharing the story of Localyze and your personal story as a female founder with us today. I hope that there was a lot of good information for our listeners, and that maybe we were able to inspire one or the other person's listening to start this exciting journey for themselves. There's definitely exciting times for you ahead. I wish you all the best for your big launch in the US. And yeah, I hope you keep growing.
Hanna Marie Asmussen 23:26
Thank you so much. And yeah, thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.
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