Startup founder and author Tristan Niewöhner’s favorite part of entrepreneurship is the personal growth that comes with launching a business.
“The startup journey is not about where you arrive or how much money you make, but what kind of person you are when you arrive,” he said. “You will develop so many skills you have never even thought of. Looking at successful entrepreneurs should not be intimidating. Entrepreneurs are normal human beings. Nobody has superpowers. It should inspire you that you can achieve this yourself!”
Niewöhner grew up in western Germany near the town of Bielefeld and came to Illinois State University as an exchange student. He graduated from college in 2012. During his time as a Redbird, he enjoyed building relationships with fellow students and his professors and took advantage of the opportunity to travel the United States.
The experience also helped him to solidify his interest in entrepreneurship. “ISU confirmed my passion for startups. I attended a business plan class—in which we had to develop a small business —which was very inspiring for me. The openness to innovation and the optimism strengthened my dream to become an entrepreneur. I regard success as the opportunity to work on something which is fulfilling for oneself. This helps you to stay focused and keep on walking your path even if things get rough. It is very important not to give up. I am lucky that I could find out relatively early in life that (for me) this topic is startups and creating companies. I love it! On the one hand, I enjoy founding companies myself, and on the other hand, I like supporting others doing so, for example by organizing inspiring events or by coaching other founders. If you really burn for what you are doing, success will be unavoidable, sooner or later.”
Following graduation, Niewöhner went to work for a fashion company, which gave him an understanding of the inner workings of large corporations. A year later, he struck out on his own and founded his first internet company.
“We hosted an online shop system for food delivery services. It started quite well, but we could not raise any money to increase our sales activities, so after a year working on that company, we closed it again. In that moment it was a quite depressing experience, but in the long run, I consider it to be a very important experience. Failure is unavoidable on the path to success,” he said.
Hoping others can learn from his experiences, Niewöhner shared openly about his startup struggles in an international event series in which “entrepreneurs talk about their failures in order to prevent others from making the same mistakes and to encourage young founders not be afraid of failure.”
Ultimately, those early frustrations of launching a company did not deter him from continuing to pursue entrepreneurship. He went on to found a second company devoted to developing and marketing logistics software, which is still in operation today. Later, he went to work for the Founders Foundation, which is designed to “encourage and empower startup founders.” Also, he served as a coach for Paderborn University’s startup center TecUP.
In 2017, he decided to focus his energy and time on a new project called persomatch. The company serves as an online recruitment tool that streamlines the process of posting hiring ads on a search engine result page. He is pleased with the company’s growth, noting it currently has 12 employees.
“It is a very exciting journey, and we are optimistic towards our future,” said Niewöhner. “My role as a founder is evolving over time. In the beginning, I had to do everything myself—sales, marketing, development, etc. Now, I cannot do everything myself, but I have to manage a team. I regard it as my job to coach and empower the team members so that they can perform their jobs. I enjoy my work very much, and I am grateful for every day I am able to work with my great team!”
During the pandemic, Niewöhner took the time to realize one of his long-held goals.
“I always had the dream of writing my own book,” he explained. “Of course, this is a very time- consuming process, and due to the busy startup life, I rarely got the chance to do that.”
When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic upended business and leisure activities, however, he decided it was time to make his dream come true and drew writing inspiration from his passion for startups
“I did not want to add just another guidebook on ‘how to start a startup’ to the great number of already existing ones. I really wanted to focus on the ‘why,’” he explained.
Several years ago, he read the book The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, which examines the structure of myths and legends from around the world. The author identified an archetypal pattern that he termed “the hero’s journey” and discussed how it appears throughout history and across cultures.
“While I studied the hero’s journey closely, I realized that the creation of a new company follows the same pattern. Founders are on the hero’s journey too. Then I came up with the idea to write a book about that,” Niewöhner shared. “The writing process was great experience for me. The first step is always the most difficult one. Starting with an empty page in front of you is challenging. But after some time, the writing itself became more and more enjoyable. All in all it took me about six months from the first idea until I could hold the book in my hand.”
The finished book, Founders Heroes: Start Up Your Journey, first appeared in German and is now available in English as well on Amazon. The author’s hope is that it will help people “reflect about their own journey and consider founding a company.”
“Of course, not everybody has to found a startup to be happy and successful,” he added. “But I am convinced that more people could find fulfilment in this field. The purpose of my book is to inspire them!”
Speaking to current Redbirds, he likewise encourages them to “try different things in order to find their passion.”
“This cannot be done by just waiting for the idea to come to you,” he warned. “It will be found along the way. It can be done by internships or maybe starting a small side business. Be curious about different kind of things. There are so many great opportunities lying in front of you!”