Origin Story Interview W/ Liza Altena, repath

Origin Story Interview W/ Liza Altena, repath

Brighter Future

 / 

Oct 12, 2022

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #ClimateTech #ClimateAdaptation #EnvironmentalImpact #PersonalGrowth #BusinessImpact #ClimateResilience

Brighter Future

Today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Liza Altena, co-founder of repath—a young, ClimateTech startup building the world’s first climate adaptation management platform.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us today, Liza. To kick things off, could you tell us a little bit about you and your startup, repath?

Yes! Of course. My name is Liza Altena. I’m 32 years old, and I am from Germany. I’m one of four co-founders at repath, a ClimateTech startup offering a climate risk management solution. We identify future climate risks worldwide and enable companies in understanding, managing and adapting them.

In terms of my role within the company, I am responsible for sales, marketing, people, culture and organisational development.  

For example, in the future we will automatically recommend adaptations to mitigate identified climate risks through our software by looking at specific company assets, such as energy assets, or supply chains assets. This supports our clients’ goals of having a climate-resilient, future-proof company that can grow sustainably. Why grow sustainably? Because we know that, based on climate change, the upcoming extreme weather events are getting more intense and frequent. We’re talking about events, such as heatwaves, floodings and storms, so if a company doesn’t know what will happen and is not adapting and preparing for the projected climate risks, it cannot sustainably grow. Climate change will disrupt and create difficulties for these businesses, preventing them from running smoothly. Action is needed now, so we tell our clients, “Know it, understand it and adapt.” Make that climate risk part of your growth plan for the next five years, base your investment decisions on it, and choose your new business locations with it in mind. That way, you can confidently make plans and grow properly. 

In recent years, particularly, we’ve seen how devastating and disruptive natural disasters and extreme weather events caused by climate change can be, from storms and hurricanes to wildfires, flooding, and so on. Being able to predict potential future problems is incredibly helpful for businesses—great idea!

Let’ stake it back a step. Could you share with us your path to where you are today?

Sure! I grew up in a very small, conservative village in North Rhine, Westphalia. I have had a somewhat challenging upbringing, as my mum brought me up with bipolar since I was 13. That was very difficult for me. My mum and dad separated when I was two. My dad, unfortunately, became an alcoholic and died in 2020. I’m not sharing this to say that I had a bad upbringing—in fact, the opposite. I’m very grateful for how I was raised because it made me very independent, mature and self-confident, as I had to be able to cope with that.

I believe that those early life challenges made me the person I am today. Therefore I’m sharing my experience to encourage or inspire other young people with hard lives to pursue their goals and dreams.

I began to work at the age of thirteen. Then, after doing my A-levels, I decided to go abroad to Texas for a couple of months to work on a ranch, where I fell in love with a horse. I didn’t plan it, but I bought that horse and flew it home to Germany. Everyone called me crazy, but I’m very stubborn. If I want to do something, I usually do it and don’t regret it. I then started working as an operations manager in the bar my dad owned while completing my studies in international business and management. I learned so much during that time, but it was also crazy working all through the night and simultaneously studying.

My passion for leadership started to grow at this time. I wanted to build organisations, lead people, and develop people and myself. As part of my International Business and Management studies, I needed to complete an internship. I asked myself, “what’s the biggest challenge I could possibly take on?” I hit on the idea of interning for a company in China, which I knew would be very challenging, especially culturally. That didn’t deter me at all, so with an internship secured, I moved to China for six months. I really loved it and learned a lot there. In fact, it went so well that I continued working for that company for a year and a half as a freelancer. Following that, I moved to Indonesia for six months to do an exchange semester, which was another amazing experience.Honestly, I mostly travelled rather than studied!

I was eager to continue to travel, but I was in a relationship and had been abroad for months and years at that stage. My partner encouraged me to start doing something in Germany. It was a fair point, so when a short-notice internship at Deutsche Bahn coincidentally came up, I applied. The role advertised was heavy maintenance and didn’t grab me at all—I thought it was going to be really boring. However, after I started, I was surprised to discover it was this great company with super inspiring and amazing people.

My boss back then really supported me and became a role model for quite a few years. Deutsche Bahn is a big company, and they will invest in your growth and further development much more than a small- to medium-sized enterprise,allowing you to take time off to pursue or experience other things. I had nearly a year of very intense work as the assistant managing director for international markets and had several opportunities available to me within the company. One was the chance to be a team leader in the chief sales department. There, I took my second official leadership role, which was very challenging. I was pretty young, and people didn’t directly accept me. But luckily, I had the right people around me who had my back and developed me. It was a hell of a journey. I stayed there for six years and was always in a management role. Most times I was the youngest and the only female in the management team of the international markets of Deutsche Bahn E&C, where I learned to deal with lots of male managers around the globe.

That’s quite a journey! You’ve accomplished a lot for someone still so young. How old were you then?

I started my first management role with 21 and at DB when I was 27. After that, I went up the career ladder until I was the director of sales & portfolio management international. I had a lot of responsibilities and could collaborate with many people worldwide on how to make sales, which was great. I led several teams of over 100 people over the years. I grew so much, and Deutsche Bahn invested a lot of time and money into me. And I’m very grateful for that.

From all this experience, I identified that I really loved coaching, so I did a coaching education and decided to found my own coaching company last year, which is called Mindgarden Coaching and Consulting. My focus is fully with repath now and in the next couple of years, but I have a handful of clients who found me through word of mouth and want to slowly build up my coaching in the future.

As director of international markets at Deutsche Bahn, I was also responsible for identifying interesting startups, partners, and topics that could increase Deutsche Bahn’s overall value. Last year, in July, I heard of repath and found the idea very interesting. The three co-founders pitched repath to me back then, while I was still wearing my Deutsche Bahn hat. I found those three individuals to be very inspiring and mature, and the idea, purpose and potential impact of repath really pulled me in. I had a strong intuition that this was something I should not let go of. Three months later, I quit my job at Deutsche Bahn and became the fourth co-founder of repath.

That’s amazing! How old was repath when they first pitched the idea to you?

They pitched it to me one month before they officially founded the company. They pitched the idea to me in July and the company was founded in August. The three co-founders had been working on the idea for about a year and a half before that, though, and all while working their full-time jobs. I joined shortly after.

If you pitched the concept of repath to the general population, who exactly would you say it is aimed at, and how does it benefit them?

That’s a great question. I would love to share our purpose because we have such a strong one. With repath, we empower humanity to reach a sustainable climate-adapted future. For our planet. This is a huge, huge purpose. It’s our guiding compass. Now, what does that mean? It means that everyone—every single individual—needs to climate risk transparency and adaptation measures to cope with the continuous changes in our climate. However, at repath, our first target is B2B companies, especially large enterprises.

Our software is designed so that everyone, not just climate experts, can understand the future climate risks. A typical C-level manager, global supply chain manager, Asset manager or global risk manager or anyone else can intuitively and easily understand the projected specific climate risk with the help of our platform, for example extreme rain, heat, etc. From there, they can investigate what that means for their assets, and what they can do about it. The solution shows the asset specific value at risk and prioritizes the global assets based on the overall risk scores, the necessary adaptation measures, the most effective return on investment, etc. Companies in all industries need our solution to begin the climate adaptation journey towards climate resilient organizations. Climate risk projections is undoubtedly extremely important, and we must move forward in this new field.

That’s very interesting. Thank you for sharing. In terms of your work at repath, what about your work is most fulfilling to you?

I love that I can create. I’m not limited to a certain area of what I believe in. My values align with my work, and I truly believe in the future potential for growth in this area and its potential to attract amazing people who want to work to build a better planet. We are currently experiencing a shift away from the old economy and way of working to a new way of working that promises more mental health and flexibility, ownership, performance and fun. New Work drives self-organization, purpose and wholeness. I am passionate to be able to build up repath as a New Work Organization.

After all, who wants to work for 40 hours a week in an inflexible, hierarchical organization? It’s also very inspiring for me to see people grow. As a leader, I love to watch individuals grow, contribute, challenge, and criticise, all of which ultimately leads to a successful environment. What is very important for me is learning. I learn from my mistakes every day.

Was there a time—whether in your personal life, career, or even just with repath—where you took a different direction than you had originally planned?

Yes!I originally planned to stay with Deutsche Bahn in a different role. They offered me a regional director role. However, COVID-19 came along, things shifted, the markets broke down, and it simply wasn’t feasible anymore. They encouraged me to be patient, but I saw the opportunity with repath and took it. In terms of my personal life, I certainly did not plan to buy a horse, and I didn’t have the money to buy it, but it just felt right. I’ve had my horse for 12 years now, and I’ve never regretted it once.

What gave you the confidence to know that when you joined repath, you could help make it a success? That was a big risk to take, especially since you were leaving behind a very steady, secure, well-established organisation like Deutsche Bahn.

I love risk because it’s my biggest growth potential. Getting out of your comfort zone and doing things that you’ve never done before and that you’re scared of is so important if you want to develop and grow. Of course, in many situations, I have thought, “This is too big for me. I cannot cope with it.” However, somehow, I always did cope, and I gained a lot from it. I know that I can figure out everything I want to figure out. I also know that if I fail, it also doesn’t matter because I will learn a lot from it. My personal policy is to not let fear decide my path, but instead to use that fear as an indicator of opportunity and reason to take the leap. But also, I do have a lot of competence and experience in this field, so I knew what I was capable of when I joined repath and knew I was bringing all of my skills and experience to the table.

Failure is an unavoidable aspect of growth. It’s simply part of the process. Have you ever felt like you were failing at something? And if so, what did that experience teach you?

Early on, I didn’t feel that failures were of any benefit. It’s natural, I think, to want to do everything perfectly. For example, when I was working at my father’s bar, I had a difficult time and often felt like I was failing. There were a mix of different personalities and different cultural backgrounds amongst the staff. The older men didn’t respect my leadership role. There was theft going on. I had to fire people. It was very challenging, and I felt like I was failing badly. With time, however, I learned that failure is fine, and challenging situations are just a part of life. This was a big learning curve, and I now appreciate it. I can even celebrate when I f**k up!

My fledgling coaching business also brings up those familiar feelings of failure. For example, I recently had a horrible workshop and immediately thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t do this. This wasn’t the right decision.” I just didn’t feel I performed well, and that frustrated me. I was sad and disappointed in myself. But then I evaluated what was happening there. I got so many things from it, like how to improve, what I need to learn, and what to do differently, for myself as well as for the team I was coaching. I learned that I don’t need to take on everyone, and there are certain requirements that I needed to meet to truly deliver value to a group of people. Again, it was a horrible, horrible feeling of failure at first, but I learned so much from it. I’m also a big fan of therapy, which can help you to process these feelings, learn from them, and become stronger as a result. I’ve learned a lot about myself from systematic therapy and coaching, and I encourage others to explore it, too.

That’s very interesting! Failure is something we all face, but we rarely deal with it in a healthy or practical way. As I’m sure you’re aware, taking any kind of risk comes with compromises or sacrifices. What sacrifices have you had to make to get to where you are today?

The biggest sacrifice that comes to mind is my job security at Deutsche Bahn. I had an unlimited contract there that was very secure, and I was working with amazing people. But also, because of my level and the responsibility associated with the position, I was on a very good salary. And that’s not the only thing I gave up. Last year, the banks would have happily loaned me thousands of euros because of that job security and my salary. Now, I can’t even get a €5000 loan from any of them. It is pretty intense. It was shocking to me how many hurdles there are. I went three months with no pay from anyone because the Job Centre blocked me (because I willingly left my job) and repath wasn’t in a position to pay me yet. However, despite the challenges, I still feel it was the right decision for me. If I felt like it was not working, I would simply re-evaluate and go from there.  

As a planet and as a people, we’re currently undergoing a period of great change. Companies like repath are helping people to adjust and plan for those changes. With that in mind, we’d love to know how you personally envision the future.

Right now, the whole world economy is transforming. It’s a very challenging time for everyone. When I look towards the future, it reinforces my belief that every individual should become more aware—of who they are, of how they feel, of what they believe in, of where they want to go and what they want to achieve. Sailing through life completely blind doesn’t work anymore. We have to be more aware of everything; our behaviour, our triggers and feelings and thoughts, and daily decisions like the food we eat, how much we exercise, the products we purchase, the transport options we choose, etc. Everything is changing, and that means uncertainty, which naturally has an effect on our wellbeing. Depression and burnout rates are increasing every year. In the future, I hope everyone has access to a coach, a therapist or just an external person who can guide them and help them to reflect on themselves and their journey.

We’re doing that at repath by shifting to better and healthier ways of working. The Brain is not meant to focus 40 hours a week. It was industrialisation that made us set these standards. We desperately need to update our standard and make work more sustainable for everyone. I also envision emotions becoming a normal part within the workspace, rather than requiring people to wear a business mask and hide their true selves. I can see us moving away from traditional employment structures and strict hierarchies and shifting towards self-organization, empowerment and a stronger focus on purpose and wholeness.  

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! When you’re no longer on this earth, how would you want your family and close friends to look back upon you and your journey?

I love that question! And I did answer it once a couple of years ago in a development seminar. In general, I want people to remember me and say, “Wow, she was fun! She was full of life—full of joy!” I would hope that the people around me know that and feel that I lived fully. I would love to think I would have inspired many people with those values. It gives me a lot of energy and pleasure, whether I’m coaching, working at repath, or just meeting people on the street. If my experiences and the talks I have inspire another person, that would be really beautiful. I would also want them to say that fear never led my way. That I was brave enough to do crazy things, including everything that I wanted and dreamed of. I don’t have a box full of dreams in my pocket that I never touched and died with. I hope to have lived a joyful, full life without regrets, where I try out things and risk a lot. And in the end, I want to have had an impact on the world, on individual people, and on the company I’m building, which I believe will generate the impact we need on a global level.

Great answer, Liza! We’d like to give you a chance to speak directly to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, young or old, who are just starting out and are possibly shaping the future through their businesses. What advice do you have for them?

Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché, but just do it! If you feel you’re somehow pulled to an business idea, try it out. Nine out of ten startups go bankrupt, right? But that’s fine. Even if the startup fails, even if the first entrepreneurial steps fail, what you get out of it is an experience that is so valuable that it doesn’t matter that you officially “failed”. But also, be patient with yourself, your development, and the startup or whatever it is you’re trying. It is so much more fun when you enjoy failing. If you’re like, “Oh, cool. I f**ked up again!” I focused on growth and the learning experience instead of doing everything correctly or being someone who is capable of doing anything and everything. It’s not possible anyway, so it’s better to enjoy it rather than hate it.

That’s a really powerful mindset! It’s no wonder you’ve been so successful. If you could share one message with the whole world, what would that message be?

Be aware of yourself, find your own purpose, and find the place, thing, company or whatever that shares your purpose or will help you achieve it. That’s the strong message I want to share. I have one quote that I like by T.S. Eliot. It says, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” This really resonated with me because if you don’t try, you never find out. It’s always a journey. So risk it—just do it!

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A huge thank you to our wonderful guest Liza Altena for participating in this interview and sharing her experience. If you would like to find out more about Liza and the work she is doing at repath, you can find her at: www.repath.earth and https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizaaltena/

To stay up to date with all of our latest content and interviews with amazing people like Liza, subscribe to the Brighter Future newsletter here.

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