How the EMDIEL helped Carolin Ehrensberger transition from a successful professional career into an exciting entrepreneurial venture

Carolin Ehrensberger studied the Executive Master in Digital Innovation and Entrepreneurial Leadership (EMDIEL) at ESCP Business School and through her learnings was able to successfully launch her dream entrepreneurial project. Today, she helps individuals who are searching for a suitable coach to promote mental well-being and personal development.

Carolin Ehrensberger studied business for her Bachelor’s degree and then had a very successful career in a software company in the field of real estate. Although she didn’t anticipate a career in the software world, she was given a chance to find her place and the industry enriched her with varied experiences. She became part of the leadership team leading the product & strategy department. Parallel to her job she enrolled in the EMDIEL program and that is where she began developing her startup, Coach-Wave. Carolin had always been interested in building something of her own but somehow there was always something missing. With Coach-Wave the pieces came together and over the past few months she and her team were able to finally launch Coach-Wave and concretely conceptualize her entrepreneurial ideas of helping people find the right coach to excel in their career & life. 

How did Coach-Wave begin?

Carolin got the idea of Coach-Wave while she was a participant in the EMDIEL program. In one session students were tasked to go out in teams and talk to people in the streets about their failures,this proved to be a challenging and yet enriching assignment. Failure is a deeply personal topic, surprisingly it didn’t need a lot of persuasion to get people to open up about it. The team’s big realization was that people have a  lot to talk about but often they don’t know who to talk to. She and her team felt determined to do something about it. As Carolin puts it, “Everybody has their own backpack of insecurities and topics that they struggle with. The good thing is: we all have the resources within ourselves to deal with them, we just need to learn how.. So this was where we got really excited about this. Shortly after, in my private life, I was trying to find a coach to work on some topics, have some support to take some big decisions and my whole personal experience with that process was just quite challenging. I eventually managed to find a fitting coach but was convinced . this should be so much easier!” 

That is what spurred her into action and the atmosphere of the EMDIEL class filled with other entrepreneurs led her to finally embark upon building Coach-Wave. During the last months of the EMDIEL, Carolin completely focused on this project. Mental well-being is a deeply meaningful topic for Carolin. Coach-Wave as a platform facilitates the process of bringing together coaches and people who are looking for a coach. They also support the whole coaching journey in the long term. The coaching market is very intransparent. Carolin identified that there was a lot of demand and need for better solutions. People are often unable to get high-quality coaches – with Coach-Wave they can have access to a curated list of highly qualified and certified coaches and psychologists  and get the transparency that is very rare in this market. Carolin also emphasizes that the world is not doing well on the mental well-being spectrum. Each day psychological conditions are getting more and more demanding, and coaching can be a way to take preventive action. A good coach can support to prevent burnout, possibly even depression – if you start early,understand what’s going on and set your goals & visions. Carolin wants people to solve problems before they get too overwhelming to handle and that is why she believes in the power of what Coach-Wave is doing for society.

How Carolin’s professional experience paved her path to entrepreneurship

Carolin’s startup deals with mental well-being whereas her professional experience was in software. Despite this, she was able to utilize a lot of learnings since her startup is also based around software, albeit in a different industry. Carolin’s experience in the leadership team of a young company for five years helped her gain a lot of experience with different topics. She was able to understand the company from many different angles. She worked in customer success, then in sales, and later on switched to the product side. Those multiple functional areas helped her understand different aspects of doing business. As Carolin was accountable for every role she oversaw, she developed a deep understanding of the big challenges a company goes through during its trajectory. She emphasizes the big picture view was extremely helpful and she uses that even now to take the next steps as she grows her startup. Starting from scratch brings its own set of challenges and moving parts but Carolin is well-positioned to construct these parts together as she builds out her own business.

How the Coach-Wave team came together

The development of the Coach-Wave team was extremely fortuitous and Carolin herself was surprised at how it turned out. In the beginning, Carolin had nothing. There was no way to pay for a big team but she truly believed in her idea. She started to talk with others and saw how the topic really resonated with them. More and more people kept joining and today Coach-Wave is a team of eight people. They all believe in the vision and have their own full-time jobs but in their free time, they work together on Coach-Wave. David, one of the team members, is a fellow participant from Carolin’s EMDIEL cohort. He is handling the marketing strategy and knew about the idea throughout the EMDIEL. After the course, Carolin asked him to come on board and he was happy to join the team. The engineering and strategy team at Coach-Wave is composed of people who are Carolin’s acquaintances from her corporate career. It is a testament to their belief in Carolin’s vision that they were ready and willing to support her idea from a nascent stage. Carolin’s brother is also on board because he has a psychology background and he’s very into the topic and entrepreneurial in his mindset. He brings a mixture of entrepreneurial leadership and psychology to the team. Many others have also applied to become coaches in the team. When Carolin told them that she could not compensate them for their time at the moment, they simply said “It’s okay, I love the idea, I just want to participate”. That is a testament to how much belief they have in what Carolin hopes to achieve with her startup.

Coach-Wave’s product journey

Coach-Wave chose to develop using a bootstrapped model and the startup has not taken any external funding. The idea is to build the basic platform and get product-market fit before securing external investments. Carolin is not in a hurry to seek investors and wants to steer the project without interference for the time being. While this offers autonomy, it also restricts them financially. The team is building the product with a lot of input. They first went through a long discovery process. They conducted interviews, and surveys and talked to a lot of people to find out if the problem was just hypothetical or if it actually exists.

Carolin was methodical in her approach. What exactly is the problem? What do we need to start with? What is the biggest problem that we need to start building our product for, MVP style? What is the first thing that we can solve? And what is the easiest version of the product?

After the analysis, they found that the matching aspect was critical. After that, came the processes like invoicing, scheduling, etc. But first of all, they needed to bring the two sides together and do it on a high-quality level. That was the biggest challenge. They built the smallest version of the product which was a bit nicer than just a very simple MVP which they tested and refined over time by iterating it and trying different entries into the market. The first idea was a B2C approach, but they faced a lot of hurdles with that, mainly with the marketing aspects. So they pivoted into some B2B approaches- this meant tie-ups with institutions, schools, universities, etc. Carolin says that younger generations have even more topics to talk about in general and they’re also quite open to do so, making this a highly attractive target market. The whole topic around mental wellbeing is much more accepted and less stigmatized than in some older generations. This was one of Coach-Wave’s biggest pivots so far and changed how they approached their target market. This is how startups unfold – the product has to continuously evolve according to the market and to ongoing learnings. Carolin asserts the importance of being flexible and spotting opportunities. A startup needs to be able to switch directions quickly without losing the long-term vision.

The hardest lesson in Carolin’s entrepreneurial journey

In the beginning, Carolin had to embark on her journey alone as the idea was new and she hadn’t found her teammates yet. The hardest part was marching on without anybody to push her while working with a totally blank sheet. The dynamic changed when the first people started coming on board and momentum built up. Carolin says that these situations help you learn a lot about yourself: What motivates you? What do you need? What kind of setup? Are you a team player? Are you a solopreneur who wants to do it all by themselves? Carolin quickly realized that solopreneurship was not for her and appreciated having a team around her.

When there are multiple people in a team everyone can push each other to excel. When a solopreneur is stuck it can be helpful to have another person to bounce ideas off of and create a dynamic that makes things move along. A startup has a million challenges every day and having a team helps make things a bit easier. Carolin says finding the product market fit, market-entry, and understanding the priorities of the startup was something they did as a team. Her recommendation to aspiring founders is to not go on the journey all alone.

Why participate in the ESCP EMDIEL program?

Carolin was exploring various academic options that she could take during her job but did not want to leave her job and go back to full-time studying. The classic MBAs were an option but somehow did not fit what she had in mind. Then, all of a sudden she found the EMDIEL, and the course really spoke to her. Carolin says that she focused on where she wanted to go in her life. In the past, she had learned to take the path that resonated with her as an individual . The choice of doing the EMDIEL was based on what she wanted to actually achieve as a person and what made her satisfied and happy. She asked herself the questions that matter: What am I really interested in? What am I really curious about? What speaks to me? Not only to my CV but what do I want?

The EMDIEL was the answer to this reflective process. Carolin had already been accepted for an MBA, which could also have been amazing for her CV and a career boost However, after pondering over what she really wanted in her life she realized that she couldn’t see herself in corporate all her life. Carolin was passionate about building something. Carolin explained this in detail to Supriyo from the Blue Factory team during the interview. She didn’t know what she wanted to build at that time and she also didn’t know how to do it. In the end, EMDIEL was just a better program for where she wanted to end up in life. It was just a better fit.

What aspects of the EMDIEL program were most helpful for Carolin

One of the biggest assets of the EMDIEL according to Carolin is the people involved in it. She is a people person and within the program, she was surrounded by an amazing group of people who enriched her knowledge and as a person. The great thing is that the EMDIEL is a small group which makes it easy to get to know everyone and build deeper connections. The participants are picked from all over the world. This helped Carolin learn a lot about different personalities and the cultures that they come from. She states that it was a blessing and she would keep it with her for all her life. The kindness and openness of the group were incredible and she thoroughly enjoyed the module weeks in different places all over the world.

The exchanges amongst participants in the EMDIEL are more than just about academia. Many students already have businesses and their perspectives are very helpful. Carolin benefited from the network and the connections she built. She also enjoyed discovering a lot of different companies through the EMDIEL. She was able to explore different ecosystems and understand how these different ecosystems tick.

The EMDIEL has many different academic topics with a very practical approach, which is what Carolin wanted. She was keen to understand “How do we actually do this in the real world?”. The innovative and entrepreneurial atmosphere spurred her into action and Coach-Wave was born during the EMDIEL which helped Carolin go on an amazing personal journey. She contributes a lot of the success of her startup to what she learned at EMDIEL and the amazing people she met and therefore the outcomes for her were really meaningful. Even today, Carolin can leverage this network and is connected with her EMDIEL family. If she has a question she can just text them and everyone is open and helpful. If anyone ever needs her help, Carolin is also more than happy to pitch in. It’s a supportive community that stays with you after your studies.

The next steps for Coach-Wave

Carolin is currently juggling a lot of things at the same time with her job and also her startup but she intends to build Coach-Wave while maintaining a healthy balance. Her goal is to build something bigger than herself and something that will really leave an impact, something that will help people who are struggling or want to unlock their potential . She is motivated to do anything that helps her make that happen. It takes time for a startup to get the type of traction that Coach-Wave envisions and also to reach the size that the team wants to reach at some point. It’s a lot of work, so they are taking it one step at a time at the moment. Carolin emphasizes how important it is to be passionate about the topic that you’re working on. When you really love the topic it feels less like work. Like most founders, she is also working on the weekends and solving challenges every day to refine her idea and take it to the next level.

Who should embark on an entrepreneurial journey?

The first step anyone wishing to start a business should take is understanding oneself. You need to know how you tick. According to Carolin, she envisioned her life 30 years from now, looking back at her life and asking herself: What do I want to see? That is essential to know what to do next. It’s important to just honestly ask yourself: “Who am I? What motivates me? And where do I want to go in this life”. For Carolin, life is not about making a ton of money and having the best career on paper but she believes if someone else wants that they should pursue it and live true to themselves.

After understanding who or what you want to be it’s important to look into the options in front of you. It also involves understanding how you’d like to work. Do you like a lot of uncertainty? Or would you consider it difficult to deal with? Being a founder might not be for you if you cannot deal with a lot of uncertainty. Do you embrace chaos and little structure? Then you should go for a startup – it will provide you with chances to build everything from scratch. These are the really important questions that Carolin wants people to start with to understand if they should start their own company. It’s also important to know whether you want to take off by yourself or you want a team around you. For Carolin, she values a team around her to share ideas, challenge each other and build something that matters and that is how she personally approaches the entrepreneurial journey.

Entrepreneurship is a personal journey

For Carolin, it has always been a personal journey. A career takes a lot of time in our lives. It’s possible to look at it as only paying your bills but Carolin wanted to truly find satisfaction and purpose in what she does. She believes if people can figure out what it is for them, then they can make much better decisions on their next moves. She hopes that people live in the now, but sometimes think a few moves ahead and just make sure that there’s an alignment with the work they are doing,with who they want to be as a person and what they want to look back at at some point. For everyone at ESCP and beyond, Carolin’s advice is to peer deep within and understand what you want out of life. Everyone is going through life on an individual journey and the decision to create something should be made through deep introspection and not peer pressure. That is how Carolin wants people to approach their own journey and find personal fulfillment in what they do and in what they become.

This article was written based on an interview conducted by Supriyo Panda from the ESCP Blue Factory team.