Dr. Johannes Plehn

Co-Founder & Managing Director at Seven Senders

In order not to lose your ambition, you need a certain humility. You have to keep your feet on the ground.

Q -Johannes, what does Seven Senders do? What’s the 30 second elevator pitch?
JP -Seven Senders provides the best solution for international parcel shipping. We bring the parcel to the end customer by combining all local specialists into a virtual carrier network. We have built an entire ecosystem of services around delivery that covers the complete value chain, including labelling, tracking, returns and much more.
Q -Where did the idea for Seven Senders come from? How did you decide to found Seven Senders?
JP -Back then, I worked for an online shop in Berlin. The shop had a warehouse in Cologne and we shipped packages for EUR 2.90 within Germany with next day delivery. The delivery within Germany went well, but when it came to cross-border shipping we encountered many difficulties, as the price and the delivery time suddenly tripled. I thought to myself: It can't be that because of a border between two countries the prices suddenly increase so drastically.

The fundamental problem is that due to fragmentation in the individual markets there are carriers in every geography that can only cover their country. French carriers, for example, expect the package to be routed through Strasbourg and tracking only works within their own country. For online shops, however, it is not worthwhile to connect all carriers individually to offer international shipping. On the basis of this problem, Seven Senders was born to offer a uniform shipping layer for all online shops.
Q -Is there a specific event in your life which made you decide that you want to build a company from scratch?
JP -What I always enjoyed most was the combination of strategic work with hands-on work. However, I was never the type of person who wanted to have an online shop at the age of 11. Nevertheless, after I joined an online shop as COO, I came to the realisation that I wanted to become an entrepreneur. During the early stages of our ideation, my co-founder and I always worked on Seven Senders in the evenings after work, even on weekends. In the end, it was clear to us: In order for us to do it right, we had to commit and quit our jobs. Ultimately, it was all or nothing for us.
Q -What is the characteristic that has helped you most in your role as founder / CEO?
JP -A healthy ambition, of course, as it is not possible to be a founder without a strong drive. I enjoy working with numbers and complex connections. And of course, in order not to lose your ambition, you also need a certain humility. You have to keep your feet on the ground and you need the hunger to keep it up. Last but not least, you need to have joy in what you do and like the people you work with.
Q -What is your own personal leadership style? Why does it work?
JP -I believe very strongly that you have to give people goals and objectives, but also give them the freedom and the fantasies execute on those objectives. At Seven Senders I rather focus on marketing, product, IT and investor relations. However, your management style depends on the specific department. In the finance department, for example, compliance and adherence to processes are more important than creativity. You need the right people to achieve their respective goals. In this context, it's important to always be totally honest and also to communicate openly, even if it’s unpleasant sometimes. We have to show a clear development path for the company and its employees.
Q -What values do you aim to instill within your team?
JP -Above all ownership and responsibility. Employees should feel responsible for their area, but also look at what is happening outside of their departments. Acting on their own responsibility. Acting in the interest of the company. The questions we ask ourselves are, how can we move forward as a team and how can I make my contribution? Where do we want to be in 2-5 years? Values that are very important to me are honesty, transparency (how I communicate), employee development and personal development.
Q -Do you have daily habits - personal or work-related - that shape you and your work?
JP -Coffee in the morning is very important. In the beginning of the day I rather work on conceptual topics, in the afternoon I schedule meetings. I also use the typical toolstack to be productive. I am a big fan of OKRs and 1-1's. I have weekly sessions with our employees to understand their personal progress and how confident they are in achieving their goals.
Q -What learning experience was the toughest, but got you the furthest in your career?
JP -Tough and instructive are both very well connected. The hardest time was at the beginning of my time at ETH with my dissertation. In the first year, the world is your playground. For a doctoral student, it is, however, important to find your own specific topic. There are always new attractive topics coming along, such as Bitcoin, but that’s mostly a distraction. It’s not easy to stay focused with so many options. As a founder of a company, similarly, you have a plethora of possibilities and it is highly difficult to find the right one. The art is to find the right path, to weigh things and be able to say no.
Q -What has been the best mentor advice you ever received? And maybe the worst advice?
JP -Good advice: At the beginning, someone once said to us that the customer is everything. The most important person in the company is the customer. Customers are extremely important and we are alwas very close to the customer.
Bad advice: I hope I've forgotten this one already :)
Q -Finally, what is one interesting thing not a lot of people know about you?
JP -Next to Seven Senders, the second best job I ever had was being the driver of the Nigerian national sports team in the domain of badminton, squash and handball.
They were in Germany to train for the all African games and needed someone to drive them in a minibus to their training site. Since then I pump up the volume to the max when driving in a car.

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