• Carola Epple

My personal review of 2018: Dream big. Take chances. Run like hell.

Aktualisiert: 30. Juli 2019

2018! You were an incredibly intense, challenging and yet so rewarding year. A year of beginnings and changes, a year of tranisition and redifining my professional and personal future. A year of dreaming big. Taking chances. And running like hell.

Starting into the year: reset and defining new goals When 2018 began, my little daughter was three months old. We were kind of settled as a family of four in the meantime. I would still be on parental leave for the next eights months, which allowed me to strive for my big goal for the year: to finish the Executive MBA in Innovation and Business Creation @TU Munich, a study program I pursued parallel to my job. However, I felt far away from a powerful start: I still was 15kg above my pre-pregnancy weight and felt quite uncomfortable with it. I did not have found a rhythm to work with the baby by my side. And above all, I was physically not able to run after giving birth and missed it terribly. In order to get startet, I wrote a weekly schedule for myself that I linked with three goals: completing my Master's Thesis. Being able to run a 5k again. Getting serious with by VR business idea.

The MBA: experiencing the magic of science First things first: I had paid quite some money for the MBA program (besides from investing a lot of time), so I was determined to get it done. Luckily, I already had completed all the necessary modules in Munich until summer 2017, way ahead before baby number 2's due date. Yet, I still had to write the Master's Thesis. In the course of my studies, had worked on a concept of using Virtual Reality as a marketing tool for the travel industry. The mission of my thesis was to find out in how far VR Tools influence the booking decisions of travellers. As I was interested in the results as a bases for my own business idea, I would make sure to not elaborate a theoretical approach, but to conduct an empirical study with practical relevance. After aproximately 378,5 e-mails and phone calls, I had found a fantastic partner to conduct this study and to collect relevant, real-life data: travel service provider Schmetterling. This Bavaria-based company is specialized on technical solutions, purchasing and logistic services for travel agencies. Among these services, Schmetterling also provides a VR tool for their network of totally 4.000 travel bureaus since August 2016. It enables the sales staff to give virtual tours to their customers and to show them cruise ships, hotels, beaches and other surroundings via VR goggles in interactive, 3D 360° pictures. Schmetterling supported my endeavour by providing access to their members for a survey among travel agents.

co-working with my sleeping daughter

While waiting for the data after Schmetterling had deployed the survey, I continued working on the theoretical part of the thesis. As my daughter was (and still is, unfortunately) a poor sleeper, I usually took her in the baby carrier - this was how she slept best. So as soon as she had fallen asleep in there, I went to my desk and started to work. We became quite a good team in co-sleeping/-working!

By the end of February, I got the data from Schmetterling. Almost 100 travel agents had completed the survey - that was the mark I had secretly hoped for. I remember looking at these precious data in an Excel file, excited and respectful, but with no clear plan yet how to analyse them. In the following days and weeks, I talked to market research experts, social scientists and statisticians to find an appropriate method for my research questions. By chance, I heard about Partial Least Squares Structural Equation Modelling (PLS-SEM). And found out that this admittedly quite crazy, but also very interesting statistical analysis method was perfect to explain the variance of an outcome (or, correctly spoken: of a dependant variable) when examining a research model. I became familiar with the method and the corresponding software, made my first calculations, went through complex tests and refined my constructs. I remember how I slowly revealed insights from my data. Step by step, I was able to elaborate and test a scientific path model that includes vital constructs to explain the influence of VR exposure on aspects of the travel booking process. It was like experiencing the magic of science, if you like, a really rewarding experience! Professor Königstorfer who supervised my thesis encouraged me that the results made sense, so I carried on to interpret them (if you are interested in any details, see my recent blog posts or request a summary of the study!).

"Tag der Fakultät": on stage with Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus, Senior Vice President of the Technical University of Munich

April 20, I was finally done and handed in the masterpiece. Professor Königstorfer once more was very quick to review it, and by the end of May I received my certificate and diploma. When I opened the envelope, I was alone and able to enjoyed this moment pride, relief and fatigue all by myself. When you have finished your MBA at Technical University of Munich/TUM School of Management, you do not only get two pieces of paper, but they organize a proper graduation ceremony for their graduates. Our classes' ceremony took place in November at "Tag der Fakultät 2018". Being on stage with my fellow classmates, wearing the traditional cap and gown, was kind of unreal. But above all, it was a worthy farewell from an incredibly intense and inspiring period of my life.

The running comeback (as a threesome)

My way back to running was long and laborious. Or you could also say: it just took the time it needed to loose the excess weight and rebuild the muscles, strings and endurance capacity. The way to daycare turned out to be my training track. I had to do it anyways twice or four times a day, depending on whether my husband would pick up our daughter(s). In the beginning, I took the bike and had the two girls in the bicycle trailer. But as I am a runner at heart, I soon I converted the trailer into a stroller, especially adapted to running. First, I ran and walked in 300m intervals and steadily extended my running over time. When shorts season arrived, I was able to run the full distance back and forth, twice a day, pushing a stroller with a weight of 35kg (including passengers). We made a lot of acquaintances on our daily way, such as the biking woman with the bright smile and the flower coat, the friendly postman with his motor scooter whom we usually met twice per day, and the elderly man at his window, who always seems to have a question mark in his face like "what the heck does she do there, running with her kids?". To make things easier, I lived in running gear during that time, instead of changing clothes twice a day. Until today, I have 950km with the stroller in the books, with a few more to come - let's see if we get together the 1.000km this year!

the girls and me at the finish line of the Stuttgart Women's Run 5k in June 2018

In June, the girls and me found ourselves at the starting line of the Stuttgart Women's Run 5k, a running event for women and girls only. For me, the Women's Run is a very special running event: I had been its event manager and responsible for its further development as the brand manager for the German edition of the running magazine Runner's World. For quite some years now, Stephanie Fahnemann does a magnificent job in managing the event series and I always enjoy to be back. In 2016, I had been at the starting line together with my first daughter and my mom. While missing the 2017 event because I was pregnant and suffering from the heat, I looked forward to participating in 2018 again - with both girls in the stroller this time. The atmosphere was relaxed and cheerful as always, the trees of the Waldau forest provided shadow on that hot summer day, and I arrived at the finish line with the two girls sleeping.

As a next step, I had planned to extend my training distances. Yet, I discovered that I had to set priorities and to seize the day if I wanted to fit in my professional goals and family time as well. There is never enough time to fit in everything I like to do, so I sticked with shorter distances. And picked up the pace instead (running like hell, remember?).

The start-up: making VirtuallyWow happen

Since working on VirtuallyWow as a study project, it was in my mind to actually bring it to life. However, I had never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, but rather as an intrapreneur, having been involved in a lot on business development projects inside the media company I was working for. But it quickly turned out that the executives were not as enthusiastic as I was with my Virtual Reality project. Being convinced that there was a sweet spot to be discovered, I obtained an official approval to pursue VirtuallyWow as my own venture. With the results of the VR study, I went forward: over the summer, I interviewed potential clients and discussed with travel and VR experts. As baby number 2 became increasingly active by my side, I certainly did not advance as quickly as I would have liked. But with almost every interview, it became clearer to me who my customers were - travel portals and travel companies mostly selling online, who measure conversion rates and seek new ways to optimize them.

Also, I looked for a partner who could support me with producing and distributing 360° content, with the goal of setting up a prototype. After having contacted a whole lot of different agencies and other VR companies, I finally made a find in my close environment - with excatly the motivation and skills I needed: Frank Schmidt, head of production @VirtuallyWow, who did an incredible job with tremenduous efforts this year! His natural talent to visually tell stories makes up the very heart of VirtuallyWow.

Little by little, things became more serious: after following a very inspiring online course, offered by my former schoolmate Judith "Sympatexter" Peters about how to set up your website, I launched a web presence for my project, quickly followed by a relaunch to the current version. As VirtuallyWow's product has a visual focus and is much easier to show than to describe, this was not only a lot of fun (thanks to Judith!) but an important step to present our work to clients.

Frank with tripod and camera at Platja Es Trenc, Mallorca

In the meantime, plans for our first own content production were in full swing. Admittedly, the week on Mallorca was a lot tougher than expected! Weather was unusually bad, as all locals confirmed, with a lot of storm, clouds and rain. As soon as one or two sun rays appeared, we headed out with the camera to capture the beautiful sides of the island in 360° and with Frank's full dedication, we got the best possible material during this week.

However, we were also facing losses, as our equipment turned out to be not robust enough for the given requirements: while our Garmin Virb camera was fixed on a tripod at Cala des Moro, it was hit by a wave. The tripod broke and the next wave immediately took our camera away … all searching was unsuccessful, we had lost it to the sea. Luckily, we had a second camera with us, otherwise this would have been the end of our production. Two more tripods broke in the course of the week (note to myself: we will definitely have to upgrade our equiment in the future!). But our sacrifice to Nepture and all efforts were worth it: Now, by the end of the year, we have our prototype ready and two companies at hand who are wiling to test our product. This is more than I could have imagined in the course of the year (but however the goal I had in mind).

@UnternehmerTUM in Garching near Munich, presenting VirtuallyWow

At the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Executive MBA in Innovation and Business Creation program, I had the opportunity to present VirtuallyWow @UnternehmerTUM in Garching. Right there, the idea of VirtuallyWow was born, right there I had spent many hours of working on it, faced critical questions (rightly so!) and enthusiasm as well as doubts. More than one year later, I felt how much the idea had developed, and the feedback of the innovative crowd there was positive and affirmative. A lot of people have taken an active part in the way of VirtuallyWow so far, be it critically and/or constructively. I am thankful for every feedback, every practical tip, every study and every piece of VR news I got forwarded, as well as for any moral support. There is one moment I particularly remember, that was when K. offered to invest a good amount of private money into my venture. I cannot thank you enough for your trust and support!

The restart: from goals to purpose Compared to the beginning of the year, I definitely got my rhythm back: every day, I run like hell to the day care back and forth in the morning (I am always late, that's why …). Then I work from home until the last possible minute, run back to pick up the girls. 2018 took all the patience, endurance, discipline and courage I have - but it was so worth it. What made the difference to other years that were also hard, but not that rewarding is: I did not only have goals in mind, but filled them with life - by answering question "why do I want this?". Such as exploring the influence of VR on booking decisions - as a bases for my own venture, supporting. Going for founding a company - in order to make reasonable use of my skills and talents by developing an own business model. Knowing why actually helped a lot to focus my energy and to keep up the pace.

Let me make a comparison with the VR Industry: In a recent panel discussion of VR/AR experts organized by VR intelligence, Simon Benson (founder of Realised Realities) said that VR hardware manufacturers should aim to further improve the sense of presence that users can have during a virtual experience (which means the feeling of actually being in another place). He explained that if you can see the feet of your avatar moving, this would help to really feel as if your own body is present in a virtual enrivonment. Alright, but why? This is what I mean by saying "filling a goal with life". Why should you aim for improving presence, if not as an end in itself? The answer could be: increasing the feeling of presence helps to positively influence the booking decision of travellers, as I found out in my VR study.

What's next?

I will start into the new year with a completely new setup and I am so ready to kick off 2019! Which makes me thinking of new goals and missions for next year . Next year, I plan to:

  • realize the first tests and projects together will real clients @VirtuallyWow - from a prototype to rolling out a working product

  • develop a concrete vision for my business of where I would like to be in a few years - and go for it!

Right now, I find myself at a new starting line. As when running a marathon, it takes a lot of training and preparation to just get there. I assume there is a lot more work and stamina required that I can currently imagine to reach the next goals. Looking forward to go the course together with you!

#review2018 #mbagraduate #startuplife #runningcomeback