We met with Alexandra Pauly, founder of FlamingoCat to talk about workshops, manager responsibility and geometric jewelry.
From dentistry to TV
Before she opened FlamingoCat, Alex studied dentistry, but it would soon become apparent to her that dentistry won't be her future profession. Alex sees no problem with lateral entry in a different occupational area. When choosing your initial education you are often too young to know your true strengths and interests. Looking back, after getting her high-school diploma Alex had the opportunity to do an apprenticeship as a wood-carver. Instead she did what everyone else in her year did - enroll at a university. A few years later it became more and more apparent that her creative streak was itching. After receiving her first state examination Alex decided to quit medicine altogether.
On her way to find a new creative direction, she started out working for different television networks. At first she did the casting of extras for the Leipzig offshoot of famous German crime series Tatort. After that she worked as a permanent editor for the TV channel RTL-Berlin. She started from scratch and even established a DIY-format on lunchtime TV despite of colleagues doubting her abilities. After two years of living and working in Berlin, Alex drew her conclusions. She moved back to Leipzig and decided to take a one year hiatus to think things through. Could her personal strengths possibly become her career?
Trial and error: from XXL-necklace to FlamingoCat
More or less at random, Alex made a collaboration with a friend of hers who was just about to start his own business which focused on the use of laser machines. In context of the Designer's Open (exhibition of design in Leipzig) Alex came up with the idea to use the laser machines to process wood into design pieces. The first design results however were rather unpractical 50cm wide pendants. Using a trial and error approach the two friends brought the first pieces of jewelry into being. Those pieces would already had the characteristic geometric forms FlamingoCat is known for today. The first pieces that were suitable for sale were effectively made in Alex's kitchen, were she added color and necklaces to the wooden workpieces. She then presented those pieces at the design exhibition and received a lot of positive feedback from the visitors. The unexpected attention and success of her design pieces nearly simultaneously led to the naming of FlamingoCat and the opening of her first Dawanda Shop (online portal where self-made products could be sold, cf. Etsy).
Jewelry store in the old butchery
The next steps towards FlamingoCat business were happening at slower pace. Alex was hesitant and a bit daunted to venture the last step to self-employment. She gradually added new Elements to her design for test purposes, only to out the final step into professionalism was inevitable. Together with her then roommate, a photographer, she found the perfect location in the district Südvorstadt that is still their showroom and workshop today. The old butchery shop on the Kurt-Eisner-street is an architectural prime example of the Gründerzeit and Jugendstil and heart of the FlamingoCat label. The original tilework and painted glass ceiling never ceases to amaze visitors and create a feeling of wellbeing and relaxation. The great atmosphere inside the store and the amazing jewelry design pieces form a great general impression that fundamentally shapes the company's character.
The first FlamingoCat-workshops
Soon after, Alex repeatedly took part at the Designer's open and developed her first jewelry workshop ideas just for this exhibition. Today the company is just as known for these workshops that it is known for the unique jewelry. The DIY focused workshops received a lot of positive feedback from women that enjoy making their own jewelry. Her experience from working at RTL really paid off in this area. Alex enjoys giving people a DIY-format to participate in. Organizing regular jewelry workshops would become a fixed component of FlamingoCat. Meanwhile Alex has assembled a diverse Team that realizes workshops that require highly diverse competencies spread out across the country. The range of workshops offered by FlamingoCat has increased over time. Today they offer workshops from classical jewelry workshops to wreath-binding up to Macramé-workshops. No stone is left unturned location-wise and workshops are being realized in all sorts of locations from indoors to outdoors in nature, hotels and private locations. The target audience also varies greatly as you can see from the different events being put into place. Events range from DIY-parties to bachelorette parties as well as children's birthday parties.
FlamingoCat: then & now
Meanwhile FlamingoCat has added design pieces made out of premium materials like gold and silver to their product portfolio. A local goldsmith in Leipzigs district Gohlis crafts these pieces based on Alex's designs. The shape of the design pieces themselves still follows clear lines and is pure and timeless. While creating those designs, Alex puts way more though into it today then she did when starting out. She bases these changes in her methods on customer feedback which she always tries to take into account.
At the moment Alex is thinking about making a larger investment. She is thinking about setting up a commercial unit solely focused on workshops. However, Alex is as ambitious as she is deliberate. In that sense, when looking to develop FlamingoCat she tries to bank on safety rather than risk, carefully gauging the responsibilities tied to external funding. Despite all these risks, luck and coincidences, Alex's move into self-employment was still a conscious one. After five years of FlamingoCat, Alex is planning some structural changes: making her workshop-crew permanent. Another issue that should not be taken lightly. Responsibility and dependability are characteristics more important to the founder than exorbitant growth.
In the years of being an entrepreneur Alex has undergone numerous changes. By now she is much more confident when it comes to representing her business and has built up the necessary immunity regarding insecurity and criticism. Today she feels happy and complete and there is no doubt that starting her own business was the right choice for her.
Advice for founders
Alex's advice for founders: do not neglect to take inventory at a regular rate and be honest while doing so. Companies and business ideas do not fail at a moment's notice. A lot of progress, good and bad, can be anticipated through careful observation. Direct and indirect customer feedback should not be taken lightly and adjustments made accordingly. Thinking an idea is the real deal will help very little when there is no market for it and therefore no demand for the product. As a founder you should be able to keep the necessary distance to be able to not take criticism too personal and instead look for the added value that can be taken from it. Networking and talking to other founders and people that encounter similar issues is also really helpful. Alex would advice against founding if you can't handle criticism and are not flexible enough to adjust your idea based on demand and customer feedback. When in doubt though, it is still better to try then to regret not doing it later on. FlamingoCat, even though successful today, did not see the light of day because of a clear business idea, but numerous fortunes.
Quick questions to Alexandra Pauly, founder of FlamingoCat
Since when are you in Leipzig?
I moved to Leipzig in 2014.
The choice to move back here was easy because my boyfriend still lived here and I missed the city itself. The city is gorgeous and I really do not want to live anywhere else.
Your Leipzig insider tip?
In the summer I can recommend the Zierlich Manierlich at the Richard-Wagner-Hain. The Goldstein Interieur on the Karl-Liebknecht-Straße is also worth seeing. It is located on the Feinkost premises and offers a wide variety of beautiful furnishings which were all refurbished in-house. Oh, by the way, you can find the cities best coffee that simply has to be tried at the coffee roastery Röskant just south of the city center.