Investor, serial founder, business angel: 7 questions for Dr. Steffen Zoller

Founding teams, skilled worker shortages and team dynamics

In the world of online startups, he is known for founding not only one but multiple successful startups. Dr. Steffen Zoller specializes in social impact startups and has co-founded, amongst others, Pink Summits, a climbing platform that advocates for LGBTQ+ visibility. We asked the serial founder, adventurer, and dog lover seven questions. Here are his answers.

Dr. Steffen Zoller was born in Leipzig in 1981 and now lives in Leipzig and Berlin-Kreuzberg. He studied business administration at the HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management and later earned his doctorate in political economy at the University of Witten/Herdecke. He founded, amongst others,, kununu engage, DCI - Digital Career Institute, Care with Care and Care Forward. He is also a business angel and investor. In 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, he was included in the list of GERMANY'S TOP 100 OUT EXECUTIVES

Steffen, you've already founded several companies in your life. What is particularly important to you in the initial phase?

In the beginning, it’s mostly about validating the business idea, i.e., whether starting up is really feasible and whether the idea is worth exploring from a financial perspective.

In your role as a business angel and investor, what do you pay particular attention to when you meet the founding teams?

When I consider investments, I first look at the basic idea, of course, but in a second step, I take a closer look at the founding teams. For me, it's a question (which I ask myself) of whether I believe the team is made up of people who complement each other. But I also pay attention to whether the team has the drive and skills to win. 

What makes a good team for you?

A good team should be made up of members whose backgrounds and experiences complement each other and who each have excellent professional expertise.They each must know exactly how things are done. But the drive to win is also important. Ideally, each team member should know their strengths as well as what they are still missing.

How do you address the current skilled worker shortage and what advice do you have for companies that are struggling to fill certain positions?

Obviously, this is a structural issue because Germany and Europe effectively don’t have enough skilled workers to fill the vacancies. On the one hand, it’s necessary for companies to recruit new skilled workers abroad, to advance the skills of current employees and to allow more flexible work. On the other hand, it's not just about recruiting but also about giving those workers already employed at the companies a good reason to stay. . It’s not enough to talk about employer attractiveness or do employer branding; you have to actually practice what you preach – for example, you have to offer a better work-life balance. 

What does diversity in teams mean for you?

In my experience, diversity tends to be a vague "hype topic" for many companies. In the conversations I have had, the first thing people think of is gender diversity in teams or the rainbow flag. True diversity, however, is more than that. It is a heterogeneity of views and thoughts that naturally emerges through a combination of factors such as gender, national origin, and other backgrounds.

This is not based on a specific theory, but, I would view diversity in teams like a pyramid – at the bottom, there are categories that are easily identifiable, like gender; then follow factors like national origin or education; and at the top of the diversity pyramid, you find the “diversity of viewpoints.” 

Apart from that, I think that diversity in teams can only be successful within the right environment , namely a freedom of thoughts and opinions without being afraid to express them. 

From your perspective, how does the people area change as companies grow?

When a company grows, it often first needs more workers in the people area to handle the increased number of new cases. As the people area grows, the company also becomes more professionalized, for example, because more or new relevant software is introduced. All this helps to understand the company structures better. 

In my experience, teams can only grow if people begin to specialize. What were previously generalists should become experts and all-rounders. These experts can then be in charge of sub-areas such as recruiting, operations, and learning. Heads of People & Culture (or however called) are tasked to maintain the balance between these sub-areas.

How do you influence team dynamics in your companies?

I find it helpful to first understand what is currently happening in a team – or what isn’t. If, for example, people are not performing or simply not showing up for work, then that’s a job for the people’s team. What is really effective from my experience is when neutral or “external” moderators and experts come in to help with specific people's issues and manage these processes and dynamics from a neutral perspective.


  • A good team should be made up of complementary backgrounds and experiences and have a very good professional basis.
  • However, diversity in teams can only be successful if there is the right framework.
  • Growth in teams is only achieved when people specialize.



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