From gut feeling to diversity: 7 questions for Milena Glimbovski

An interview about starting a business, recruiting and team leadership

Many know Milena as the founder of "Original Unverpackt," which opened its first store in Berlin back in 2014. Since then, grocery stores all over Germany have enthusiastically replicated/imitated the practice of selling groceries unpacked. In late 2015, together with Jan Lenarz, she launched the publishing house "Ein guter Verlag," which publishes books and calendars on the subject of health, including the best-selling calendar "Ein guter Plan." In 2019, Milena was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the Berlin Senate. More notably, the US business magazine Forbes featured her as a promising personality in the "Retail & Ecommerce" category of its 2020 “30 Under 30 Europe” list.

Milena Glimbovski is an entrepreneur, speaker, author, and climate activist who stands for Female Empowerment. She is a doer. As she says herself, much of her drive can be attributed to her ADHD and short attention span. In everything she does, Milena's goal is to create a socially conscious and equitable environment. We asked her seven questions about entrepreneurship, recruiting, and the people sector.

Milena, you have already founded several companies. Which phase of the founding process do you like in particular?

What I like best is the development of ideas and those very first steps, where you just get into the implementation mindset and think: “What works, what doesn't work?” I also enjoy the research process and getting to grips with a topic. Because of my ADHD, my hyperfocus gets activated and I can lose myself in a topic for hours or weeks. I really like this initial stage. I could easily become a full-time "starter."

You are offered many project ideas. How do you decide on one – and why?

The first thing I say is, "I'll have to sleep on it." Because whenever something is brought to me, I get excited really quickly. Even if I want to say yes right away, I know I have to sleep on it first. The next day, after having thought on it more, I usually end up saying no. If it’s still a yes, then it's because I couldn’t let go of the idea and that's why I want to get busy with the project. 

I have developed a kind of criteria catalog for myself for when I receive requests. I always ask myself:

  • Does it go with my life goals? Meaning, is it something that pays long-term dividends on the things that are important to me? 
  • Is it something that fits my values because it's very socially conscious or very environmentally friendly? 
  • What impact does it have? Can it really make a difference? 

If it’s a yes to all these questions – or a particularly strong yes on one of them– then I would do it. So a request or a project has to add real value to my life or fit my values.

What is particularly important to you in recruiting?

One quality that always trumps everything for me: the person is eager to learn and grow. That is important to me across the board, regardless of the position. The companies I have founded always had a social or ecological added value. We received a lot of job applications. Precisely because of the impact aspect, which is very important to me, the person I hire has to be really passionate and burn for it. They shouldn't just see the job as a sideline or a way of making money. That has always been important to me. You can see that in people’s performance. 

I started young and used to hire people I liked. Today I know that I don't have to hire friends. It's not about me liking someone in particular or finding them likable. It's about the fact that I think the person is competent for the job and fits the team. That's more important. 

At the same time, you also have a good gut feeling. Often, I can't put my finger on what the problem is. But my experience with gut feeling is: Always listen to it. Sooner or later, the problem will become apparent. There is always a reason for a gut feeling. Of course, you should be aware of the prejudices you have. Especially when sitting across from someone who often experiences discrimination. It is important to be reflective in the hiring process and to make conscious decisions. 

Book recommendation

"In the book 'Thinking, Fast and Slow,' written by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahnemann, gut instinct is also addressed. The essence of the book is this: The essence of the book is this: You should listen to your gut when it comes to topics you have much experience in. And when dealing with topics you don’t have much experience in, you should definitely not listen to your gut. When you've worked with a lot of people and hired a lot of people, you gradually develop that gut feeling."

Daniel Kahnemann: Thinking, Fast and Slow.(The German translation has been published under the title "Schnelles Denken, langsames Denken").

What makes a good team for you?

A good team treats each other as well as its weaknesses and resources with trust and respect; and it shows commitment. It's a healthy mix of respect, vulnerability, and trust. These are the three important qualities that make work beautiful.

What does diversity in teams mean for you?

A few years ago, we did a team training on racism awareness with Josephine Apraku. At the time, I thought I was relatively educated on the topic, but after the workshop, I was able to explain but the workshop with Josephine really made me aware of the racial biases I often have. I can really recommend everyone to do such a workshop. I learned a lot in the process. 

We deliberately mentioned during the training that we are a very homogeneous team that would like to be more diverse. When we completed the training, we learned some strategies that would help us achieve this. For example, we can explicitly point out in our job postings that we want diversity on our team. So it's not just a matter of writing "We're hiring," but also about being specific about who we want to hire. 

Another strategy is to place job applications in magazines that have a diverse readership. It’s not enough to say "No diverse people have contacted us;"you have to actively do something to become more diverse and, for example, give people with disabilities, migrant backgrounds or BIPOC opportunities that are very often denied to them. We did this training years ago and I find that it helps us to this day.

What did you first have to learn as an entrepreneur or leader?

I remember that when I first started leading, I felt uncomfortable giving work instructions. It always felt like giving orders. But through practice with a coach, I learned to see it differently. That helped me at the time.

I also had to learn how to talk about uncomfortable things and then accept the silence afterwards. It's very good when things are put openly on the table. It's all a matter of practice. It's important to me to create a socially conscious and fair environment. Even if that means that I sometimes have to say uncomfortable things and accept the silence afterwards. You really have to learn that in leadership – especially as a woman in leadership.

How do you influence the team dynamics in your company?

We have tools like weekly Jour Fixes or Slack and Co. to keep us up to date. Especially on Mondays at the Jour Fixe, we all try to be there. That's important because the home office has become normal for us. The fact that everyone comes together once a week for the Jour Fixe is just really good for the team spirit. Those are always the best days, even if it means that you don’t get much done.

When we grew from 20 to 32 employees at Original Unverpackt within two months, we had a team coaching session. It was great and everyone remembered it for a long time. We worked together to define our values and look at what we appreciated in each other. Taking this one day and keeping the stores closed for it was very valuable. We did the typical little team-building exercises – like sticking post-its with compliments on each other's backs and stuff like that. That actually did more for us than any team lunch we had together. That was really important. 

Apart from that, we also had annual strategy meetings at Original Unverpackt where the whole team was present as well as held quarterly meetings for the managers only. The focus was on what we had achieved in the previous quarter or year and what we planned for the coming quarter or year. It was especially great to get everyone together for the big meeting, from the managers right down to the student workers.  

Books from Milena Glimbovski


  • Milena Glimbovski: Über Leben in der Klimakrise: Warum wir jetzt über Klimaanpassung sprechen müssen (zum Buch)
  • Susanne Mierau, Milena Glimbovski, Katja Vogt: Einfach Familie leben. Der Minimalismus-Guide: Wohnen, Kleidung, Lifestyle, Achtsamkeit (zum Buch)
  • Milena Glimbovski: Ohne Wenn und Abfall. Wie ich dem Verpackungswahn entkam (zum Buch)
  • Milena Glimbovski: The Zero Waste Shop Revolution – English ebook (zum eBook)



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