A Leap of Faith: From Vice President to Start-Up Founder

From overseeing start-up cooperations at Deutsche Telekom to becoming a founder in 2018, Miriam Mertens took a step into the unknown and left a comfortable yet prominent role, to focus on her own start-up Happy Rebels with friend and co-founder Meike. We caught up with Miriam to find out how the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA Program helped her to make such a career transition and what drives her today.

 “My background is in computer science and I am a trained software engineer,” she explains. “However I went back to university to complete a diploma in economics and joined a management consultancy shortly after. I thoroughly enjoyed the job as it took me to many countries around the world. It was then in 2008 that I joined the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA. I felt I was lacking the expertise to take my career further as a top manager, and I was particularly interested in the international elements and the opportunity to broaden my horizons and network.”

“The main reason I joined the Executive MBA however was to accelerate my career. I was one of the youngest students in the class and I had studied economics before, so I had some basic background knowledge. However, I really wanted to deepen my expertise in all areas and to look into other industries. Coming from an IT background, I didn’t see myself being able to jump into another job in another industry. But the Executive MBA really enabled me to feel that I could change job role, function, or industries. In fact, the effects of the program are felt even stronger in the long run: it really helped to change my perception of myself and realize that there is nothing I cannot do.”

“Leaving such a senior position was not difficult - just a question of self-confidence.”

In June 2018, Miriam made the decision to leave behind her role as Vice President of Start-up Cooperations with Deutsche Telekom to start her own company, Happy Rebels. “To be honest, it was not a scary or difficult decision as it had been five years in the making and I wanted to make my own decisions from A to Z. It was just a question of self-confidence to take that leap,” she says. “You have to forget about status, big cars, or material things. Now it is the vision and the happiness I gain from my own project that drives me. That is the biggest difference – my business is truly 100% purpose driven. Even when it’s tough, I never regret making the decision that I did.”

“Happy Rebels is a portal for online coaching for B2C and B2B customers. Our mission is to enable people to become happier and to grow professionally and personally through digital content,” she explains. “Whether in my previous jobs within teams, with colleagues, or in my private network, I have seen that people often struggle at certain points in life. It may not be depression as such, but there are hard times and challenges in life where many people need professional help or coaching. In Germany, there is not a lot of money invested into life coaching and in corporations; you perhaps only receive a business coach when in senior management. When I was at Deutsche Telekom I always had a coach and without her I think I would have always been in a burnout.”

“Many online coaching products only offer the method and not the benefit to the customer.”

Currently Happy Rebels offers online coaching focused on helping parents who are struggling to find the right balance for them between work and family life. “Through these digital methods and tools, we can really enable and empower people to have the life they want. We try to package the products in a way that they solve a very concrete problem that is relevant to customers and how it can benefit them, rather than just the method itself,” she says. “Our first product is digital coaching for parents with small children to help them to prioritize their work and life balance, whilst getting what they want from life. Or high-performing parents who want to have children but also maintain a career that is intellectually stimulating. So many parents feel guilty for wanting both and we help them to pinpoint what they want from life without that guilt.”

As a passionate advocate for accessible life coaching, Miriam offers some final advice for anyone considering a drastic career transition. “My general advice is to seek clarity for yourself. If you have 100% clarity, everything else follows. Don’t look to your boss, friends, or colleagues to figure out what you want. It should be your values and your goals, and then executing your long-term vision. It’s about what you want and how badly you want to make it happen.”