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Verena Bahlsen Co-founder OF HERMANN'S

What is your mission?

I believe our food system needs reinventing, even though my industry continues to pretend otherwise. I seek to demonstrate how a shift towards healthier, climate-friendly products is absolutely market-oriented and profitable. I seek to prove that social impact and profit go hand in hand, and can actually offset one another.

If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting now, what would it be?

My new mantra is: nobody knows what they’re doing. In an economy that is rapidly evolving there are no set rules on how one is supposed to run a business. Men twice my age in Brioni suits don’t necessarily know more about the future than I do.

When I first started out I kept waiting for ‘experts’ to tell me how things are done. That sort of thinking prevented me from listening to my intuition, from taking risks, and from following through on ideas I had. Some days I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m pretending to be an adult. I’m starting to discover that entrepreneurs with decades more experience than me often feel the same way. I’m realizing that uncertainty is an inherent aspect of entrepreneurship, something I can plan for rather than ignore.

What are your favorite books to read?

I’m an obsessive reader- I inhale everything from kitschy renaissance dramas to Malcolm Gladwell. My all time favorite author is Ayn Rand, even though I’ve since learned how controversial she is. People brand her as an advocate of egotism, as the ultimate republican. My interpretation is a little different: to me her most famous novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, are a celebration of the individualist, of the innovator. They portray what remarkable achievements we as humans are capable of once we stop placing everything we do and think and believe in in relation to others. These two books deeply touched me, probably because most days I too feel alone in my perspective on the world. That is most likely why I became an entrepreneur.

Who had the most influence on you when growing up?

My father. He is to this day my role model and my idol on work ethic, how to always stay humble and curious, and how to treat everyone with respect no matter who they are or where they come from.

What’s something you’d like to do for the first time?

On turning 25 I made a list of all the things people seem to do in their 20s that I missed out on (because since the age of 21 I have behaved like an unbalanced workaholic manager). Some things on the list: learn how to play pool, work as a bartender in one of those old dark sexy Mad Men bars, try mushrooms and then do a strategy workshop, learn woodworking and build a chair, ride a motorcycle, learn how to play poker, hitchhike.