Circlee - Our journey from students to entrepreneurs.

Hi, we are Fred, Fabian, Lukas and Marvin from Circlee.

We are a startup in the founding phase that reliably takes care of the data-safe and sustainable disposal of used electronics. Until recently, our everyday student life looked ordinary: lectures in the morning, eating and working in the afternoon, reading or watching a series in the evening and spending time with friends or working on projects on the weekend. But soon this daily routine was to change fundamentally: We participated in the Disrupt2Win workshop of 97.Club - The Company Builders in May.

The first meeting for this, in preparation for the workshop, took place via Zoom. At that time we already knew that the Disrupt2Win workshop weekend was somehow about e-waste and company building, but we didn't have more detailed information. Only a short, mysterious passage whose meaning we still had to find out:

"Every year, more than 160 million new laptops are manufactured and every day 160,000 "old" laptops are discarded in the EU alone.

These results contribute to excessive resource use, climate change, conflict mining, human rights issues, pollution, privacy issues and e-waste."

After the organizational things were discussed, the most interesting point of the day came: the team distribution. When registering by mail, you had to list your skills and knowledge in addition to your motivation to participate. On the basis of these, the team composition took place. Excitedly we searched the shown Excel list to see in which team we would be. It became the team A. It consisted of 7 people: Alex, Manuel, Violetta, Salah, Marvin, Fabian and Fred (Lukas joined later).

A lot has happened since then:

Day 1:

Getting to know each other

Everything was new and strange, nobody knew each other, but we all had one thing in common: the unconditional will to win at this workshop. Before we learned what exactly the above problem was about, we were given a challenge: to build a tower with a marshmallow top using spaghetti, tape and a marshmallow. 20 minutes.

We immediately began drawing up a battle plan, assigning tasks, and building the structure. After 20 minutes, the time had come: our tower collapsed. Actually, it didn't collapse, but bent so much on the platform it was standing on that the top was now below the height of the platform. So we were the only team that had managed to build a tower that had a negative height. This architectural feat will hopefully become, in retrospect, the moment when it became clear that we were going to turn the world upside down. After our tower fiasco, we moved on to the most exciting part:

The problem.

This was as follows:

There are many used electrical appliances, but no standardized, data-safe and sustainable solution for medium-sized companies to dispose of them. Now it was our task to find a solution for this problem. At least we thought so, because we then learned how important it is to have understood the actual problem correctly in order to find the tailored solution. In the evening we went to a nearby pizzeria to wind down and get to know the other workshop participants and coaches.

These are the learnings from our first day:

  • Problems are often more complex than they seem.

  • For a good solution it is crucial to understand the problem in detail

  • It is important to first pose objections to every idea. If it stands up to them, it's good.

  • Teamwork and a sensible distribution of tasks are crucial.

Day 2:

Problem and Solution fit

The second day was about formulating the gained knowledge about the problem into a solution. To do this, we had different presentations at the beginning about the Lean Startup method, working out a value proposition canvas and how to validate your hypotheses with the help of targeted experiments. Afterwards, it was back to the teams to do research work and keep the entrepreneurs of the 97 Club from drinking coffee with interview questions. Unfortunately, we missed the official dinner as a team because we were so engrossed and captivated by our work that we didn't want to interrupt it. When the hunger became big enough, we agreed to assign a few selected people to procure food for the team. Well fortified and in a good mood we continued to work on our idea and prototype until we were almost locked in because almost everyone had already left.

These are the learnings from our second day:

  • Ask your customers directly to understand their needs instead of just researching them.

  • A value proposition canvas facilitates problem/solution fit

  • It can be beneficial to keep things simple

  • Ask someone more knowledgeable than you to verify that your assumptions about a problem are correct

Day 3:

At the last second

The last day started with lectures on presentation techniques, how to build a pitch deck and some examples, like the legendary product presentations of Steve Jobs. Afterwards, the teams went into high gear to prepare the elaborated solutions for the final presentations. After a short discussion and distribution of tasks, we took off. Unfortunately, a problem arose: we had researched so much material the day before that we first had to laboriously sort through the information we had gathered. However, as the deadline for the presentations approached, we realized that we would not make it in time with the current approach. In most teams, chaos would probably break out now and everyone would accuse the others of being too slow. This was not the case with us at all. Quite the opposite: the atmosphere became quiet. Everyone intuitively knew what to do, when to help and when to let the others do it. At the last second, the presentation was finished, which was a great success for all of us together. There was only one problem again: we had only 2 minutes left to plan our presentation and therefore we only had some notes on a feeding list. For Fabian and Marvin, who had declared themselves ready to present, it was nevertheless: "Showtime". It was a complete success, and in the end everyone asked themselves only one question: Did we win? Was our solution good enough? Was our presentation convincing?

The coaches and entrepreneurs briefly withdrew for consultation to decide which Winning Team would have the chance to found their own startup in a 12-week "enabling phase" with the support of the competencies of the 97.Club - The Company Builders and the knowledge of the team around the FHWS Werkraum.

After a perceived eternity, the much anticipated result was finally announced:

"And the winner iiiiis Box-IT". We looked around confused at first and had wondered which team would be the "Box-IT" team. Shortly after, however, we fortunately noticed that we had previously given ourselves the name. After we had noticed that "The A-Team" was a little "Cringe".After the award ceremony, we then recovered happy and exhausted with a cool beer and celebrated a little into the night.

These are the learnings from the third day:

  • Focus on the essentials and don't get distracted by details.

  • Under pressure you really get to know people

  • Good preparation saves you in the most difficult moments

  • A calm approach in stressful situations makes for a good team

Now, in a slimmed-down round, we are no longer classic students, but budding entrepreneurs, proudly saying, "Hi, we're Fred, Fabian, Lukas and Marvin from Circlee."

Report written by Founder Marvin Fofana

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