17 and a Half Questions with Tina Ruseva

23 Feb, 2021
Tina Russeva

We ask inspiring people 17 and a half questions. This week we have Dr. Tina Ruseva, founder of Mentessa. Her work is her home, and her family is her tonic. But has motherhood hindered her career?

1. What I like about my job

To me, founding Mentessa was the ultimate union of purpose, creativity and my previous professional experience and skills. On the one hand, I have created the perfect job for myself, so to speak; on the other hand, it is also a real challenge that offers a lot of room for further development and growth, but also for a social contribution. This combination can't be beat and motivates me every day.

2. What sometimes frustrates me

Mentessa's mission is to break down the barriers to knowledge sharing and growth at work. Unlike a tool that simply translates existing processes into a digital format, our platform supports an entirely new kind of work culture. Startups are often characterized by frustrating periods, but achieving a mindshift through technology is a real challenge. In our culture, when people don't understand something, they often react with derision, rejection or fear. Such conversations are painful for me personally because I would like to see people differently - curious, responsible and self-confident. After all, knowledge multiplies when it is shared.

3. My secret dream job

Singer! I love music but I don't have time for it. I don't even know the lyrics to my favorite songs. That's why I usually make them up and sing non-stop – even at our open-plan office. I love singing so much that I even had the idea for "Sing my Startup," a kind of karaoke with pitches describing startups. I'll make that happen sometime, when Mentessa can do without me.

4. Best strategy to survive a really bad day at the office

Freelancers keep their daily routine under control as much as possible. This allows us more flexibility in case there are any hitches. For example, you can switch rooms, stay home for a day, reschedule meetings. But we also have to deal with unpleasant surprises or difficult conversations almost on a daily basis. When things get really bad, it helps me to remember why this is important. This thought immediately gives me strength and self-confidence. When the situation stresses me out so much that I can't find meaning, I just cut everything and pause. Tomorrow is another day.

5. How I get into the flow

This will sound annoying, but I'm in the flow every day. My work as a manager consists primarily of communication, both written and verbal. My work is my home, the state where I forget time and place. What gets me out of it are meetings. We try to avoid them as much as possible.

6. Biggest success so far

My greatest personal success so far is my family. Because despite my frequent absences and long working hours, my children are growing up to be independent and confident. At the same time, they are well-balanced and very empathetic. I have also been married for 14 years now, which is not a given. I know that this idea of success is not what is expected of a tech founder in the current zeitgeist, but after every award and after every keynote, after every new customer, and even when there are setbacks, 5 minutes on the couch with them are enough to restore me, and I get up again full of love for a better world.

7.  Biggest defeat

I failed when I abandoned my first business. I founded GymZap, the first fitness app in Germany, in 2009, right after a pregnancy. At that time, it was still a bit early to launch paid online content, but we were able to finance the development with an EXIST Founders' grant. The product caused a stir among star investors like Randy Komisar and won awards in dozens of competitions. But I never sought out investors for it, and after four years, when the company stopped growing and I was overwhelmed with two small children, I left. I had convinced myself that I needed more time for my family. Only later did I realize how wrong that line of reasoning was. Children don't need time, they need love and role models. I paid dearly for this decision: I damaged my image, and it took me 5 years to find myself again.

8. Worst buzzword

Mindfulness - I can't even hear the word anymore. I find that founders in particular benefit so much from mindfulness. But unfortunately, most of them use it in the wrong way and only selectively. The camera is hardly off and they're already getting back into their old patterns.

9.  Best reward after a hard week at work

A long walk with the dog, followed by coffee on the couch and a 90s movie.

10. Home office or in-house

Home office, if the house is empty. Meetings at the office.

11. Most important traits a colleague/business partner must have

I love diversity and get along quite well with most people, regardless of our roles. However, what makes it easy to get along is honesty – and integrity in particular. I pay attention to that in our team, but also in my private life.

12. My creative hack

I love to engage with completely different disciplines. It broadens our perspectives, and for me, it helps bring countless new ideas into fruition. At college, I regularly participated in market research panels to support myself. Later, when I didn't need that anymore, I kept it as a hobby, because the topics were varied and because of this they usually unfolded themselves to me in new ways. For example, one time it was about "positioning Poland as an investment location", and another time, about the design of a new Renault line. Talking to different people is very grounding and my absolute creative hack. Incidentally, this is also a reason why networking in the office is so important for innovation.

13. First website to check in the morning

Flipboard – that's where I read the news. Then Gmail and Gitlab for team standups.

14. Favorite digital tool

Paper for notes and sketches, by far, then Canva for designs and Google Docs (try typing docs.new on your browser). But let's not kid ourselves - I keep LinkedIn open all day.

15. The book or series from which I have learned the most for my (work) life

There is one book that has actually had a lasting impact on my view of work and meaning. It's called If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland. Not only is she herself a great role model for women, but her book encourages integrity, passion and authenticity. Even though the book is about writing, it has personally freed me from wrong thought patterns far beyond that.

16. A series, book or podcast I can generally recommend

I listen to a16z by Andreesen Horowitz, because it’s the podcast with the highest number of "insights per minute" – a metric the hosts themselves have come up with. There I learn about the latest technologies and their impact on society. German podcasts are often blabla, but for example, I like Die Lage der Nation, even if the episodes are very long, over 60 minutes. As for books, I read non-stop and have many favorites, e.g. Range, Debt – the first 500 years, or among the novels: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.

17. Most prominent follower on a social media channel?

Actually, I noticed a few weeks ago that Frank Thelen is following me on AngelList. We spoke briefly 10 years ago, at an innovation forum where I had presented my former company. He approached me afterwards and asked me very openly and with a certain admiration how I managed to reconcile a startup and children. At the time, I didn't want to talk about this topic at all and I replied really brusquely. I had no way of knowing that he was a productivity nerd himself and had just had his baby. After the conference, I caught the only free cab and gave him a ride. Maybe that's when he decided to give me a second chance.

17 and a half: What has always...

…stirred me? The black and white discussion about diversity and equality. That's why I'm committed to diversity and inclusion – with Mentessa, with our Big & Growing Festival, but also in my private life.

Curaze

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