Dagmar Meske is the founder of Treepoint, a platform that rates products in terms of their sustainability – with Treepoints, in other words. Dagmar has two children of daycare age and lives separately from the children’s father. She founded her company in 2020 while on parental leave.
Hi Dagmar, please tell us something about your business. What do you do with Treepoint?
The basic idea is to make sustainability of companies and their products visible and transparent for consumers and to map the result on a scale from 1 to 5. Due to a lack of a standardized definition of sustainability, but the consistent presence of 3 aspects – governance, social and environmental – we have developed a weighted criteria catalog for companies. These criteria are now matched with publicly available data (e.g. annual reports, sustainability reports, NGO reports etc.) and the result is mapped into treepoints (the scale from 1-5). We translate, so to speak, the unstructured data into a form that consumers can understand. Treepoint is independent and is not paid by any of the rated companies.
What is your role in the company?
As in my private life – mom to everything 🙂 My partner supports me in project management because he is much better at it than I am, I take care of everything else. For half a year I also had a co-founder who was heavily involved in technical stuff. Since she left, I’ve also been in charge of IT.
What phase is the start-up in right now?
We’ve been live with our website for half a year. We’ve rated 44 companies so far, 29 of them are published on Treepoint with 200 products in eight categories. The proof of concept is there. However, our medium-term goal is not to sell the rated products on our website, but to integrate Treepoints into existing online stores. To do this, we need manpower and money to pay for them, as well as cooperations with online stores or retailers.
Can you tell us a little more about your background and why you started your business?
I have often played with the thought of implementing an idea – and I have had many of them! I was always annoyed that others actually DID realize their ideas and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In 2015, I had already made first attempts to build a platform in the tourism sector with a friend, but then got pregnant with the 2nd child and had to put the plans on hold. Last year, I was inspired by Fridays For Future to develop something in the field of sustainability, something that encourages people to behave more sustainably. Since I had experience in eCommerce through my previous work at Google and Zalando, I came up with the idea to combine these two topics. I then took unpaid parental leave in 2020 and got started. My mission is to empower people to make conscious buying decisions and also to evaluate their favorite brands. Knowledge is power and in that case it can be a great lever to more sustainability. Making the world a little bit better with my know how is what drives me.
Looking back on 2020, the year you started your company, what were your “lessons learned”?
I’ll start with a bitter lesson: shortly after founding Treepoint, I got a co-founder at my side. We complemented each other very well professionally, but in the end our collaboration failed due to a lack of communication and differing ideas, perhaps like a marriage that works on a day-to-day basis but can’t withstand stress. She needed a precise plan of where Treepoint was going, whereas it was important to me to test and try out target groups and business models in order to gain experience. These differences should have been discussed. In the future I would focus on the relationship and emotional level much more. It’s simply about asking yourself “How do I feel? What is bothering me? What do I need?” in order to recognize early on if things are unbalanced and to find a solution if necessary.
Another learning is that I was permanently confronted with the feeling of not making enough progress, not getting enough done. Then the lockdown came, and two small children were jumping around me all day. Or they suddenly got sick and had to be taken care of. The normal madness of 2020 just for all of us. The truth is: you compare yourself to other founders and forget that most of them don’t have a family to take care of. I had far too high expectations of myself. I’m trying to do better now. When this feeling arises again, I switch to doing things that are easy for me, like writing articles for our blog.
But what the year has also taught me is this: it just feels damn good when you can turn your vision into reality. No matter what happens with Treepoint, it’s been a very valuable experience for me. You can do a lot with little money. But I wouldn’t do it alone or with just one team member again. Especially if you have children and are the main breadwinner like I am, it’s better to have a team to take over responsibility.
Another point is financing. You don’t get any money during your parental leave, but you also don’t get a start-up grant, and start-up programs often require regular attendance and full-time work on the project. You kind of fall through the cracks. I would like to see more information about this, perhaps even from ParentPreneurs.
What inspired you most on your way?
My children inspire me. They are open and genuine, they don’t fake anything, they feel right in their skin and believe in themselves. Things that we as adults try to regain later. I am also inspired by a friend who, as a nurse with two children, volunteered to help in a hospice and with an elderly lady. Her heart is as big as a mine, as they say in Austria. I was also very inspired by Diana Nyad, who after countless unsuccessful attempts swam from Cuba to Florida at the age of 64, when no one believed in it anymore. She did it and made it. People can achieve incredible things if they see a purpose in it.
Which family model do you live and how do you organize yourself between family and business?
I have 2 children, 4 and 6 years old, live separately from the children’s father, in a relationship. I work until 14:30 and then pick up the kids. From then on it’s family time. Sometimes I continue to work in the evening.
What support would you not want to miss at the moment?
Emotional support from my partner. And my mother, who can step in if necessary.
Do you have a role model or a guiding principle?
Pippi Longstocking 🙂 “I’ve never tried this before, so I’m totally sure I can do it!”
Thank you very much for the interview! 🙂