At the end of 2021, the two WHU graduates Dr. Annika von Mutius (BSc, 2016; Doctorate, 2021) and Dr. Larissa Leitner (BSc, 2012; Doctorate, 2021) founded EMPiON. This tech start-up, which targets human resources departments, is developing a Robo Advisor for the skilled labor job market. By quantifying a company’s values and corporate culture, EMPiON is making automated headhunting a reality.
1. Both of you studied at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management at the same time—but you met each other fairly late into your studies. Once your paths crossed, where did they take you?
Larissa Leitner (LL): Actually, we didn’t meet while we were studying at WHU. Rather, just after. While I was earning my doctorate, I started a community for the next generation of family business entrepreneurs. Every year, we organized a yearly campus event together with the Institute of Family Business and Mittelstand. At the time, Annika was working in Silicon Valley for a robotics start-up and had come to Vallendar to give a presentation. That’s where we met. Once I’d completed the doctoral program, Annika sent me a message with her congratulations. That led to phone calls, a meet-up in my hometown in South Tyrol, and, ultimately, the founding of our company.
2. Recently, EMPiON secured €2.4M in a pre-seed funding round. What does your investor pool look like? And how do you plan to make use of the funds?
Annika von Mutius (AM): We are extremely grateful for the funding round and the investors that are supporting us. Our lead investor is Venture Capital Fonds Redstone in Berlin. Samuli Sirén’s assembled an impressive team there. Basinghall Partners in London is also involved, as well as a group of incredible angel investors, including Robin Behlau (Aroundhome), Frank Freund (Raisin), Fabian Kienbaum (Kienbaum), Constanze Buchheim (i-potentials GmbH), Anna Kaiser (Tandemploy/Phenom), Oliver Manojlovic (Personio), Emma Tracey (Honeypot.io), and Christoph Hardt and Jan Schächtele (COMATCH). We also have to mention WHU-lers Michael Stephan (Raisin) and Julian Stiefel (Tourlane), who supported us during the financing round as well. Now, we have to get ready for the upcoming expansion phase by using the funds to achieve strong product/market fit and build (and scale) up our technology.
3. For many people, factors such as salary, work/life balance, or vacation time (among others) are often the most important. Why should both jobseekers and employers alike not discount the importance of culture?
LL: The five most important factors of job satisfaction—such as how well one gets along with colleagues or supervisors—are purely of a cultural nature. This doesn’t mean that salary is any less important. We find ourselves moving within an “absolute” job market, one where the importance of salary is a given. Corporate culture and values are differentiating factors.
4. With the help of artificial intelligence, you’re automatizing job recruitment. What does that mean? And why is it so important?
AM: There is a lot happening in the human resource management market at the moment. It’s a shame that, despite all the market has to offer, people focus first and foremost on the negative topics, e.g., the current lack of managers. From where we’re standing, the best opportunity starts with the people themselves, particularly those who act based on personal preferences and show an interest, beyond just the job description, in their company’s values and corporate culture. Quantifying that and turning it into a scalable product makes headhunting available to a pool of applicants who would otherwise be passed over, as they sit in a salary bracket below the traditional executive search profile.
5. Companies in Germany still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to their job listings and the way that they present their corporate culture. How can a company garner more suitable applicants through its external image?
LL: Long story short, through their presence and authenticity. Applicants want to learn about their future employers—but not through counterfeit means. They highly value authenticity, which is to a company’s advantage. Pragmatically speaking, anything else would be a waste of money. Misrepresentation leads to the wrong people being hired, which leads to disappointed coworkers who are then quick to quit. With our method, we are making it possible to bring applicants and employers together that are a good match for each other—culturally and professionally.