In Germany, each and every resident is given a chance to advance socially. At least, in theory. Countless studies, however, claim that this is not always the case and that social mobility is often lacking. To tackle these problems head-on, WHU graduate Michael Linke (MSc, 2022) and his business partner Alexander Hodes founded Legmon, a “social start-up,” two years ago. Using a proprietary app and scientifically backed questionnaires, the duo, alongside their many volunteer mentors, are able to help underprivileged primary school students. The name of their game is to generate more equality of opportunity in today’s society and make the path to the top more accessible to young people of all backgrounds. The founders took part in WHU’s “Five Questions for…” series to explain how the project works and why they continue to put their blood, sweat, and tears into it—even though they don’t always turn a profit.
1. Michael, you started Legmon together with your business partner Alexander Hodes and your team of volunteers a couple of years ago. Since then, you’ve developed an app, published YouTube videos, and have begun offering a mentorship program. What are your goals?
Michael Linke (ML): The team behind Legmon wants to support underprivileged youth as they climb the social ladder using a platform built on science. And by doing so, we hope to generate more equality when it comes to one’s academic and professional opportunities. Far too often, what underprivileged young people lack is social, economic, and cultural “capital.” For example, a family’s network may be too small, or they don’t have the money to pay for an afterschool program. Perhaps they simply don’t realize the long-term benefits of a good education. The statistics tell us that children whose parents did not receive further education are less likely to attend university themselves later in life. It can take several generations for a family to rise through the rungs of society—and teenagers with migratory backgrounds are disproportionately the ones who get left behind.
With Legmon, we’re advocating increased equal opportunity and social engagement, as well as a greater contribution to society. We want to help kids and teens on their way, educate them, and make available the resources they need.
2. There are many different pillars supporting Legmon’s concept. What would those be? And how do they help underprivileged kids?
Alexander Hodes (AH): With Legmon, we want to build a holistic ecosystem that acts as a supportive infrastructure for our target demographic. There are three columns holding that system up.
- App: With the free Legmon challenge app, users can easily track the progress they make toward forming new habits. Our gamification approach—one based on psychological research—facilitates the development of certain personality traits that encourage one’s own advancement. And there are countless other features that promote a level of openness toward concepts foreign to those chosen habits. An updated version of the app with enhanced functionality and a new design is scheduled to be released in fall 2022.
- Content: The multimedia content we have available through our various channels pushes our clients to think about their own development, as well as different courses of study and professional fields. In addition to live events, webinars, and partnerships with other institutions, we also have to note our blog, presence on Instagram, and our YouTube channel. Quite a few videos have featured special guests, including Beni Weber (host of Art Attack and voice actor for South Park), Mahmut (of “von der Hauptschule zur Harvard-Promotion” [From Hauptschule to Harvard]), and Umes (of “vom Flüchtling zum Herzchirurgen” [From Refugee to Heart Surgeon]).
- Community: We bring motivated people together at Legmon, such that the right person is always ready at the right time and that communication is successful. Our innovative mentoring program, in which students and young professionals from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines share their knowledge, experience, and tips free of charge, stands out in particular.
3. You work with volunteers. What qualifications do they need to bring to the table? And how are they helping to expand Legmon and make climbing the social ladder possible?
ML: We’re a self-financed start-up, so we are reliant on the support of our volunteers and grateful for any help coming our way. Even just offering one to two hours per week, if properly invested, is beneficial. Our team is pretty diverse and made up of people of all disciplines: tech gurus for app development, artists for some cool graphic design, and marketing experts helping create the next viral video.
With the right attitude, you can develop quite a number of skills quickly. And anyone is free do their own thing within our social start-up environment. Volunteers are the heart and soul of our mentoring problem. Once a mentee has applied, our mentors reach out to them directly, offering them tips specific to their career goals and personal development. Camilla Hochguertel (MiM, 2022) and Marc Franzen (BSc, 2022), two other WHU alumni, have recently joined the team as well.
4. To date, Legmon hasn’t been focused on the profits. Even you, as a founder, as well as your volunteers aren’t taking home a paycheck. That’s a bit of a rarity when it comes to start-ups. Why are social mobility and equal opportunity so important to you both?
ML: We live in a meritocratic society that assumes each and every one of us can climb the social, academic, or corporate ladder—as long as we are ambitious enough and work for it. But this, unfortunately, does not reflect the reality of what life is like. And that’s a huge societal problem. As the son of Russian immigrants, I experienced a lot of what most kids with immigrant parents go through. A lot of my friends growing up had a migratory background. Their parents had to work all day and all night and didn’t have any time left over to help push their kids along. Some simply had no opportunity to go to school themselves and had trouble helping their kids out with their homework. And time has shown us that this has political and societal consequences, particularly when people start to fight for quotas or complain about a lack of diversity. That’s where our motivation comes from, as we believe that you have to start working with them while they're young to make a true change—and not just a symbolic one.
We've all heard of the American Dream. But what about the dream of making it here in Europe? We want to make that dream a real possibility again. To create a future in which everybody can realize their dreams regardless of their sex, background, where they were raised, or any perceived limitations in their lives.
5. Legmon is highly oriented around scientifically backed results. What does that mean for your working mode? And what are your goals for the future?
AH: We always evaluate our activities to the best of our ability and measure our impact using a variety of metrics. And studies from the fields of psychology and sociology tell us that certain personality traits or characteristics, such as resilience and self-efficiency, directly affect one’s social mobility—and can be further instilled in someone using certain features of our app. A lack of business connections can be compensated for through our mentoring program, while our YouTube channel depicts alternative plans for one’s life and offers our audience new ideas and possibilities fashioned specifically for them.
For the time being, we have to think about how to best scale up the impact that we’re having. It makes sense to employ a long-lasting and socially responsible monetization strategy, i.e., one in which external companies can recruit our mentees. We are trying to increase our reach through different collaborations and working with the media. And we’re still on the lookout for more volunteers to us succeed in our mission to make social mobility a possibility for everyone.