Tradition meets digital

Published


Written by
Dilara Ekinci

Welcome to an insightful interview with Julian, the visionary founder of MIND VACATIONS, a pioneering venture at the intersection of mindfulness and modern living. With a rich international background, Julian embodies the essence of a true global citizen. Through his journey from researcher to sciencepreneur, Julian has turned the power of his family traditions to craft a mindful existence in today’s fast-paced world. Join us as Julian shares the highs and lows of his remarkable journey in this month’s interview.

 

Please tell us about yourself and your background.

I studied International Management & European Studies across universities in Düsseldorf, Taipei, and Aachen and my academic journey reflects this global perspective. I’m driven by the desire to create something valuable and  makes a real difference. Before venturing into startups, I also worked on a development project in Myanmar.  In 2013, while working at an NGO supporting tea farmers. I gained a deep appreciation for the meticulous craft behind quality tea.  This experience solidified my interest in building products with a positive impact.

How did you come up with this particular startup idea that led you to your PhD?

Feeling stressed myself, I tried a bunch of different mindfulness tools online and on apps. Some were okay, but none gave me the same feeling of calm and focus I got from the tea ceremonies my family did back in Asia. I’m German- Taiwanese, and the tea ceremony has been a tradition in my family for generations. Those rituals were all about slowing down, being fully present in the moment, and of course, enjoying a delicious cup of tea. This combination really worked for me. I realized there wasn’t anything digital that captured this feeling, so the idea for MIND VACATIONS was born. Since there weren’t any apps that offered a real tea ceremony experience, complete with the enjoyment of delicious tea, I decided to build one myself and share this unique way to manage stress with everyone.

Turning the idea into action, I wrote a detailed business plan and entered it into several competitions. This process helped refine my concept and gather valuable feedback. However, a long-held dream of pursuing a PhD lingered. While my research involved reading countless academic papers, I noticed a gap. Very few explored the entire startup journey, from launch to potential challenges. As a startup founder, I gained a unique perspective and had access to real-world data most researchers wouldn’t. So, I decided to combine my entrepreneurial adventure with academic aspirations. I began meticulously documenting everything happening within MIND VACATIONS to create a comprehensive record. Thankfully, my professor found this approach fascinating and agreed to supervise my PhD research.

“Turning the idea into action, I wrote a detailed business plan and entered it into several competitions. This process helped refine my concept and gather valuable feedback.”
Tea | Picture ©MIND VACATIONS
What role did Young Entrepreneurs in Science play for you in your journey as a “Sciencepreneur”?

The Young Entrepreneurs in Science workshop was a defining moment for my sciencepreneurship journey. Publicly presenting my idea there for the first time yielded incredibly inspiring and positive feedback.  This enthusiastic response fueled my dedication to the project, and the workshop’s focus on business planning helped me refine my approach.  Ultimately, this led to a competition win and a state-funded scholarship, propelling our startup forward.

How has the market changed during your founding journey? Could you find enough support & support networks?

The market has definitely shifted since we founded MIND VACATIONS. Initially, the pre-seed funding landscape was very encouraging. We were fortunate to receive a full scholarship program that allowed our team to fully dedicate themselves to the project for almost a year. This early support was invaluable in getting the company off the ground.

However, recent events like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have undoubtedly impacted the market. We’ve noticed a shift in investor behavior, with a general increase in caution. Previously, it seemed there was a greater openness to innovative projects, along with more readily available funding. Now, investors and venture capitalists are understandably more selective in their investments.

What is the greatest learning so far on your entrepreneurship journey? 

One of the biggest things I’ve learned on this journey is that even as an introvert, you gotta put yourself out there! I would have never thought that getting out there and presenting MIND VACATIONS so much would be so crucial. It’s definitely not my comfort zone, but it seems like success depends a lot on other people.

But here’s the good news, you don’t have to become a social butterfly overnight. I’ve found that focusing on the right people makes a big difference. Now, I target events and workshops that connect me with potential users, investors, and collaborators who are genuinely interested in what we’re doing. It’s a slower approach, but it feels more manageable for me as an introvert, and still gets the job done!

“You don’t have to become a social butterfly overnight. I’ve found that focusing on the right people makes a big difference. Now, I target events and workshops that connect me with potential users, investors, and collaborators who are genuinely interested in what we’re doing. It’s a slower approach, but it feels more manageable for me as an introvert, and still gets the job done!”
How many people are in your team? How is the Team-dynamics when you compare to the academia? How is working with your partner?

Our team is currently four strong! The startup environment is definitely an emotional rollercoaster compared to academia. One day you feel on top of the world, and the next, you might be questioning everything. Stability certainly takes a backseat! The team dynamic is very collaborative and fast-paced. We all wear multiple hats and constantly learn from each other.  It’s a stark contrast to the more structured environment of academia.

Working with my wife as a co-founder adds another layer to the mix. Yes, there are moments where a disagreement over breakfast dishes somehow ends up in the conference room! However, the upside is undeniable. We share the same vision, lifestyle, and work ethic. There’s no explaining those late-night brainstorming sessions or missed dinners – we’re both completely invested in making MIND VACATIONS a reality.

 

Julian and Beixi | Picture ©MIND VACATIONS
What is your number one piece of advice for aspiring Sciencepreneurs?

Looking back, my biggest piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to prioritize building a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) quickly and testing it with real users. This is something I would have done even earlier on my journey. The key is to get your product in front of as many potential customers as possible and gather their feedback.  Don’t let perfectionism hold you back!  Early user feedback is invaluable in shaping and refining your product to truly meet customer needs. Involving real consumers early and often is crucial for success. Remember, perfectionism is the enemy of progress in the startup world. Get your MVP out there, gather feedback, and iterate based on user insights.  This is the fastest path to building a product that resonates with your target audience.

 

What happens next?

Check out our event calendar for upcoming workshops. Stay tuned for more updates, opportunities, and success stories!

Curious for more? Connect with Julian via LinkedIn or visit the website of MIND VACATIONS.

Interviewer: Dilara Ekinci
Illustration: Kamilla Nafikova
Editor: Bianca Cramer

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