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At Horizn Studios, Integrating Everyday Innovation

BoF hears how the European direct-to-consumer travel brand encourages a culture of curiosity, creativity and collaboration to achieve its goals and ‘push the industry continuously forward.’
Horizn Studios' offices in Berlin.
The Horizn Studios offices in Berlin. Horizn Studios.
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In 2015, Stefan Holwe and Jan Roosen launched one of Europe’s first direct-to-consumer luggage and travel accessory brands in Berlin. Six years after its launch, the brand has raised €30 million in funding, collaborated with the likes of Beats by Dre, BMW, DJ Seth Troxler and Soho House, opened two stores in Berlin and London, and sells their customisable luggage, backpacks, weekenders and washbags in some of Europe’s leading department stores.

From the outset, it incorporated sustainable credentials and smart technology — its luggage products include in-built portable chargers — to cater to the next generation of travellers and their digital lifestyles. Most recently, Horizn launched its most sustainable innovation so far: The Circle One, which claims to be 100 percent plant-based, biodegradable luxury luggage.

Horizn Studios co-founders Jan Roosen and Stefan Holwe

To continue to meet consumer demand for innovation and “push the industry continuously forward,” Horizn Studios encourages a culture of curiosity, creativity and collaboration among its workforce in its Berlin headquarters. To hear more about the company’s culture, BoF sits down with co-founder and CEO, Stefan Holwe.

How would you describe Horizn Studios’ company culture?

It starts with the recruitment process, which focuses in equal parts on attitude and ability. We encourage everyone to be open, curious and bold. We believe if you let people try new ideas out and embrace failure, you enable exceptional creativity and innovation to drive things forward.

The company culture is driven — and it is driven by curiosity, creativity and collaboration. As a lean organisation, we operate more like a speed boat than a big ship: we are fast-paced, digital, creative and human.

How do you support employee innovation?

Everyone in the company is a shareholder, from our sales agents in-store and our part-time employees to the c-suite. We believe real participation helps encourage everyone to think ahead, be innovative and bring forward their ideas.

For most new ideas, we follow an MVP approach. The philosophy of a minimum viable product means it shouldn’t need millions in investment before we know how the market is going to react. We are connected with our audience and always try to be in the minds of our consumer, which is the advantage of being a direct-to-consumer brand. You get a lot of direct feedback that helps you come up with new ideas about how to make their travel life easier, more comfortable and more exciting.

We were the first luggage brand in the world that integrated a removable charging function in the luggage, which was a big success. We were also the first to integrate a modular GPS as a location tracking device for luggage, and that turned out to be less successful. We didn’t see that traction in this GPS device, so we decided to discontinue it. Sometimes you get it right but sometimes you need to let ideas go.

What development opportunities can Horizn employees expect?

The level of talent at Horizn is very high, not only in terms of technical skills but also in terms of a driven mindset, which leads to a culture in which everyone motivates each other.

It’s important to us that employees, especially young people who are still figuring themselves out, feel supported if they want to gain a new experience or skill. For example, a copywriter might want to transition into social media, or a store manager might dream of learning how to code. We understand that people go through different phases in their lives and have the need for change every now and then — and we want to support them through that.

We always try to be in the minds of our consumer, which is the advantage of being a direct-to-consumer brand.

Today, we also have the opportunity to work from anywhere. The pandemic proved how well we can work remotely, so we let our employees decide if they want to come back to the office or not. Move to Bali if you want, but it’s on you to figure out how it works within your team — and we will try our best to support you. We have a new hibernation programme too, for which we are inviting our employees to work from Portugal in winter if they wish. About half of the company is going from January to February.

How do you enable cross-functional collaboration?

We believe it is super important to enable and encourage exchange throughout the entire company and on all levels. We have a cross-departmental dinner programme for which every department receives a budget and can invite other departments to go out and have dinner and drinks together. People from IT might go out with the creative department or designers et cetera.

Horizn Studios campaign imagery and The Circle One luggage. Horizn Studios.

We also have remote chatroom roulettes where we connect people at random, which HR has set up when the office was closed due to lockdown. The aim is to replicate informal office chats like those water-cooler moments. We also regularly have what we call The Kitchen Session with the founders, where we’re basically sitting in a kitchen, in our homes, having a coffee and just chatting about the world and how we feel right now — being human first and professionals second.

Every quarter, we do an anonymous pulse check — an online survey that everyone is encouraged to participate in. You’re asked about everything, from how transparent you believe we are around the company’s vision and strategy, to if you feel valued and heard, or what you would do differently.

What is Horizn’s CSR strategy?

Within our CSR strategy, we do not only prioritise environmental action but also social sustainability. While co-creating a future of sustainable travel is at the centre of our mission, in 2020 for example, we gave three percent of our sales in Germany to online education of refugees through an NGO called Kiron.

We also have an art programme that supports emerging artists from disadvantaged areas. Recently, a collective from Thailand won the award — a region from which it is usually harder to break into the global art market. The previous winner is a talented artist from Guadeloupe called Minia Biabiany. We give these artists support and finance the creation of a big piece of art and through this process, we are interacting with and getting to know a lot of amazing, young, creative minds who can inspire everyone in the company.

Of course, our CSR is also reflected internally. When we do personal feedback sessions and surveys, there’s a whole section that asks, “how are you actively contributing to our environmental and social engagement?” We want our people to come up with ideas and to give them the opportunity to create change. To support a healthy and environmentally friendly life, so we have initiatives like bike leasing or health club subsidies. We only use green energy in our offices and in our stores, and we carbon offset all our CO2 emissions from logistics.

What do you look for in the recruitment process?

The hiring process is quite rigorous — every candidate goes through at least five interviews. [My co-founder] Jan or I will have at least a quick chat with each candidate before they are signed. In these conversations, we try to find out if their mindset is right — if someone is driven enough, reliable and good professionally in their specific technical field.

The right mindset is more important than technical experience — with the right mindset, you can learn basically anything.

However, the right mindset is more important than the technical experience — with the right mindset, you can learn basically anything. It’s super important that our values are inherent within every candidate that becomes a part of Horizn, so we make sure HR has inhaled these values and that they assess candidates on whether that person is adding something to the culture and the values of our company.

We don’t want people that all have the same MBA from the same university — we want to make sure that the culture is diverse. That’s why we also care about our 50/50 gender ratio, including leadership, and ensuring there is no gender pay gap.

What are your strategic plans for 2021 and beyond?

First of all, we are focused on positioning ourselves as the spearhead of sustainable travel in our industry. We want to create a significant change and contribute to a world in which people will travel without harming the planet. That’s our North star. Of course, we also have financial goals — and we want to make sure we get back to 2019 sales levels.

In 2022, we will continue with our innovative range extension and we will reboot our internationalisation project, which we were about to start when the pandemic hit. While we are already shipping all around the world, from Sydney to Seattle, LA to Tokyo, we have focused our storytelling and advertising on Europe so far and that’s going to change. We’re starting with the US in the coming months and next year we’re looking to Asia. As a result, we are looking for smart talent in all departments. It’s exciting times ahead.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Horizn Studios as part of a BoF partnership.

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