FOND OF, with its 211 staff, supply everything from school backpacks, work bags and round handbags to more than 35 countries around the world. In 2017, the Cologne-based company won the Rising Star category of the German Entrepreneur Award. Sven-Oliver Pink, one of FOND OF’s four founders, talks us through the company’s recipe for success.
Known as Germany’s most important prize for founders, the German Entrepreneur Award recognises outstanding Germanybased entrepreneurs. In 2017, FOND OF managed to win through against the competition in the Rising Star category. Did winning the German Entrepreneur Award help you on your way to becoming an internationally successful brand?
Winning the German Entrepreneur Award was an appreciation for the fact that we have built up our company from its beginnings in the ergobag brand of school bags. Of course, we benefit from it and similar competitions. The preparation, the presentation and the jury’s feedback alone are worth it ... needless to say, it has broadened our horizons. For us, the most important part is getting to know other new companies. Thanks to New Entrepreneurship Cologne and the German Entrepreneur Award we engaged in some really interesting dialogue with other companies.
You've won more prizes too. In 2016, FOND OF was awarded the German Sustainability Award. What are you doing in 2018 to become even more sustainable?
being clear about in which areas we are sustainable and in which areas we are not. By the end of the year, we would also like to launch the first completely "bluesign-certified" product in our portfolio. The bluesign standard comprises global consumer and environmental protection standards and covers the five aspects of consumer protection, wastewater, exhaust air, occupational safety and resource productivity. It is a huge challenge to meet these standards. There are 120 suppliers involved in every backpack we produce. Getting them all to work together and design a product that meets these standards is extremely difficult. Nevertheless, we plan on achieving this goal with AFFENZAHN, our brand for kids aged 1-5.
In the meantime, other companies and competitors have also recognized this, haven't they?
We’re happy to put pressure on other companies to take the issue of responsibility more seriously! The more pressure, the quicker the standards will change.
What about your company’s people policy, is it true that you go on holiday with your employees?
As far as our employee philosophy is concerned, I'm sure of one thing: employees are not happy just because they get a free holiday, free fruit or do sports, even if we do offer all those things. People go home happy when they feel they have achieved something, have held a good presentation or won a customer over ... we want to deal with our employees as equals. In September we are taking 250 people sailing. It is important for us as founders to develop something that money cannot buy. We took a similar trip to Vietnam a few years ago. Our experience so far has been very positive.
Your company is called FOND OF. But what are you FOND OF when it comes to Cologne?
In the past, I was always surprised when people said that Cologne was so open-minded. I grew up here, so I didn’t notice it. But when I came back to Cologne after three years in Berlin, I experienced it firsthand. That's why I really value Cologne’s openness and the sociability. The same is true for us as a company. We notice this when staff move here from southern Germany or from abroad. There's never been a problem with people moving to Cologne. Adidas, who are based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, have problems getting creative people to move there. We don't face that challenge here – people like to come to Cologne. They settle in right away! This openness and cordiality, the way we live our everyday lives in Cologne, is wonderful and we as a company profit from it.