InterNations is a global network and information site for people who live and work abroad
Please introduce yourself and your startup InterNations to our readers!
My name is Malte Zeeck. I am 41 and I was born in Kiel, right by the Baltic Sea in Northern Germany, but I grew up in Bonn. I have a Master of Business Administration from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, and I also attended Bocconi University in Milan, the Fundação Getúlio Vargas in São Paulo, and the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie in Berlin.
Before founding InterNations, I worked as a foreign correspondent and television reporter for international broadcasting stations such as CNN International, N24, n-tv, and ARD. While reporting from various countries, including India and Brazil, I experienced many challenges of expat life myself.
In 2007, my friend Phillip von Plato and I founded InterNations in my small apartment in Cologne: since then, InterNations has become the world’s largest global network and information site for people who live and work abroad. Just this month, we are celebrating the milestone of reaching 3 million members in 390 communities around the world! Our platform is being maintained and developed by our dedicated team of 120 employees representing around 40 nationalities. They work at our headquarters in Munich, our offices in Vilnius and Madrid, as well as our new development site in Porto.
How did you get the idea to InterNations?
Both Philipp and I used to live abroad for a while — as mentioned above, I was a news reporter while he worked as an international business consultant. During our time as expats, we both found it very time-consuming to gather the necessary information for life abroad. It was also exhausting to build a personal and professional network over and over again in each new destination. Based on our shared experience, we came up with the idea to create a platform where people in a similar situation could meet new people, other expats and global minds alike, and learn more about the different countries and cities they’ve moved to.
Our main goal is to make expat life not only much easier than we found it while living abroad ourselves, but to turn it into a great experience. As we know only too well, you lose your social and professional network with every move. Thanks to the InterNations Community, expats are able to quickly rebuild this crucial support system when moving to a new country.
How difficult was the start and what challenges you had to overcome?
The first challenge was getting people to join our new community after we’d launched the website. We spent a lot of time reaching out to our personal networks and building a strong, international circle of supporters. We also got in touch with various embassies, global companies, and international organizations. Then the word got out, and more and more people living abroad started inviting their own friends and contacts. Naturally, we sometimes struggled as the plan to create a global network from scratch was not an easy one — but we had great people supporting us, and I really appreciate the passion and enthusiasm that our team still brings to the table every day!
Another challenge that everyone running a company will face is first learning how to stay on top of it all — and then, learning how to let go. When you found your own business, you are suddenly responsible for everything. There’s no pre-defined corporate culture or established workflow. You have to work it out for yourself and be prepared to suddenly deal with new challenges that you’ve never even thought of. Fortunately, InterNations has weathered the turbulent first few years of being a fledgling startup very well — we celebrated our tenth anniversary last September. But that also means that you have now built a smooth-running company and that you need to trust in your team.
Who is your target audience?
InterNations members are expats, their partners and other family members, or other global minds. The latter includes locals, “repatriates”, or those who have a strong interest in traveling and other cultures. For us, it is very important to also encourage local involvement as these members often understand the local community and the respective country best. They are ideal as a go-to person for expats who have recently moved or who need assistance upon their arrival or during their stay in that country.
On average, our members are around 40 years old with most of them being between 25 and 50. The gender ratio is about half men and half women. More than 85 percent of our members have a university degree, 91 percent speak at least two languages, and 70 percent have already lived in two different countries.
What is the USP of your startup?
InterNations is the largest global network for expats: as mentioned before, over 3 million people have now joined one of 390 communities around the world. This global presence helps our members to build a truly international network. In 2018, we will open 30 new communities, mainly in Europe and Asia,
but also in the USA and Canada, South America, and Africa, which will extend our global reach even further.
What sets InterNations apart from other expat networks the most, however, is our combination of online and offline services. Members don’t only have the opportunity connect with other expats and get information online, but to meet, network, and socialize face-to-face at regular local events and activities. There is really something for everyone: tango workshops, creative writing groups, dinner and wine tasting groups, many outdoor activities like hiking, biking, climbing, and many, many more.
Can you describe a typical workday of you?
As co-CEOs, Philipp and I share the responsibility for shaping the vision and strategy of InterNations, and we are both very much involved in the everyday running of the company. Philipp is responsible for all IT-, product-, and engineering-related matters, while I am responsible for community management, communications, marketing, and sales.
Being a CEO of a company of that size, no workday is like the other as there are so many different topics you have to deal with — from business development (we are currently setting up two new lines of business), to organizational development and recruiting key personnel, to shaping the company’s operative agenda or working on our branding strategy, for example. This is also something I enjoy very much — having such a wide variety of topics and challenges to work on.
Where do you see yourself and your startup InterNations in five years?
Lastly, we have been contacted by more and more companies that are interested in international support for employees they send abroad. For this reason, we are currently establishing a new B2B sector to help them with this complex task. We add value to their expat packages in order to save them time and money by reducing expat failure.
Our goal is to be every expat’s best friend and trusted companion on every step of their journey. While we’re already offering lots of opportunities to build a social network and gather information, we plan to add services that take care of every aspect of international relocation. We want to make sure that moving abroad will be a smooth experience for everyone.
What 3 tips would you give other Start-up founders on the way?
1. Passion: Be sure that you are really passionate about the core of your business and the problem that you solve. That way, you will be successful, and it will not feel like work.
2. Just do it: Many people might have great ideas, but to be successful you need to get started and make it happen. Having a good idea is just 10 percent of the battle.
3. Listen to your customers and be flexible along the way when it comes to adapting your offers or business model. For instance, we hadn’t planned to include offline events from the start. However, as soon as we realized how much our members wanted to meet up, we started introduced them, and they have now become an essential part of USP.
More information you will find here
Thank you Malte Zeeck for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.