StartUs Presents: Younited Cultures

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Fashion as a statement: Younited Cultures is celebrating diversity by making storytelling scarves. Co-Founder Iulia Mugescu lifts the veil on the backstory.

Describe Younited Cultures in 50 words or less.

Younited Cultures is a movement of celebrating migration. We are using storytelling and fashion, workshops and trainings to showcase the positive side of cultural diversity.

Why did you decide to pursue your own dreams rather than someone else’s?

I think everyone decides to follow their own dreams, just that some people dream of less responsibility and others dream of making impactful decisions. I remember as a child it was always very important for me to understand why things happen, who takes the decisions and who implements these changes. I think this curiosity naturally transformed, over time. And now it became part of my lifestyle, to only make career choices which are directly allowing me to make decisions on how I want to see the world: without discrimination, more permissive, more fun.

7 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

It helped people celebrate migration and appreciate each other’s life journeys. It gave many immigrants a tool to express themselves and feel empowered about their cultural heritage. It created a more integrative culture and a celebration culture. All in all, it was the start of an alternative of how we should look at migration and people looked at it as added value instead of a social problem. When we see people wearing the colors of Younited Cultures on the streets of all the big European cities, we will know we have raised this awareness.

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

We have a lot of impact measurements which are more important to us than the financial ones. To name the most relevant ones: the number of scarves sold, which means for us the number of people who got to learn about our story. The numbers of scarves designed, which is in close connection to the amount of stories collected and told. The number of people attending our workshops and challenging their own perception on cultural heritage.

Describe your typical working day from coming to the office to leaving it.

First thing on the agenda is checking emails and selecting them based on what is urgent and what is important. I then usually create a schedule for each half an hour and set alarms for the details I really need to remember – Google Calendar is my best friend. The first part of the day then is usually about creation – it can be text creation, planning, designs, interviews – anything that happens inside of the company and requires silence, inspiration and focus. After the lunch break there is a mandatory short walk for disconnecting and then we go into stakeholder meetings – these usually don’t take more than 1 hour each, so it’s quite a fragmented time and it gives me a lot of energy. Wrapping up happens at 7 or 8 in the evening. Most of the time this involves attending an event or some social media activity or researching for inspiration.

Already pivoted? Did customers use the products like you imagined it in the beginning?

We’re dealing with a range of products which are, in essence, quite self-explanatory: You buy a nice scarf and you wear it, and as people naturally complement it and ask about it, you would tell the story behind it. We know it works because we have customers who wanted to get some of the scarfs just because they heard the story from someone else. But there were, of course, also customers who just used it for the practical reason rather than for the storytelling effect.

Bootstrapped or financed: What fuels your startup now and what will in the future?

Now we are 50% financed from our own personal resources and 50% from awards we have won and crowdfunding. This is slowly shifting as we start to generate sales and we hope our main channels in the future will be the products – the scarves and other accessories, but also the workshops and teambuildings we are offering – so our moderating, design and integrative skills.

With ferocious competition and a booming trend to build new companies: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

As we are based in Austria, we found out the little secret that is so important for startups here: longevity. As compared to other markets where you can be successful very fast and then go down very fast, for us it is more important to be durable and to remain here. So we focus on a good work-life balance, we don’t make rash decisions because of money and we almost never give in to pressure. Because our intention is to stay here for 10-20-30 years from now, and that means patience and a clear consciousness and, more than that, avoiding burn-outs and just building real connections with the people we want to impact.

What do you look for in team members?

We look for quite a lot, to be honest, but we also have a very good reason for it. When we work with someone, it only makes sense for us if we can offer that person a transformative experience and a big learning curve. So we look for confident and balanced people, willing to improve on a skill or a passion and, very importantly, able to host the Younited Cultures world in their vision of the future.

Why would a talent join your team?

We recently got the feedback that we operate like women and our strongest point in anything we do is intuition and an open communication. So a talent could join our team because they would get creative freedom, get help in fostering networks and be part of a very fast moving organization. Plus the field of migration and integration is now at a place of being analyzed from a 360 perspective, and we are on the verge of big social changes. Being part of Younited Cultures means you carry a responsibility towards driving all that in a positive direction. So if someone feels that sounds like a good responsibility to take, they are a good fit to our spirit.

What was your most memorable moment so far?

This might sound funny, but the best part for me was during our launch party a few months back. We had postponed this party just to make sure we would get a great location to speak about our vision, have the quests that could understand our impact and, of course, get the media that could raise awareness. Everything went great both in planning and implementation, and the peak was the national TV channel filming a segment on us. The evening ended and we raised our glasses for having achieved our goal, just to find out the next day that the camera crew had been robbed and all that footage including politicians and big names of the business scene of Austria being part of Younited Cultures vanished. Sometimes things just fail and it gets frustrating and then you realize that you haven’t failed at all, although in the moment it feels like you have. A great memory about how to never use all the energy, always have a back-up light burning in the background.

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

It’s ok to get angry and to have disagreements with people. Just don’t hurt anybody! Seriously though, a good exercise is to take any success story and try to translate your company into that success story. It’s a bit like seeing your company as a case study at all times, and to look at ideas coming from different industries and see if you can make use of them. I personally spend every time I get stuck on watching documentaries. It has always provided me with unexpected and unconventional solutions.


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