Grey? Not for this founder

Anna-von-Mangoldt
Anna-von-Mangoldt

First priority: Let there be colorful walls! Anna von Mangoldt touts itself for its color.

There are startups that are just suddenly there. With a lot of money from various investors, sophisticated marketing strategies and a thoughtful business plan. All perfectly prepared to launch. But the history of Anna von Mangoldt and her company for wall paints and furniture colors is quite different. Over many years the 30-year-old built up the company in small steps – and now generates several hundred thousand Euros in revenue per year.

Mangoldt came up with the idea for her colors startup that now has 168 different shades, during her studies in art and history at the University of Warwick in England. Inspired by the many bright colors which Englishmen like to emphasize their walls or doors with, she completed several internships with the British color icon Annie Sloan during her semester breaks.

After graduation, she first wanted to distribute Sloan’s products in Germany but then decided to start her own collection. In her bedroom at the family farmhouse in Nieheim she started to mix the first notes, tested the structure and various components. Her goal: many color pigments with only a few preservatives. The finished paint hardly has an odor and should also be used for children’s toys. To try different colors and ask painters and craftsmen for tips and advice, Mangoldt worked on a construction site for half a year.

After about one year of trial and error Mangoldt had found the right composition and started with 156 colors in her palette. In 2010, at the age of 24, she eventually launched her own online shop. To start out, her family and friends supported her with €30,000, part of it was inheritance from her grandmother. Her office and, more recently, a showroom is still on her family’s estate. However, Mangoldt wards off the impression of the wealthy daughter with the easy life. “Of course my family supports me where they can,” says Mangoldt. “Building a company is hard work. Especially in the early years, I have always worked until late at night. I have no assets that save me, if this doesn’t work out.”

The journey to profitability

Three years after the launch Mangoldt decided not to mix the colours herself anymore. “It was just too expensive and complex, the margin was extremely low,” the businesswoman says in retrospect. She found a producer near Frankfurt, which also mixes luxury colors. Even today that company produces colors after Anna-von-Mangoldt’s recipe. By the end of 2014 the startup became profitable. Last year, Mangoldt decided to take a five-figure loan from a bank again to build a new website and to hire a sales agency. “Now, I can concentrate on what I do best: marketing, new shades, and color consulting,” she says.

Mangoldt has always refrained from investors. The advice came from Max Wittrock, co-founder of mymuesli, whose company also got along without investors for years. “Flexibility is very important to me. I don’t want an investor who puts pressure on me,” says the 30-year-old. “Also, developing a brand needs a lot of sensitivity. That can’t be the case when there are too many involved.”

Anna-von-Mangoldt_Atelier-417x627Now more than 70 dealers in Germany sell Anna von Mangoldt colors. The biggest competitors are suppliers of designer colors like Farrow & Ball and of course large hardware stores with more low priced paints. The number of customers has increased rapidly in recent months again, says the founder. However, she does not reveal numbers.

Some customers only buy one bucket while others pick colors to paint their entire house for several thousand Euros, she claims. For personal consulting upfront, Mangold and her staff meet the clients in person. All other customers get sent a large sheet with the picked color to test the paint in different lighting conditions. On average, customers purchase paint for 100 Euros – hardly any send back the color, Mandgoldt says.

Meanwhile six permanent staff of Mangoldt work for the startup, including her mother Christina, nine more are hired as freelancers.

For several months, the founder has also offered fabrics for curtains and cushions, which match the Anna von Mangoldt wall paint. Also, the showroom offers furniture and china.

Every day she comes up with new ideas she wants to implement, and her to-do list is never empty, Mangoldt adds. She admits that it is often stressful and sometimes even affects her health. But despite that, money troubles and many sleepless nights, she wants to remain a founder: “I cannot imagine anything else anymore. A normal office day would be too boring for me.”

Image: Anna von Mangoldt