“To us it was never just about growth”: Interview with co-founder of Juniqe, Lea Lange


As CEO and founder of Juniqe, Lea Lange is one of the most successful women in the German startup scene. Last year alone, the company of the 28-year-old grew by 500 percent. With her and co-founders Marc Pohl and Sebastian Hasebrink, there are now 65 employees. Revenues are expected this year to be in the higher eight-digit range – the founder didn’t want to give more specific numbers.

Well-known investors such as Highland Europe believe in the success of Juniqe: On June 21st, the startup announced an investment of over 14 million, which raises the venture capital to around 20 million euros. A good reason to ask Lea Lange about her strategy for Juniqe.

Lea, Juniqe sells artworks by various artist, prints and prints on clothing or accessories. It doesn’t sound so exceptional. What makes your startup do successful?
Juniqe is an online marketplace for creative and affordable art. The important thing is that we curate the art the way that every customer can find their favorite artwork. It is also crucial that behind every artwork there is an artist that the customer can get to know through interviews or videos on our site. So customers have a story that they can tell with the image on the wall. Adding to that, our art is affordable – even the very large framed prints cost less than 100 euros.

Why do you call Juniqe a marketplace and not simply an online shop?
If you look at the entire business model, it is clearly in the direction of a marketplace. We produce, for example, only what the customer has ordered and therefore have no stock. We have external partners, mainly in Germany, which take over our production. However, we are not a traditional marketplace, such as eBay, where everyone can upload what they want. Because the artists must apply for our site and we curate the offer.

Who are your producers?
For each of our major categories – murals, fashion, home – we have one or two producers. They are almost all in Germany. Often they are companies that have decades of experience in this field, such as Cewe. Through this cooperation we don’t have to acquire knowledge of production and logistics – that would again be a completely different area.

Do you actively seek for the artists or do they apply to you?
Every day we get applications, but we also have an art-sourcing team that searches for matching artists. Of course, the selection is based not only on the personal taste: We have collected data since launching two years ago and now know very well what sells and what does not. In addition, we are guided by the fashion and interior trends.

What do the artists get when they sell their works on Juniqe?
The artists are participating in each sale of their images. In addition, our artists are not well-known personalities such as Andy Warhol. That’s why it’s nice for them that they reach a huge audience through Juniqe that can buy their works.

How much do the artists earn?
We don’t tell the exact numbers, but each artist is paid the same by us.

In 2015 sales have increased by 500 percent at Juniqe. Which products are particularly lucrative for you?
We say we have the most fun with the posters and prints. (laughs).

Last summer you raised five million euros, now again 14 million euros. What happens to these millions?
A large part flows to growth in Europe. We already account for 40 percent of sales outside Germany, mainly in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands. For us there is a great potential, but we are still at the beginning. We want to serve the markets that work well, very locally.

Does that mean Juniqe will recruit abroad?
No, we want to build local teams, but ensure that, for example, a French customer experiences our site as they like to shop online – ie. with the usual French payment methods, a shipment to a pick-up point, the so-called “point relais”, and of course a selection of artworks that the French would like. We will also put a great deal of money in the technology of Juniqe. We want to develop more of an online gallery instead of a shop.

What exactly needs to change so Juniqe is more an online gallery?
We know that it is particularly difficult for our customers to make a decision about the right combination of murals. That is why we want to develop more tools that help customers to make their decision. We do not want to be a fancy app that you use only once. Instead, there will be a tool that allows our customers to build their own photo wall by drag and drop – ideally with a photo of their own room, which they can upload.

Last summer, you said you want to reach profitability “timely”. You are still not profitable. Will that change soon?
Definitely. The great thing about our model is that there is a very clear path to profitability, partly because we have good margins and don’t pay any storage costs. In the next two to three years we will be profitable.

What is the long term strategy?
We have a, what I would call, sustainable growth strategy for Europe. We believe in smart growth, in which not only sales is the focus, but also the long-term profitability. We currently still see great potential for growth and we are only at the beginning.

How big is the market?
With Juniqe we operate three very attractive and large markets: the market for murals, for fashion and for living. Of course, at the start of Junique we made some calculations to determine the size of the total market and we got a lot of great numbers. But if you want to reflect Juniqe right, many factors must be considered closely. It is easier said than done. But we know that before us there is still huge growth potential – at the same time nobody else serves the demand for affordable art.

You worked with your co-founder Marc at the US company Fab in Berlin, which ultimately failed. What did you learn from this?
We are committed to sustainable growth, actually that says it all (laughs). For us, it was never simply about growth. With Fab it was a bit different. We learned a lot.

Unlike you, Fab has worked with stock. Have you therefore decided to cooperate without stock and with external producers?
Definitely. We all know enough examples in the startup scene in which the storage, the returns and the associated costs are a major drawback of the business model. This also means that these companies are very slowly profitable. So it was our aim to set up a really intelligent model that easily scales.

In the startup team, you are the only woman. What do you bring to the team as a woman?
I’m really convinced that Marc, Sebastian and I as a team are one of the success factors of Juniqe. With all of us, the basis is the same, we are all business graduates. However, we have completely different strengths and weaknesses and after studying we three have worked in different areas. Marc has built up, for example, the operation area at Fab and I headed the Shopping and Analytics Team. Together, we get the best out of it.

Thanks for the interview, Lea.

This article was originally published on Gründerszene.

Image: Junique