We talked to Ellen Windemuth, CEO of WaterBear Network, about their carefully selected feature-length documentaries, engaging short films, and inspirational media. This is what she said:
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ellen Windemuth: We are staying safely at home and working very long hours, very similar to the current experience of my CEO friends and colleagues. It is more complicated to run companies and teams remotely, which means longer hours and work each weekend.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded WaterBear Network.
Ellen Windemuth: I founded Off the Fence in 1994 in Amsterdam after having worked for a Canadian TV company for five years. We grew from myself and an assistant to about 120 people at our largest, with eight offices all over the world. We then settled on a more organic growth pattern which I found healthier for our employees and for our productivity. We now have offices in Amsterdam, London, Bristol, and Mainz, Germany, where our shareholder ZDF Enterprises is headquartered.
The key at Off the Fence was that we covered the development, financing, co-production, production, and distribution of documentaries under one roof and that our employees formed a real community around the company.
I sold Off the Fence to ZDF Enterprises in 2018 and financed our jointly held new global digital network WaterBear in June 2020. Our wonderful team, led by Victor Eckhard, then launched the WaterBear Network in November of 2020. We are now available in forty countries worldwide and growing.
How does WaterBear Network innovate?
Ellen Windemuth: We stay ahead of technological innovation, be it new types of filming and post-production equipment or new ways of consuming media such as digital channels. We avoid fast fixes and expensive risks, but in truth, we just read a lot and have conversations with key visionaries in each area to make sure we know what we are doing.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ellen Windemuth: It has not affected our business finances because we compensated for a slower production cycle by switching to remote production. Our acquisitions and other business happen remotely, and we are on target.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Ellen Windemuth: My biggest lesson is that a new team needs special nurturing in this environment. Creating a feeling of safety and outlets for creativity and inspiration is of paramount importance, so we keep finding new ways to reinforce that we care first and foremost about the well-being of our team.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ellen Windemuth: No, we believe in tight workflows and fast decision-making, and we nurture our clients by listening and acting upon what we hear.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ellen Windemuth: None.
Your final thoughts?
Ellen Windemuth: Our global network is a huge opportunity for people worldwide to find well-researched and curated entertainment along with inspiration to become part of us. Watch, Connect and Take Action is our mantra.
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