ZAGENO CEO Dr. Florian Wegener: “How I Was Able To Thrive Despite First Experiencing Impostor Syndrome”
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Set yourself a stretch goal. As you confidence grows so should your ambition. You may decide that you want to bring some media attention to yourself and your brand by pitching an idea to a journalist or submitting your company for a speaking opportunity or industry award. While these can be very hard to achieve they will help you suppress and mitigate feelings of inferiority.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Florian Wegener. Dr. Florian Wegener is the co-founder and CEO of ZAGENO, an award-winning online marketplace serving the needs of research scientists. He is also a board-certified physician. In 2015, Florian co-founded ZAGENO Inc. and has since led its commercialization and go-to-market strategy. He relocated to the Greater Boston area in 2018 to continue ZAGENO’s development — principally its marketing, sales, vendor development, integration, investor’s relations and brand reputation. Prior to ZAGENO he was a vice president and global head of eCommerce for Qiagen GmbH, located in Hilden, Germany. At Qiagen Florian led the company’s digital transformation, through executing an e-commerce strategy and by implementing a new digital marketing and sales platform responsible for approximately $400 million in annual revenue. Between 2007 and 2013 Florian was a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Munich, Germany. At BCG, he drove international projects including one that defined a long-term strategy for a portfolio company in the biopharmaceutical space. These included a project based on a patient segmentation/ dynamic patient model for the development of a lifecycle management framework. At BCG his work extended to transatlantic engagements (Europe and US), for big pharma and med-tech players. This offered Florian exposure to the regulated laboratory market and the creation of a business unit for clinical testing. Further, this work provided him with significant experience in the life science market — specifically along the value chain. Florian became a fully certified MD in 2004 and in 2005, gaining the title Dr. med., magna cum laude. After completing his medical degree at the Universities of Freiburg, Frankfurt, Toronto, and at New York University, Florian spent two years as a practicing cardiologist at the University Hospital of Frankfurt, where he performed invasive electrophysiological studies and heart surgeries. Following his full-time medical career, Florian attended the IE Business School where he earned his MBA in entrepreneurship, corporate finance/valuation, strategy and negotiations.
Thank you so much for joining us, Florian! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Before co-founding ZAGENO I worked as a physician — specifically as a cardiologist.
It was during this time when I learned how to make an impact on people’s lives by performing exploratory EP studies, inserting heart catheters and measuring electricity within the beating heart. When signs of a life-threatening arrhythmia were detected, I would insert an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) to prolong the life of the patient and increase their quality of life.
During this period I paid close attention to healthcare systems — especially in the three regions where I did my training — the United States, Canada and Germany. This would turn out to be the impetus for my future, broader vision.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
For most people, becoming a physician is a life accomplishment — the reward of summiting after a long and difficult climb. Said another way it is not something from which a person easily walks away.
That said, I think the most interesting story from my career is the one that people find most surprising — the fact that I chose to end my career as a physician in order to pursue one as an entrepreneur. While medicine was a very enriching experience it was not everything I thought it would be. As I evaluated my prospects for the future I didn’t like what I felt would be my career for the next decade, which seemed like a long, dark and lonely tunnel.
I ultimately decided to leave the hospital to pursue a different path and sought opportunities that would make a bigger impact — this could be accomplished in a business setting.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Since ZAGENO’s earliest days we talked about the EUREKA moments that our successful venture would engender. By significantly reducing the administrative burden of scientists, ZAGENO would enable more time for science, leading to more (scientific) EUREKA moments.
I have since come to accept and embrace the idea of ZAGENO itself was a EUREKA moment because of the win-win-win situation it has the potential to create.
- Scientists win through a platform designed to save time and provide choice in the supplies they procure.
- Procurement teams win through centralized invoicing to simplify order processing and fulfillment.
- Suppliers win through a new channel to market — especially with the fast-growing category of smaller biotechs
- The idea of a multi-vendor marketplace is not new. Industries from transportation to utilities, and all ranges of consumables have long-held strategies predicated on this model — but not within life science.
ZAGENO is unique in its goal to solve a complex problem while also creating a brand new market.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Without hesitation I would say that my wife has been that person who most helped me get where I am today. In supporting me she built on the efforts made by my entire family.
For her part, my wife grew up predisposed to globalism — she was multinational before it was trendy. Being raised in different cultures: Germany, Spain and Latin America afforded her a unique and open minded perspective on the world. From very early on in our relationship and up until the present day she has taught and encouraged me to adopt this type of ideology and to ultimately follow my heart.
Among the many positive outcomes of this life approach, this has resulted in a company (ZAGENO) that is among the most diverse of its kind. Within a company of approximately 75 professionals we are proud to have 25 different nationalities and 17 languages spoken.That diversity is our strength.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome.
How would you define Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is a commonly held but not often discussed or defined feeling that can occur in virtually every walk of life. This could manifest in a professional athlete who is made a team captain but somehow feels unworthy of the honor. It could be experienced by a team leader or CEO who faces a particular uncertainty, specifically related to their leadership role.
What do people with impostor Syndrome feel?
The overriding feeling is simple — inferiority. Regardless of the situation or environment, the feeling of inferiority can exist as a response to an assumed role and responsibility. It hinges on the person’s uncertainty in their ability to meet and exceed that role and those responsibilities.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
A clear and unfortunate downside to impostor syndrome is wasted time. Time is a precious commodity in business, which is why any downside — due to a lack of productivity — can interrupt any number of day-to-day business goals like meeting employee needs, addressing customer demands or achieving sales targets.
Whether as a functional leader or a company’s top executive the notion of being an impostor can cause a ripple effect across any business.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
On this point there is actually an upside to impostor syndrome, which I would describe as a value of vulnerability.
Much like medicine, being a CEO can also be a lonely existence largely because of perceptions of the position by those around you. If you value transparency — as I do — you communicate to your staff about the positives and negatives. This is especially true within start-up organizations where the work is extremely collaborative and usually in tight quarters. If within this environment mid-level managers and even junior staff see and experience humanity in their leadership it can have a net-positive effect on bringing people together and removing unproductive hierarchies.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
I experienced this in several ways; I suspect most entrepreneurs would agree, attest and empathize with this part of the journey.
In the earliest days, a start-up presents ideas and aspirations to an audience of one or in the situation of co-founders, two. Sitting at a table and doodling ideas on the back of a napkin are experiences that all successful entrepreneurs vividly remember. As time goes by these memories can take-on a deeper meaning.
What immediately follows that initial ideation is the endless selling that follows.
- Selling your idea to investors.
- Selling the idea of employment to the best people despite having no brand recognition.
- Selling a nascent offering to customers.
While I always believed in the core objective of ZAGENO the above points were key moments experienced by me and my co-founder. For every positive meeting with a venture capitalist, prospective employee or customer there were far more negative ones that could have knocked us back and make us feel like impostors.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
Yes, of course, you can shake-off the feeling of impostor syndrome.
In my experience success begets success so a focus and rigor on achieving incremental steps towards your bigger vision is critical. If successful you will eventually experience a momentum with enough funding to attract the right people who can execute a winning strategy.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Find a coach and talk about it. There is truth to the saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. Having a person with whom you can speak directly and demonstrate vulnerabilities that are not appropriate in a work setting can help provide a much-needed perspective.
- Set small goals and achieve them. Even establishing a regular routine can be a professional win. Take the time to map out a number of goals that may not amount to much independently but that, taken as a group, will demonstrate clear progress.
- Celebrate success. Enjoy the progress you’ve achieved with some kind of celebration. Hiring your next great sales executive may earn you a break from the normal grind to hit the gym or try that new lunch place around the corner from the office. Meanwhile, a new customer win could be cause for a more significant way to celebrate.
- Meet your peers. Locate ways you can engage with other business leaders in a setting that’s interactive and organized around problem-solving. You’re likely to find that you’re not alone in the challenges that can feed impostor syndrome.
- Set yourself a stretch goal. As you confidence grows so should your ambition. You may decide that you want to bring some media attention to yourself and your brand by pitching an idea to a journalist or submitting your company for a speaking opportunity or industry award. While these can be very hard to achieve they will help you suppress and mitigate feelings of inferiority.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s a great question and somewhat ironic because the ideas that cause impostor feelings are the same that can help you pivot away from those feelings.
The idea of ZAGENO can be seen through a business lens but can also be thought of as a lever to disrupt an industry and — in turn — cause a positive societal impact. If through the ZAGENO marketplace we can reduce the time spent by a single scientist to procure lab supplies by 70% and that time gets reappropriated to achieving successful research outcomes then what began as an idea by a so-called impostor evolves into a viable business that can inspire a movement.
Now, take the improvements to that single scientist and scale it out to hundreds and even thousands of scientists. It is fair to say that this would be an inspiring movement!
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have a working lunch with Elon Musk. During lunch, we could discuss how he sees the world as a person with insatiable curiosity and a track record of setting and achieving extraordinary goals.
I believe that he is either the antithesis of an impostor or someone who has perfected the art of overcoming the negative impacts associated with those feelings.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am an active LinkedIn user and would welcome engagement and new connections to https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-florian-wegener-2b575218/.
Thank you for all of these great insights!
ZAGENO CEO Dr Florian Wegener: “How I Was Able To Thrive Despite First Experiencing Impostor Syndro was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.