Alex Weber - N26 - Chief Growth Officer - CGO

EPISODE 5 | 31 mins

Keeping pace with a unicorn

with ALEX WEBER, CGO @ N26

"It's a marathon, not a sprint... but it's a fast-paced marathon!"

In this episode 🎙

Our guest today is Alex Weber, Chief Growth Officer at N26, who reflects on his journey at N26 and the lessons learned while going from an Entrepreneur in Residence at a tiny startup to a C-level executive at a 1500 person company.

In our conversation, we explored the driving force behind entrepreneurship and the role it plays in solving global problems, and the importance of having a long-term vision.

Alex also reflected on the factors that enabled his success, including learning from others who have faced similar experiences, establishing trust with senior team members, and strategies for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Last but not leat, we also discussed the keys to successful leadership, including providing context and support, anticipating obstacles, and offering solutions to help team members navigate challenges effectively.

In this episode you’ll learn:

🔑 The keys to creating a successful team

🏃 How to grow fast enough as an individual to keep pace with a hyper-growth company

🔌 Why being able "unplug" makes you more effective


  • 2:20 - Alex's journey of learning & growth
  • 11:23 -  the secret to success
  • 15:40 - Leading by enabling and challenging others
  • 22:23 - The Keys to Successful Leadership

Connect with Alex:


Connect with Darja:

LinkedIn | Twitter | Substack

Connect with Anthony:

LinkedIn | Twitter

Follow Bunch:

LinkedIn | Twitter

Full Transcript 🤓


Hi there. Welcome to another episode of Teams at Work, a podcast for the new generation of leaders. Every episode, we talked to an inspiring guest who is running a hyper women's team or company to learn about their journey and get actionable tips along the way. I'm your host. My name is Darja Gutnick, and I'm the Co Founder and CEO of Bunch. My team and I are on a mission to help all managers become great leaders. We're building an AI leadership coach to help you become a world class leader. With this little time invested two minute a day. Before we kick it off, today, don't forget to subscribe as we're always having super interesting guests come and join us.


Today, we have a very special guest, Alex Weber, the Chief Growth Officer and twenty six, the latest Berlin based unicorn, N26 wrote a success story like no other startup in Berlin. However, Alex's journey at N26 actually almost even more impressive. Starting out as an entrepreneur in residence when the company was not even ten people, Alex was responsible for first building up the customer success team from the ground up. Then factually making N26 a bank by obtaining a banking license, and then moved on to lead the N26 international expansion efforts. And today, Alex, you'll lead the international expansion team and the growth team as Chief Growth Officer. Super excited to have you here. Welcome. Thank you very much, Darja. The excitement is all on my side. Awesome. I want to not hold back and actually jump into the first question. It's just a couple of Trivia effects on n twenty six. I'm sure you guys know. However, n twenty six actually quite large at this point in time already. It's fifteen hundred people. Am I right? Yes. Awesome. And has offices in Berlin, Barcelona, New York City, Sao Paulo and Vienna. So, yeah, almost made like a joke about If you want to apply at a job, you can work in lots of cities in n twenty six. But it's not all about n twenty six today. It's mostly about Alex's experiences.


So Alex tell me, going from an entry level roles on entrepreneur residents, which is kind of like the right hand of founders, basically out of college, two, a c level executive, basically the highest level of decision making in the company, and a unicorn company in only a handful of years. That's quite a journey. How do you learn and grow fast enough to keep up with the pace? How do you do it?

So I think it all starts with the mindset that you bring every day to the company. So for me, you know, my long term vision is to be a fan of myself. So I was heavily debating with myself if I should start my own company or join something very, very early stage and joining some something like n twenty six as for one of the first ten employees was a was a very clear decision for me because I knew I could learn so much and I could basically treat the company as if it were my own because it was so early on. And the fact that I was not the founder, it was never never a topic for me. So for me, it was always very much about knowing and feeling like, you know, we need to make successful disrupting the banking scene and bringing kind of better banking products to customers around the world. And that that sort of mindset is the starting point for you to then figure out all the answers that you need. You know, you need to stay persistent, you need to have a passion for long term goals. I mean, I'm almost for six years now in the company. We had a we have a big vision, and therefore, it's it's something that doesn't happen from one day to the next. So you need to sign up for that longer term journey.


I always tend to think of it as a fast paced marathon. Like always the saying, it's marathon, not a sprint, but it's a fast paced marathon. I think in terms of how I keep up for me, it's about making sure that I get get connected with a lot of people who've maybe gone through similar experiences or have gone through similar roles and similar companies. And and really get input from people who've actually done what you're about to do. That's that's one big thing that I always try to to focus on and the other is to just always be learning everyday kind of thinking about what went well, what didn't go well, reflect at the end of the day, reflect at the end of the week and seek out based on those kind of points how you can constantly improve.

That's super interesting because I think learning and reflecting is such a key element to growth specifically as a leader, but it's so hard to kind of bake into your daily practices. So a question to you, do you actually, like, use a diary? Or what's your what's your method of actually keeping the reflection going regularly?

Yeah. So I have a I I love basically taking handwritten notes. So I have this big a four kind of moleskin journal that I, you know, that I just grab whenever I want to. So I try to get there every day, but mainly once in the weekend that take a little bit longer time to actually write. Yeah. So that's kind of my Pretty amazing building digital product and -- Absolutely. -- it's it's it's very good. Awesome.


Maybe zooming into that transition from your previous role as director of international expansion than going and actually kind of merging the the internationalization team with the marketing team into one United growth team, which spans about a hundred people now, so quite large, you stepped into a role where you didn't necessarily have the full background. So you came from from the internationalization field, but then also kind of inherited all the marketing people. And not being an expert in that area, being responsible in the last decision maker in line in that area. How did you build trust with your team. Mhmm. And at the same time, what did you learn going through that process?


I mean, most of my roles that I took on at end twenty I was new to the subject, but evidently, you had a clear picture of what needed to happen in in the bigger company picture. And so I've really enjoyed the last six months in terms of getting to know all the intricacies of of marketing, which evidently in any company you wanna build in the future is an essential skill to have. So, you know, for me, it was something where I knew this is gonna be a fantastic learning opportunity. But to your question, so, you know, coming into this team, coming into that new challenge, it was for me really first about really deeply seeking to understand on what went well, what didn't go well. So and and also getting to know everyone I mean, I still think, you know, with with any teams under hundred, hundred and fifty people, you should know everyone.


So my first six weeks were really mainly one on ones. Or also then meeting with the different functions as in a team sort of. So I tried to have focus areas, you know, one one function sort of per week when you then met everyone individually, and then you did a workshop kind of and obviously spend a lot of time with the with the leader of that function as well. To really understand what the priorities should be going forward. What are the things that that need to change? What are the things that really going well and and and maybe don't need to be on the top of your priority list because there are so many things that in order to effectively prioritize, it's absolutely key to to understand kind of the weak spots and and the strengths of of the team that you're new to. Mhmm.


One of the main things, one of the main learnings for me I would say in the first three, four months. And what I've then also changed afterwards was that, you know, there was certain tension between a couple of the teams that I that I took over. And for me, it was very important to leave that behind and move forward as one united team with one one vision, one one basically told that we were pursuing together. And because it was new to the subject and because there was this tension to some extent, I wanted to I reflect to have been perhaps a little bit too consensus driven in decision making. So we had I define kind of a leadership within the growth area, which was which I define very wide because they wanted to make sure that all the different How big was that? I wasn't I would say twelve people. Yeah.


And so those meetings, you know, if you have twelve people in the meeting, you that's not a good size for decision making, especially if there was some historic tension and every everything's coming together. So a new boss. Absolutely. And so, you know, there was a lot of feedback on on the frustration of the ineffectiveness of those meetings. On the other hand, I I really wanted to make sure I have everyone's perspective, and I also wanted to have those people in a room as much as possible responsible. Mhmm. Right? In order to overcome some of the differences. Differences. Nevertheless, I needed to change course and I needed to define different ways of making sure that I get all the inputs. But in those decision meetings have a group size that that makes sense for decision meetings. So was difficult, but I had to define basically a group that I would meet regularly for decisions and that I had to structure different kind of meetings and one on ones with the people who no longer were then part of that kind of decision meeting group to make sure they I I get the input and and they also feel very much valued as as a key contributor in the overall growth team.


So just to follow-up on the first part that you mentioned where you said it's really important to you to actually get to know everyone. Did you actually meet all hundred people or approximately a hundred people in all those seams over those weeks that you were going from function to function? Yeah. I did. I did. That's so interesting. It's really really cool. And then after ten weeks, we had a an all hands off-site. That was sort of the the end of the journey, the intro journey for me where I was okay, let's spend ten weeks and really get to know everyone, and then let's bring everyone together for two days and talk about, you know, what did we learn, where are we going? And so that was really good awesome.


You're obviously super busy having a hundred people in a halfway flat organization where you actually value having knowing everyone and kind of like being in arm's length. I'm sure it's a very demanding role also because it's an interesting year for N26. Definitely a lot of challenging goals I can imagine and a lot of growth happening. How do you avoid kind of not ever being able to shut work off? So I'm sure Workplace a big role in your life, but it's obviously important to kind of like replenish energy and and make sure you're balanced. To to not run into burnouts and and other exhaustion things. So how do you balance the demands that you have in that job? Yeah. Great question.


Obviously, I was thinking about that a lot in in different roles over time. I think for me, it's it's it's always really been about how do you carve out time where you really are not working? And for me, it's more about the focus that you have and kind of the let's say, boundaries you said. So what I'm you know, what works for me very well is I don't have any kind of notifications. So be it email or Slack or WhatsApp or so my phone is quiet. So in you are in control when you actually receive information. Yes. And and, obviously, my my team and and founders and whoever they know they can call me, basically, almost anytime if something's really urgent. And then, obviously, if there's an incident or if any challenge occurs, then you're available. That's clear. But if not, then you actually are able to, you know, be with your friends or, you know, read a book in in in full focus or just not work basically.


So, you know, that's for me often also in early in the mornings. So when when most How early is that? How early is that? How early is that? You know, in my past, I used to be a swimmer, and we were often in training, you know, at five in the morning, and then I was also in the army, which still mandatory in Austria, where we also have to be there every day every day at six in the morning. So I've always appreciated early morning. So, you know, these days I get up between five thirty and six.


The secret to early learnings by the way are early nights. So I am a big believer in in good sleep and, you know, not compromising on big sleep for the sake of getting up early. So I think that's a very important component. How do you how what do you do when you actually get, like, you know, to speak at an event, which is happening in the evening, and you don't make it to, like, home at ten ten thirty. Yeah. No. It's it's really about setting yourself up for success.


And for me, what I learned was that needs I need buffers on both sides. So for instance, I try not to do any kind of plant meetings after seven in the evening and not before ten thirty in the morning. And then okay. Once you guys in event, you still have that buffer in the morning or you need to do something early in the morning of the buffer in the evening. So as long as one of them ideally, more than once a week, you do actually use both buffers for regeneration and and work and support and these things. But if something comes up, you're you're not immediately without any time. Right?


And I think that was a big change that I also made three three months ago. After the first three months had really been super demanding and and knew I needed to make sure that I take care of myself the same way I had you know, the five years before. So so these kind of buffers are super important for us. It's really interesting that you mentioned the first three months because I think that adjustment period also something that I think to speaking to our audience, of course, is also something natural maybe. So While it's very important, I think to get to a schedule that now works for you, it was also just may be necessary that you went through that period where you actually were just kind of like complying with the demands and and running at the speed as anyone else kind of like made you run at that point. I find it really interesting that you gave yourself that time also to kind of craft a better way and then implemented it and since then it sticks.


But I'm really not sure about if if if I would recommend to our audience to do it that way. Or if you can learn from other people's mistakes in in that case, mind, you know, like the more effectiveness and focus and calmness that I'm able to bring to to my team and to to my work now every day is just so much so much better. So, you know, I think especially when you start that maybe transition phase and and super intense period. I think it's it's always easier said than done. Everyone also told me before, hey, take care of yourself yourself included, by the way. But for some reason, you you know, you really wanna make it happen immediately with with the new challenge. But again, fast paced marathon and I should've I personally think I should have, you know Prioritize that earlier. Prioritize that early. Interesting. Thank you for sharing that learning.


So what do you consider yourself ambitious? Ambitious always has different connotations, but I think it's probably difficult to to say no. I see it as a very positive positive attribute. And and, yes, I think I'm ambitious. Cool. What drives you? So what what motivates to to actually keep going and, like, keep going for long stretches of time. I mean, it's been a long journey now despite of it being quick in terms of success, but five years, the stamina and the persistence is very, very impressive. So what drives you?


Well, you know, when I was when I was quite young, when I was studying, I discovered my passion for entrepreneurship. I was I was in Australia. I was studying abroad and I was I was surrounded by super young Americans who were building their companies and who were just super excited about what they were doing. And that was eye opening for me because I was always super passionate and excited about sports. You know, I used to be an athlete or also about what I was studying. I really enjoyed it. Like, I was not the type of business school student who was at business school because he didn't know what that was doing or basically by default. I really enjoyed it.


But for me, there was always a question what comes afterwards. And and I didn't find inspiration from the traditional business careers. So I I didn't have friends who were in consulting investment banking or others who were happy, excited people. And so it was very difficult for me to understand, you know, what would I actually end up doing that feeds with my with my view on having a a great life. And then seeing those entrepreneurs was like, that's it, you know, and what drove them or what you know, different entrepreneurs are motivated by different things. But what I found most inspiring were the people who really were using entrepreneurship as a means to solve relevant problems, basically, at a global scale. So Also when I was studying, I was very much focused on, you know, microcredit and how that improves, you know, people's lives at scale and actually structurally improves it. Right? So for me, it's really about, at some point, like, founding companies that solve these meaningful global problems. And that's really, I think, entrepreneurship plays such a big role on how we will, as a society, also evolve over the next you know, generation. And, yeah, that's just a super exciting thing to be part of and that that basically I That's what drives me, I guess.


I actually meant to ask you this a bit earlier in the during the introduction, but then it's Googled over. But it's still an interesting question. How did you decide to go with n twenty six actually when you were kind of looking at at startups? And it's like, what made it interesting for you? Yes. You know, I was After that experience in Australia, I was very much debating with myself if I should like those guys and girls try and directly figure it out and start my own company or if I should have a look at how, you know, how the startups are doing it, how founders that are already in the have already founded, how they're getting along, and know, sometimes in life also it's coincidences.


So good friend of mine, new a friend of Valentin, the founder and CEO of n twenty six. Who in that circumstance was looking for these entrepreneur and residents to join them super early on, sounded super exciting. They had a big vision. They wanted to change banking, you know, something that is a relevance meaningful topic from my perspective. And so I heard them out and met them and decided, you know, why not join them for six months a year and see what happens? After three weeks, there was no looking back. Okay. It's been almost six years now. Exactly. It's been almost six years now, but it's it's it's the best learning environment I could have ever imagined in in in in in the context of what I wanna do with my life later on. And so I've been really, really grateful for for the last six years for working so close with with them and with all the other great people that I've I've worked with over last years. Cool. Again, a good moment to give the opportunity to consider N26 opportunity. Seems like a great company to join.


How maybe let's talk a little bit about leadership and what it means to you and what your style is and whether that changed or what time? Because I can't imagine kind of like starting very young and then also like being heads down, building parts of the business, like banking license, customer support, no easy task, a lot of operational stuff. You still develop a very kind of like unique style and how you lead and what you think about teams, how you want to build them. Walk us through how do you see that part of your North Life? No. It's interesting.


For me, it was one of the most fascinating elements whatsoever because I I know that what makes a difference of super successful companies and average or normally successful companies is culture, which comes from leadership, which, you know, is ultimately about having the best people doing their best and most meaningful work. Right? And so in the beginning, in in the roles that I had in the beginning, it was really about obviously also myself really with with my own kind of work contributing to to my objective. So, you know, when setting up customer service in the beginning, I was personally talking to customers and then over time kind of ahead and scaled the team. So there it was quite easy to to, you know, lead by example because you exactly knew how it is to to take a call, where I need to document the call, what problems customers have. So in those early teams, basically, which were more operational, I would say, that was kind of the key. So and I I had that from my past. It was with swimming with other things. It was this leading by example that, you know, really was resonated for me and which I tried to demonstrate in in in those teams.


Over time or basically embedded in that thought of leading by example is obviously this enablement. Mhmm. Right? So, basically, by leading by example, you also our role model, you teach, or you show, and empower others to actually then also do their best work. And as my role has evolved and I was working with a lot more more, you know, experience, subject matter experts, speed on banking, speed and in the different countries, be it now in with with marketing leaders. It's really in the sense of enablement. So, obviously, I know the company very well. I know the context very well and then they contribute and and and bring kind of their expertise. And and for me, it's about how can I make this person successful at n twenty six? Basically, I would say enablement is the key keyword, but at the same time, it's also, to some extent, an element of challenge is also there. Right? Because you always need to make sure that that in the context of n twenty six, the people are moving in the right direction. And so always being close, asking questions and facilitating their success, but also having those high standards that we intend will have and also need in order to move fast and be, you know, the best in the world. So I would say it's a mix of of enabling and challenging.


Howard Bauchner: You mentioned that you actually got to lead a lot of experienced people and like subject matter experts. Which learnings did you gather there? Because I can't imagine it's it can be tough and and we we get these questions actually often. Specifically that one, when I have someone who's much more experienced, also much more senior than myself, how can I actually establish trust with that person? Maybe also thinking back to the projects you've done, the banking license, I know you work with a lot of kind of very senior executives and and subject my experts there and so on. What were kind of the key moments that where you felt, oh, now I actually established trust. Mhmm.


Why do you think that Well, I think it was always because for me, I'm usually quite clear on what needs to happen also for that person to be successful and what we need from that role that function that person to contribute to the bigger picture. So, you know, connecting what needs to happen to what that person can contribute to building this kind of, you know, that's where we are today and that's where we need to go. And I know that you can get us there and you can help us and here to support you along the way and tell me what you need for me. That's also a great starting point. So, you know, when when you manage to get those give those people the context they need to have in order to to build those plans. So I think that's that's a starting point.


And then you know, it's it's it's just being there every day and it's it's whenever they actually have an obstacle, either to really have anticipated it -- Mhmm. -- because obviously, you know, and you join a cam. Those are the five subject matter experts where you know, okay, that's the five other people had those challenges you you already anticipated. And you supply them with the solution. So you don't so if, you know, you don't let them run against the wall and then say, by the way, that's the wall, but you you you help them and and and say, well, you know, a lot of people were already running into this wall here here, Howard, you know. Walking around and walking here. Here's the bat. Walking around and here's the bat. And then also really being able to quickly provide resolution to any challenge that they have, which typically I can because I just know the organization inside and out. And, you know, basically, that's that's really my my value that I that I can bring to the table in any circumstances is trying to connect the dots and and have have also the connections and and the history with with why I think why why things are the way they are. Cool.


Last but not least, maybe a little bit kind of like more from a personal note when working on your team, when working directly with you. What's important? What are kind of like your dues and downs? Mhmm. Great question. I never think probably a lot of things, but to to prioritize. I mean, what I usually place a high value on? Is this similar level of ownership mindset? So obviously, I don't expect everyone to have the life ambition to start their own company and therefore really kind of have this entrepreneurial ownership mindset, but you know ownership mindset doesn't necessarily only come from owning a company, but owning a topic and caring deeply about the success of your team and your topic, and and therefore being ultimately accountable for your outcomes. So what's what's difficult is when, you know, people always have a reason why things didn't work. That's outside of their circle of influence. So, you know, it's we don't have we don't have these. We don't have that. I didn't have the budget. I didn't have the resources. Those things typically I I dislike. So I I I very much appreciate when someone just takes accountability for the outcomes. And then has an objective conversation with me on why those outcomes are the way they are and how can how can improve them. So ownership mindset for me is key. Which also means productivity thinking ahead like what I described before.


The second point is around really establishing this strong, also meaningful relationships. Right? So we spend so much time at work. It's for me personally, I strongly believe in building a culture where you also have meaningful relationships with your colleagues. And, you know, that ultimately is also the foundation for you to be able to give feedback, you know, on on a daily basis. It's especially also when work is not done well. Right? So for me, it's also very important to help people get better by telling them also what what didn't work. But also receive that. Mhmm. You know? And I think that's sort of trying to establish a culture where that's just perfectly normal. Is is one of my top priorities. And, yeah, I mean, maybe one more thing is this learning culture that I tried to create, right, where we after every project, we try and sit down to a retrospect what it will learn. Let's not make the same mistakes again. Let's always always get better at things that happen on a repeated basis. And also trying to help all the people, like, actually have a clear, also, you know, development plan for for their skills. We discussed this also, you know, outside of this podcast in in the context of what are people's life goals? How can you break down the eighteen month plan? And how can you potentially by knowing that? Which is part of creating these meaningful relationships, also help them to work on projects that move them in that direction. Right? So I think also maybe some of the some of the points. Yeah. The radical candidate framework is is what comes to mind. I think it's really really good efficient and effective kind of like three part conversation. I'll be sure to plug in the link in the podcast description for you guys.


Last but not the least, I actually like asking this question because I think reflecting on your story and being a founder myself. Obviously, the first question that's been to mind, like, we all need Alexis in our companies. A bit of a running joke. I think between us at this point, but it is really true. I think the question that I kind of like from a founder perspective, of have always is what can founders do, not only in, like, looking for people, I mean, that's kind of, as you said, it's kind of going out there telling people that you're looking for, you're right hand, that you're looking for entrepreneurial residents, there's many ways to go for networks and ecosystems and things. But kind of I think the more interesting question is, what did the company? What did the founders actually do? To enable you to grow and like to stay. So what are the guidelines that you can share for other founders?


Well, as you mentioned, it's first of all, you know, different people have different motives. So if you if you have someone who really really wants to make it happen and where you know, you know, they're coming actually and they know to make a company successful. It takes six to ten years and they're ready kind of for that and and really wanna really wanna own it, then then that's a great starting point. If you have someone like that joining your team, then I think, you know, the three things that I would recommend would, on the one hand, obviously, give them participation, like, to some extent, if if they feel like an owner. Obviously, they won't get founder shares, but at least sort of show them the upside.


Second point is always have them contribute to the topics that have strategic importance to the company. So, you know, over those four challenges that I've had over the last six years, I always clearly understood how they are related to the current challenges of the company. So, right, so I think that was always for me very exciting or or something where I knew I very much understand founders. They very much understand the business. They very much understand the challenges. So I would love to try to help where I can have the most impact. But so they have a sort of trying to be close to the topics that are really relevant. And third is I think always trying to those projects anyway have that. And nature, but but to make sure that you always give people a project or responsibility that's slightly outside of there.


Campus zone. Campus zone? Or or like yeah. Something where where they can see aha. In order to really accelerate that, that's sort of where I need to accelerate myself again. And it's knowing kind of how far out of the comfort zone that is? I think it's also wrong to to if you know that you're you're gonna set that personal up a failure, obviously, don't do it. So Try and try and find The final line.


Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Cool. Thank you so much.


This has been extremely insightful as always. I yet again did learn new things. I think it's it has been there have been a few of these conversations, but Thank you, Alex, for shedding always new perspective and kind of bringing in very authentic moments also for reflection and learning. That are very valuable, I think, for our audience, and anyone who actually is in the entrepreneurship realm. Yeah. Thanks so much for being here. It's always a pleasure. Thank you very much, Darrie, also for the thought questions. Thanks for listening to teams at work.


Let me know what your thoughts are in today's episode. You can find me on Instagram at Darya GoodNigg and start a conversation there. At the beginning of the show, I mentioned that my team and I are building an AI leadership coach. To help you become a world class leader in just two minutes a day. It's coming out very soon on the Apple App Store. If you want to get early access though, head over to bunch dot ai and simply sign up. And thanks again for listening. I'm your host. My name is Darja Gutnick. I'm the co founder and CEO at Bunch. If you like today's episode, make sure to subscribe on Spotify or Apple podcasts.