Sandra-Stella Triebl began Ladies Drive armed with a vision and the will to make it real. In this sparkling interview, she tells us more about her entrepreneurial journey, the power of strong role models and the true meaning of building a community.
What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
Ohh goodness. I have to go back a bit in my personal history for this one! As a kid, I was known as a talkative and “old” young girl. My mom used to say, “Make sure you can earn money by talking to people.” At the age of 5, I couldn’t make sense of it, but looking back, she was so right.
Early in my career, I realised that I was more interested in the bigger picture of an organisation and not any one department. When I worked for the Swiss government, I didn’t like accepting hierarchies that didn’t make sense to me. When the mandate was over, my boss told me I would be better off as an entrepreneur because I was curious and a quick learner. And I agreed.
Is that when you started Ladies Drive?
Actually, the first company I founded was a creative agency that offered consulting services for events and press releases. That’s when two businessmen from the car industry got in touch and said they needed someone with a journalistic background and an entrepreneurial mindset to set up a publishing and media house for the Swiss car fleet industry.
I was like, “Pardon, Swiss car…what?”
I had no clue about the B2B car market in Switzerland. But I felt it wasn’t rocket science, so I learnt about it. I helped to build up a print magazine, a community – a “who’s who” of the car industry – and an event. All in one year. Then I thought, if I could make such a specific project a success, maybe I could also build a community for women in business.
That’s where it all started.
How did you go from the initial vision to setting up the platform?
This idea of a 360-degree business platform for women in business intrigued me from the start. It needed to be more than one magazine, blog, website, event, or business club. It had to include all of them. Because I thought having women represented in media would make our presence feel, in a sense, more ‘real’.
The media and publishing houses in Switzerland are male-dominated. While that’s not bad, I felt there was room for female perspectives on business and entrepreneurship.
The vision was to create role models, showcase women in business to the world and highlight stories of the many successful women entrepreneurs out there.
At the same time, I also wanted to create a platform where women could meet, share their wisdom & best practices, and collaborate across industries and generations. I shared the idea with several marketing heads and departments I was working with. Their support was vital to make it all possible.
Were you surprised by how successful the platform became?
Yes, we couldn’t predict back then how big it would become. I thought it would stay in a niche because I felt women in business were a minority. But 51% of the population in Switzerland is female. We are not a minority here, but we always feel like a minority. Sometimes, we lack confidence in our abilities and feel we’re not good enough. The platform seemed to resonate with a lot of people who felt the same way.
And is it true that you invested your own money to build the business?
All of it! My mother was like, “Oh, you’re crazy. You can’t do that. You don’t come from a rich family background. You cannot afford to put all your money in that business.” But honestly, I just wanted to do it.
We didn’t do a SWOT analysis and say, “Oh, that’s the risk, that’s the opportunity.” We just did it. And that’s what the spirit of entrepreneurship is about, right? I truly believed in it. I could clearly see this happening, and for me, it couldn’t go wrong. No chance.
Of course, it was an incredible amount of work. We didn’t have any vacation for the company’s first six years. Only Christmas. And we were utterly exhausted between Christmas and New Year. We didn’t have much money – just enough to fill the fridge, but nothing else. And we reinvested whatever we could to make the business grow organically, like a tree.
Which aspect of this branching tree do you enjoy the most?
There are so many things I enjoy. I love to learn from how others see business and the world. It inspires me. I meet incredible people of all ages, industries, and backgrounds. It’s incredibly heart-warming.
Sometimes, people tell me that they read something I wrote or heard me say something during an event that gave them the confidence to change their lives. I find that incredibly beautiful.
Who are the women who have inspired you?
For sure, my mother, in a strange way. I had a complicated relationship with her, especially as a kid. She was hard on me. But it kept my feet on the ground, even though I still had my head in the clouds! I have to be thankful for that.
Besides her, several women have opened doors within me through their words and actions, and I could get to know myself much better thanks to them.
Can you share something that opened a door within you?
Often, circumstances in your business or private life make you act strange because you have to carry a heavy burden. This creates a situation where you cannot show yourself as the gentle, charming, and relaxed person that you would like to be. But we must be kinder to ourselves and others when we behave this way. If you don’t have the talent to forgive yourself and others, I don’t think you will be happy.
What advice would you give women who aspire to lead?
There are three things you need.
You need people around you who are diverse because that can inspire you. If you only have people who have the same opinion, background, age, and lifestyle as you, you might end up in a bubble, an echo chamber with “more of the same” instead of “new and exciting”.
The second thing you need is a soul tribe – a core team of people you can trust always to be honest with you. This can be within your company, group of friends or even family. The more successful you get, the harder it is to find these people.
And the third thing is to create a financially independent lifestyle – have your own money because you never know what will happen in your life.
Your LinkedIn says that you are “The Queen of Networking,” What’s the secret behind your excellent networking skills?
I’m an extrovert. I love to talk to people, and I’m super curious by default, so there’s no secret, really. But to establish a successful network, you need to see your skills in your community as a service. You also need to add value to your community, which means that you need to invest in the community and not only see people as tools to get something you want.
It’s not, “I do something for you. You do something for me.” It’s not tit for tat – a network is kind of a mother tree, a soul tribe. I think successful networking is much more than that. It takes time and trust. And you should always ask others: What can I do for you?
Coming back to the financial side of things, what is your relationship with money?
I’m careful with money because I didn’t grow up with much of it. If you don’t have a lot, you are cautious about spending what you have, right?
For me, money is like a boomerang. You have to throw it away so that it comes back to you. And whenever I spend money, I say, “Bye-bye” and tell the money that I spent, “Come back with your friends, please.”
And may I add something here as well: Money is just another form of energy. And you need to love it. Because with love, you attract things to come into your life, right?
And one final question: how do you define wealth beyond money?
I think wealth doesn’t have anything to do with money because you can feel wealthy with a happy life. It could be because of your family, your lovely little flat, or even the hobbies you love.
I think this feeling of “I have abundance, and I feel that abundance” in my chest has nothing to do with money per se. Everyone can have that. If you can only smile when you get married or get your first diamond ring or the first million in your bank account, then you probably won’t smile much in life. You must allow yourself to be happy with the little things. Then, you’ll smile a lot more. That’s how I see it. That’s my wealth beyond money.
Thank you for your time and energy, Stella!
Meet another trailblazing woman who dared to lead: Alisée de Tonnac, co-founder of Seedstars. Dive into our exclusive interview to uncover her journey as a Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneur.