Base: Köln (Cologne), Germany
Occupation: Lecturer, Project Manager and CEO
I’ve met Michael during the German surf Championship 2018. I was volunteering in the IT Team, while he was handling the online presence of the Competition and the German Surf Club (Deutscher Wellenreiter Verband, DWV). Since then I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him a lot better during various german surf events.
The interview took place in St. Girons Plage, France on the 27th September 2019 and is translated from German into English by me.
Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time!
Even though we’ve spent a lot of time together during the events of the last year, I still don’t quite know what you do for a living. How do you describe your job to somebody you’ve just met?
I’m a project manager for projects offline or online, that find their way to me. I bundle that work under the agency °visualcosmos .
Before creating the agency, have you worked as an employee?
Yes, first went to a high school, but then I switched to a secondary school, to dive further into the technology, instead of languages. After secondary school I did a 3 year vocational training to become an industrial electrician. Upon completion I continued to work for the company I trained at for about a year. After that I went to university. That was the only time I worked as an employee until now.
Did you decide not to work as an employee because of that experience? Could you give me more insights on how you became self-employed?
The decision didn’t come from that. I’ve always had a different life concept for myself. I never wanted to be tied to something, I wanted to be free, to do what gives me joy. Also money or having a career has never been important to me. It still isn’t. To me it is important to have time.
Now you have an agency, a label, work as a lecturer and do a lot of volunteering work. How free are you able to decide over you time management and your location?
I can mange my time and place rather well. I started to build the agency during my studies in 2000 and founded it in 2004 the concept was ready. The agency is completely online, so I can work from everywhere. The label layday layday is a more personal project, which I’m doing cause we had fun and the opportunity presented itself. My work as a lecturer for the applied universities are always limited to one semester. My condition is always that I can plan the lectures freely, so it of course makes sense for the students, but also myself. By planning like this, it enables me to decide over bigger spans of time.
Given a week how much time do you spend working?
That’s a though question. Well, work for me, because I have this concept of only doing projects, that are fun to me, I can’t quite separate it from leisure. To me the term work-life-balance is wrong in itself. It doesn’t make sense to separate that much, because everything is work. I mean brushing your teeth is work. The question is always how do you draw the line. That’s why I ‘m unsure, but I would say in the typical way, I work more than the unions say is good.
I saw online, that °visualcosmos uses the word leisure design (ger. Freizeitdesign). What is that?
We want to emphasize, that we don’t support the typical “9- to-5” job. I want to give you a bit more context for this. I was an initiator of the first co-working space in Düsseldorf. Now there is 12 or maybe 13. And in Köln we tried to form a network of the German co-working spaces. This was more complicated, than it should have been. Most of the entrepreneurs of other co-working spaces aren’t quite ready to see, that competition can be good and that you can work together, even if you offer the same thing. This is still the case, even though our first initiative is over a decade ago.
During these projects I’ve noticed that, for me, I can mix work and life. People used to say to me: “Well Micha great, but why should I work with you, your always on the road…”. After that I always had to explain or even justify myself, but at one point I didn’t want that anymore. That’s why Freizeitdesign is on our website. I want to say: “Guys, if you do it differently, that’s okay, but I do it this way, so please accept that, or don’t work with me.” Because I’m reliable, my project work, I put a lot of effort in, but still I’m in charge of my time. I work when and where I want, I mean except for my lectures.
That’s a great setup. But how can you kind of walk me through how you got here?
That has two sides. On one side I work at the media institute of the university while I was studying. The goal was to connect the fields, like design, architecture, social education and IT within the university. That was a mixture of people, that need each other to realize projects, but that didn’t quite work together. So for example a design agency needs a webshop and so on. in the beginning I handled most projects myself, but at one point, it got to much, so I started working with other people. I mean the concept of my agency is still, that I don’t have employees, I have partners. We are all reliant on each other, partners, customers and other service providers, so I want to be on one level with them, without a hierarchy.
The other side is more private. My dad died after over 12 years of severe illness in 2014. The doctors said to him in the beginning he would not even have two years. How he handled the gift given to him for 10 years has taught me how valuable time is – because time is all that you have (at least in this form).
Because you’ve started all of this from a young age, I get the feeling, that you make very conscious decisions. Do you have plan for the next year for achievements, interests or projects?
I want to make the label a bit bigger, through new partners, so with Surfphysio and always hungry. My girlfriend cooks, so we host pop up diners and try to spread the healthy, responsible lifestyle without culinary pleasure loss. Surfphysio is a project from Karl, who puts an emphasis on corporeality, which is also important for surfers. to connect these two opened new perspectives and added a lot of power to the label. Other than that I don’t have any specific plans, yet.
Your Label layday layday has great music podcasts, sells posters and T-Shirts. What exactly is layday layday ?
Originally, Marcello Barth & Nikolai Wiesen, who were students, that volunteered at the German Surf championships told us: “What does a surfer in trouble say?” – ” Layday Layday”. Markus Göddertz and I drove back to Köln in my old VW bus, and during that drive the joke was stuck in our heads. And because layday layday is such a cool name, we decided to register and found it. We knew that it made no sense just to have a label with no purpose, so we decided to produce things, that we want to have.
We have unique prints and not posters, which we produce from an old own Heidelberg press. Also we sell ponchos, T-Shirts and pretty much everything that we personally want to wear. The concept wasn’t to start selling to surf shops immediately, so at the moment we produce for us, and friends and family.
Whats your favourite feeling while surfing?
The moment when the wind is off-shore and you get back up from a duck dive and hear that almost velcro sound while feeling the waterdrops on the back of the head.
Personally, I always struggle to find the balance of being connect online, while not spending to much time on my phone. How do you manage your on social media time, while still being present for the DWV or the agency?
It is very clear that I spend way too much time on my phone. Because I’m a stupid perfectionist, I need to do everything properly. So if a link on Facebook doesn’t work, I can’t just leave it like that. That’s great for the DWV, but it’s pretty bad for me. Recently, since August 2019, I’ve started to explicitly set times, where I put away my phone and my computer. Of course, for example during this championship week, this doesn’t work at all. But as soon as I’m back or this event is over, I’m going to go back to it. Because, it is pretty terrible, I couldn’t sit on my terrace look at the sky and listen to the birds, without having something on my mind.
Last, but not least: What would you do, if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Surely, try to systematically destroy all weapons and bad vibes to bring to globe back to unison. Which wouldn’t work, but that was the question!
Thank you so much for taking the time!