Building Trust, Driving Impact: Collaboration in Sustainable Entrepreneurship

In the bustling atmosphere of the CIRCULAZE Night 2022, where innovators, investors, start-ups, and entrepreneurs came together, start-up Founder & CEO of hey circle Doris Diebold and Angel Investor Robert Hein’s paths first crossed. They became engrossed in a conversation that would shape their future collaboration

Rachel Johnson | Mar 13, 2024

Doris Diebold is Founder & CEO of hey circle. Founded in 2021, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Doris and her team embarked on a mission to change e-commerce forever and eliminate unnecessary packaging waste with the help of a simple reusable blue box designed for shipping parcels. In 2022, hey circle was recognized as a Top 20 Start-up at the CIRCULAZE Award Night.


Robert Hein is a seasoned c-level and entrepreneur with 24 years spent in the e-commerce space, as CEO and Co-Founder of the 004 Group, CIO at Berlin Brands Group and an active advisor of numerous start-ups. Recently, Robert has begun to dip his toes into sustainable investing and, since 2023, has been an Angel Investor at hey circle.


First impression when meeting?


Robert: To be honest – it’ll never work. I was of course playing the sceptic because coming out of the e-commerce space, I saw a lot of operational challenges around the whole topic. But Doris’s energy, and persuasiveness, piqued my interest and left me wanting to learn more. That and the evolution of conversations. I was already very open in the first meeting sharing, “Well, if I were you, I’d be doing A, B, and C.” And that didn’t scare Doris away.

Doris: No, on the contrary. It’s great to get feedback from people who know what they’re talking about. This draws me in, because as a founder, you need people to give their honest opinion. With Robert I had the impression from the start that he is focused on the business and thinks things through. I appreciate that because some will just chitchat. It’s important to shape the business according to the real e-commerce situation. If you have an idea and you go about it blindly, you will not be as successful as if you listen to the experts.


Most important quality in a business partner?


Doris: When it comes to our investors, including Robert, trust is very important. To be able to rely on the people you’re working with and have a sustainable relationship with similar work ethics is invaluable. There have been a few times where we got a strange feeling, but we always broke contact immediately.

Robert: Open communication from a founder to an investor is crucial. The ability of a founder to ask questions and not feel the need to be a super expert of everything. For me, that’s a total red flag. With Doris, she is very open with the problems she is facing and seeks other’s opinions, which is an important skill to have.

Doris: That’s a good point because as a founder, when you’re fundraising, you have to be confident. You feel the need to show that everything is running smoothly. But as Robert said, you cannot be a superhero and expert in everything. Start-ups will have their ups and downs, and if you can’t be open to your investors about this, the relationship is risky.


The up moments in joining forces?


Doris: First, when it came to the financial round (in December 2023, hey circle closed a 1.5 million Euro seed financing round), Robert gave us intros, connections to other investors, advised us on the process. I really value his ideas in this area of financial modeling and KPI setting. Robert’s level of expertise in e-commerce suits perfectly to what we’re looking for.

Robert: I’ve only been Angel investing since April of last year, so to be able to see one of my first investments go through the seed round and turn into actual shares, rather than just convertible notes, was a major milestone and first for me.


Frequency of communication?


Doris: We don’t have regular meetings as it really depends on the discussion points. It works like it does with a close friend. Sometimes you connect more and sometimes there’s less contact. It doesn’t feel like an obligation.

Robert: I hate micromanagement, and this idea that you need to watch everything closely. Scheduling regular meetings that aren’t necessary, is just a waste of time. I have a great respect of Doris’s time, and I know she will ask questions when she has them. This also embodies the trust relationship that we have.


“Business relationships are like getting married, and you should pick wisely.” – Doris Diebold

Advice to those looking for an investor/product to invest in?


Doris: Again, trust is important, because if investors treat you poorly in the first talks, before they invested, it’s not going to get any better. Sometimes start-ups feel like they have to take what they can get, but they shouldn’t. Business relationships are like getting married, and you should pick wisely.

Robert: If you’re looking for an investor, be clear about what you want from them. A skill that I look for is not only the product and the vision, but also the openness of asking questions. It’s good to know what you know, but it’s even better to know what you don’t know, and this helps you put together the kind of team and investment pool you desire.

The next steps for hey circle?


Doris: A lot of strategic planning as 2024 will be a year of customers and growth. Together with Robert, we will be looking at the financial model again and how we can redo this in a more operational way, moving away from the theoretical outlook you face in the beginning of a start-up. Now that we are onboarding more customers, we need to have a short-term financial model that interacts smoothly with the long-term and measures the KPIs very closely. We not only want to show our investors but the world that reusable packaging isn’t just a crazy idea – it can actually work!

Robert: I love hearing that about the financial model because it is one of the things that is important for all start-ups to unify not only what they want to get, but how they think, and what they need to do to get there. Start-ups need to be able to measure and constantly improve their ability to predict the future in a constantly changing world. Take the new EU packaging regulations, they will completely change how all organizations will need to act in the future.

Doris: Exactly, this is a really important part of the story for us too, because after almost 1.5 years of discussion, the EU packaging law is supposed to finally close. It contains the 10% reusability quota for transport packaging by 2030, and as a result we already have one cooperation on the way with a large logistics and electronics company. Hopefully we can announce it soon!


Benefits of networks like CIRCULAZE?


Doris: To meet investors, customers, or partners is the most obvious part. And even if Robert would not have become an investor, it still would have been a super valuable talk we had. Maybe it’s overused, but I think the word inspiration rings true here. At the last CIRCULAZE event in 2023, it was such an honor to be able to give a laudation speech for other amazing start-ups. I always like to give back and help others, and it’s so inspiring to learn what’s out there and what people have achieved.

Robert: For me, if I go back to 2022 when I wasn’t quite clear about the direction that I was going to take, CIRCULAZE introduced me to the topic of the circular economy and helped to push me towards circular investing. It was a great way to see what’s going on across industries internationally with many exciting ideas shared. Events like these should become standard because circularity is not going away. It’s the small steps that have big impact, and I’m looking forward to what 2024 has in store!


Come and meet Doris and Robert at the CIRCULAZE Night & Summit 2024November 5th & 6th in Munich!