“Our vision is to become the starting point for celebrations … think of what Netflix is to entertainment,” explained Rachel Wright, CEO and founder of Celbretti, a so-called “lean startup” looking to penetrate the Berlin market for the first time this summer. From there Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich.
“As we get going into the spring and summer, I am optimistic that with the rollout of the vaccine, here in Germany, people will be able to celebrate again and we are working to prepare for that.”
It’s a quintessential American story – a 34-year-old immigrant quits a corporate job and starts a company – in reverse. Not coming to America, but heading off to Europe on the heels of the Great Recession, and taking with her a freshly minted Bennington College degree, and what Wright describes as an American talent for entertaining.
“I feel like Americans know how to party,” said Wright, “like if you look at celebration trends, a lot of them come from the States.” Microweddings, gender reveal parties, Wright said, all of these party trends are taking root in Germany, but originated in the United States.
The Enfield, CT native, and graduate of Enrico Fermi High School, hadn’t at first intended to stay. She took a semester abroad “to pick up a bit of German” at Freie Universität and planned to apply to graduate school in History back in the United States.
Instead, she continued her studies there in Comparative Literature – “because it’s a lot cheaper here in Europe than in the States” – and after a series of jobs, Wright ended up as a communications specialist and project manager at Zalando, a quick-growing online fashion retailer catering to customers across Europe — the Netflix of getting dressed.
“I think in the beginning I identified more as an expat, I mean we have expat community here,” said Wright. “Now I see myself as an immigrant. I moved to Germany from somewhere else, so technically that’s what I am. I connect more to the tenacity and grit that I think immigrants can bring to their chosen home country. This is something I’ve seen from a lot of immigrants here that have started their own businesses.”
After 8 years in corporate jobs, Wright left first with the idea of a side business based around baking cakes – American celebrations cakes, more simple than a typical German cake, and with buttercream — but quickly moved on from that idea, cycling through a rapid series of “value propositions,” testing and refinement, that defines a lean startup – a business method popularized by a 42-year-old blogger, entrepreneur and Yale alum, Eric Reis.
“The day after I left my job, Zalando, my former employer, gave me quite a large order for a going away party. As I put that together I realized I didn’t want to be in a kitchen,” said Wright. “I think I had other skills or maybe a bit more to offer and was looking to create something that was scalable and where I could create a company and a culture. So, from there I decided to get a Dictaphone and really hit the streets.”
Wright approached people on the streets of Prenzlauer Berg, an upscale bohemian neighborhood once known as home to the East German counterculture, asking passersby, “tell me about your last celebration.”
After developing and discarding ideas which included cake delivery and celebrations in a box – too wasteful they thought – Wright landed on the idea of bringing convenience to party planning, particularly for working mothers with corporate jobs.
A trial run this summer, for a “picnic in a park” concept, took in 16 orders on just 40 Euro of social media advertising – the kind of feedback that convinced Wright and two partners that they had found a winning formula.
“The problem we’re trying to solve is to bring convenience to party planning and not just any party, but these exceptional celebrations that our customers want to create for their families and loved ones. This is something that came out quite strongly in the interviews that I did personally in the very beginning.”
Now, Celbretti is competing with several other lean startups in a competition sponsored by the Berlin School of Economics and Law’s “Berlin Startup Incubator” to share 13,000 Euro of seed money.
The competition is part of what Wright describes as a vibrant international “startup scene” in Berlin, which includes incubators, venture capital and other resources, including mentorship for female entrepreneurs who as of yet lead just 15 percent of the new startups there.
After years spent working for others, Wright is confident and to the point.
“When you have something that you want to celebrate, we’ll be the first place you’ll go.”
For more on Celbretti and Wright’s contest entry, take a look here