6 lessons learned from working at N26 during hyper-growth and COVID-19
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6 lessons learned from working at N26 during hyper-growth and COVID-19

After graduating, I decided to give up a 50% higher salary and unlimited consulting contract in Zurich to join N26, one of the fastest-growing start-ups in Germany as a Business Intelligence Operations Analyst. Was it worth it? What can future entrepeneurs learn from N26. Read on to find out!
6 lessons learned from working at N26 during hyper-growth and COVID-19

1. Love and leverage open-source

Coming from a business background, my main motivation to start in a Business Intelligence position was to learn more technical skills in data analytics while also being able to leverage some of my knowledge from my business degree. After a few days, I noticed immediately that N26 is a big supporter and advocate of using Open Source software.

For a start-up there are many great reasons to solve existing problems with open-source software:

  1. Cost & Customisation: Open source software is free to use and since it is open, a developer can easily add changes to the functionality to customize it in a way that solves the problem. In terms of engineering economics, you do not have to reinvent the wheel to solve a certain problem but can instead contribute to make it an even better solution.
  2. Software quality: A piece of software created by thousands of developers from all over the world with experience in different technologies, industries, and projects can be of higher quality compared to developing it in a small developer team.
  3. Security: The open source community promptly finds and reports security flaws that the software owner usually fixes right away. Compared to proprietary software, open-source cannot misuse and abuse users’ data as this would quickly stop adoption and damage reputation.

Some great open source tools, I learned about at N26 are Metabase (BI dashboarding), DBT (data transformation tool), and Rasa (chatbot framework).

2. Ensure high responsibility and no hierarchy

Although I joined N26 in July 2019 when it was not a small start-up anymore, I had the chance to work on a variety of projects that I felt had a high impact and were quite diverse at the same time. These projects ranged from strategic topics, such as directly working with the COO on the Customer Operations strategy plan to executing data analysis that had the potential of saving the company 100.000s of Euros in costs.

At N26 colleagues were always very open to share information, help each other, or meet up to explain their role or new ideas they had. Whether you were a director or an analyst didn't matter, you could still contribute and your voice would be heard. Also, my managers were very open to my ideas and initiatives, encouraging me and supporting me in bringing them from idea to reality.

3. Supercharge learning curves with the development budget

One of the main reasons for not accepting the consulting offer was the idea that I would have a steeper learning curve at N26. While it's hard to say yes I did without experiencing the other career, I loved the idea of having a yearly development budget of 3000€ available to spend on development topics you find most important.

As soon as my development budget became available after the probation, I completed two Udacity Nanodegree Programs in Data Science and Data Engineering where I took a lot of ideas and learnings back to my work at N26.

4. Build a cool company culture

N26 had three key meetings each week which I liked quite a lot bringing the whole company together:

  1. All-Hands (Monday): Every Monday there was an all-hands meeting where progress towards OKRs was discussed, key news was announced or you could ask your questions directly to the founders via slack.
  2. Brown Bag Lunch (Wednesday): Pre COVID-19 N26 organized for every Wednesday catered lunch from Smunch and people could present various topics in more detail to the whole company.
  3. Friday Celebrations (Friday): Every Friday the week was wrapped up with Friday celebrations where each team could present some cool initiatives or small successes. Before COVID-19 this was also connected to having a beer or a few more beers in the office with colleagues.

A bit like the Silicon Valley tech giants, N26 provided breakfast drinks, and quite some opportunities to stay in the offices to celebrate and connect with co-workers after and during work hours:

5. Reevaluate skillsets at different company stages

One interesting point I found is that several key c-level positions remained to be filled with former friends of the founders or employees that have been in the company since day 1. I do not think that this is necessarily bad, as those who joined very early on took a bigger risk and also stayed loyal over the years and succeeded in growing the company to where it is today.

On the other hand, I think it is very hard or sometimes close to impossible to grow as fast in a role as a successful company is growing. Here it takes a lot of courage and self-reflection to let more experienced external employees with more experience take over.

Also from a founder perspective, it might be even riskier to replace loyal employees who you trust a lot and have been developing greatly in the past with externally hired more experienced employees.

For me it was similar that I reflected and felt that in my current role, I was not developing fast enough and that the learning opportunities were limited, being one of other reasons why I decided to leave N26.

6. Make it through growth pains

When I joined N26 in July 2019 during the hyper-growth phase, around 100 people were joining every month the company, as also customers were increasing very fast. The growth fits perfectly into the VC mindset where growth is the one primary key target to hit every month.

Most VCs expect the famous T2D3:

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