Tell us little bit about you!
I’m Rotem and I’m the founder of Clustered. I started working on this project a few months ago and I’ve been working on it full time ever since.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a suburb city not far from Tel Aviv. When people ask I mostly say I’m from Tel Aviv because it’s just easier and I have spent most of my “adult” life there. Tel Aviv is a great city but people don’t get how small it is - everyone knows everyone, you can easily walk around and everything feels familiar. It’s a great city to live in but it’s also very expensive, and at some point it kind of felt too small for me and I wanted to experience something new.
When did you move to Berlin, and what brought you here?
My partner and I moved to Berlin in July 2016, when he got a job opportunity working for Soundcloud. At the time we weren’t planning to move to Berlin and we actually wanted to move to San Francisco at first. Due to the difficult visa situation in the US and after we heard from good friends of ours about how great Berlin is, my partner applied for Soundcloud and we moved just a few months after he got accepted.
Before we moved I had a great job working for probably the best company to work for in Israel at the moment. The people were great as well as the product, but most of the time I felt overworked and kind of frustrated. I was leading a team in the support department and I also lead a big project with one of the product teams. On paper I was supposed to be happy, but besides from working 10-12 hours a day as well as getting very few vacation days a year (very common in Israel), I always felt something was missing. As amazing as the company was, I didn’t feel very fulfilled by what I was doing every day. I always had a dream to start something of my own, and once Berlin came up, I felt like Berlin could be a good place to do that, so moving was a joint decision and we hoped it will be a good opportunity for us both.
Did you feel that Berlin matched your expectations?
In some ways yes, in most ways OH HELL NO. Berlin is a great city. It’s international, it’s super affordable, there is great nature, great public transportation, great people and tons of things to do at every given moment. However there were a few things that took me by surprise, like how most of the jobs in my field required German, that the Berliners are known for their hobby of telling people off and how lonely I would feel sometimes.
With time I learned how to navigate most of these things and I became stronger, but it was definitely a struggle at first.
What’s the biggest struggle you experienced as an expat, and what are the challenges do you think most women face while moving to Berlin?
Honestly, so many! I couldn’t prepare myself to how difficult the immigration experience would be for me, especially since the move was something I initiated and was really looking forward to. I decided to dedicate the first year to learn German and taking some time off to think about what I want to do with my life.
That was probably the most miserable year of my life. Besides the usual things - the language barrier, finding an apartment, making new friends and generally starting everything from scratch, the hardest part for me was that I suddenly had to start over. Nobody knew me, I didn’t have a professional network, and I had no idea who I was when I wasn’t working full time. Plus I was struggling with my sudden status as a “supporting spouse” to my partner who was “bringing home the bacon”. That really took a toll on me and my self esteem, and I was away from my circle of friends, family and colleagues who usually helped me feel better about myself . Once I decided to start looking for a job I felt I was already starting with a disadvantage and I was lacking the confidence and the mental strength to properly handle the job search experience.
I know that not every woman has the same experience, but from my conversations with hundreds of expat women over the past two years I realised that many of them had a very similar one. When you make a decision to move somewhere you usually focus on all the positive things that made you want to make this step, otherwise you wouldn’t have the courage to do it. But then once you’re there, you suddenly need to build a whole new life for yourself which can be a great opportunity, but it can also come with a good share of insecurities, questions and challenges.
What do you feel is missing or could help you settle in better?
I would have loved to have a better “on-boarding” experience to the Berlin life, especially when it came to start building my professional network. It would have been great to be able to easily connect with people who could take me by the hand and made some introductions, or gave me advice about the Berlin ecosystem and save me some frustration.
What attracted or inspired you to work on Clustered?
While I was on the hunt for a professional circle, I realised the common options are going to meetups or networking events which could be great but can also be intimidating and awkward (even for extraverted folks like me!), or stalking people on Linkedin, sending them messages and hoping to be graced with a response.
What I disliked about the “networking” experience is that it often times felt very transactional, and since I was already feeling disempowered in general I didn’t think I had anything to contribute to others. That discouraged me from going to these events because at the end of the night I felt more lonely and insecure then I felt going in.
At some point I started mostly going to women/female oriented events as I felt more comfortable and less intimidated when I was surrounded by like minded women. While I found it a lot easier to connect and relate to professional women, I still found the networking experience to be uncomfortable and not very enjoyable. Then I started asking myself WHY. Why is this setting so difficult for us? Why does EVERYONE hate networking but still see it as a necessary evil? Why, even though we have all these social media platforms we still get out of our pyjamas to go to mingle in a crowd of strangers?
It’s because we want and need to connect with other humans, offline. And even though we could have 5000 “friends” without ever leaving our house, there is something about talking to someone in person and having an eye to eye conversation that is more valuable and precious to us. And yet, it’s not that easy to come to a crowd of people and create these connections out of the blue. We need a buffer, a connector, a matchmaker - that will make this all process easier. That’s how Clustered came to be. I wanted to build a platform that will help women make meaningful connections that will accompany them on their journey to success in a fun and non intimidating way, that will help them feel less alone, provide them with the possibility to promote themselves authentically and get the support system they need to achieve their goals.
And I was very lucky to find a great team of ladies to build it with me!
What causes are you most passionate about?
I feel that a lot of companies in the tech industry and in general are still behind when it comes to gender equality, equal pay and equal opportunities. And for some expat women it’s even harder because they are immigrants with a lower starting point. I’m passionate about supporting women on their journey to find a supporting system to help them navigate this system while making efforts to disrupt and improve it.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Flying would be great (very original), but probably time travelling. I would love to be able to travel to the past and future, and witness different events and societies through history. Plus I would love to be able to see what the future will look like.
What do you do for fun???
My biggest hobby is swing dancing, and I have been doing it for almost 5 years. I draw so much inspiration from the swing community - it’s the most loving, accepting and welcoming group of people in the world. I also love to travel, hang out with friends in the park and watch Netflix :)