Thomas Falkenstein

Co-Founder and Member of the Board

FollowYourTalent Stiftung

My motivation for founding the FollowYourTalent Foundation was the long-standing desire that I would like to pass on positive life experiences. Both from myself, but especially from other people who have found their own individual “life track”. I would like to motivate young people in particular to develop self-confidence and confidence in their own lives and to break free from the constant hedging, comparing and copying of other life models.

I was born in Ludwigshafen am Rhein in 1968 and spent a very nice carefree childhood in the Palatinate. As a child I was very reserved, almost shy you could say. It was not until puberty that my self-confidence matured and I developed a great passion for music and audio-visual media. During my school years I played in several bands, later produced long-playing records myself and worked for advertising agencies, radio and television stations. After graduating from high school, vocational training in this field was therefore relatively clear to me. However, it was more difficult to decide which direction I wanted to take: Music, journalism or TV/film production? I completed internships in all areas, which helped me a lot in my decision-making process. Above all, I knew afterwards what I definitely did NOT want to do.

My parents gave me a free choice, but in my rather conservative family there was no doubt that my fields of interest belonged more to the “breadless art”. This didn’t leave me completely unimpressed, and it was not least because of this that I listened to a somewhat older friend whom I had met through my jobs in radio. He recommended that I choose the “intermediate path” that he himself had taken: marketing & advertising. Here I was able to combine all my fields of interest, but still combined with a solid foundation in business administration. And so I studied business administration with a focus on marketing and advertising at the University of Mannheim, Pforzheim University and Southbank University London. I have never regretted this decision.

The fading 80s and the beginning 90s were the time in which the so-called “new media” developed rapidly. The “personal computers” got more and more computing power and soon technology, music, photography and film started to merge more and more. Now I could develop my passion further and founded my first one-person-company “procom”, with which I “assembled” multimedia presentations for friends and acquaintances. However, the more individual and interactive these presentations became, the more important software and programming skills became. Since I had no idea of software programming myself, I looked for partners who could contribute this part directly after finishing my studies. Together we founded the multimedia agency “Concept!” in the mid-90s, with which we developed interactive information and presentation systems as well as advertising applications for the first companies to use this technology.

With the beginning of the commercial use of the Internet, our young company finally developed into one of the leading German Internet agencies, in which the then largest advertising holding company in the world, WPP Group plc, became a shareholder in 1999. From then on, I was responsible for building up the international network as the board member for “International Expansion”. It was a great adventure, because none of us had ever had management experience on such a scale before. Looking back, it was an extremely enjoyable, exciting and thrilling time, but also challenging and stressful.

Almost simultaneously with this professional high, however, life – as I felt at the time – threw a spanner in the works. At the height of our company’s success, I fell ill with cancer and doctors predicted that I would only live a short time. A few months, two years at the most. Months of hospitalization, operations, chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant followed – the full program. It quickly became clear to me that my previous life on the roller coaster urgently needed to be guided into calmer waters if I wanted to have any chance of recovery at all.

So at the end of 2002, together with my co-partners, I decided to sell the company completely. From today’s perspective, this was a great decision. I was able to “reinvent” myself once again – tried out new business ideas in a wide variety of industries, sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed, worked with students at my old university, developed and ran a large film festival for many years together with a friend, and volunteered for numerous charitable projects.

I became interested in why some people always seemed to end up on the sunny side of life and others did not. Certainly there are external circumstances that make a carefree and happy life difficult. I am thinking from my own experience, for example, of life-threatening illnesses. But in the end, a person’s contentment depends above all on the way I view life and my role in it. Here, one’s own identification, knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses, one’s own needs and limits, but also daring and “letting go” play an important role.

Today I believe that happiness can also be “learned”. I would like to pass that on.

In 2013, I founded the FollowYourTalent Foundation, based in Freiburg im Breisgau, with my longtime friend Martin Behrens.