Empowering People through Tech – An Interview with Carma M. Lüdtke

Image with Illustration of Carma

LaceWing Tech, a Berlin-based tech and hosting company, put the empowerment of their customers at the fore. Carma Lüdtke and Laura Wadden founded LaceWing Tech in 2018. Since then, they have built a team of 11 people who want to make a difference in tech by providing secure, trustworthy and privacy-respecting cloud solutions. We spoke to Carma, the company’s CEO, about values in tech, founders and cereal bars.

SUPERRR: First of all: What is the story behind the name LaceWing Tech?

Carma: That’s very simple – lacewings eat bad bugs!

SUPERRR: You state on your company website that you want to build IT solutions that serve the users. That sounds great – but why doesn't that already exist?

Carma: Software is generally developed by people who are already experts and who want to use it themselves. That means they are not good at understanding the needs of other people. They offer things that are of good quality but they often have the attitude, “Why should I put in more effort simply to make the software more usable?” That has more or less worked so far, but there have been instances when it went wrong. Companies have failed because of it.

SUPERRR: So what exactly are you doing differently at LaceWing Tech?

Carma: We take a holistic view. We don't just try to put a new colour on open source products – we add a service to it. Imagine if we sold cars. We wouldn’t just offer different colours. We’d also provide driving lessons or bring the car to the novice customer in another state so they wouldn’t have to do the journey themselves. (laughs) Other providers leave their customers to figure things out on their own, which can make them feel abandoned. We built up cloud storage and offer solutions for data storage. Many other big companies offer that – Microsoft, Dropbox, Google – but they don’t offer affordable services on top. This means that if the synchronisation doesn't work, users are left in the rain, not knowing exactly how to figure out what went wrong. Is it the cloud itself that’s malfunctioning, or my computer, or the network? Meanwhile, they can't work. We try to offer solutions in one place. We find out exactly where the problem is, look at it holistically and work with our customers to better solve the problem.

SUPERRR: You want open source alternatives to outperform mainstream, proprietary products. Are we on the right track to get there or is there still much to do?

Carma: There is still so much to do! I believe a community can make better and safer software than a company. That's why I prefer community solutions to monopoly solutions, if possible. We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to choose between open source and bigger solutions.

SUPERRR: People like us – that’s great!

Carma: Yes! Unfortunately there is no way to avoid proprietary solutions completely. We are not dogmatic. We are really more concerned with educating people about what they can do to protect themselves and their data, and the best way to handle it. Super-secure solutions are all well and good, but if you fall back on using USB sticks to exchange data because your data management system is too obscure and hard to handle, it's just no use.

SUPERRR: Exciting – so first you had the desire to found something and then you needed time to find out what exactly it would be. Why was founding LaceWing Tech so important to you?

Carma: My parents were self-employed when I was little. They were perhaps the first muesli bar manufacturers in Germany – but ahead of their time. The competitors still exist. You can buy their products today at the organic food store. But my parents' recipe was the best. The competitors were always trying to get hold of the recipe, which I thought was a good sign. I didn't want anything else to eat when I was a kid! Values are central for us. My wage work wasn't really meaningful. It wasn't a pleasant job.  I always had lots of ideas and I knew that Laura and I could make something really good together.  

SUPERRR: How do you implement these values in your work so that they are noticeable?

Carma: One way is how we choose our employees. Our team is simply more diverse than normal. Not at all levels, but we have on the screen that we want to be a diverse team that works well together, where people treat each other with respect and where -isms do not go unchallenged. We want our employees to be treated well and have the right of co-determination. So we work together, with transparency, not from the top down.  Our products also reflect our values. We think it is more sustainable to offer cloud services than for every small organisation to run its own server, pay an admin person etc. It makes much more sense to bundle these things – but big companies have destroyed the market. I recently gave a lecture on cloud technologies and someone asked me what kind of cloud I could recommend that is free. A cloud is expensive to set up, salaries have to be paid! From this expectation that everything is free, it is difficult for many people to understand that running a service costs anything at all. Google and Co. are totally distorting competition.

SUPERRR: Laura is active in the fight against the planned Amazon Tower in Berlin. How do you position yourself there, are you an activist? Or are you following another model, hoping that one day your offer will prevail?

Carma: We are activists in different ways, I would say. I do have a clear position but I don't always have to make it known. That's how we want to live our company, so that we don't always walk around with our index finger raised, German finger-wagging. (laughs) I want to live my values and give other people the freedom to do the same – sometimes more strictly, sometimes less strictly. But for this we also need communication, because none of us has eaten wisdom with spoons. I want us to be known not only for who we are and what we demand, but for good work, a good concept.

SUPERRR: What is the next goal you are working towards?

Carma: We want to offer more products that are easy to use. For example, pre-configured devices, laptops with everything on them so that people can get started right away. And we want to work more with partners so that we can empower IT administrators. They often maintain computers and ensure that everything runs smoothly – but sometimes they have to rebuild an entire company system. And if they can get reinforcements from nice people like us, with whom they can communicate at eye level... That's what we want to do throughout Europe.

SUPERRR: Thank you so much for the conversation!

Learn more about LaceWing Tech on their website. Illustration: Anna Niedhart, Rainbow Unicorn.