How to Build and Lead High-Performance Teams, with Bermet Markut

What makes a good leader: Learn how to find great talent, how to hire so you don't have to fire, and how to set measurable goals.

Christian Hoppe

Christian Hoppe


June 3, 2024

How to Build and Lead High-Performance Teams, with Bermet Markut

Is leadership age restricted?

Already leading an 8-people team with 22 years, Bermet shares about her experience & what makes a good leader.

We discussed:

  • How to find great talent, and how Assessment Centers provide a great experience for candidates
  • Learn how to hire so you don’t have to fire. And how to let people go, the right way (if you really have to)
  • How to help low-performers grow and become outperformers (within months).
  • How to combine the best of both: in-house teams & agencies.
  • How to set measurable goals with OKRs & set the right incentives.

Christian Hoppe

I'm very, very honoured to introduce today's guest, Bermet Markut. We've been working together for a really long time. 

Bermet, you're a highly respected leader in the industry. I've personally worked with you and I learned a lot from you. You've had a very fast and very successful career in ecommerce and in D2C. And we're going to speak about a very interesting topic, building and leading high-performance ecommerce & D2C teams.

You’ve managed to build a team that not only follows your guidance, but really loves to work with you. And we're going to speak about how to measure success and how to hire so you don't have to fire, which is an important topic. 

And maybe you will also share some of your unique approaches and ideas that others can learn from and directly apply in their business. So stay tuned and welcome, Bermet!

Bermet Markut

Thank you so much, Christian. It's an honor and thanks for having me.

Leading an 8-People Team at only 22 Years Old

Christian Hoppe

You've built and led many D2C teams in-house and you also managed external partners. You hired very fast and built very fast teams, a lot of people in a very short time. 

You built and led D2C and ecommerce at waterdrop. It was including eight people in your team, if I'm not mistaken, and also external partners at the same time. Then you led the international expansion of waterdrop in Europe, across many, many markets, and the US.

And you also helped grow waterdrop into what is now more than a $100 million dollar yearly business. Then you led online at BRUNA The Label, one of the most successful jewelry brands in Europe, D2C, and you also consulted and advised many different D2C brands. 

And currently you lead D2C and online at Löwenanteil, also a very successful D2C brand offering healthy convenience foods. And you've achieved all of that in a very short time while only being in your early twenties. 

How did you manage all this and what are some of your secrets and lessons that you learned?

Bermet Markut

Yes. Thank you so much, Christian. I think that my first proper experience in D2C was at waterdrop, as you mentioned, and it was in early 2020 when I joined the team.

And to be honest, I think it was just like us in the online team, or maybe there were three people when I joined. So it was a super, super small team. And I think I was also there in a very like good time, so to speak, because when the pandemic hit also waterdrop scaled a lot within very short time. 

So, we also were like, had this sort of nice pressure to build the teams and to scale the team and go into different markets and so on. So, I think like this kind of time helped me in a way because waterdrop gave more opportunities to people to grow in whom they saw the potential, so to speak. 

And I was lucky enough to like have a team around me who believed in me, who supported me and saw that potential in me. So yeah, I think that was like a big, big push for me, like in my career. As you said, I was in my early twenties. I think I joined the team when I was 22.

So it was quite a journey.

Christian Hoppe

I think we just had our first interview when you were still 21 and then when you started it was just after exactly birthday. I was very impressed. 

What's also very interesting is, I remember the times because it was a very small office and then we just moved to a new office and then within a short period we expanded across three levels in the office and the team became bigger and bigger and at some point it was two buildings and at some point we didn't even know who were the new community managers.

Bermet Markut

It could be, it could be.

Christian Hoppe

But what was really interesting was also that you led with a lot of confidence. 

And I think one of the misconceptions is, is leadership really age restricted? You and me, we both think probably not because you also had people that were, I think, 10 years older, multiple people that were 10 years older in your team, and they really respected you and loved working with you. 

So, how do you feel about this whole topic? Because you're really young and you just stepped up and led the team.

Is Leadership Age Restricted? 

Bermet Markut

Yes, I think like, you know, I never had any prior experience in leadership. I guess it just came naturally, like, I don't know, it came naturally for me. 

And in general, this age, like we both know that it actually doesn't really matter. What matters is the attitude, it's the experience, it's your willingness to learn. 

And at the end of the day, you can find a way to speak and to communicate with people who are way older than you, who are way younger than you, as long as you have this same mindset. I believe.

So... Yeah, of course, I had my ups and downs, obviously, you know, I also didn't know at some point, you know, how to behave and so on. But I think like, you know, basically learning by doing, that's kind of the approach and it helped me a lot. Yeah.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, that's amazing. You just took over and jumped in from the first moment basically. And I remember it was the first very fast growth of the team. 

I think what I really admire in you is how you lead. You don't lead from a position perspective, right? As a leader, you can tell your team basically what they have to do. But what I really realized is how much the team admires you and really loves working with you to trust you.

And how do you achieve that? What is your leadership style?

How to Lead Teams Based on Trust & Open Communication

Bermet Markut

Yeah, that's a good question. I think, like you mentioned "trust" in your question, and I think that's exactly the word, like the keyword for me when it comes to teams and building teams. 

I think that without that trust, you really cannot find good team members. You cannot build that team. 

I think what is really important as well is giving people the perspective because sometimes like, you know, you can just go to your team member and say, "Okay, we need to do that, or like we were tasked to do that." 

And without them knowing the perspective of that task or the background of the task, it's really difficult for them to achieve that. 

So, in my leadership style, I always try to explain first why we're doing that. So people understand that. And then once they understand it, I feel like they give more output and input. Sorry. They give more basically.

Christian Hoppe

Yes, both.

Bermet Markut

I guess, right? So they give more and they also understand the business perspective as well, which is super important.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, explaining the reasoning, not just telling. And I think you also protect the team, right? On the outside, if there's a mistake, you never pointed the finger on someone of your team members. 

You also basically took over the responsibility for you as a teammate, even if you didn't, you were not responsible personally. And I think that also creates the trust that you mentioned, and the team knew that they can always tell you everything.

Bermet Markut

Absolutely, yeah, I think that's also one of the key elements for the teams and like they could always come to me, I think now as well, they can always come to me and share and they know that they will not be judged and we will find a solution. 

Another thing is to lie and, like, I think we also had this experience as well, right? When people try to hide their mistakes, lie.

That's like a really, really red flag. And It's better that you share stuff and then we find a way. And everyone makes mistakes and we understand that. 

And just like having this trust that I know I can trust you with everything, like it makes a huge difference for myself and also for the team members.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah. And people not only try to hide things, but they actually actively came to you, right? When there was something going on, not waiting until you find out, but basically coming to you and saying, hey, I messed this up. This is what happened. 

And then you work together. And this is really amazing. And it helps you as a leader, it helps the team, and it also helps the company massively. Because if you're trying to hide something or, or fix something that's not beneficial for anyone.

Bermet Markut


In-House Teams vs Agencies—What’s Better?

Christian Hoppe

Interesting. There's a lot of discussion, I think, also from building in-house teams vs working with agencies. You've done both. You've managed in-house teams and agencies at the same time. 

There are definitely pros and cons, right? What's your thought about it and what do you think is the perfect approach for a company? Also maybe different depending on the stage of the company.

Bermet Markut

Yes, you're right. I've been experiencing everything, so to speak, starting with like just building the in-house team, but then also involving agencies then to basically fully moving into agencies, working with the agencies. 

So, I can tell you now with all of the experiences that I have, it's important to have both in the company because the good thing about having agencies is that you can really benefit from their expertise and their speed as well, something that you can rarely do in-house. 

So, especially when it comes to some specific channels, like acquisition channels, I feel like you can really learn a lot within a very short time from the agencies because agencies, they are also on top of the game, so to speak. Many of them try to be.

So, they hear a lot from different companies, they work with different companies, so you can stay on top of those trends together and learn from them. 

On the other hand, it's also important to have someone in-house, like the core team members, because those team members can actually drive everything and also sort of collect that knowledge within the team, within the company. 

So, in case something happens, they can take over. They can lead the agencies towards the right approach and like what the company actually wants to achieve. So, I think combining both things, it's the best approach. 

So, yeah, we also had the experience, I think also together with you, that we also tested some channels with the agency because we didn't know will it work for us or not. 

And because the agency specializes in a certain channel, like you can quite fast understand if that channel works for you or not. And if it does, then like it's maybe it's a good time to think if you want to move it in-house at some point. 

But also what I think is important along the way, you can also find really, really strong partners, like agencies with whom you can actually stick for a long time and like build that really cool relationship. 

And I think that's also the case with Forwrd Agency. I feel like, you know, you are kind of a part of the, of the team in a way, because you care, you are committed. So, you know, there are some cases like this that you can really find the right partner and stick with them for a long time.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, it's a good point that you brought up. 

I remember exactly as I said at waterdrop we also tried to do both. And first of all, speed is interesting, but on the other hand, also still we had a very strong team. 

We still try to work with an agency to get a different perspective. For example, going into the US, into local market, or just really having a different perspective and testing. That's a very interesting aspect. 

And I think what is quite underrated is the hiring process to find people that actually know their stuff right. First of all, it takes time because good people, they're not super available on the market. Then they have a notice period until they can start, get onboarded. 

But on the other hand, I think also some mistakes that leaders do is they hire people without having the expertise to really understand who to hire. So if you hired the wrong person or you think they're really good at what they're doing, but actually they're not, then it's much, much harder to get rid of this person, to understand that, to get rid of this person again instead of working maybe with someone. But maybe also going to the hiring. 

Hiring has one of the biggest impact on business and it can really break the business. We've seen that many, many times. So what lessons did you learn when it comes to hiring?

How to Hire So You Don’t Have to Fire

Bermet Markut

Yeah, I absolutely agree with you that it's very important to hire the right people and like in you know me I think like I try to feel, like I'm a very intuitive person so to speak. 

So, when I speak to the person when I see the person I know right away if it was like a bingo or not. But it's like it's hard to explain this approach, right? Of course, you need to apply certain criteria, like, approaches to hire.

But what is really important is that first of all, you understand that you can trust that person, that what we've already mentioned a few times. And then once you do so, you feel so, then I think it's like it's already a good start. 

And also what I would highlight here is that we talked a little bit about the age and experience. It's not always important to hire someone just for the experience.

What is more important, in my opinion, it's like the attitude, the willingness to learn, the drive and passion, all of those like fancy words, but they actually matter. 

We've seen that like people with lower, small experience, they can achieve really great results. They can learn so fast without having much experience. 

So that's definitely something I think every company needs to keep in mind that's, you know, you should.

Christian Hoppe

So, it really depends also on the leader I have to say. So the company should not just go out there and hire juniors and hope everything will work out. Just want to highlight that you also did an amazing job in training the teams and making them, you know, the best they can be.

It also takes a lot of time, the whole process of hiring. And I think you developed a very unique approach that we've developed and implemented. And I think it's very unique and not a lot of companies do that, but it can be very, very positive. 

And I think we've had a lot of great feedback from candidates that was really, really positive. Can you share a little bit about it? I think you know what I'm talking about.

Bermet Markut

Yes, of course. I think first of all, it's we developed that approach together. So it's, I think it was quite a nice experience. 

We call that Assessment Center. That's what you mean, right? And the idea of that Assessment Center is that you can actually talk with way more candidates that you would have talked if, you know, if you would just stick with the classic interview approach.

So, you pre-select people by certain criteria, but you're also not being too strict with that first criteria. Then you can invite people to a call or an office space where like lots of candidates come together and you have time basically to discuss like the role, the company. 

So, they also have an understanding of what they are getting into. But then, at the same time, you give them certain tasks and tests where you ask them to complete not only like specifically regarding the role, tasks regarding the role, but also like more broader like business perspective questions and tasks so you can understand how they understand the business in general.

Christian Hoppe

It's very interesting and I think the feedback was very positive from the candidates because not only are you going to interview more candidates, but the candidates also get a really good feeling about what the role is going to be. 

And, you know, that was kind of the feedback to say, “Hey, it was amazing because for the first time, I was not just being asked questions, I really understood what I will be doing on a day-to-day basis and how this whole business and environment looks like.”

So, it's actually getting to know each other on both sides and maybe Assessment Center was not the best name that we came up with because it sounds a bit harsh or it sounds a bit like a mass interview, but it's actually not and it can help a lot specifically for junior positions.

Bermet Markut

Yeah, and I think what we've seen as well that we invited some of the people that we didn't have much trust in and then we realized actually after this Assessment Center that they are the best and yeah, I think we wouldn't have found them if it's not that approach.

What to Do When a Hire Isn’t Working Out

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, and some of the people we're still working together, so it's been amazing over many companies or many years. And yeah, it's been really incredible. And we wouldn't have found these people probably because the HR would have sorted out the CVs instead of giving them a chance to be interviewed. 

So, leading teams and people also comes with challenges.

No matter how well you hire, sometimes you also have situations when things don't work out. First of all, maybe when is really the first time that you should think about a step where you say, okay, this is unfortunately not going in the right direction. 

Are there some red flags or how do you recognize, okay, this was not a good hire?

Bermet Markut

For me, at the time I realized that I don't trust the person or there is some sort of lies or gossips or something like that, that's a big red flag for me. So, it already means that it's not gonna work, most likely. Of course you can try it out, you can still make it work, but from experience I've seen that's usually not the case.

The time you actually decide to separate, go separate ways, it's such a relief and it can move the needle so much and it can move like the whole culture to such a different route, positive route. 

So, I think it's also important not to wait too long if you feel that it doesn't work out.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, 100%. I think there's this quote which says, “A-players like to work with A-players” and if you also have someone in the team who obviously is not trying to do the best or just wants to drag along, that also drags the motivation down from A-players because they think it's not fair and it doesn't help the process. 

So, as much as we want to hire only A-players, there will be sometimes the case when you realize, okay, this didn't work out.

It's a very tough situation, right, because you're impacting people's lives. And although it is also part of business, but sometimes you have to let people go. So, how do you do that? And what is the best? How do you make it the best way possible in this situation?

Bermet Markut

Yeah, it's never pleasant. I hate it. I hate doing that. But I think, you know, explaining the person and, like, having like conversations along the way and it's not like, okay, today you're good and tomorrow you are fired. 

But it's rather like a process that you first of all, you try to make it work, right? If it doesn't work and usually the other person also realizes it quite quickly. 

So, having the conversation, like understanding and also trying to support the person afterwards, no matter if it didn't work, right? Most of the time, yeah, I feel like we just need to stay human and also try to help in case that's possible.

So, I would just say like a very honest conversation, that's what can help.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, being very direct, of course, but still very supportive, right? I think when the time is there to do it, there should have been conversations, as you said, not just, as you said, today everything is great and tomorrow you're let go. 

Usually, there are some conversations where you talk about measures to take. So, hopefully this person is not surprised at this point when you have the conversation.

Bermet Markut


Christian Hoppe

Then also go into the conversation, not beat around the bush, but directly say, “We're here today to unfortunately let you go or end this collaboration.” And then very good points to really be supportive, explain and help this person. 

I think also we've realized that, you know, you have to do that very fast, also to announce it afterwards to the team, right? Because otherwise, you have to control the off-boarding experience. 

I don't know if you want to share a bit about what can happen here.

Bermet Markut

Yes, exactly.

No, of course, like people talk, right? So, no matter if you're in a remote setup, no matter if you're like in the office space. So, like, even if you ask for, you know, not to tell anyone, somehow it anyway happens. We want it or we don't want it. 

So, it's important to, you know, announce and be transparent with other team members, because it's also important to be fair with them, because most often it also, like it matters to them as well, right? They are losing one person on the team. 

So, it's important to kind of prepare the team also mentally and yeah, also kind of give some sort of direction and plan what will happen next. I know that for a lot of people, this is very, very essential and a lot of people can get nervous about it and concerned, but it's important to kind of give this shell and kind of this space, safe space to people that it's not going to happen to you.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, true.

Bermet Markut

It's just like, explain the situation, this is how it happened, this is why it happened, and this is how we will get out of that difficult situation. 

And quite often people appreciate it, that you're being honest and direct with them, and to the contrary, it gives them some sort of appreciation and also motivation to work more and efficiently.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, true. Especially people who worked closely with this person who was let go, they might know about it or they might have expected it or sometimes not. But it's important to give them security. 

Some of the people might be insecure, as you said, to give them confidence to explain why this is happening and also to do it fast and not three weeks later because words will spread.

And yeah, I think it's very hard if companies want to try to wait a little bit because as you said, people talk anyways, no matter if it's remote or in the office.

Bermet Markut

Yeah, exactly. And I think also quite often the other person gives and talks to people about their perspective and it can be sometimes different from your perspective or from the business perspective. 

So, yeah, as you said, like you need to give that other perspective to people, explain them, but also do it as soon as possible. Otherwise, a lot of miscommunication can happen.

Help Low-Performers Become Outperformers (Within Months)

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, but before, actually what you mentioned, before letting someone go, you really tried to make it work. I remember we also had situations and I remember there were also people where I thought, okay, unfortunately, as much as I like this person is not gonna, I don't see this working out. 

And I remember there were cases where you said, no, I believe in this person and you really took on and worked really, really closely and made incredible things happen. 

I mean, I remember there were people that completely blossomed up, that, where their whole life changed. Their output changed from one of the, let's say, weaker outputs in the beginning to one of the massive outperformers in the team later on. 

And I think also feedback from people who were like, they wanted to move away to a different city, change job because they also felt it didn't work out. 

And then in the end, everything for them changed because you really worked with them and helped them make it work. This is really like a unique skill and yeah, from a leader and that's really amazing.

And yeah, how do you achieve that?

Bermet Markut

Thank you so much, Christian. Yeah, I think it was quite a challenging case, but also very rewarding case at the end for me. 

And yeah, I mean, like with this particular person, we had difficulties in the beginning, but I never doubted this person. Like I really believed in that person. 

I really believe she can do a really good job and she's a great asset for the company. And it all was very intuitive and I just had this deep feeling that it should work somehow. 

And yeah, basically what I tried to do when it didn't work out, I just tried to understand first what she is good at and second, what brings her joy, what she enjoys doing and like she feels appreciated the most. 

And when I realized those two things, I was giving her more and more of those type of projects and I kind of my assumption got confirmed and it just turned out that it is the thing that she is really good at and she can really excel. And so there was this bingo basically. 

And although we hired her for one position, we were flexible enough to just change it a little bit here and there so we could, you know, fit that new, she could fit that new role and we could give her the space to shine, so to speak.

And I really appreciate that person, we are still in touch and we are, I would say, friends. And I feel like, yeah, I'm very happy that it all turned out so well.

Christian Hoppe

Yeah, amazing. So, you really find out what this person is good at, what this person wants to do, and as you said, then not just hire people for a position, but rather also be flexible enough to build a position around the person's strength. That's very good. 

The last topic from my side would be how to measure success. I think it's one that many companies have. How do you do that? And there are many different ways, from scorecards to Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

You've worked with a lot of different ways extensively and you've also, I would say, led the way how to improve that for many companies. You introduced it and so on. You've trained teams on it. 

How do you work with targets and goals?

How to Measure Success with OKRs

Bermet Markut

Yes, you know that I'm a big fan of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). 

So, it was first of all introduced to me when I was working, when we were working at waterdrop. And I think it was a really good school for me, like to learn how to do it, to learn how to set it up and the processes around that. 

And anytime I was going, like, you know, basically I was working with two different, like in-house teams where I introduced it from the very beginning.

And what I really like about OKRs is that they gives like this bigger perspective. And also, you know, it's quite often that you can you know, you can get lost in your daily business, but with OKRs you can define those core projects and milestones. 

So, you know, people know that they have those big projects and yeah, basically the project that moves the needle as we like to say. And it also gives like a big commitment to people. 

I also feel like... People, when they develop those, when they speak with teams about it internally, also with other teams, I feel they feel part of the process and it also helps them achieving those and also be motivated by them.

Christian Hoppe

Yes. So interesting OKRs. Is it a top-down or is it a bottom-up or is it a mix in terms of defining the goals?

Bermet Markut

It depends, I think, but the best approach, I would say it's a mix. 

You know, some things need to come from the team. Some things need to be, you know, led by the management, by the leadership. But yeah, so I think the best approach is to have that healthy mix in place. 

And yeah, of course, like the leadership and the management needs to define like bigger objectives for, I don't know, a longer time period.

So, then you take those objectives and then you build your OKRs, your objectives, your key results based on those, always keeping them in mind. 

So at the end of the day, what can you do as a team, as a person in the team to achieve the big goal for the whole company?

Christian Hoppe

Also, the top leadership sets the long-term goals and then trusts the individual teams to break them down into what needs to be achieved this quarter. 

I mean there are of course struggles because you also feel like some people are not or it's hard for some people to cope that they will never achieve 100%, right? 

If the target is, if you always achieve the targets and the targets are too low, if you never achieve them then they're too high. I think you've rather set ambitious targets. That was good.

Bermet Markut

Exactly. Yes.

Christian Hoppe

But there are definitely also some challenges with OKRs, right?

Bermet Markut

I think psychologically for many people it's very difficult to see maybe not the highest scores in their key results at the end of the quarter. But you know, I think it can be you know overcome by just speaking to the team, right? So you need to find a balance. 

Sometimes you need to de-prioritize the project. Sometimes you need to focus on one instead of two. So, it's just important just to have that conversation and, like, explaining the team that's important is that you progress. 

It's important that you try to like do something every day about that. But if it doesn't work, it's okay, you know, there might be some reasons behind that.

So, I think having that conversation helps a lot. Yeah, but overall I feel like, yeah, it's a really good approach. And what is important is to set up the measurable goals. It's not like, I don't know, I need to create X by when, by that time, but it needs to be measurable and this measurement needs to make sense. So, I think as long as you achieve that, you manage to find the best way.

How you phrase it, how you measure it. It should be really good for your company.

Christian Hoppe

Obviously, there are some teams where it's easier to write these key results than other teams. It also comes with experience. 

I think the learning was every quarter when you work on them, just get started, right? And over time, you develop better key results and better objectives.

Bermet Markut


Christian Hoppe

And every time we looked back and thought, oh my god, what did we write last quarter? This quarter is much better, next quarter again, oh my god, what did we write last quarter? So you see the improvement. It's a process. Yeah.

Bermet Markut

Yeah, it's for sure a process. It's always like this, like we finalize our OKRs today and it's like, okay, this is the best quarter so far. We, you know, phrase it really, really perfectly. But then you realize actually that there are a few things that you can improve next time.

Christian Hoppe

From your experience because you just jumped into the water as you said, what's an advice that you would give someone in this position?

Advice for New Leaders

Bermet Markut

Yeah, sure.

I use a lot of idioms in my daily life, you know it. And I think this idiom fits here very well. It's coming from my native language and if you translate it literally it says, “The eyes are scared but the hands are doing it.” So, it's a very big one for me.

So, I always like try to, you know, I understand that sometimes it gets scary. Sometimes you feel like you are in an unknown space, but it's just important to keep on doing it, you know, and when, when you do it, you basically learn stuff and you will also find people who support you along the way. So for sure it will work out. 

So, I always keep that in mind. And even if it's a bit frustrating from time to time, you know, it will be better.

At the end of the day, you will achieve that. So, don't be afraid and just try to get it done.

Christian Hoppe

Just do it. Yeah, it's a very big thing, but trust the process. It's amazing. It's also amazing that you really just do it because there's a ton of reasons not to do it. 

And I remember you told me a couple of times, “My eyes are afraid, but my hands are doing it”, and somehow it worked out, even though it seemed impossible at the time. 

Thank you very much, Bermet. It was a really amazing talk. And thank you so much for all your advice.

Bermet Markut

Thank you so much, Christian. Appreciate our talk and thank you for everything.

About Me

Hey, I'm Chris 👋

I started out in marketing & ecommerce 15 years ago.

Building websites, online shops and running ads.

In 2019, I built waterdrop's direct-to-consumer business, growing it from $5 to $100 million in three years.

And worked as a fractional CMO with several 7- to 9-fig brands.

Today, I help winning ecommerce brands grow faster & more profitably with Forwrd Agency.

I also run my own businesses and invest in the ecommerce sector.

People know me for my straightforward, honest, and critical insights.

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